Over the last few months, my understanding of information literacy has evolved immensely. Currently, definitions of information literacy usually refer to a process that can be taught, internalised and followed whenever an individual needs to access information. Within an education context, it can be used as a useful tool to empower students to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their social, emotional, mental and academic goals. Although there has been debate around whether it is a concept or a process, it is worth noting that it is not fixed, but will continue to be refined as the information landscape continues to evolve. Educators, especially teacher librarians, should be familiar with and be able to teach the characteristics needed to engage effectively within the digital environment. Some of these include search strategies, organising information in ways facilitated by technology, especially social media, finding patterns and connections between texts, using organisational skills and developing the skills of deep thinking and understanding the ethics of information use (O’Connell, 2012). In the current climate, information literacy can be viewed as a basic human right in a digital world and can also be powerful in promoting social inclusion.
In the complex information landscape, the word ‘literacy’ is often used as a descriptor. In this context, literacy may be seen as being synonymous with the word ‘competency.’ While some may see the term as being diluted, it may also be seen as adding layers of intricate meaning. Information literacy refers to a range of complex skills/competencies, ideas and understanding. The term is contentious in the sense that there is no single definition, rather, its meaning is dependent on context and purpose. Students need to be functionally literate, in the sense that they must be able to read, write, listen, speak, view and understand or derive meaning what they have consumed, before they can access, adequately engage with and interpret information literacy. This forces them to move beyond fundamental literacy skills to be able to understand and gather information from multiple formats and delivery modes. A challenge that this poses to the TL is that measuring how well a student understands something is more difficult than assessing a skill. Demonstrating understanding is a higher order thinking skill as a student must be able to apply what they have learnt (knowledge as a processed form of information) in order to problem solve. This often concerns a real-world problem and is hence, often linked with lifelong learning. While some may think that new formats and delivery modes or multimodal resources require students to have different literacy skills to generate meaning, I think that it is an extension from the traditional literacy definition. Once students have these essential skills, they should be able to access these new formats and multimodal resources, provided that they have had exposure to them as a ‘normal’ pathway for accessing information.
As the information literacy landscape continues to evolve, in a constantly changing digital environment, discussions about information literacy and inquiry learning frameworks have intensified, especially with the implementation of the new Australian Curriculum. This curriculum has an emphasis on inquiry learning but does not provide scaffolding to support it. This is where information literacy models are useful. There are a range of information literacy models that are used in schools including Herring’s PLUS model (Purpose, Location, Use, Self-Evaluation), Neuman’s iLearn model, the Big6 and Information Search Process (ISP), which is now aligned with the Guided Inquiry Design model (GID). After researching each model, I tend to prefer the GIDP model as it aligns with the steps taken by researchers (ISP) and the design and implementation of inquiry units (GID) and has a firm theoretical and practical basis that is supported by Kuhlthau’s extensive research spanning more than 30 years (Kuhlthau, 2004). It provides teachers and teacher librarians with an accessible and effective tool to assist in the creation of units of work (FitzGerald, 2015) and uses easy verbs that are highly accessible to assist with student understanding. The process of researching in itself fosters engagement and encourages higher order thinking and active learning. GIDP as an instructional framework supports students’ information to knowledge journey.
One of the roles of teacher librarians is to be familiar with the range of inquiry models and to work in conjunction with teachers to design, resource and deliver specific curriculum-based inquiry units. This promotes deep knowledge and deep understanding of a specific topic and information literacy concepts as well as cultivating independent learning (CISSL, 2005). An issue TL’s face is that they are often called on to teach information skills out of context, hence, these stand-alone lessons are not as effective as they could be as students cannot necessarily make the connections between these lessons to the information needs that arise for them when completing research tasks. In order to be fully effective:
“Information skills must be embedded across the school curriculum and explicitly taught in the context of teaching and learning programs. Effective teacher librarians are expert in collaboratively developing and implementing such an approach.” (ASLA, 2016)
Center for the International Scholarship in School Libraries. (2005). Guided Inquiry. Retrieved from https://cissl.rutgers.edu/research/guided-inquiry
FitzGerald, L. (2015) Guided Inquiry in practice, Scan, 334(4) 16-17
Kuhlthau, C.C. (2004). Learning as a process. pp.13-27. In Seeking meaning: A process approach to library and information services, Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited. Available CSU Library.
O’Connell, J 2012, ‘So you think they can learn?, Scan 31.2, pp. 5-11.