focusing on information literacy

While I have put forth a working definition (well, several) of information literacy and derived specific learning objectives for the purposes of teaching a couple of courses, I still find myself negotiating the scope of its domain. Despite the positive reception of my classes, the resulting data often leaves me with more questions than answers (not to mention new data that constantly comes my way). And as I continue to design or revise activities in the course, I find myself struggling with the deeper understandings that we’re trying to teach. The things that I’ve included in the class are ones that I believe in; but even if they’re derived from this thing we call “information literacy” (IL), I’m not always convinced that IL stands soundly on its own as a literacy or meta-literacy.

The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) defines IL as a set of abilities associated with recognizing an information need and then finding, evaluating, and using the needed information effectively. To me (being purposefully glib), that sounds awfully vague. Isn’t that just an abstraction of what we do every day?

It’s like saying agility is the ability to move effectively. Move effectively how? You don’t teach agility; you teach or practice other skills that contribute to agility. Everyone for the most part has some level of it. And then recognizing some need to be agile requires a context, like fighting off ninjas or leaping over buildings. At least, that’s the current intuition within the literature.

So while the ACRL does define a set of outcomes associated with information literacy that somewhat delimits a contextual scope of access through the libraries (i.e. inter-library loan, using the catalog), they include ideas that require further discipline-specific framing in order to be useful. Which is what they recommend.

But I don’t teach a discipline-specific course, and therefore I was forced to take the general education approach. I had (or perhaps I put it on myself) to figure out a generic or interdisciplinary set of IL skills, knowledge, and habits of mind that could be taught. On the journey, I found myself grappling with a number of issues and approaches ranging from the Big6 to how to assess writing to the ideas of critical pedagogy. Eventually, I came up with something that I think was and is worth pursuing.

Unfortunately, that something feels incomplete. I’m still trying to make sense of it all. Even after all I’ve learned and synthesized from various conferences, publications, and data from my own courses (which in turn have led to many revisions to the instructional plan), I still feel hazy. Good pedagogy and principles of design have taken me far, but it hasn’t helped me overcome some of my skepticism or ability to fully articulate IL (ironically, I am part of a collaborative blog promoting one approach).¬†Champions of IL don’t always seem to have the full picture–nor do the most ardent critics.

I’m hoping this log can in part help me a bit with these issues as a thinking space and systematic review of the literature.

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