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Information Literacy


What is ‘information literacy’ and why is teaching it so important?

There is no simple definition of information literacy. It is generally agreed that when there is a need for information, students should be able to recognise, locate, evaluate and effectively use that information for the problem at hand. Information literacy also encompasses concepts of scepticism, judgement, free thinking, questioning and understanding.

Until recently, it has been rather subsumed as a subset of other forms of literacy – traditional literacy, digital literacy, library skills and critical thinking skills. Throw in visual literacy, aural literacy, emotional literacy and so on and it would be easy for it to disappear altogether. However, in the context of an increasingly complex information society, information literacy is emerging as a distinct and necessary skill set, one which schools need to address with some urgency.

The concept of information literacy predates the Internet, the phrase first appearing in the US in 1974 in a report by Paul G. Zurkowski which focused on the use of information tools and primary sources for ‘molding solutions’ to the students’ research. But it is the online world that has really emphasised the issues involved. It may be unrealistic to question the extent of this new archive but who can seriously defend its stability? It has crossed national, cultural and legal frontiers, it has brought together means of communication and types of content, it has aided and abetted the researcher in a multitude of ways. But its foundations are shaky - one person’s deluded opinion may proliferate across the continents. Without the necessary research skills, how can it be debunked?

Information literacy is a human right. ‘It is a prerequisite for participating effectively in the Information Society, and is part of the basic human right of lifelong learning,’ according to UNESCO the Prague Declaration, ‘Towards an information literate society’, of 2003. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions reiterates this: ‘It is a basic human right in a digital world and promotes social inclusion of all nations.’ (Alexandria Proclamation, 2005)

Older and younger students will both benefit from information literacy which should be taught from the ages of six or seven, from the time when students acquire limited information materials from the teacher. But in primary schools there are pitfalls. Few schools employ specialist librarians, information literary skills are seen as falling within the curriculum area and, in most cases, there is no-one in the school to champion the cause. Most teachers, at all levels, will have witnessed slapdash internet searching by students which can only be hampering progress. The use of Google’s ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button is a temptation that should be resisted until all else fails.

Students need to be aware of intellectual property rights. They need to know how to attribute the work of others. They need to be able to search, find, evaluate and use information appropriately. The process of acquiring the necessary skill set to make sense of an ever-expanding world of information is still in its infancy, but you will find some useful information on teaching it to students of all ages in the articles and on the websites linked below.

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Information literacy - what is it?

“Information Literacy” may not be a phrase that is commonly heard in the primary school staffroom but it is central to education today. Andrew K. Shenton and Wendy Beautyman explain what it is and why we should be building it into our curriculum.
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Why can't I find what I'm looking for?

A child faces a series of potential pitfalls when searching for information online. This can be the ‘awareness barrier’, ‘fake images’ or ‘blended memory’. Andrew Shenton explains.
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Promoting inferential information behaviour

Rather than acquiring a set of skills, inferential information behaviour involves forming a mindset involving problemsolving perspectives and lateral thinking. Dr. Andrew K. Shenton looks at ways to develop inferential strategies.
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The evaluation challenge

The world is a wealth of accessible information, but there are many pitfalls to be avoided. Here Andrew Shenton and Alison Pickard present the case for meta-evaluation as a means of empowering students to select or reject information.
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Get more out of Google

Surveys have suggested that a large percentage of students cannot perform a well-executed Google search. This site gives some excellent tips on how to use the leading search engine efficiently.
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Evaluating Web sources

If you’ve wondered how useful or appropriate material found on the web will be for your research, this page summarises what to look for and what to avoid.
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Research supervisors and information literacy

This article highlights the work of the Research Information Network (RIN) whose ‘Mind the Skills’ Gap’ report found that research supervisors do not generally recognise the need for the research student to be ‘information literate’.
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Safari - an expedition through the information world

The Open University takes information literacy very seriously. SAFARI (Skills in accessing, finding and reviewing information) is integral to new students’ induction.
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The Information Literacy Homepage.

The Information Literacy website has been designed and developed by information professionals and aims to provide a practical resource for information professionals to visit regularly in order to keep up-to-date with recent developments.
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Giving children research skills

Giving students the necessary research skills is impossible without first making them information literate - and this applies to every subject, argues Andrew Shenton.
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