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Information-literacy programmes and course curricula:
the case for integration

Author - Anne Ambrose and Brian Gillespie

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Information literacy benchmarking – international

Academic library and information centres throughout the world have been evolving for some time into what is described as the ‘hybrid library’. This refers to the merging of the old with the new – the books, journals and physical space of the traditional library combined with the vistas opened up by digital technologies and electronic resources. In the ‘library without walls’ a user can access high-quality information at the drop of a click either from a library computer, their office desktop, remotely from home or anywhere else. Students have greater choice in how, when and where to access information. In theory it should now be easier than ever to locate and access key learning resources. Without the necessary information-handling skills, however, students are in general ill-equipped to exploit this amazing array of resources effectively and productively. Recognising this ‘information gap’, academic libraries now regard the teaching of information skills as an integral part of their mission.

It is generally accepted in the academic-library community that US and Australian colleges are the undoubted leaders in implementing information-literacy courses. These colleges have also recognised the need for the embedding of such courses into curriculum design. Course-integrated instruction programmes are commonplace and fully accepted in US universities. A great deal of work has also been done to include the concept of the information-literate graduate as a key objective in institutional strategic planning. In Australia, Queensland University of Technology, for example, has aligned its library-information literacy programme with overall university policy and embedded it in institutional teaching and learning plans Webber, 2002. There is a general acceptance that the ‘generic’ programmes, while better than nothing at all, fail to make any real impact on students. Since 1995, library staff at Sydney Institute of Technology (SIT) have moved from the delivery of traditional library education workshops to programmes designed to develop information skills in students. SIT relates its programmes to specific and current student assignments. Courses are delivered ‘within the framework of a real information task and are designed to answer the questions identified by the student at the time of need’.

The Big Blue project in the UK identifies a number of case studies of information-literacy programmes on offer at UK universities, including programmes at Cardiff, Leeds, South Bank, Aston, Sunderland and the Open University. The latter offers an integrated, fully online and accredited programme to all OU students, called ‘MOSAIC: Making Sense of Information in the Connected Age’. While the amount of individual programmes on offer is impressive, the Big Blue project report stresses the need for a coherent national policy on an information-literate student population. It is clear that international educational institutions are increasingly accepting the importance of information literacy as a fundamental basis for academic success and lifelong learning.

Current initiatives in Irish third-level institutions

All Irish academic libraries, including DIT library, offer a variety of ‘user education’ programmes to students and staff, ranging from the ‘library tour’ to more specific workshops on research in the library or using electronic resources. These courses are traditionally stand-alone, generic and often unrelated to specific course work. They are usually not compulsory, assessed or evaluated and are very often not uniform or standard across courses or types of students. Even the most supportive academic staff member finds it difficult to allocate precious curriculum class time to library training. Consequently, librarians are often faced with the prospect of trying to cover everything from basic research skills to complex search strategies across electronic databases in one annual 60-minute session.

‘The times they are a changing’, however, and some interesting work is being done in several Irish academic institutions. University College Dublin’s library, in conjunction with the Student Welfare Service and the professor of psychology, has recently acquired HEA funding to support a research project on the teaching of study skills, information-literacy skills and critical-thinking skills to course tutors and demonstrators in the departments of physics, chemistry and psychology. The project aims to show that this type of intervention helps to retain students. The project team are working with the academic departments to integrate these skills into existing curricula, and the methodology proposed is that tutors would be trained to pass these skills on to their respective students. This is seen as possibly more effective and feasible in terms of staff/student ratios.

In Trinity College Dublin, the library and the department of pharmacology have received funding from the Centre for Learning Technology to develop a programme ‘using web-based learning to provide B.Sc. (Pharm.) students with the fundamental skills to solve drug-related case-based problems using optimal search strategies’. The library hopes to use the Medicines Information Retrieval (MIR) project as a template on which to model subject-specific information skills courses applied to other academic disciplines.

In Dublin City University a number of the information courses offered by the library are fully embedded in course curricula, are assessed and accredited. A course entitled ‘Effective web searching’, for example, is delivered as part of an IT module for 150 first-year science students. The learning outcomes for the course were set by the librarians in collaboration with the module co-ordinator. The assessment relates directly to the outcomes, and accounts for approximately 20% of the overall marks for the module. Another course on library research databases is presented as part of a second-year chemistry module entitled ‘Visualization & validation of laboratory data’. This too is assessed and accredited. The library is currently reviewing its courses in collaboration with academic staff in order to identify and agree broader information skills learning outcomes.

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