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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

Infobliteracy: Part II

Gwen Gawith

There was a big response to the Part 1 of the infoBliteracy article from Term 2. Several teachers asked me what I thought about a recent discussion on some listserv (?) about inquiry topics, suggesting, apparently, that ‘topics’ are the problem. They asked whether I agreed and how this related to information literacy and what I said in the infoBliteracy article.

I haven’t a clue!

Inquiry was the step-by-step process promoted by Dewey and Kilpatrick, the pioneers of the so-called ‘Project Method’ in USA in the early 1900’s. The term dropped out of sight until the 70/80’s when it was associated with Hilda Taba’s social studies questioning method. Now it seems to have re-emerged in the context of finding/presenting info using ICT?

On Friday I asked the mums finding info for their kids in the local public library what they were doing. It seems that they were doing what they now call ‘inquiry’ and the kids were going to "present the information on the computer." Silly old me, I should have guessed.

Now I DO know about using information process frameworks, having started with Marland’s in 1979. But I’m not at all sure that ANY information process framework (Marland’s, mine or the many truncated or expanded derivatives) is what I’d use to prevent infoBliteration, or to teach kids to transform information into cognitively processed, meaningful knowledge. This is NOT because frameworks are linear - any skilled teacher will understand the iterative nature of the steps and stages of any process framework - but simply because there are easier ways to skin the infoliteracy cat.

My Action Learning Framework (Gawith, 1984) is still great when you know what you are doing. It’s a pretty good framework for research. I should know. I’m using it for my research again this year! But then I know what I’m doing and I’ve defined my topic (information literacy) very carefully because I know how important it is to have a first step where you decide what you need to know, map your topic etc. I'm quite good at that because I know enough about information literacy to work out what I need to know and translate it into questions. So the topic, for me, really isn't a problem.

The nature of the topic is only really vitally important when it comes to what you do with the information, ie if you are just going to paste it up on paper or on the screen, then what the hell, anything will do, the more the better.

However, if you are going to reason with it, weigh the claims it makes, summarise and synthesise what it says, compare it with other information, make inferences about it, establish its accuracy, relevance, etc, then it is important that, as a learner, the topic is intrinsically interesting, that you want to learn about it, that you are so interested in it that you WANT to find more information, read all about it, think about it, discuss it...

This is the kind of learning you do when you are TAUGHT how to use information with discrimination; when you are taught the skills to become information literate and avoid infoBliteration.

Topics a problem? Again, it makes as much sense as saying 'inquiry' is a problem. Put it this way, have you ever tried finding info without a topic, when you didn’t know what you were looking for? If you don’t want to find information about something, are you going to look up something about nothing?

I agree that topics are a problem if:

teachers set ‘inquiry’ aka ‘research’ aka ‘projects’ on topics that aren’t information-rich (meaning that there are lots of books at the right level in the library, lots of kid-level websites, posters, pictures, etc);

teachers set ‘inquiry’ on topics that are too abstract (greed), or too everyday (supermarkets) or too blurred in focus (Easter - do you go the bunny route, the pagan egg route or the religious route?);

teachers set potentially suitable topics but children have no intrinsic interest in them; the topics are not relevant to children’s lives and they have little prior knowledge;

teachers set potentially OK topics but children have no idea where to look for info, how to look for info, or what to do with the info when they (or ?) find it.

teachers set half a dozen projects a term because it is the predominant method implicit in our silly over-stuffed curriculum;

the model of ‘inquiry’ in children’s heads is the cognitive by-pass model - find info (the more the better) and paste it up electronically or manually and this is called ‘presenting information’.

(Actually, when they get to university they’ll find out it’s called plagiarism, but that’s another story).

The point I’m making is that almost any information-rich topic can be suitable if teachers build students’ prior knowledge, make it authentic and relevant to them, and interest them in owning the learning process. As per Tararua, THIS TAKES TIME.

Ask the teachers participating in the 3Doors® trial this year. 3Doors® isn’t ‘inquiry’; it doesn’t use ‘brainstorming’ or even the ubiquitous questions (you know, who what where when why how). It doesn’t use steps or stages.

It DOES emphasise the teacher’s role in authenticating (making topic and process relevant and interesting), motivating by building prior knowledge, and building the learner’s capacity for ownership, self-efficacy and self-regulation. This can make the most apparently banal topics absolutely riveting. The riveting bit is when kids learn to make and justify claims, make inferences, develop, share and test ideas and theories.

I think that’s called learning, not ‘inquiry’?

But maybe not. Dewey didn’t have a computer and access to the Internet, but so what? He really really DID understand inquiry as learning. His inquiry wasn’t about topics. It was about learning to appreciate knowledge in a subject domain by exploring it heuristically, thinking and reasoning, for example, like a historian. Read Dewey.

Dewey’s kind of inquiry I understand. It’s about transforming information into knowledge, not about looking up discrete topics and pasting up information. If he weren’t long gone, I’d suggest bringing him out as the guest speaker for the next ICT conference. We need his version of inquiry.