Games and Information Literacy

Games and Information Literacy – considerations for teacher-librarians

The digital age has brought technological changes and with this new information and social environments.  It is widely accepted that information is now everywhere (NMC Horizon report, 2013, p. 24) and in this connected and networked environment, there is an amplified ability to access and use nearly unlimited resources (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011).  This has implications for the skills students need to access and use information for learning (Hague & Payten, 2010 p.12) and for life (Webber, 2014, slide 6).  Information literacy is the term used to describe the skill set needed to find, select and correctly use the best information for a given context in a timely fashion (Van Meegen & Limpens, 2010, p.270).  Over recent years, a number of studies (Schiller, 2008, p.351, Gumulak & Webber, 2011, p.241, and Adams, 2009a, p.676) have investigated the use of digital games as a method of developing information literacy skills.  To this end, Squire and Steinkuehler state that “game cultures promote various types of information literacy, develop information seeking habits and production practices (like writing), and require good, old-fashioned research skills, albeit using a wide spectrum of content” (2005, p.38).  Such research provides a valid motivation for investigating the inclusion of games in a school library collection, the establishment of a gaming space in the school library and teacher-librarian advocacy for the inclusion of game-based learning into the curriculum.  This investigation into why school libraries should be motivated to use and promote game based learning begins by considering how information literacy is defined in the digital age, and then presents evidence that digital games build information literacies and have the potential to enhance student learning. Finally, links are made between digital games and good school library practice.

Information literacy in the digital age

The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) tell us that the ability to find, understand and use information, that is, to be information literate, is essential to life and learning (2014, para.1). This is not a new conviction.  Paul G. Zurkowski coined the term information literacy in 1974 (Badke, 2010, p.48), and the idea that this is a necessary life skill, even a basic human right, is supported internationally by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) through the 2005 Alexandria Proclamation (UNESCO, 2010, para.1).  Building individuals’ information literacy capacities is a core goal of educational institutions and libraries and consequently, frameworks and models of information literacy have been developed to support the teaching of these skills.  Examples of such models include the SCONUL seven pillars model (SCONUL Working Group on Information Literacy, 2011) and the Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Framework (Australian and New Zealand Institute for Information Literacy, 2004).

While the concept that information literacy is a necessity for life and learning is not new, due to the digital revolution, the nature of information has fundamentally changed and consequently, the skills needed to find, understand and use information have altered.  Such changes in the information landscape are clearly highlighted by outlining some of the new information environments that have developed since the SCONUL seven pillars of information literacy model was first developed in 1999.  Examples of these new and commonly used forms of information include: Google which was in its infancy, having only become a company in August of 1998 (Google Company, 2016, para.5); and the launch of social media platforms such as Facebook in 2004 (Phillips, 2007, para.2) and Twitter in 2006 (Twitter, 2016, para.1).  Further examples include the release of technologies such as Microsoft’s Xbox gaming console in 2000 (Marshall, 2013, para.5), the Nintendo Wii in 2006 (Nintendo, 2016, para.16), and GPS capability on smartphones in the mid-2000s (Lendion, 2012, para.6). Additionally, digital games have become increasingly sophisticated and popular as evidenced by the 2004 release and subsequent reaction to the massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG), World of Warcraft (Internet Movie Database, 2016, para.3).  These changes have impacted information literacy, changing the focus from individuals interacting with texts to the foci of working individually and collectively for content specific purposes with rich mixtures of information types including digital environments, pictures, videos and data all at one time (Webber, 2014, slide7). That SCONUL felt the information world of 2011 was so significantly different from the one of 1999 that an update and expansion of the seven pillars model of information literacy was needed is evidence of the impact of the digital age on information literacy.

Competent information literacy in the digital age encompasses a variety of skills.  These range from the conventional abilities to recognise an information need and locate, access and evaluate sources.  As well as synthesising and using information ethically in order to create new knowledge (Gumulak & Webber, 2011, p.250).  Beyond this, new technologies require the information user to work within social networks (Adams, 2009a, p.198), interact intensively with others (Van Meegen & Limpens, 2010, p.271) and collaborate on teams (Gee, 2005, p.34).  Recent research also asserts the importance of affective and attitudinal aspects of information literacy (Gumulak & Webber, 2011, p.234).  On this point, Dokphrom (as cited in Gumulak & Webber, 2011, p.243) identifies the need for the information literate person to possess attributes such as determination, enthusiasm, and curiosity.


