Pinning down a slippery fish – Information Literacy

Andrea Williams Flickr Creative Commons --

Slippery Fishies by Andrea Williams Flickr Creative Commons

There is a very timely discussion occuring on the OZTL_Net forum about that well-worn topic — what is Information Literacy (IL). This discussion is timely on two fronts: the draft national curriculum has been released with a lack of clarity regarding IL, and on a personal front, as I am in the process of writing an article for a professional publication about the Information Literate School Community.

IL is notoriously difficult to introduce into schools and Teacher Librarian students in many courses (including the one I’m doing) engage in the debate of what and why and the barriers. It interests me as I read yet again the research and professional literature that something so central, something so critical is so darn hard to define, apply and practice.

A slippery fish indeed!

I am currently reading a paper by Bruce, Edwards and Lupton (2006) promising to shed some light onto why this is such a problem.  Six Frames for Information Literacy Education: a conceptual framework for interpreting the relationships between theory and practice seeks to explain the different ways people view the concept/process of IL and how that will affect their approach (or lack of) to IL, all based on their views of teaching/learning. This sounds very helpful to me — the more I can see this from others’ possible points of view the more I should be able to communicate and persuade colleagues to embrace IL.

As I engage with this article there are questions asked in the first few pages, ones I thought worth pausing over and articulating for clarity of my own views and practices.

The first question is how do I see teaching and learning?

I’ve always seen learning as a growth process through the acquisition of knowledge in whatever form it came to a person: active or passive. While I believe that active engagement with experiences and problem-solving are highly effective means of learning, as a reader and observer of other humans I also believe in the power of vicarious learning and creative imagination.

Teaching I see as a process of guided support, in the early years there is so much children don’t know they don’t know. It’s an exploration of what’s out there; a wondering time and a tinkering time. In the middle/secondary years, I see teaching as guidance in helping student s gain control of the information, making sense of it and using it to become real thinkers, evaluators and problem solvers.

The next question then asks — How do I see Information Literacy?

I like the definition that the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professions (CILIP) set a few years back —

Information literacy is knowing when and why you need information, where to find it and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner.

It’s clear, straightforward, simply worded, and very similar to the American Library Association’s original definition back in 1989, but I’m not sure if it conveys a message of urgency or importance to the question of why it needs to be specifically incorporated into the curriculum. Is it too easy for an educator to think, “Well, my students already do that.”

The paper also asks me to consider how my organisation/colleagues/students see information literacy and here’s the crux of the problem — they don’t, really. I’ve introduced it to them; given presentations, tried to get some collaboration happening but my attempts are not successful. The most common reply is that they are too busy, there is no time to fit anything else in. Do they think, “We already do that.” Do they think finding and assembling facts is all that’s needed at the primary level? We have missions and goals and a philosophy of teaching for our organisation but that does not address personal paradigms —

Bruce, Edwards and Lupton’s paper promises to address a further question —

How can we use an appreciation of different ways of seeing [teaching, learning, IL] to progress the practice of IL education?

I look forward to being further informed and am hoping for some insight from this article.

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Bruce, C., Edwards, S., & Lupton, M. (2006). Six frames for information literacy education: A conceptual framework for interpreting the relationships between theory and practice. Italics, 5(1), 1-18.

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