Literacy, and Numeracy are two concepts that have been present in
Education for a long time. There is a growing plethora of literacies being
defined and discussed in the educational environment. One of the newcomers is
Information Literacy. Educationalists need to gain a comprehension of the
concept, its context within learning and techniques that enhance the gaining of
appropriate concepts and skills for our students. It is very important that the
definition we hold to actually fits and matches with the learning context in
which it is being used. On this basis I discuss and suggest both a definition
and a context that fit together logically and go a step beyond most other
definitions. To match this I suggest a technique that can be utilised in many
learning environments to enhance the skills our students need to acquire to
become independently information literate people.
I believe that there is a need for schools to develop, or
adopt, a definition of Information Literacy to clarify the subject.
Just imagine a rugby match without a defined playing area and the
confusion that would result.
Schools addressing Information Literacy without a commonly held
understanding of the overall concept will soon experience confusion with no
defined field to the discussion.
The following definitions have been created by various groups and can be
found on the web at
The information literate person is “able to recognize when information
is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use it effectively.”
Final Report of the American Library Association Presidential Committee
on Information Literacy (Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 1989)
ability to locate, evaluate, and use information to become independent life-long
Commission on Colleges, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
for Accreditation. 10th ed. Dec. 1996.
"the abilities to recognize when information is needed and to
locate, evaluate, effectively use, and communicate information in its various
State University of New York (SUNY) Council of Library Directors.
Literacy Initiative. 30 Sept. 1997.
... an “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"
Shapiro, Jeremy J. and Shelley K. Hughes.
Literacy as a Liberal Art". Educom Review.
3.2. Mar./Apr. 1996. http://www.educause.edu/pub/er/review/reviewarticles/31231.html
skills of information problem solving"
Wisconsin Educational Media Association (adopted by the National Forum
for Information Literacy).
Statement on Information Literacy. 1993. http://www.ala.org/aasl/positions/PS_infolit.html
The majority of definitions include the word ‘use’, but I believe
that this word is often misused or misinterpreted in many situations. In some
literature the word carries the interpretation of gaining meaning from the
information, other publications interpret it within the context of communicating
information gathered by the user and it can also be interpreted within the
context of utilizing information as a tool for some higher purpose. The first
two interpretations would seem to place information as being an end to itself
whereas the third option places a much lower value on information within a wider
context. I believe that information plays a role within a complex scenario and
that we magnify its value when we treat information as the major focus within
activities that fall within the domain of information literacy.
The focus should be on LITERACY not the information.
The following diagram is my adaptation of Ham’s Tree of Knowledge that
I feel demonstrates the scenario or context within which information plays a
This Context leads us to a clearer definition because
education that seeks the best for our pupils must target something much higher
than the skills of information management and information retention. Surely we
must be aiming to develop in our pupils the growth of knowledge and
understanding at the very least and also be seeking opportunities to facilitate
the development of wisdom.
Information literacy, if it is to have a value within this context, must
move our pupils past knowledge with its layers of understanding into the realm
of quality decision making and shared understanding, the realm where wisdom can
be added to and increased.
In order to ensure this happens we need to remove any ambiguity in
regards to the interpretation of the word ‘use’ or avoid that word and
create a definition which clearly defines this higher goal. I feel that the
following is a more definitive statement because it is structured to fit the
context detailed above.
To be information literate is to be able to locate, access, acquire, comprehend, analyse and critique relevant
information, then utilise it to make valid, informed decisions and also communicate those
decisions appropriately with validation where necessary.
If this definition outlines what information literacy is really about we
can then move on to identifying the competencies that we would seek to develop
in our pupils. If we return to the original analogy we now have the field and
rules defined and, as a coach would, can decide what skills will be needed for
the team to perform at a reasonable standard. This then leads us to a technique
for developing those skills. In terms of information literacy we can search the
Internet and do some professional reading. However a logical starting point for
New Zealand teachers is the 1997 publication by NEMP
“Information Skills” which analyses a range of information skills
and how our pupils perform at year 4 and 8. This analysis provides a very clear
picture of the general needs of our pupils and a number of skills we should be
fostering and developing as we integrate ICT and Information Literacy across the
Even though this is a valuable resource we must examine the framework
within which the testing is carried out. There are two areas of concern when
this is viewed in the context of the definition of information literacy proposed
above and the concepts covered in the Data to Wisdom context.
