Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Article Note: On Infolit and Tech, Some Issues

Citation for the article:

Grafstein, Ann. "Information Literacy and Technology: An Examination of Some Issues." portal: Libraries and the Academy 7.1 (2007): 51-64.

Read via Project Muse.

The main argument of this article is that information literacy is not a new concept. Information Literacy was around long before the emphasis (some would say "overemphasis") on technology and online tools. While it seems that information literacy is tied to the advent of the Internet, the author argues that is not the case.

As part of the literature review, Grafstein looks at Paula Warnken's work (see JAL 30.1 March 2004). Grafstein provides the following summary:

"Warnken provides numerous examples of information literacy programs in academic libraries in which library instruction and technological training are incorporated to such an extent that no distinction is made between the ability, for example, to create a spreadsheet or navigate one's way around an e-mail client and the inherently intellectual processes that have been identified as being essential components of information literacy: (1) designing a research question or thesis statement that is appropriate to a particular field of inquiry, (2) formulating hypotheses, (3) locating and and critically evaluating all the information that bears on the research question, (4) selecting from those sources the best-suited for the research, and (5) putting all this together into logical, clearly-written, coherent arguments, forming conclusions, and identifying fruitful directions for further research" (qtd. in 53).

Grafstein's argument is that, very often, instruction in information literacy does not seem different than learning some technical skill. The assumption often made by students and faculty is that if one knows how to use a database then one is information literate. Very often, the analytical and critical skills need to effectively use and evaluate any results from a search are left aside. Yet these are crucial skills that students need to learn. The skills that Warnken lists above are things that I try to do in my classes, mostly in an informal manner.

Most professors simply want the "just show 'em how to use a database" lesson. I am sure a few cover and teach some of those skills to students, but the majority of professors do not. And before some professor out there gets in a huff or defensive, here is my evidence: I actually talk to your students. I heavily promote research consultations in my BI sessions, and students do come for assistance. A short talk with them is all I need to know the difference between Professor Adams, who models some of the skills Warnker mentions, and between Professor Moe, who pretty much unleashes the students with minimal instruction, does not really confer more than he has to, and has the class on cruise control. So Professor Huffy, before you send your nastygram my way to express your "righteous" indignation, take a good hard look at your teaching practices and see which side of the spectrum you fall in. The point is that if students are to succeed then they need to learn essential information literacy skills and elements that will allow them to find information, evaluate it, and make the most effective use of it. No one is pretending to usurp a professor's terrain. I am just saying librarians, as information experts, can help in that regard. Professors and librarians share a lot in common. Grafstein writes that "the goals of fostering active learning, critical thinking, and lifelong learning--core components of information literacy-- have long been advocated within the academy. . . " (54).

Grafstein looks at various works to illustrate her thesis, and a look at some of those works may be a good review for academic librarians. Overall, libraries may have changed, but the issues and need to teach good information literacy skills remain.

Some other ideas from the article I would like to think about:

  • "The more time spent on technology-based issues, the less time there is to develop those abilities--abilities that the new information environment may, ironically, be making even more important" (59).
Maybe something that certain technogurus in librarianship ought to consider.

In discussing implication, Grafstein looks at industry-sponsored research as an example:

  • "This industry-sponsored research is published by reputable scientists in high-quality, peer-reviewed journals. Therefore, simply instructing students in the distinction between popular and scholarly/scientific writing does not address the issue of hidden bias. Teaching students the importance of relying on scholarly literature for their academic work does not equip them to consider the potential impact that sponsoring bodies might have on the kinds of research questions that are asked and on the outcomes of that research" (60).

I have to admit that here we are not even close to addressing or considering this in a way other than sporadically. A lot of faculty, and many students, draw comfort from putting a check mark on EBSCO's interface to limit to peer-reviewed articles. As of late, I have been trying to introduce the notion of questioning sources when it comes to scholarly work. Time constrains me greatly in that endeavor, but I still try.

  • "The critical thinking skills involved in recognizing how sponsorship can affect research outcomes take considerable time to teach and assimilate and do not fit easily within an instructional program that views information literacy as merely a component of technological literacy" (60).
To summarize then:

  • "It has been argued here that when too great an emphasis is placed on technology there is a risk of de-emphasizing the teaching of critical thinking abilities that are central to information literacy and that are neither dependent on nor related to technology" (61).

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