Developing Information Literate Graduates: Prompts for Good Practice

These questions have been developed to help you identify areas in which you can act to ensure that your students learn-to-learn from the vast range of information resources around them.

The prompts are intended both as a trigger (providing suggestions for all university staff who want their students to learn to use information resources effectively), and as a tool (assisting those who wish to review existing curriculum for its contribution to the development of students’ information literacy.)

What is information literacy?

Information literacy is the ability to locate, evaluate, manage and use information from a range of sources for problem solving, decision making and research. With the rapid increase in the amount of information and the increasing availability of information technology, information literacy has quickly become one of the most vital sets of skills for the twenty-first century.

Why is it important in higher education?

The amount and complexity of information with which people have to deal is growing exponentially. As a result, no course of study, especially in higher education, is adequate unless it helps to develop students’ ability to deal with the burgeoning information in their fields. Educators in all parts of our institutions need to work collaboratively to ensure that students graduating from higher education courses can recognise and solve information problems, and can learn from information resources.

The prompts are arranged in three sections:

  • Subjects, or units of instruction.

This section will be of most interest to you as a teacher if you work with single units. Subsections invite you to reflect on the content of the unit, approaches to teaching, assessment and the use of set texts and references.

  • Courses, or programs in instruction

If you are a course coordinator, you will be looking for ways of enhancing the contribution of entire courses, rather than single subjects to developing information literacy. Prompts direct your attention to those areas which will most benefit from attention. A subsection is dedicated to reaccreditation.

  • Institutional, or university support structures

What can members of the university who are not responsible for formal courses contribute? If you are a staff developer, librarian, learning counsellor or administrator, in this section you will find prompts to encourage you to think about your role in fostering information literacy.

No one can be expected to take on board all the prompts in this document. Focus on those which make most sense to you.

Subjects – or units of instruction:

It is usually simplest to experiment with strategies for information literacy education within individual subjects. At this level you can work towards developing students’ information literacy even if ideal elements of the institutional environment or course structure are not yet in place. Remember, however, that there are limits to the extent to which information literacy education can be the outcome of any one subject: it is the cumulative experience from a range of subjects or individual learning experiences that develops information literacy. When designing subjects consider some of the following:

  1. How can the development of information literacy, or specific elements of information literacy be introduced to subject aims or objectives?
  2. How can subject rationales point to the need for information literacy, for example, enabling students to continue to learn in the area of interest?
  3. Do you specify the information competencies needed for the successful completion of your subjects?
  4. How can these intentions flow through to the design of specific learning experiences?

Content

In information literacy education, the processes of learning about information and from information are both important. Even within the world of information, resources and technologies are rapidly being outdated. Students need to learn how to learn about the world of information, as well as learning how to learn from it.

  1. How can you help students learn to think about problems as information problems?
  2. Do you encourage students to recognise information problems, retrieve, evaluate, synthesise, communicate and manage information?
  3. How can you help students to learn to solve information problems?
  4. How can you encourage students to become familiar with the information resources relevant to their discipline?
  5. Through studying your subject, do students learn about how information is generated and about the information industry?
  6. Are students introduced to relevant information technology and systems; are they encouraged to experiment with basic applications such as email, word processing, spreadsheets and databases?

Teaching approaches

Students need to learn information processes, and about the world of information, as part of the process of learning their subject area. Information literacy cannot be taught in isolation. Ideally, your teaching strategies will help students to learn discipline content and information literacy simultaneously.

  1. How can you encourage students to independently identify appropriate learning resources, from library, community and other information sources?
  2. What strategies can you use to ensure that students are made aware of critical information sources in their discipline?
  3. By what methods can you help students to `learn-to-learn’ about the world of information?
  4. What strategies would give students an opportunity to learn to use relevant information technologies and systems, including the tools and resources available through the university library and/or computing services?
  5. Do you explicitly discuss and reflect on information competence with your students?
  6. Do you know of any case studies of information problems which you can present to students?

Assessment

Two major points are relevant in relation to assessment and information literacy education. Firstly, students’ information literacy needs to be directly assessed. Secondly, assignments or other learning activities which students complete can themselves encourage the development of information competence. How can you evaluate some or all of the following abilities?

  1. the ability to use a variety of tools to access information
  2. the ability to discern problems which information systems and technologies can help solve
  3. the ability to design strategies for information gathering
  4. the ability to critically evaluate information
  5. an understanding of how information systems are structured and the ability to work within them
  6. the ability to transfer the principles of accessing, using and managing information from one type of problem to another
  7. the ability to assess the value of formal and informal information networks for a particular purpose, and use each effectively
  8. the ability to manage information
  9. the ability to communicate effectively what has been learned.Discuss with students the information skills they need to complete specific assignments.

Texts and references

Because set texts and reference lists tend to limit information search and retrieval skills, they can be a hindrance to information literacy education unless effectively managed. Strategies in this area of subject design should aim to encourage students to identify their own learning resources.

