rambling on what I don’t claim to teach

I like to research and discuss information literacy (IL), but I don’t teach it.

This was something I wanted to articulate and comment on after meeting with a close colleague of mine. We’re trying to collaborate on course research, and it made me think that while the courses are derived from ideas from IL, the outcomes that we’re trying to measure aren’t and don’t need to be wholly legitimized by how IL has been scoped out and defined.

Identify, search, evaluate, and use are the verbs that are generally tapped to describe the abilities we want students to have in regards to information. While they sound simple enough, they’ve become words in IL that come with a lot of baggage. I think we’ve become locked into particular ideas of what they encompass. Many undoubtedly think of the CRAAP test when evaluation is mentioned or Boolean operators when talking about search. Is that sufficient?

Most people know now that IL is not simply a set of skills that fall neatly under each of those categories of verbs, which in of themselves have a sophisticated and overlapping relationship. But however one regards IL, it strikes me as being or having a shaky foundation.

Consider the rhetoric from the Presidential Committee on Information Literacy that asserts that “information literacy is crucial to effective citizenship.” Powerful words. But hard to swallow on the ground when the practical classroom outcome we desire is seeing students properly cite their sources. Is that really “central to democracy”?

Okay, I am being glib, but only because I do believe that my job is to help people learn “how to think actively and critically about information rather than passively receive prepackaged facts or materials” (Dewald, Scholz-Crane, Booth, and Levine, 2000, pg. 33). And I find myself skeptical that these are all it, even if many are valuable. Are we sure these competencies are the complete solution? This is at least one question that partially drives my research in this area.

Some might argue that IL is in constant flux. Or what we have made of it is also part of it. But at least when I present on my courses, I don’t even want to broach the institution of IL. I want to talk about how and why we teach the things we teach to students and its benefit to their academic success, careers, or personal lives using non-polarizing language. And keep letting whatever it is converge, diverge, and evolve for the time being without feeling compelled to fit a mold.

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