NEMPing through information
This article was published in Good Teacher
Term 1 1997
always intrigued me how academics have ‘fields’ - plots of mental
earth where they dig into theories, prune colleagues’ work, grow
ideas and opinions and irrigate them by reading copious quantities
of professional literature!
the last century or so (well, at least 18 years!) I’ve been tilling
the field of information literacy. Like kiwifruit, it’s changed
its name several times, and has of late become a lot more zesty.
information literacy has become associated with being able
to use computers. It’s tripping off everyone’s lips like the ever-elusive
educational panacea we are beginning to realise the Internet is
NOT. Zesty it is, but what exactly is it?
literacy is not a skill; it’s a state. It’s a state of being able
to retrieve, use, interpret and produce information and turn it
into knowledge. It’s as old as education itself, because education
has always involved aspects of finding and using information and
turning it into knowledge.
is absolutely no doubt that, in the age of information, the ability
to find, use and produce information using computers and various
information and communication technologies is an integral part
of information literacy, but IT literacy and information literacy
are not synonymous. You can retrieve, use, interpret and produce
information and turn it into knowledge without laying hands on
a computer. You can be a gun computer user and be profoundly information
illiterate. The most sensible approach is to suggest that to be
highly information literate you also need, these days, to be computer
literate, IT and communications technology literate, Web literate
and media literate.
what has this got to do with NEMP and the information skills monitoring
which is beginning this year? Far from being Not Enother
Meaningless Phrase, NEMP is shaping up to be a really
positive force in New Zealand education. Anyone involved in the
project to date would realise that national monitoring is NOT
national testing. The tasks the NEMP team have developed are intrinsically
educational, fun, interesting for the students involved, and give
children the chance to show what they can do, rather than be tested
against predetermined criteria and standards.
information skills, students will not become information literate,
but information skills do not happen without a conscious effort
on the part of teachers.
ask ‘what are information skills? It is extraordinarily
hard to distinguish them from comprehension skills, listening
skills, visual literacy skills, thinking skills and problem solving
skills, not to mention the aforesaid computer skills.
makes these skills into information skills is when they are used
in the process of finding, using, interpreting and producing
information, and turning it into knowledge.
teachers we know make a pretty good fist of teaching things like
alphabetic skills, listening skills, computer skills, visual literacy
skills, ‘looking things up skills’, problem solving skills, brainstorming,
questioning, comprehension and notemaking skills. So are our students
individual skills into the process of finding, using, etc,
information in such a way that students themselves understand
how the strategic use of the skills contributes to the process
is really tough teaching, and very tough learning
- the sort of cumulative learning that builds year-by-year.
simply isn’t the sort of thing that can be reduced to a checklist
like ‘library plan’, ‘parts of the book’, ‘how the catalogue or
CD or Internet works’ and ticked as being ‘done’ for the year.
people still seem to think that substituting computer catalogues
and CD/ online searching of databases has made library lessons
into information literacy instruction without realising that knowledge
is constructed in heads not in libraries. Information literacy
is to learning as yeast is to bread. Some information lives in
libraries; sure, but learning to use a library is not a synonym
for learning to use information selectively and critically to
my concern with NEMP tasks was that they could not, by definition,
monitor the process of finding, using, interpreting and
producing information after it has been filtered through the head,
simply because this is a time consuming process with a coherence
that will inevitably be compromised if it is ‘chunked’ into a
range of discrete tasks, however intrinsically interesting and
am I opposed to it? No, not at all. I welcome it because I think
it will highlight, for teachers, the awareness that these skills
are not acquired by osmosis, that they need to be taught, year
after year, if students are to develop towards information
don’t think it matters that there will be discrete tasks because
what we are monitoring is the development of information skills,
not whether students are "information literate". I also
welcome it because I think the NEMP team has, rightly, seen that
information skills are an umbrella for the other essential skill
areas of the NZ curriculum, particularly communication, problem-solving,
self-management, social and co-operative and work and study skills.
Collectively they drive learning, and, as such, they need to be