INFORMATION COMPETENCE

Academic Senate CSU
May 1998

In his chronicle of the life of Samuel Johnson, James Boswell wrote, "Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it."

In higher education, faculty have devoted themselves to both kinds of knowledge: knowing a subject and knowing how to find information about a subject. However, in an age of rapid advances in electronic technology, the amount and speed of information transfer has sometimes compromised teaching students these same skills. In a world awash in new information--much of it is spurious, erroneous, misleading, false--we cannot afford to compromise the teaching of how to find information and evaluate and use information responsibly and effectively.

"The latter half of the twentieth century has rightly been called the Information Age. Never has so much information been available in our history. We have moved into an environment in which information competence is at the center. With nearly 2.7 billion documents published world-wide each year, with the magnitude and complexity of current scientific research, with the rapid development of technology which has given us access to information never known before, every student who wishes to be considered educated and who needs to make a successful career must have a mastery of information competence." (Information Competence Work Group, 1996, p. 2).

In its report, "Baccalaureate Education in the CSU" (1998), the Academic Senate CSU emphasized the importance of information competence. It identified the knowledge and skills for lifelong intellectual endeavor that were essential for each graduate to have mastered. These included learning, locating, evaluating, analyzing, synthesizing, and creating information. Further support for the development of these skills were included in "The Cornerstones Report: Choosing Our Future" (January, 1998), a CSU framework for systemwide planning.

In 1995, the Commission on Learning Resources and Technology (CLRIT) initiated CSU systemwide efforts to discuss "information literacy" or "information competence". A systemwide CLRIT work group on information competence, including two facullty members from the CSU Academic Senate, was established and promoted this conversation through conferences, workshops, reports, and support for campus projects.

What is information competence?

The meaning of "information competence" has evolved to go beyond "library literacy" or "bibliographic instruction" or "computer literacy". Through discussions in systemwide CSU workshops on information competence and within the professional literature, there is general consensus that information competence is the ability to find, evaluate, use, and communicate information in all of its various formats, including the plethora of electronic communications. In other words, information competence is the fusion or integration of library literacy, ethics, critical thinking, and communication skills.

In its second report to CLRIT (1996), the Information Competency Work Group stated its position: "No student should graduate from California State University without the ability to formulate a research question or problem, to determine its information requirements, to locate and retrieve the relevant information, to organize, analyze, evaluate, treat critically and synthesize the information and to communicate and present that information in a cohesive and logical fashion. Moreover, no student should graduate from California State University without understanding the ethical, legal and socio-political issues surrounding information. If our graduates are to make a contribution to a wider socio-political world and create a better society, they must understand information--its power, its uses and its abuses." (p.2)

 

What are the specific skills of information competence?

In order to be able to find, evaluate, use, and communicate information, students must be able to demonstrate these skills in an integrated process:

1. State a research question, problem, or issue

2. Determine the information requirements for the research question, problem, or issue

3. Locate and retrieve relevant information

4. Organize information

5. Analyze and evaluate information

6. Synthesize information

7. Communicate using a variety of information technologies

8. Use the technological tools for accessing information

9. Understand the ethical, legal, and socio-political issues surrounding information and information technology

10. Use, evaluate, and treat critically information received from the mass media

11. Appreciate that the skills gained in information competence enable lifelong learning

 

How is information competence implemented?

Programs to develop the information competence of students have long been undertaken by academic libraries and academic disciplines utilizing library resources as their main source of research information. These programs teach students the value of how to locate, evaluate and use information effectively, and the critical thinking skills to assess the information in the context of their scholarly work. As made evident in the CSU workshops in 1995 and 1997, many faculty members do indeed foster the students’ ability to attain and use information resources and encourage students to develop the skills necessary to be independent, self-directed learners.

In general, however, it is uncertain whether the skills of information competence are slowly being compromised as new information advances rapidly, or whether there is a lag in developing university programs that firmly embedded these skills in the academic curriculum at a rate that keeps pace with new electronic information resources. The research undertaken by the Work Group suggests that isolated, hit-or-miss, ad hoc attempts cannot ensure that students are well equipped for the Information Age. It also indicates that the best programs that teach students information competence are those that are integrating these skills within the curriculum throughout the students’ education tenure. In addition, most of these same programs have strong alliances between the academic teaching faculty and the library faculty. The CSU Work Group’s report assumes that the information competence of students is a responsibility to be shared by academic teaching faculty and library faculty and should be an integral element of the curriculum.

Participants at the CSU workshops considered the strengths and weaknesses of the various models for implementing a program in information competence. It was generally agreed that there are many difficulties associated with implementing ANY program at all; however, there was also strong consensus that if a program were to be implemented, it must be integrated throughout the curriculum. In other words, almost no one is in favor of a "quick fix," in which a stand-alone course, taken once in the student’s career, is expected to meet a student’s need to be an informed, ethical consumer and producer of knowledge.

There is a great deal of interest in achieving this goal through a three-stage process, in which: (1) the fundamentals of information competence are introduced in a freshman-orientation/transitions course; (2) the skills are further developed by being embedded in general education courses; and, (3) the skills are reinforced and amplified in the major area.

REFERENCES

Academic Senate of the California State University. (1998). Baccalaureate Education in the California State University. http://www.calstate.edu/acsenate.

Information Competence Work Group. (1995). Information Competence in the CSU: A Report. http://www.calstate.edu/ITPA/Docs/info_comp_report.html

Information Competence Work Group. (1996). Information Competence: Second Report. http://www.csun.edu/susan.curzon/infocom2.html.

Information Competence Work Group. (1997). Information Competence: A Set of Core Competencies. http://www.csun.edu/susan.curzon/corecomp.html

Information Comptence Work Group. (1997). Information Competence: Third Report. http://www.csun.edu/susan.curzon/infocom3.html.

The California State University. (1998). The Cornerstones Report: Choosing Our Future. http://www.calstate.edu/cornerstones.

For more information on information competence:

Books:

Breivik, Patricia S. (1998). Student Learning in the Information Age. American Council on Education, Oryx Press.

Breivik, Patrica S. & Gee, E. Gordon. (1989). Information Literacy: Revolution in the Library. New York: Macmillan.

Farmer, D. W. & Mech, T. F. (eds). (1992). Information Literacy: Developing Students as Independent Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992. Number 78.

Web sites:

http://www.calstate.edu/itpa/Docs/info_comp_report.html

http://www.csun.edu/susan.curzon

http://www.lib.calpoly.edu/infocomp/



 
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