Information literacy empowers? iTEC Investigates

“Information literacy empowers people in all walks of life to seek, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals” (Alexandria Proclamation). Information literacy (IL) has been a hot topic among librarians for many years and there is no shortage of models and guidelines to support its use. But do they meet the needs of today’s students? Findings from the Europe-wide iTEC project which ESRI staff are currently evaluating, indicate not.general photos

Comparing the activities conducted during iTEC with those supported by current IL models, I found that there are a number of gaps between existing models and emerging pedagogical practices. The first is a lack of support for creative activities and an emphasis on traditional information sources. While IL models deal almost exclusively with conventional resources, such as books and journals, students in iTEC also engaged in primary research, for example, observing their environment and recording the information they discovered using photographs, video and audio, activities which are not adequately supported by existing IL models.  Students also produced a wider range of outputs than the conventional essay or presentation usually referred to in IL models; classes created games, animations, multimedia stories and physical and digital objects.

future trendsSecondly, IL models are usually presented as a linear sequence, from planning activities, through information discovery to presentation, with relatively little opportunity for adaptation. In contrast, the order in which activities were undertaken in iTEC varied noticeably from class to class. In particular, presentation was frequently not the culmination of a project, but a formative activity which was used to review and revise ideas.

Team working was another important feature of iTEC. While the importance of learning scenarioscollaboration has been recognised as an important feature of modern pedagogy for a number of years, IL models remain focussed on individual skills and endeavours with models referring to, the ‘information literate individual’ and making little or no reference to appropriate methods of sharing information.

I’ve written about my analysis of IL models in more detail here. And I’ve also developed a new model, InFlow, designed to address the gaps described. This is being trialled by MMU Library Services and a number of other libraries. I recently introduced this model to librarians from schools colleges and universities in a workshop at MMU.

learning activitiesDuring the workshop, librarians engaged with various aspects of the iTEC process, including identifying future trends; creating scenarios; and designing learning activities using InFlow. Overall, feedback on the model was highly positive; librarians felt that it offered them greater flexibility and freedom when developing IL programmes. They also felt that it provided a more strategic approach and would allow them to revise and improve their existing sessions, as well as design new learning activities. The fact that the model is simple was another positive feature; it is an approach which could be understood by students who may be able to use it to plan their own research and projects. Some of the participants have even started to implement ideas in their libraries, including a school in Manchester where the librarian is using InFlow to structure a superhero project to help students to learn about religious saints.

Sarah McNicol

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