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2002 Gwen Gawith: Re-defining research

2002 Opoho School: "The Opoho Possum Hunt"

2001 Gwen Gawith: "Infobliteracy" - Part 2.

2001 Gwen Gawith: Responding to "Into a Further World" by Elwyn Richardson.

2001 Carolyn Coil: Teachers make the world of information become knowledge.

2001 Gwen Gawith: Why Read?

2001 Gwen Gawith: "Infobliteracy" - Part 1.

2001 Linda Selby and Maureen Trebilcock: A call for teacher-librarians

2000 Gwen Gawith: Information Literacy: theory into practice - Part 2

2000 Gwen Gawith: Information literacy: problems and solutions.

2000 Alan Cooper: Information literacy; the past is not enough.

1999 Gwen Gawith: The origins of information literacy.

1998 Graham Prentice: Knowledge architects.

1998 Gwen Gawith: Getting a handle on information literacy.

1997 Gwen Gawith: NEMPing through information literacy.

1992 Gwen Gawith: learning for the future.

1987 Gwen Gawith: Information skills for an information age.

1986 Gwen Gawith Information skills for an information literate future.

1984 Gwen Gawith: Getting a handle on information skills.


information literacy:
definitions & discussion
Information is a living, organic concept. It changes as the need for it changes. The articles in this archive show that it has been discussed, and taught, in New Zealand since 1984.

Information literacy is defined, simple, as the ability to find, use, apply and communicate information with critical discrimination, and transform it into knowledge.

Three integral and integrated dimensions of information literacy - cognitive literacy, technological literacy and 'library' literacy - are highlighted in these articles. There are also articles documenting the attempts, over two decades, to help New Zealand teachers teach the skills young New Zealanders need to become information literate.

Information literacy: Problems and solutions

This article was published in Good Teacher, Term 2 2000

Gwen Gawith

In a brilliant analysis of the plethora of confusing definitions and interpretations of 'information literacy', a teacher-librarian colleague, Linda Langford, concludes, "there remains a real need to explore how the concept of information literacy becomes the natural or the basic practice of teachers" (1998, p. 69).

This is what I set out to do in my PhD research, working with 8 NZ teachers - 2 primary, 2 intermediate, 2 secondary and 2 tertiary, to develop a pedagogy of information literacy for teachers. I started by going back 100 years and examining the various educational practices that are now subsumed under the term 'information literacy'.

I discovered a substantial body of documented practice in all Western countries throughout the century, with an overwhelming consensus, since 1898, that 'projects', 'inquiry' and resource-based learning are, on the whole, ineffective for students and challenging for teachers and students alike. There is some agreement on the reasons why, eg:

Linking/ motivating/ authenticating:
The topics and the purpose of the work were frequently not authentic to students, often not linked clearly to the curriculum, and student motivation frequently seemed to be to get a teacher-set task done, rather than intrinsic interest in the topic. Students seemed to find it hard to visualise the process sufficiently to plan it, and there was evidence of a mindless 'gold rush' to library/ Internet as soon as the topic was decided.

Framing task/ overview/ purpose:
Getting an overview of the task and topic was seldom done. Students often appeared unable to find information on the topic because they couldn't define the topic adequately. The need for students to own the assessment criteria for product and process was occasionally commented on, but there was little evidence of teachers helping students to work out and 'own' criteria.

Background knowledge:
Students often lacked sufficient background knowledge to know what they needed to find out. There was agreement on students' need to link information purpose to selecting information, but not on how this could be done.

Students' difficulties using libraries and books: These have been documented since the early 1900's! Students find identification of appropriate sources of information difficult, and selection of relevant information from the resources extremely difficult. Indiscriminate copying is endemic throughout the world.

Limited transfer from library/ information skills/ study skills programmes:
This was documented in every country. Earlier programmes were often characterised by teaching 'parts of a book', rather than the 'intellectual foundations' of research. Librarians were criticised by teachers for seeing information as disembodied from subjects, while teachers were criticised for not knowing anything about finding information in libraries! All agreed that library instruction/ 'user education' was seldom applied and was often irrelevant to classroom purposes in its focus on bibliographic aspects. Librarians' information skills efforts were treated with 'apathy' by classroom teachers. Information skills instruction was approached unsystematically by teachers in most schools.

There was very little evidence of teachers showing students how to shape questions and analyse information. It was just assumed that students would be able to go from teacher-defined purpose to precise information. But even when information was retrieved (often by luck rather than design, and often found for students by intermediaries like parents or librarians) there was little evidence of analysis or reflection on the ideas, content, facts, etc. There was overwhelming consensus that students usually saw the purpose as finding information and reproducing it in some way (formerly in charts, latterly in multimedia-type projects) with little understanding and no critical analysis.

The need for more analysis, synthesis, critical thinking

: EVERY study suggested that students needed to make deeper, more analytical use of information, but few made recommendations as to how. Students did not/ could not use information critically or analytically. Skills (for critical and analytical use of information) were not coached; what resulted was recycled information, not cognitively processed knowledge. Assessment was seldom formative. It was based more on the presentation of information than curriculum-derived criteria measuring learning.

These factors, together with the 'tyranny of exams' and the 'tyranny of time and timetable' at secondary level signalled the limitations of projects (inquiry/ research, etc) as a method for learning information literacy skills, and the lack of explicit pedagogy over the decades.

