Teaching and Assessing Information Skills in the Twenty‐first Century: A Global Perspective

Lynn Allardyce Irvine (University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 December 2004




Allardyce Irvine, L. (2004), "Teaching and Assessing Information Skills in the Twenty‐first Century: A Global Perspective", Library Review, Vol. 53 No. 9, pp. 463-466. https://doi.org/10.1108/00242530410565265



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This special edition of Library Trends takes a global look at information literacy. Previous reviews of the literature have revealed a concentration of activity in specific areas. That picture is changing. Definitions of information literacy have shifted from the more traditional view linking it with information skills teaching and thus to traditional library resources, to a wider definition placing emphasis on information and information handling generally. Information literacy is, in this sense, more akin to general literacy and is thus viewed by governments (and increasingly industry) and the library and education sectors as an essential skill in the twenty‐first century information society.

The issue brings together six articles with case studies on information literacy courses and approaches to integrating information literacy into education in the US, The Netherlands, South Africa and Canada. Rader closes the issue with a comprehensive literature review.

Without doubt a driving force behind the increasing interest in information literacy, is the vast expansion of electronic information sources available via the Internet. Effective use of these resources requires relevant information literacy skills. These skills stretch beyond the simple technical skills of using specific databases or sources to include: the ability to determine information needs, evaluate information and its sources critically, apply and incorporate information intelligently and to understand the social, economic and legal issues surrounding the use of information.

Lori E. Buchanan, DeAnne L. Luck and Ted C. Jones describe an online course created and taught by library and academic staff at Austin Peay State University (APSU) in Tennessee. APSU teaches liberal arts, education and nursing and has a high concentration of non‐traditional and distance learning students. Online courses and training are therefore particularly appropriate. The number of online courses has risen steeply since 2000.

The detailed case study describes the composition of the course and the way in which the principle elements of information literacy are woven into its design. Students were asked to design a Web site using course material mounted on a VLE (Blackboard) and the Web, and were encouraged to evaluate the information sources used in the creation of their own site. This involved consideration of the legal aspects of copyright, intellectual property, censorship, access to information and evaluation of sources in terms of accessibility and reliability.

The course was evaluated both by the students who took part and staff who were involved in teaching it. Valuable lessons were learned which are now being incorporated into the course in the future and the course stands as a valuable model for future initiatives.

Karin de Jager and Mary Nassimbeni look at information literacy as a concept and then as a set of standards or literacies before setting this within the context of the educational sector in South Africa. The South African government recognises information and knowledge as commodities and so views information literacy as a driver for economic and social change within the information society of the twenty‐first century. The government narrowly identifies information literacy mainly as IT skills rather than the wider skills implicit in the concept, but there is recognisable progress. Their recently launched project “Info.com 2025” aims to establish an IT network which will facilitate and promote education and training using ICT.

The results of a small survey following the annual conference of the Library and Information Association of South Africa in 2001 show wide variation in current information literacy practices across 12 tertiary institutions and highlights areas which require attention. In common with previous findings, few institutions refer specifically to information literacy in their mission statements and there was no observable standard to which institutions referred. Additionally, libraries do not seem to be documenting their information literacy activities.

The article proposes that the New London Group Model (which is discussed) is adopted as the way ahead for information literacy in the tertiary sector in South Africa. This model posits a multiliteracy approach to information literacy. Two cases studies, which exemplify this approach, are briefly introduced. In order to allow the development of standards and benchmarks, librarians must document their activities and share best practice. These standards can then be used as markers against which information literacy performance is measured, and improved.

Ilene F. Rockman argues that the long‐established relationship between librarians and faculty provides the perfect platform from which to advance information literacy within the educational sector. The last decade has seen a much greater emphasis on transferable skills that students can utilise during their academic course and in their careers after graduation and industry has begun to recognise the value of information literacy skills such as interpretation, analysis and presentation of information.

Californian State University (CSU) has an information competence working group consisting of librarians and faculty, which offers advice and support on the development of information literacy. Two CSU campuses have received awards and recognition for their information literacy programmes, a key element of whose success seems to be in assessment. CSU adopts a multiyear qualitative and quantitative approach that is extremely comprehensive.

Information literacy activities, which can be measured against achievement‐based learning outcomes, seem to be most successful. In order to achieve this, it is essential that librarians and faculty continue to work together and that learning outcomes are related to the institution's educational mission.

Jacqueline De Ruiter considers the barriers to effective use of electronic information sources for experienced researchers more used to the methods practised using traditional print‐based resources. The different structures of these resources require different retrieval strategies that are not always intuitive given the size of the Internet and the amount of information available. In order to provide useful support to these researchers, librarians must promote online resources by emphasising their added value and provide encouragement to use them. De Ruiter offers a range of innovative techniques to achieve this.

In China information is recognised as a valuable commodity in knowledge‐based economies. Ping Sun describes some models and experiences of promoting information literacy within the education sector. IT forms a core part of the educational curricula for all levels of education, and a comprehensive IT infrastructure is seen as a way of creating new, dynamic learning environments.

Educators and librarians in China recognise the need for a coordinated approach to information literacy instruction. Some modular, self‐paced online courses have been developed and have proven useful. China has made some progress towards integrating information literacy into academic courses but much remains to be done. The recognition of information literacy instruction by the Chinese government means that information literacy is being incorporated into educational policies, which is a step in the right direction.

Gary B Thompson assesses the issue of the information literacy mandates for HE by the regional accreditation commissions. There is increasing pressure on HE to prepare their students for independent and lifelong learning, and libraries are viewed as an integral part of the curriculum.

In order to achieve this librarians must shift their focus. They must alter their traditional teaching methods and adopt teaching methods used by academics with more discussion, group projects, guided exercises and Web‐based modules. They should offer examples of best practice in terms of integrating information literacy into the curriculum. Perhaps organising joint workshops where librarians offer instruction to teaching staff on using electronic resources will allow teaching staff to share their expertise in learning and teaching. Collaboration is the key to the successful integration of information literacy into HE.

Hannelore B. Rader concludes the issue with a comprehensive literature review spanning 1973‐2002. This confirms the picture painted by the articles in this issue. Information literacy as a concept and an approach to learning and teaching, has gained ascendancy in the last ten years coinciding with the vast increase in electronic information sources and the emphasis on independent and lifelong learning in education. Whereas in the 1970s effort was concentrated on a particular geographic spread, the 1990s has seen a more global picture.

Concern with information literacy is still predominantly within the HE sector where there has been a lot of progress. This is particularly true in terms of the number of useful websites and online guides created by librarians. Rader presents a useful list of these. Interestingly the literature also shows that interest in information literacy has spread beyond academia to industry. Business and industry leaders are beginning to recognise the value of such skills. The overarching conclusion from the literature review is that this is an important issue with far‐reaching effects on society as a whole, and that librarians must position themselves to take up the challenge that this poses.

This special issue of the journal collects together a useful selection of articles presenting an insight into information literacy in the current climate worldwide. Of particular interest to librarians and academic staff are the case studies of information literacy courses and Rader's excellent literature review.

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