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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

NEMPing through information literacy

This article was published in Good Teacher Term 1 1997

Gwen Gawith

It’s 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!

For 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.

Overnight 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?

Information 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.

There 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.

So 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.

Without information skills, students will not become information literate, but information skills do not happen without a conscious effort on the part of teachers.

You 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.

What 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.

Most 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 information literate?

Integrating 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.

It 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.

Some 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 build knowledge.

Initially 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 relevant.

So 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 literacy.

I 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 monitored.