“Information and computer literacy, in the conventional sense, are functionally valuable technical skills. But information literacy should in fact be conceived more broadly as a new liberal art that extends from knowing how to use computers and access information to critical reflection on the nature of information itself, its technical infrastructure, and its social, cultural and even philosophical context and impact – as essential to the mental framework of the educated information-age citizen as the trivium of basic liberal arts (grammar, logic and rhetoric) was to the educated person in medieval society. Indeed, such an extended notion of information literacy is essential to the future of democracy, if citizens are to be intelligent shapers of the information society rather than its pawns….”
Shapiro, Jeremy J., and Shelley K. Hughes. "Information Literacy as a Liberal Art: Enlightenment Proposals for a New Curriculum." Educom Review 31.2 (Mar.-Apr. 1996). 3 Nov. 2004 http://www.educause.edu/apps/er/review/reviewArticles/31231.html
The following proposal addresses the issue of information fluency (hereafter IF) in the revised curriculum. We in the library cannot stress enough how important we believe this issue to be to the future place of our students in our information society. Increasing the IF levels of Furman students is one of the objectives of the new Strategic Plan. It was also listed as one of the first of the key educational outcomes in the article from AAC&U that Tom gave the Committee several weeks ago: “strong analytical, communicative, quantitative and information skills.”
As students confront today’s dizzying information environment, they are increasingly feeling something known as “information anxiety.” When they discover the number of research resources available to them through the library for their research projects, they tell us again and again that they feel “overwhelmed” and that they have “no idea where to start.” Without guidance, they almost invariably fall back on what they are comfortable with—Google or Yahoo. We are sure that many of you have seen the results of these types of research effort. It is only after they have had one or more IF instructional sessions that they begin to understand the value of more scholarly, reputable sources. Once they become comfortable with the recommended research process, they see how much easier it is to find background information on a topic in a subject specific encyclopedia rather than a web search that yields three million documents. Because of the nature of the information environment, we need to emphasize information-seeking strategies with our students at least as much as memorization of facts and theories.
Information skills are not the same as technological skills, although there is considerable overlap. In their Final Report, the American Library Association’s President’s Committee on Information Literacy said that “To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” The colleges which are members of the Associated Colleges of the South have collectively decided to use the term “information fluency” instead of “information literacy” to indicate that we are striving for an even deeper level of understanding and comfort with information issues and needs.
Currently, we are only able to expose students to IF instruction haphazardly, and there is no guarantee that a Furman student will graduate with any IF instruction at all. We encourage English professors to incorporate IF instruction into all of their English 11 classes, but only about half of them do so, in part because many of them do not require any sort of research for their writing assignments. After English 11, a student’s chances are even slimmer. Because research has consistently shown that IF instruction is only effective if it is course-integrated and related to a meaningful research assignment, we only teach IF sessions at classroom professors’ request. In addition to being very hit-or-miss, this process is completely non-sequenced. Since there is no guarantee that we have seen any given student in any sort of introductory session (such as we do with English 11), we constantly have to start over at square one—we never really get to square two, much less square nine or ten or beyond. This is frustrating for students, because in any given class, some of the students are lost because they lack some of the introductory IF work, and some are bored because they have seen much of it before. Faculty have the sense that by the time a student is a junior or certainly a senior, they are well equipped to handle any necessary library research, but this is simply not the case. Every spring, we have seniors who come into the library and tell us “I’ve never used this library before, but…”
With these issues in mind, we would like to propose a sequenced path for IF instruction with at least 3 levels of encounter with students: 1) first term of their Frosh year in their First Year Seminar, 2) in the “Intro to the Major” or “Research and Analysis” course for their major and 3) in the capstone or senior seminar for the major.
First Year Seminars:
We believe it is extremely important for students to learn early to incorporate research into their writing, giving proper credit to these external sources. Our guess is that many of the cases of academic dishonesty we now see might be prevented if students were ALL taught early in their first year how to conduct effective research and correctly cite their sources. Incorporating IF into the First Year seminars could significantly increase the level of academic integrity on campus. This need not be a complicated or long research project—just enough for them to get a sense of how the academic literature is structured and to be able to distinguish some of the basic types of sources and their uses. IF instruction at this level would also include the basics of evaluating resources. (For an outline of skills we believe all Frosh should have by the end of their first term, see Appendix A). We envision pairing a librarian with each First Year Seminar as an integral part of the course. These librarians would have an excellent understanding of the objectives of the course and could assist the classroom professor as s/he plans the research project(s) for the class. The librarian could also serve as a resource for the students in the course throughout the term, helping them overcome their information anxiety. Overall, IF instruction integrated into the first year seminars would provide students with the foundation of information seeking skills to carry them into research projects for other courses.
Intro to the Major/Research and Analysis:
In this course, we could begin to help students understand how the literature in their chosen field is structured, including the major journals and reference works in the discipline and subject specific article databases they would need to know how to search. We would begin to help them move into more scholarly, peer reviewed sources. These encounters would prepare them for any future literature reviews or other library research they would need to do in their major. (For an outline of skills at this level, see Appendix B).
In the capstone seminars, we would focus on the more advanced stages of research including citation searching and comprehensive literature reviews. It would also be the time to explore the social and ethical context of the information in their discipline. At this stage, students would begin the switch from searching the literature of a discipline to contributing to that literature through publication—either print or electronic. (For an outline of skills at this level, see Appendix C).
Depending upon the sequence of courses in the major, some departments might wish to add intermediate phases of IF instruction within their courses, but these three are the minimum we see as providing sufficient exposure to information skills for students to remain competent information seekers after graduation.
The typical student today spends hours browsing through dozens or even hundreds of pages on the Web when a 20 minute search in the appropriate article database would yield far better information. We find this a tragic waste of our students’ time and intellectual resources, with frightening implications for their future ability to find information they need, be it on a disease afflicting a family member or a political issue of concern. We appeal to the Curriculum Review Committee to provide a solid place for Information Fluency in the new curriculum.