03 March 2006

Why Generic Information Literacy? Equity and Graduate Attributes!

When I say 'generic' I mean 'general' to a Program or course of study, so there would be some 'subject specific' examples for the students, however, I also mean 'transferable' skills. Wouldn't this be a more 'equitable' approach to incorporating information literacy into University degrees and ensuring that ALL, not just some, students, have been exposed to information literacy standards which they can transfer into not only their working life but into everyday life. Owush-Ansah (2004)argues in his paper that it's too common a practice in academic libraries whereby some students don't receive any infolit skills training and others get a double dose because the approach to infolit is not a campus wide approach. It's one thing to teach students how to use "Expanded Academic ASAP via Infotrac", but another thing entirely to teach them "Why use it?" Is it really necessary to spend the first year teaching tools, or should we be teaching "Why would you use this tool instead of that tool? Perhaps we need to rethink 'structured' databases, and 'structured' classes and let students do a bit of the 'discovery' for themselves. Maybe we should teach them about 'Scope Notes' and "Help" screens and how to help themselves, because this is what you do in the 'REAL WORLD' when you don't have access to every fulltext, online database imaginable! Debra JONES (1996p.2 of 7)agrees with this premise as she states that the focus of library instruction should be to teach real world learning strategies that apply in the workforce. The real challenge for librarians is to design classroom activities which teach the students to Independently interrogate the database or search tool and have fun at the same time! What about the fundamentals such as starting broad, mapping out a search strategy, finding alternative terms, using 'broad' searching strategies in the database and then focusing or narrowing a search using Truncation, Wildcards, Phrase searching, or using limit options. These are the things that remain the same, but the databases or search tools which students may have access to upon leaving Uni does not remain the same. If they understand the Fundamentals, they can then transfer these to any 'Interface', anywhere, anytime. This remains the same in the face of meta-searching or federated searching, because how do they understand the "results" if they don't know how the results are retrieved. Some librarians are heading in a sensible direction with these activities. How and when do they learn to think critically about information, to evaluate it, determine if it adds to the body knowledge, whether they need a primary source or secondary source, whether the newspaper article is biased, and the legalities of information use and sourcing and referencing? Equity is an important issue in the information literacy agenda and should be addressed more closely by those in a position to promote and implement a University wide information literacy course. Do ALL students receive a minumum standard and consistent level of exposure to these important graduate attributes at your institution?
Owusu-Ansah, Edward K. (2004)Information Literacy and Higher Education: Placing the Academic Library in the Center of a Comprehensive Solution. Journal of Academic Librarianship, Jan2004, Vol. 30 Issue 1, p3-16, 14p; (AN 12560937)

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