There is remarkable consensus between some of the leading commentators in their analysis of the problems and what is needed to improve this type of learning. Of course, with hindsight, the problems seem obvious.

But, if it is so obvious, why haven't we solved them?

Where progress has been made and positive results noted, it has almost inevitably been in the context of the use of some sort of framework, an information process framework or a cognitive process framework. So, for example, talking about the use of Gawith's Action Learning framework (1987) used in the Infolink course, Bruce outlines school-wide benefits in a NZ primary school (1999).

The project which best shows the positive results achieved by applying a six-stage information process model in a secondary school was that undertaken by Todd and McNicholas at Marist Sisters in Sydney. They note student progress in: sense of control, independence and self-reliance, positive attitudes, enhanced self-esteem, mechanism for self-analysis, charting learning progress, more accepting of learning as a challenge, identifying learning weaknesses, managing the quantity of information, more global view of information, lateral information seeking, meaningful learning, develop reflective thinking, improve memory, increased concentration and focus on the task, develop skills of self directed, autonomous learning, transfer of learning, exchange of ideas, improved test scores (Todd, Lamb & McNicholas, 1993).

All of these areas represent areas of persistent weaknesses in documented practice over decades and in different countries. Many more recent Australian accounts of practice (in Access and Scan) do signal progress, particularly in relation to negotiation of a relevant, authentic learning purpose, establishing and developing prior knowledge and ensuring ownership of learning, and in helping students use the information gleaned with more purpose and discrimination.

In contrast, there is the persistence what Rudduck and Hopkins (1984, p. 113) described as "images... of a rhetoric of independence, belied by didactic teaching, an instrumental use of the library and a pedantic view of knowledge." This is an insidious sub-plot which runs throughout this body of work and is most evident in the studies of secondary students. Quinn (cited in Sanger, 1989, p. 162) says "We urgently need to look more closely at learning from learners' points of view."

This was the view most frequently missing. Many (resource-based/ inquiry/ research units) were NOT planned or conceptualised from the learners' points of view; they were usually firmly teacher-centred, library/ information-centred, and provided the context for learning but little guidance. Learners were given the freedom to fail, not to learn.

It seemed a timely juncture to ask whether the six-stage information process models (adapted in 1984 from Irving/ Marland's original 1978 nine-stage model by Gawith and published here in 1987) were an adequate base for a new information literacy pedagogy which might embrace all the persistent negatives turned into positives, ie:

Helping students to authenticate learning by:

˘ making links to curriculum learning

˘ making links to self-as-learner: skills, competencies, practice

˘ making links to purpose/ audience

˘ making links to curiosity/ need to know, to expand knowledge

Helping students to establish prior knowledge by:

˘ brainstorming of topic

˘ mapping/ framing/ linking

˘ discussion and input

Helping students to establish ownership of learning:

˘ negotiate goals, purpose, audience, roles

˘ negotiate plans, deadlines, checkpoints

˘ negotiate criteria for process and product

Helping students to define their knowledge needs:

˘ focus questions - key concepts, key terms, key questions

˘ define knowledge needs in relation to curriculum objectives

Coaching the selection of information:

˘ determine appropriate information sources, information technologies,

˘ use of information retrieval techniques and technologies (eg search engines)

˘ use of key concepts, key terms, key questions

˘ use scanning and skimming

Coaching the analysis of information:

˘ select optimum information to match need (purpose/ audience)

˘ record information selectively

˘ organise it effectively

Coaching the construction of knowledge from information:

˘ interview information using reading, listening, viewing, thinking skills and graphic devices to analyse the information

˘ metacognitive strategies - use of 'reflective conversations' to establish key understandings, key facts, ideas, themes concepts, key opinions, premises, arguments, key causes, effects, solutions

Coaching communication of knowledge by:

˘ translating knowledge into clear messages related to learning purpose, assessment requirements, audience, medium and technology

˘ metalearning strategies for self-regulated learning, self- efficacy, self evaluation, satisfaction, achievement

Formative coaching of information and cognitive strategies.

Formative, collaborative evaluation of content knowledge AND process.

My conclusion was that the six-stage information processes have a role to play, but more profitably within a broader, simpler framework, which is easier for students to grasp and for teachers to teach.

Challenging a model which has underpinned so much of my professional life since Ann Irving first introduced it to me in 1978 has been a liberating experience. I haven't found a panacea, but I can see new ways forward.


Bruce, J. (1999). Teaching information literacy skills. National Education: Information Technology. (pp. 8-12). Wellington: New Zealand Educational Institute.

Gawith, G. (1987). Information alive. Auckland: Longman Paul.

Langford, L. Information literacy: A clarification. School Libraries Worldwide, 4 (1), 59-72.

Marland, M. (Ed.) (1981) Information skills in the secondary curriculum... London: Methuen Educational.

Rudduck, J. & Hopkins, D. (1984). The sixth form and libraries: Problems of access to knowledge. (LIR Report 24). London: British Library.

Sanger, J. (1989). The teaching, handling information and learning project. (LIR Report 67). London: British Library.

Todd, R., Lamb, L. & McNicholas, C. (1993) Information skills and learning: Some research findings. Access, 7(1, March), 14-16.