Making the Case for Information Literacy 1

The new University Curriculum rolling out this academic year brings attention to teaching information literacy skills to the undergraduate population. In this series of blog entries, I will discuss what information literacy is, how it can be considered in the context of a college education, and why it’s a critical skill in the 21st century. I hope to also make a convincing case for consulting a subject liaison librarian for support with teaching information literacy in the classroom.

Information Literacy – what it is
Today accessing information is simple.  Turn on your phone, tablet, PC or any device hooked up to a network and you have instant access to petabytes of information. But information about fixing a sink doesn’t make one a plumber, so the need for learning critical thinking skills remains essential. Learning a discipline’s research methods, how questions are constructed, how data is collected, and how knowledge is disseminated and valued, is a goal of information literacy.

“(A)n information literate student should be able to conceptualize a research problem, state it clearly, identify the nature and scope of information needed, find that information efficiently and effectively, evaluate it well, organize it, and apply it competently and ethically to the problem at hand.” (Badke 23)

While these steps are most often explored in a research paper project, information literacy skills are used within disciplines in other ways. Scientists and social scientists write literature reviews to track the directions new research is heading. Engineers identify patents to understand how technology is evolving. Business managers seek out best practices to improve marketing cloud-based services to enterprise clients. In each case, information literacy skills help professionals understand where relevant data is found, how it’s organized, and how to apply it to the problem. Information literacy can be a framework to approach discipline inquiry.

Information literacy broadens students’ views of a discipline by working first hand with its literature. Students in upper level history and English classes work with primary texts to hone their analytical skills. Teaching students to critically read research papers help them to analyze experimental methodologies and interpret conclusions.  Tracking a citation over time demonstrates the impact of research. Analyzing web information for credibility improves bias-detection skills.  These are a few creative ways to engage students through information literacy instruction.

In the next blog entry in this series I’ll discuss threshold concepts, a way to approach information literacy that transforms student perceptions about information.

About Benjamin Toon

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