Integrating Information Literacy into the Higher Education Curriculum: Practical Models for Transformation
By Ilene F. Rockman and Associates
California State University, Office of the Chancellor
"Most first-year students currently entering colleges and universities were born at about the same time as the Macintosh computer." Thus notes Patrick Sullivan, a librarian at San Diego State University, in a recently published volume of articles entitled Integrating Information Literacy into the Higher Education Curriculum: Practical Models for Transformation by Ilene F. Rockman and Associates. Sullivan's comment, written for an audience of faculty members and librarians who most certainly were born before the Macintosh's debut, and perhaps even before the advent of television, helps to set the context for the vastly changed educational environment of the 21st century. Personal computers have changed the way we work, play, learn, and live, and ultimately have given us access to unprecedented amounts of information through the World Wide Web.
For colleges and universities, which expect students to supplement their classroom learning with out-of-class research in the library, laboratory, or community, access to electronic information has been a revolution. One of the first books to address the impact of the Information Age on higher education was Information Literacy: Revolution in the Library, published in 1989 by Patricia Senn Breivik and E. Gordon Gee. It raised awareness of a new information environment with its concomitant dangers and opportunities. The book explained how and why educational practices must change and promoted a new academic skill called "information literacy," succinctly defined as "the ability to find, evaluate, and use information." In the 1990s, a succession of books and articles followed, each one advocating and endorsing this new integrative skill and supplying a justification and rationale.
The second generation of commentary on information literacy, however, is moving beyond enthusiastic advocacy and focusing instead on practical, concrete strategies that faculty and librarians can use to help students graduate with strong information-seeking and information-using skills. This is the category into which Integrating Information Literacy into the Higher Education Curriculum falls. It is a book for those who have already been convinced of the importance of information literacy and want specific advice about how it can be implemented. The volume consists of nine articles written principally by professionals who work in library settings ranging from community college to research university. Drawing upon their own personal experiences in creating information literacy programs or experiences, they describe the nuts and bolts, successes and setbacks, and day-to-day challenges of trying to introduce this newly defined academic skill.
The editor of the book, Ilene Rockman, indicates that the articles in the volume need not be read sequentially, and she is right. However, in a sense, after the introductory overview by Rockman, the individual pieces fall into two groupings: (a) a segment on how partnerships can enrich information literacy, and (b) a larger segment, consisting of five essays, on the various venues through which students can become adept at using information. In addition, throughout the book run two subterranean themes: the need to be aware of and respect academe's unwritten protocols, and the importance of process in developing both information literacy programs as well as information-literate students.
Rockman's introductory piece, "The Importance of Information Literacy" is a succinct, useful overview of the rationales for information literacy. She provides a historical perspective, explains the meaning of the term "information literacy," and surveys the literature. She supplies a host of evidence that information literacy is expected by employers, endorsed by CEOs, required by accreditors, desired by society, supported by a wealth of research studies, and encouraged by professional and disciplinary organizations in academe. The extensive bibliography that concludes the essay is in-and-of-itself worth the price of the book.
Coming after this introduction, the first segment of articles establishes two of the key principles of information literacy: that partnerships are essential, and that it is an all-university responsibility. This message is promulgated by Susan Carol Curzon, Dean of Libraries at CSU Northridge, in her article about faculty-librarian partnerships and by Rockman in her essay about partnering with academic and student support units like first-year experience programs and faculty development centers. This segment contains one of the most practical and helpful portions of the book. ("Here is the bottom line," says Curzon, indicating the straightforward, no-nonsense tone of the entire book.) Curzon lists the various ways that information literacy can be integrated into the college curriculum, with an explanation of each, including a discussion of its strengths and weaknesses. Any college or university considering how to make a commitment to students' information literacy would benefit from a look at the options described in this segment.
The articles in the second segment of the book largely provide case studies or narratives of attempts to improve or assess, in some systematic way, students' knowledge of the concepts and skills of information literacy. The authors elaborate on the strategies listed by Curzon and provide more extended commentary on the surprises and setbacks, the successes and vicissitudes that have characterized the information-literacy movement.
The first integration strategy noted by Curzon is the "introductory course," such as a freshman-composition course, a first-year experience course, or an "introduction to the major" course. This approach is discussed by Rockman in "Successful Strategies for Integrating Information Literacy into the Curriculum" and also by Sullivan in "Developing Freshman-Level Tutorials to Promote Information Literacy." Sullivan addresses the changes in the backgrounds and experiences of today's students, considers how to adapt instructional strategies for these students, and describes well-designed on-line tutorials.
Curzon's second strategy is integrating information literacy into general education by infusing a single GE course or diffusing information skills throughout the GE curriculum, a topic that is discussed by Trudi E. Jacobson in "Meeting Information Literacy Needs in a Research Setting." Moving from lower-division to upper-division skills, Renee R. Curry and Pam Baker look at the academic major in "Integrating Information Competence into an Interdisciplinary Major."
Proponents of information literacy have looked at introductory courses, general education courses, and major courses as appropriate sites for information literacy instruction. They have also considered that some students may already possess these skills and can demonstrate that they are indeed information literate. Two of the articles in the collection address this issue: "Developing a Tool to Assess College Students," by Bonnie Gratch Lindauer and Amelie Brown, and "Assessing Information Literacy," by Lynn Cameron.
Taken as a whole, the nine articles in the volume, along with their authors, aspire to the "transformation" indicated in the book's title. The word "transformation" implies not just "change," but a change so profound that the altered state is palpably and qualitatively different from the original incarnation. Hence, these authors' aims are suitably lofty. The book proposes these kinds of transformations:
- Learning that is fostered by partnerships of faculty, librarians, and professional staff, as opposed to a single autonomous faculty member.
- Pedagogies that ask students to do more than take notes in class, that instead require students to find, evaluate, and use print and electronic resources.
- Course assignments that go beyond a research paper that is assigned by the professor at the beginning of the term and submitted to the professor at the end of the term, with no interventions or feedback along the way.
- Faculty who believe that teaching their discipline means more than covering the content of the subject, that it also means helping students to understand, appreciate, and use the information resources associated with the discipline.
Interestingly, the bibliographical citations that conclude each of the nine articles in Integrating Information Literacy give us a glimpse of the extent to which the academic disciplines have embraced information literacy. All told, there are 197 books, articles, websites, and other resources mentioned in the articles' bibliographies. Of those 197, half (51 percent) of them are library-oriented, which is not surprising, given that most of the authors are library-based. Another 41 percent of the citations are from "general" sources, such as business, government, media, accrediting agencies, and higher-education associations. The large number of general sources reinforces Rockman's contention that information literacy is indeed a skill valued by and important to American society. Finally, the remaining eight percent of the book's citations refer to disciplinary resources or organizations, such as the American Chemical Society or the American Psychological Association. If the first generation of information literacy books and articles focused on advocacy, and the second generation (such as Rockman's book) concentrates on "practical models," then we should hope that the third generation will provide us with a rich trove of materials from the academic disciplines.
Posted November 5, 2004.
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Publication in this journal in no way indicates the endorsement of the content by the California State University, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, or the Exchanges Editorial Board. ©2004 by Lorie Roth.