Video: See Sally research  by Joyce Valenza, 2011 – for teachers wishing to view the change in information literacy practices over the last thirty years

Information literacy and digital games

An argument put forward by some in the library and education field is that digital games can facilitate information literacy.  If this argument can be validated, it provides significant motivation for teacher-librarians to pay attention and be inspired to move into game based learning.  In the first instance, proponents of this viewpoint maintain that research is a standard activity in digital games.  Features of game environments, it is argued, require players to actively search for information both within and outside of the game itself (Adams, 2009a, p.196).  Examples of players engaging information skills inside game worlds include reading, studying maps, interpreting data, theorizing, designing strategies, discussing and creating (Squire & Steinkuehler, 2005, pp.37-38).  This argument is strengthened by Johnson-Eilola’s observations that “the interactive and dynamically updated interface panels require players to monitor and manipulate not merely one source of information, but often up to five or more, making rapid (sometimes parallel or connected) decisions based on options and data offered on those panels” (cited in Adams, 2009a, p.198). Additionally, it is argued, the determination to succeed at a game drives players to seek information outside the game world to improve their skill.  Van Meegen and Limpen observe that when a game becomes difficult, players seek help from internet sources, game forums and YouTube tutorials (2011, p.274).

An alternative approach examines the information mindsets and behaviours adopted by players in digital games.  On this premise, Adams connects gamer behaviours such as reflection, problem solving, meaning making and the creation and publishing of content with information literacy attributes (2009a, p.198).  Martin and Ewing assume a slightly different stance that concentrates on the information literacy mindsets developed through playing digital games.  They identify these mindsets as risk taking, data immersion and trial-and-error.  The authors equate these mindsets with the information literacy cycle of hypothesis, experiment and analysis and maintain that the accumulation of empirical evidence (what works and what does not) is gained through concrete experiences within gameplay (2008, p.211).  Finally, the research of Gumulak and Webber presents evidence of gamers exhibiting attitudes of determination and persistence indicative of Dokphrom’s affective attributes of the information literate person (2011. p.251).

Student learning and digital games

A further motivation for teacher-librarians who might be considering the inclusion of digital games in collections, pedagogies, and school library programs can be found in research findings that demonstrate the potential for digital games to impact positively on learning.  The body of evidence supporting the case that digital games improve learning is both widespread (Van Eck, 2006, p.16) and compelling (Beavis, Rowan, Dezuanni, McGillivray, O’Mara, Prstridge, Stieler-hunt, Thompson and Zagami, 2014, p.569).  Early research into digital games and learning focused on games as vehicles for motivating and engaging learners (Turkay, Hoffman, Kinzer, Chantes and Vicari, 2014, p.4). In research about the possibilities and limitations of digital games in the classroom, Beavis et al. observed that both gaming literature and teachers are overwhelmingly positive about “the capacity of games to engage and motivate students thereby increasing their opportunities to acquire valuable skills and learn new material” (2014, p.576). Iacovides, Aczel, Scanlon, Taylor, and Woods agree that the literature on gaming often sees the relationship between motivation, engagement and learning as implicit.  On this point, however, they also note that such a relationship is rarely questioned and educators would benefit from a greater understanding of how these processes relate to each other (2011, p.11).  While this might be true, Turkay et al. state that the potential of games for learning goes beyond their motivational value (204, p.4) to incorporate learning principles and theories.

A well-known proponent of game based learning, James Paul Gee, maintains that good digital games incorporate good learning principles (2014, p.21).  A number of authors (Squire 2006, Olson 2010, Van Eck 2006) agree with Gee and identify that young people willingly engage in learning outside of school because it is intrinsic in well-designed games. Synonymous with this, Squire upholds that players of games learn through cycles of performance, which he calls a grammar of doing and being (2006, p.19).  Olson’s studies concur, demonstrating that nearly one in every five children surveyed was strongly motivated to play games because of the inbuilt chance to learn through principles such as challenge and mastery, creating new content and competition and the rewards of winning (2010, pp.182 – 184).  Taking this further is the argument that the learning principles incorporated into digital games are supported by research and theory in situated cognition (Van Eck, 2006, p.5).  In this theory, learning is linked to “the authentic activity, context, and culture within which knowledge is developed and used” (Turkay et al., 2014, p.5).  The success of this type of learning from gaming is particularly evident in the popularity of epistemic games that require players to think like professionals by playing a simulated game (Turkay et al. 2014, p.5).  The proof that such games are good learning tools is reflected in studies that find game playing has improved the skills of surgeons, soldiers and business people (Adams, 2009a, p.678).