1: The NEMP framework
(1997, p11) outlines the strategies, skills and processes involved as being
‘clarifying information needs’, ‘finding and gathering information’ and
‘analysing and using information’. The closest this comes to portraying any
decision making or problem solving is within the 2 categories of “relating the
information to the purpose” and “linking information to respond to the
task”. It is here that we should see this aspect of using the information as a
tool to meet needs, solve problems, formulate opinions and make decisions. This
is where the higher thinking should occur. When this concern is followed
further, by examining the various tasks and activities that evaluate our
pupils’ skills in these areas, a number of issues are raised.
MAJOR FOCUS OF THE TESTS
Firstly there is a major emphasis on the much lower activity of locating
specific bits of information and communicating that snippet back. The ability of
re-communicating information already created by another is one that is largely
devoid of higher level thinking and one in which there is minimal opportunity
for real learning beyond the development of the specific skills of location and
Examination of the test items for year 8 pupils reveals 9 activities
that focus primarily on the location of information and then communicating that
answer to another person. There is only one activity (p36) that sets a problem
based scenario for the pupils, which is relevant to them, and requires that
specific information be found and then used to make a recommendation to solve
the problem. This activity then asks the learners to validate by oral
explanation their reason/s for the solution they provided. We must also be aware
that the very nature of the NEMP testing and analysis structure requires that
the aspects tested must be of a measurable nature. The result is that some
important aspects perhaps are not tested and reported on because of the
difficulty in creating measurable testing procedures. However in this case with
the presence of one test item that examines this major aspect of information
skills and literacy it is unfortunate that there is such a misbalance in the
There are two separate but indirectly linked issues here and they
combine to create a question that, when answered, may validate even further the
viewpoint that relevant problem solving is probably one of the most effective
methods of facilitating the development of information literacy skills in our
Issue 1: Attitudinal
responses of the pupils.
Crooks & Floxton detail (p47) information gathered from year 4 and 8
pupils with 5 questions that survey their attitudes and feelings towards
information based activities.
Firstly the year 8 students indicated that they are often required to
locate and record information. They also indicated a more negative attitude to
this type of task. This leads to the logical supposition “that many of the
information finding projects which year 8 students were asked to attempt were
not viewed as really interesting” (Crooks & Floxton, 1997. p47).
So we have definite evidence of increasingly negative attitudes
exhibited in our pupils towards information gathering and recording activities.
Issue 2: Success levels of pupils in the two different types of activity.
Concentrating on the results for the year 8 students in each of the 2
types of activity utilised for testing the “Finding and Using” category some
interesting conclusions can be drawn, when
averaged, the results for the loctate/report types of activity gave:
The overall average success rate for this type of activity was 66%.
Contrast this with the results of the one activity (P36) where learners
were placed in a problem-solving situation that was relevant to them and
required a solution. The success rate was 83%.
It appears that the problem solving type of activity generates a higher
level of success because there is now relevance, engagement and purpose
involved. In fact this seems fairly
obvious. Who really cares, at year four or eight, “when Winston Churchill was born” (P29, question 5)????
I realize that his conclusion is fairly tenuous because a single test
was used to compare against an average of 8 tests. At the very least there is
enough of an issue raised here to warrant some further research into the
benefits of relevant problem solving tasks as a major tool for developing
information literacy skills. It is likely that this evidence gives a clear
indication of a technique or method that is more appropriate for the development
of Information Literacy then the traditional gather and present methodology.
Issue 3: Differential between correct decision and ability to validate the
In the “Garden Patch” test item (P36) the year 8 pupils were given a
two stage activity.
Firstly they were required to make their decision about the most
suitable plant for the garden conditions. This was an activity that generated
one of the highest levels of success (88%) for the pupils in locating the
correct answer. I believe because of its problem solving nature and relevance.
Secondly they were required to explain the reasons that governed their
decisions. Obviously 88% had made the correct decision yet only 44% could
clearly link their decision to the three criteria that would have governed their
decision. This highlights one of the major weaknesses present in the generation
of children in our schools now. Generally they find it very difficult to explain
elaborate and validate decisions, actions, understandings and viewpoints. This
may arise from a variety of causes such as passive listening and viewing of
media, lack of deeper level discussions and limited opportunities for debate and
constructive controversy. I don’t aim here to explore deeply the causative
reasons but rather highlight the presence of the problem and its implication
within the Data to Wisdom context. How
can we expect our pupils to be able to justify their thinking, explore its
flaws, elaborate on ideas and gain mutual value from shared understanding unless
we ensure that they are consistently and frequently placed in the situation
where they are required to participate in such activities. The easiest way of
doing this in the classroom is
through collaborative learning and problem solving situations.