Information literacy is defined by the American Library Association as “the ability to seek and effectively utilize information resources, including knowledge of how to use technologies and the forms in which information is stored” (Ercegovac and Yamasaki, 2003). Information literacy is a tool of empowerment for all learners, reached through a research based approach to learning. It requires skills to adapt to new technology in order to use a variety of information sources and effective search strategies to learn independently, solve problems and make decisions. Information literacy forms the basis for life-long learning. Basically, it is the result of learning how to learn. A person uses their information literacy skills to derive meaning from the learning process, and there is today a greater focus on teaching all students to think critically, to become independent lifelong learners, and to proficiently use a variety of technologies.
Students today must learn to access needed information effectively and use appropriate investigative methods. Information processing and problem solving skills are essential to a student’s future employment success. More than half of the United States job force is composed of employees known as “knowledge workers” whose primary marketable skills are associated with information literacy. In the past, when students primarily looked to their school or public library for information, the concept of information literacy was not yet born. Here in these libraries sat selected collections of reference materials and authoritative texts deemed worthy to be included in the collections by librarians trained to evaluate the value and credibility of the sources. In today’s web-driven world, how is a person to know what information is valid and what is not? Individuals posting information on the web are (often) not required to pass through traditional editorial constraints or undergo fact-checking such as required in conventional published print media.
Today’s teachers are faced with the challenge of teaching their students the skills of information literacy. Although textbooks, memorization and testing still exists, more and more the process of learning is going toward self-directed learning, information processing and organizing on the part of the student. The role of the teacher is becoming less of a fact-based provider of knowledge to more of a facilitator for learner-based inquiry and search methods. Educators help students to develop cognitive strategies for selecting, retrieving and evaluating information. A basic objective of today’s education is a process-oriented one which enables students to learn how to identify needed information, locate and organize it, and present it in meaningful way.
Educators have many options to present information to students in addition to the traditional textbook method. Technology plays a huge role in information literacy, and students who use technology effectively tend to become better at managing information, communicating and presenting ideas. Applications such as blogs, podcasts, streaming videos and webcams are frequently used in schools these days. Consider the French teacher who can treat her students to a “trip” to Paris via a webcam that is positioned at the Eiffel Tower. Students can view French newspapers online to both learn the language and gain knowledge about current events in the country. Students can utilize podcasts of language lessons to learn the language. Instead of being limited to class time in a language lab, a student can bring the podcast home and listen to it as often as they need to. This same French teacher can coordinate conversations using the Skype application so that students in America can speak with students in France. Such interactive technologies can be so much more effective than strict textbook reading.
Consider the history class here in Michigan that is studying the Civil War. Michigan is not particularly rich in Civil War history, but what if the teacher wanted to give his students the opportunity to experience the locations of some of the major events in the war. Videos could certainly be shown in the classroom, but selection may be limited. Much more is available online. Students could view historical sites, battleground locations, stops on the Underground Railroad or re-enactments of warfare via the internet. Streaming videos and even YouTube presentations can be used to view historical presentations, interview accounts and recreations of period events.
Many teachers create web pages where they can post lesson plans and course documents. Students are able to check homework assignments and information from their home computer. Interactive online quizzes are often used to give students immediate feedback and correction explanation on errors. Computer labs are available at most schools for students who do not have internet access at home. Students learn about computer networking and telecommunications for data access and participation in learning communities. Presentations of softare packages, multimedia technologies and applications are taught so that students are prepared for employment after graduation.
Educators need to teach students how to evaluate information and question authority. How current is the information? How reliable is it? Is it biased? Will different people perceive the information differently? What are the qualifications of the author and what are the author’s sources? Is the information linked to a site that is being used to sell a product? Teaching students how to identify the information that they need, how to locate it, how to choose reliable sources, and how to blend the information into a final product is the basis for helping to ensure that they will become masters of information literacy and successful life-long learners.
Thoughts to consider: Teachers are becoming very creative in using a variety of resources to teach their students information literacy skills. What are some other resources they could use? What might the future of technology bring that will be helpful in this endeavor?
Barton, H. Information Literacy: Learning How to Learn. Rhode Island Network for Education Technology. Retrieved on October 19, 2009, from http://www.ri.net/RITTI_Fellows/Barton/infolit.html
Dolnicek, B. (2009). Information Literacy. Nebraska Library Association Quarterly, 40(1), 3-4. Retrieved October 19, 2009, from Library Lit & Inf Full Text database.
Ercegovac, J. and Yamasaki, E. (2003). Information Literacy: Search Strategies, Tools & Resources. Library Instruction. Retrieved on October 19, 2009, from http://www.libraryinstruction.com on October 19, 2009Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, American Library Association, Retrieved on October 19, 2009 from http://www.ala.org.ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/standards/informationliteracycompetency.cfm