The school library and digital games

Despite the significant research linking digital games to learning and information literacy, authors also present evidence that there still exists a reluctance by some librarians to allow digital games to be played in the library, added to the collection or used for teaching and learning (Neiburger, 2007; Adams, 2009a; Gumulak and Webber, 2011).  The Standards of professional excellence for teacher librarians policy published by the Australian School Library Association (ASLA) dictates that teacher-librarians need to be “thoroughly familiar with the information literacy and information needs, skills and interests of learners” (2014, para.9).  The most recent findings available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics is that 85% of Australian children, aged five to fourteen years, participate in screen-based activities including games (2012, para.1).  First and foremost, then, it can be argued that digital games need to be considered by teacher librarians because they are of significant interest to their students.  Serving the information needs of this digital generation who prefer learning to be active, highly technological and visually oriented (Van Meegen & Limpens, 2010, p.270-272), is a second reason teacher-librarians should consider offering and using digital games (Neiburger, 2007, pp.28-29; and Squire & Steinkuehler, 2005, p.41).  Furthermore, it has been found that digital games offer new methods of delivering information literacy and improving students’ skills in this area (Adams, 2009b, p.201).  Markey, Leeder, and Taylor argue that games prove effective for information literacy instruction because they scaffold students’ skill acquisition, provide opportunities for repeated practice and reinforcement, make use of active discovery in which students learn by doing, and require reflection and collaboration (2012, p.123).  Finally, schools are busy places and teacher-librarians are often stretched to serve across a range of year levels and subjects.  Because of this, finding time for the face-to-face teaching of information literacy to all students is not always possible and the use of digital games as a learning tool has the potential to provide a practical alternative (Van Meegen & Limpens, 2010, p.272).

When considering strategies for the implementation of digital games, Adams suggests that it is important to link these to the three themes that have always underpinned library services:  educational, social and democratizing (2009b, p.197).  As a learning leader, a good starting place for the teacher-librarian is to investigate commercially available digital games that have proven pedagogical content and methodologies to educate students in information literacy tasks (Schiller, 2008, p.351).  A second strategy for the teacher-librarian to consider is the purchase of games for the school library collection. Beavis and Apperley claim that digital games “deserve a central place as part of an expanded repertoire of texts” because they immerse the player in story, and engaging with these texts requires literacies and literary practices (2012, p.13).  Another idea is to use students’ knowledge of games to engage them in more traditional activities such as writing reviews of games, analyzing the pros and cons of different information sources to solve a gaming problem or assessing the legality of using screenshots of games in a YouTube tutorial (Gumulak & Webber, 2011, p.251).  The teacher-librarian also needs to consider how the school library serves its community by providing a third place, that is, a social and recreational space to gather (Adams, 2009b, p.197).  One method of fulfilling this role would be for the school library to hold gaming events, facilitate a gaming club or create a gaming space within the library (Adams, 2009b, pp.196-201). Lastly, it is advised that teacher-librarians reconsider the access and usage policies of the school library as part of the library’s role as a democratizing agent.  This needs to be undertaken with the view to provide information access to all and to prevent disparity to those who may not be able to otherwise engage in the multi-literacies offered in gaming experiences (Sanford, 2008, p. 86). Teacher-librarians are also responsible for resourcing and supporting cross-curricular learning.  In this capacity, they are entrusted with the responsibility to facilitate the appropriate and relevant use of ICTs and information resources (ALIA, 2014, para.14) and based on the evidence that digital games have the potential to impact learning, it is appropriate for teacher-librarians to advocate and support teachers to use digital games in the classroom.


It has been established that it would be a dangerous position to consider digital games as trivial, simple toys, and consequently, dismiss them as irrelevant to learning.  To do so, might result in a missed opportunity to meet our students’ information and learning needs.  Importantly, games are very popular among young people, and in-and-of-themselves, require a set of literacy skills for participation.  Beyond this, it has been argued that engagement in digital gameplay has the potential to impact learning, literacies, behaviours and mindsets that enable success in twenty-first-century information environments.  Finally, it has been proposed that school libraries are charged with the responsibility of providing a space and service that is educational, social and democratizing.  In this regard, introducing digital games into the collection, promoting their use in curriculums across the school, and providing space and activities for game use are some of the methods teacher-librarians might use to involve students in this beneficial participatory culture.


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