  1. Are items placed into limited access collections sparingly?
  2. Do reading lists and subject outlines encourage the use of alternative sources?
  3. Do reading lists and subject outlines suggest strategies for locating alternative sources?
  4. Are students required to, and rewarded if they do, identify resources beyond set texts and references provided?

Courses – or Programs of Instruction

Important as they are as basic building blocks, individual subjects will have a limited impact unless they are supported by, and integrated with, other parts of the overall course. One of the major influences on both what is taught in a particular course, and indeed how it is taught, is the course curriculum or accreditation document. This document usually outlines the course rationale, objectives and structure, thus outlining the philosophical basis of the course as well as its intended outcomes. A curriculum document should consider the course’s intended impact in the area of information literacy education. Thinking at a course level about information literacy education potentially involves conceiving of and implementing far-reaching changes. Effective program design, however, can maximise the impact of teachers working at the subject level.

  1. Does the course rationale communicate the intent to develop information literacy and other skills of independent lifelong learning?
  2. Do course objectives reflect the need for students to develop information literacy in the specific area of professional or academic expertise?
  3. Do course objectives address the need for students to develop information literacy in areas beyond, but relevant to, the area of professional or academic expertise?
  4. In what ways can the course structure, or the curriculum model adopted, reflect a commitment to developing information competence?
  5. In the overall structure of the course, is there an emphasis on 1) resource-based learning; 2) independent research; 3) problem-solving?
  6. Can suites of subjects be designed or modified to ensure that students gain knowledge of appropriate information technologies, sources and strategies at various levels?
  7. Is information competence widely encouraged in the early years of undergraduate study as well as later?
  8. Does the curriculum ensure progressive development of increasingly sophisticated information skills?
  9. Are levels of skills appropriate to particular years identified?
  10. Do teaching and learning strategies encourage regular use of information skills:
    • in one or two subjects only?
    • in particular areas of the curriculum?
    • across the whole curriculum?
  11. Are students required to identify their own learning resources:
    • in one or two subjects only?
    • in particular areas of the curriculum?
    • across the whole curriculum?

Reaccrediting courses

Reaccrediting a course provides an ideal opportunity to evaluate the information skills which graduates require, and to identify ways in which subjects, or the course as a whole, can be modified to foster information literacy. There are a number of ways in which course reaccreditation documents can address the success of a course in fostering information literacy. Apart from examining the suggestions and guidelines elsewhere on this list in relation to reaccreditation, there are other questions that could be raised as part of this process. For example:

  1. Does the course prepare its students for information literacy requirements in the workplace?
  2. How can the information competence required of graduates in the workplace be identified for this course?
  3. Can appropriate professional bodies be involved in determining the information literacy requirements of graduates/beginning professionals?
  4. How have librarians or other information professionals been involved in identifying information literacy requirements for students of this course?
  5. Have graduates been surveyed about their information literacy needs for continued personal and professional development?

Institution – or university support structures

Appropriate support structures are vital throughout the university to ensure that information literacy education is effective. The availability of staff development, resources, learning support, funding for innovation and a recognition that information literacy education is integral to quality course and subject design, are some of the elements of an environment which could foster information literacy education.

Staffing and staff development

  1. Have you identified staff who are able to act as resource persons to advise in the continuing development of the information literacy component in courses?
  2. What staff development opportunities could be provided to help staff understand and develop a commitment to information literacy education?
  3. Does the university have any mechanism to identify the information literacy needs of its staff?
  4. Do academic staff have the required knowledge and skills for assisting students to acquire information processes, knowledge and values?
  5. Can the university library provide specialist instruction in information skills or specific resources, or facilitate and augment the provision of such instruction by lecturers teaching the course?
  6. Are librarians and learning advisers familiar with the information literacy requirements of specific subjects and courses and are they able to assist students as required?
  7. Are staff development opportunities provided for all staff, librarians, lecturers, learning support counsellors (and staff developers themselves) to keep their own information skills up to date?

Information Resources

  1. Are the kinds of information resources likely to be encountered in the professional context available to students?
  2. What resources (and level of resources) are required to support the development of information literacy and how is this determined?
  3. Do students have access to the technology necessary to access formal information networks?
  4. Are sufficient staff available to provide technical and other support to students in the use of these resources, for example in the library and computing centre?
  5. What arrangements could be made to ensure that community-based, government or other information resources are readily accessible by students?

Institutional Culture

  1. What are the characteristics of an institutional culture which promotes information literacy?
  2. Are teaching grants or other funds available for innovations related to information literacy education?
  3. How can staff be encouraged to apply for funds to support information literacy initiatives?
  4. What role can Academic Boards or Senates play in encouraging the move towards information literacy education?
  5. Do university statements on quality teaching and learning recognise and value the role of information literacy education?

Christine Bruce and Phil Candy. Developing Information Literate Graduates: prompts for good practice. 1995. Queensland University of Technology. Brisbane.

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