Information-literacy programmes and course curricula:
is information literacy important?
The advent of the internet, along with various other electronic
and digital resources, has highlighted the issue of information
literacy. How do we deal with the information explosion to which
we are subjected on a daily basis? In particular how do our students
learn to exploit the range of resources available to advance their
studies and research?
New methods of information generation also cause problems. Traditional
printed forms of information are subject to a variety of quality-assurance
processes – reputable publishers, authors with academic credentials
etc. None of these quality-assurance mechanisms can be guaranteed
with web-based information. The user must apply a critical faculty.
Students need the skills to question the provenance, accuracy and
reliability of the material. Ownership of information, copyright
and the potential for plagiarism are also issues that students need
to be fully aware of.
New learning and teaching methodologies concentrate on the concept
of student-centred learning and the independent learner. Students
are encouraged to become problem solvers, to employ critical thinking,
recognise their information needs, and to locate and evaluate the
information required to address the issue at hand. It is unwise
to expect that students, who for the main arrive in college without
ever having undertaken serious scholarly research, can somehow acquire
the complex set of skills by a magical process of osmosis.
Emerging technologies are also providing new opportunities for
teachers to deliver courses in more flexible formats – online
delivery using WebCT and Blackboard for example. Here again the
emphasis is on learning rather than teaching. It is clear that students
with effective learning skills, including information skills, will
have an advantage when undertaking flexibly delivered courses.
The Information Society Commission points out that‘As access
to information becomes easier and less expensive, it becomes more
crucial that we have the skills and competencies relating to the
selection and use of that information’ (ISC,
In this context, it is significant that the study by Kathryn Ray
and Joan Day found that ‘large numbers of students are leaving
university without the necessary transferable skills to cope in
an information based society’ (Ray
and Day, 1998)
Why should information literacy skills be integrated
into course curricula?
The concept of the ‘teachable moment’ is well documented
in the literature of education – that moment when a skill
is required and the student is receptive. In this context the skill
is more likely to be learned. Information-literacy courses need
to be seen by the student as directly relevant to their course work,
incorporating a set of skills that will be useful to their projects,
assignments and general research activities on an on-going basis.
To achieve this ideal, courses should be curriculum based. Even
more ideally, students should be required to participate, and work
should be graded or credit received.
In 2001 the UK’s Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)
commissioned a project known as the Big Blue. The aim of the project
was to survey current practice in information-skills training in
higher education, and to propose recommendations to ensure a coherent
approach to the development of an information-literate student population
in the UK. Big Blue is quite clear on how this can be achieved:
’For information skills programmes to be successful, a collaborative
approach by all involved in the process must be adopted. This includes
library, computing and academic staff. Information skills should
be integrated into the curriculum rather than be taught as a separate
entity’ (Big Blue,
There is a body of literature in the field of information science
which suggests that skills associated with the use of information
are best taught as a process and in the context of a real task.
This task is usually one associated with the content of the curriculum.
The most effective way of delivering information skills is for all
stakeholders in the process to work collaboratively, and for information
skills to be integrated into the curriculum. A collaborative and
integrated approach to curriculum design is needed, and delivery
of courses must be based on close co-operation between academics,
librarians and staff-development colleagues. Librarians need first-hand
knowledge of the curriculum if they are to negotiate effectively
with teachers to develop information-literacy skills within different
courses. To this end, librarians should be members of, or observers
at, relevant course boards and should be involved in all aspects
of new course design.