Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Information Literacy at UDC

[Special weekly post from Rachel Jorgensen, Digital & Information Literacy  Librarian, University of the District of Columbia]

Once a week this space will be dedicated to providing information on the Information Literacy Program within the Learning Resources Division, as well as related services and topics.

Before we get going full-tilt on such a topic I thought it might be best to define what “information literacy” is in general, as well as what I mean by “information literacy” within the context of the Learning Resources Division and the University of the District of Columbia and why information literacy is important.

What Is It?

…information flows in all directions and does as it pleases, for better or for worse, serving no masters and obeying no party line. -- Walter Kim “Little Brother Is Watching.” New York Times Magazine, October 17, 2010, p. 18.

In essence, information literacy describes a set of skills that allow you
  • to collect information
  • critique that information
  • use the information for a specific purpose.

Many institutions and organizations have created their own definition of information literacy, but these definitions, when compared, are very similar to each other. (See the Resources section below for links to information literacy documents.)

For most academic librarians (of which I am one) information literacy is a set of five competencies, as described by the Association of College and Research Libraries (a sub-division of the American Library Association.)

These competencies are:

  • Determine the extent of information needed
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
  • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally

Why Is It Important?

I remember as an undergraduate having three basic types of resources to use when researching a paper: reference books, academic books and journal indexes and I had only three places to go to find these: the card catalog, the print index section and the reference desk.

By the time I graduated, the library’s catalog had been computerized (and searched using DOS commands), JSTOR had arrived and I found myself doing research using the computer, rather than hoofing through the shelves. In the short span of four years undergraduate life had changed drastically.

Today, students must deal with a plethora of information sources – websites, article databases, web-based library catalogs, on-line reference resources, in-print books, in-print articles, etc. They receive competing and contradictory direction: Don’t use web resources! Use web resources! Use nothing electronic!, etc.

Often, students are stymied by the amount of options available to them -- they cannot find the clear access point for what they need. (Except for Google and its nice, neat one search-box interface, which many library databases are attempting to emulate…but that’s a whole different discussion for another day.)

Students who are information literate are able to identify what information they need, how to access it and how to use it. They are efficient researchers and critical thinkers.

The worth of being information literate is not limited to college -- this type of competency is applicable to multiple aspects of life: personal finance…job skills…home ownership… In contemporary life information comes at us in a steady stream and having the ability to critique information, judging it for validity and accuracy, is an essential skill.

How Does One Become Literate?

There are many ways to become information literate and just like every other type of learning, repeated exposure to the fundamental concepts is the best way to internalize the skill. In my opinion, the best practice is to have the librarian and instructor work together to provide cohesive learning opportunities.

Generally speaking, teaching "information literacy" occurs when the the librarian is invited to provide instruction to a class and give a one-shot presentation during which the students learn about the library catalog, article databases and other resources.

In such sessions there is no time to teach even basic information literacy skills, let alone teach them how to effectively use library resources for basic tasks.

A different tactic would be to have the instructor and librarian work together to create a graduated research assignment in which students would be guided through the steps of defining a topic, finding back-ground information, conducting the research (finding appropriate books, articles, etc.), critiquing those materials for validity and usefulness and, finally, producing an end product – such as a paper or presentation.

I believe it is this type of structure that gives students the opportunity to truly learn the process of consideration, which is at the heart of information literacy.

This is only one example of how teaching to information literacy can be embedded within a curriculum. There are many other techniques that can be used -- a further discussion of these techniques will be the subject of some of my future posts.


Professional Standards and Guidelines

Next Post

In next week's post I will provide more information on the LRD Information Literacy program and how it relates to student learning and the curriculum.

Want More Information?

Feel free to contact me! rjorgensen[at]udc[dot]edu

No comments:

Post a Comment