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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


Gwen Gawith

Information is just signs and numbers, while knowledge involves their meaning. What we want is knowledge, but what we get is information. Heinz R. Pagels

The other day a teacher sidled up to me and said, somewhat shamefacedly, "I’m not sure I actually know what information literacy is."

Thank heavens for honesty! I’ve worked in this whole area of helping learners to make effective use of information for 25 years - I’m amazed by some recent interpretations by instant experts. I should be glad, after 25 years of pushing rocks uphill, that information literacy is now a bandwagon? Well...

Many now call library skills information literacy. Ross Todd, with his feet firmly in the information paradigm, comments on how many library-use studies are now being represented as information literacy studies (1994, p. 3). Why? Many see research, inquiry, technology, ICT, problem-solving, ‘constructivism’ and school libraries alike as information literacy. This is makes no sense.

Why re-tread the first published definition which related to the world of 1974? Why not think of 2001 and the idea that information literacy represents what kids should be able to do NOW in the context of information-based curriculum learning.

It’s important to see information literacy as contextual - related to the context in which learners will understand, use, apply and communicate information. It’s not a static 1974 phenomenon, or a single skill (Living Heritage, 2001)!

Information (too much, too fragmented) is leading to what I call infobliteracy!

To be literate with information means to have the skills NOT to be obliterated by information - to be able to sort, sift, select, REJECT and use it with critical discrimination.

Information literacy is a living literacy, needed for even basic operation in a ‘wired’ society. Information is a living, organic, social literacy, responding to social, workplace and educational needs as well as the evolving capabilities of ICTs to organise, find, disseminate, produce and communicate information.

It’s not just a re-naming of old ideas, but a re-framing of many components of literacy to meet 2001 learning needs. Simply...

Information literacy is the ability to find and use information with critical discrimination in order to build knowledge.

To be information literate is to be able to do with information what the context demands.

To be information literate in the context of the school curriculum, what do we want kids to be able to do with information?

Broken down this means:

• I want learners to be able to work out when they need information and what information they need to achieve their learning objectives.

• I want learners to understand enough about the world of information to know what type of information suits what need and where it lives and how to get it.

• I want learners to be able to read, listen and view well enough to work out what the information is claiming, and to relate information claims to information needs.

• I want them to be able to ‘process’ - to sift, sort, analyse, synthesise and interpret it, and when they can do that...

• I want them to be able to discriminate between fact grounded in evidence and unsubstantiated opinion; between reasoned and biased arguments, between infogold and infogarbage.

• I want them to apply information; to communicate it clearly and coherently, verbally, in writing, diagrammatically and using a variety of media and ICTs.

• I want them to be able to employ ICTs to find, process, organize and communicate information.

• I want them to understand and respect copyright and intellectual property laws.

• I want them to be confident that they have the skills to find and use information to build knowledge; above all else, I want them to find knowledge fascinating; to WANT to learn so as to know.

As a researcher/ teacher I know that all of this must be TAUGHT. It is NOT ‘caught’!

Information literacy is a state of literacy which results when a range of skills, including reading, listening, viewing, library, information, cognitive, metacognitive, planning, and ICT skills are harnessed to serve the information strategies signalled above.

The most exciting developments in information literacy are happening in the area of technology-enhanced learning design, specifically in developing online scaffolds and strategic guides which make it easier for teachers to coach cognitive skills, and make it easier for learners to learn these skills.

These information strategies are often NOT caught through ‘projects’/ ‘research’/or ‘inquiry’. They are best learned when taught - coached and monitored by a teacher with expertise - over and over and over.

Information process frameworks like the AL Framework (Gawith, 1984) or the later Australian and American equivalents can be very effective when students are coached to use the strategies. Where infoprocess frameworks are criticised, it is usually by people who have never used them, who don’t have the skills to coach learners, or who expect them to be panaceas. Give a mirror to an ass and ask it what it sees!

However... the information process is difficult to teach and it is time consuming. Unless each strategy is coached, it doesn’t work. Too often students who have skills will practise them; those who don’t won’t gain them.

BUT there are many other ways of teaching these information-based learning strategies.

This is what I am sharing with the ‘lead’ teachers who have joined me this term on the Information Literacy Online Project to learn my new model for information literacy learning. These teachers will be designing curriculum units incorporating a variety of information strategies - ‘things’ that kids need to do to find and use information with critical discrimination and to build meaningful knowledge. More in Good Teacher Term 3!


Todd, R. J. (1994). Information literacy and learning: IASL report of Australian research. IASL Newsletter (March), 14-16.