Information literacy through
information technology: Teacher development project
from sections on the social and pedagogical contexts underpinning
the design (1990-1997) of the national teacher development courses
offered by the Centre for Information Studies.
full report (10,000 words) was a prizewinning entry in the international
Telematique Pedagogique Concours de Scenarios, 1992 - 1993.
Social and cultural
context for information literacy learning:
Education both shapes
and is shaped by society. New Zealand has experienced a decade
of profound social and educational change. Dordick (1987, pp.
27, 38) says:
To understand New
Zealand's entry into the information society, how the information
technologies have been and are being diffused and with what
impact, we need to appreciate the economic and social changes
taking place in New Zealand.
At the close of
the 1980's then, New Zealand finds itself in a precarious economic
and social situation. Despite a considerable increase in its
exports, its terms oft trade continue to decline. And the government's
ability to maintain its traditional social programmes is severely
strained, leading to curtailments that challenge long-held New
Zealand values. Further, as New Zealand enters the information
society, it is likely to be a two-tiered society, of highly
paid information workers and poorly paid non-information workers,
posing: a considerable threat to its egalitarian ideals. It
is in this climate that the information 'revolution' in New
Zealand is taking place.
In the 1990's New
Zealand's situation is no less precarious. Sweeping changes
to the administration of education followed the publication
in 1988 of two key reports, 'Administering for Excellence' and
'Tomorrow's schools'. They heralded a shift of direction from
a centralised administration to the school as a 'building block'
of the new system, with school-based management and decision-making
as the keystone in all matters except curriculum. Following
a 1987 review of the curriculum by the Department of Education,
and the publication of curriculum discussion documents in 1988
and 1991, a new National Curriculum Framework is due in 1993.
Nearly 25 years
ago Beeby, New Zealand's best known educator said:
tell us that, in some subjects, knowledge is doubling every
ten years. Whether or not this is literally true I do not know
- it is certainly not true of wisdom - but there is some justification
for the view, now commonly expressed, that new ways of teaching,
learning and understanding must he found if the new generation
is not to be intellectually smothered beneath a mountain of
facts (cited in Beswick, 1977) .
The National Curriculum
Frameworks, a 1989 Planning Council Report, and a 1991 National
Library/Institute of Policy Studies report all list information
skills as generic or essential skills needed by all in an information
The inclusion of
information skills as essential skills in the new National Curriculum
Framework, to be taught in learning areas and at all levels,
by all teachers, is an acknowledgement of the need perceived
Much overseas research
indicates that teachers themselves may not have the necessary
skills and experience to teach 'the new literacy', information
literacy. A recent Australian document, 'Australia an an information
society...' sets this concept of information literacy in the
context of social and education developments:
The ability of individuals
and institutions to access that information and to transform
it into knowledge is also important and is based in the capacity
of the education system to impart information skills. The capacity
of our institutions to store and preserve information is also
a part of this process and is a matter of long term concern.
None of these processes can be considered in isolation if Australia
is going to develop effective policies and strategies for its
There is also a
need for people to develop an understanding of their information
rights and become information literate. This could take the
form of increased opportunities for students to develop information
awareness and skills in a more concerted way than is currently
the case in education. At the tertiary level there is a need
for all graduates to have an understanding of the links between
values and information as well as information handling skills.
There is also a need for specific programs to be put in place
at all three levels of education to develop information handling
skills in students. These programs should allow for the subtle
nature of information and not be equated with computer skills.
Recognition of a
new paradigm, the development of an information dependent global
economy, in which Australia has the potential to play an increasing
role (or face the risk of a deteriorating one) is essential
and long overdue. One reason for the delay in recognising a
new paradigm has been confusion between information technology
(IT) and information generally in which content and handling
techniques have been equated.
This quote has been
included in full because New Zealand has no such clear-sighted
vision statement. However, Scott, New Zealand's National Librarian,
suggests, "there is not much evidence that we have grasped the
long-term societal implications of this change. Instead, the
obvious has been seized - the effects of information technology
on productivity, job organisation and administrative convenience."
Clearly, the need
for information literacy extends beyond students and includes
teachers. Information literacy cannot be viewed as merely the
addition of 'computer awareness' or information technology skills.
It requires a fundamental redefinition of the nature of learning,
teaching and understanding, as Beeby suggested, and a fundamental
restructuring of pedagogy in student and teacher education.
Fullan (1982) reaffirms this need for new approaches to teaching
and pedagogic beliefs. Markless and Streatfield (1991) and Heeks
1988) reporting on recent British information literacy-linked
research, affirm and support the growing trend toward ongoing
school-based inservice training for teachers. Recent American
research (Borrell, 1992, p.25) highlights the need for teachers
to be adequately prepared, not just to use computers, but with
the pedagogic skills needed for integrating them into curriculum
programmes. He reports:
unused computers; computers used for games and not for teaching;
schools and teachers unprepared to use computers that they own;
mismanaged or misdirected policies; and unknown hundreds of
millions of dollars spent over the last decade for little return.
The gap between
rhetoric and reality is wide, it appears. Saxby (1990, p.1)
suggests that information technology is evoking fundamental
change in our society, quoting a report which states that the
new information technologies "are changing the way people work
and conduct their business; how they interact and relate to
one another; the way they learn, create and process information,
and their needs and expectations.... In this society, the creation,
use and communication of information plays a central role."
Literacy Teacher Development Project has sought to draw together
themes in the emergent literature of education in an information
age, and to incorporate these in designing a pedagogy of distance
teaching in information literacy learning and teaching to ensure
that New Zealand teachers, and their students, are equipped
to confront the social and educational challenges and potential
of our evolving information society.
been described by Martin (1988) as 'the lifeblood of learning'.
The emphasis, in recent years, on the concept of information
literacy, is discussed by Kuhlthau: "Essential to being literate
in an information society is the ability to locate, comprehend,
and apply information. These basic abilities involve thinking
critically about information..."
UNESCO study edited by Irving (1981, p. 1) states:
at all levels is considered essential: the personal, vocational
and social development of the individual depends on the amount,
quality and accessibility of information. Not only is information
the medium of social communication but it is also a national
resource vital for scientific and economic progress.
If seeking information
is to he a normal part of everyday life, the training of information
users must begin at school, from the primary level.
IFLA/UNESCO study edited by Hall (1985, p. 3) suggests that:
Information is much
more complex than the provision of libraries and other information
agencies, desirable as these may be. It is embedded in the nature
of learning and how people interact with one another and their
environment to make sense of their world. The concept of information
in whatever form - oral, visual, print - therefore, appears
essential to any educational programme and must increasingly
be the concern of all teachers and all teacher educators...
Within an information society, it is now accepted that such
information retrieval and use skills should be important outcomes
Kay (1991) reinforces
the cautionary note that is being sounded with increasing frequency
against the unquestioning assumption that the mere presence
of unparalleled quantities of information and information processing
technologies will ensure their effective use by students and
teachers in learning and teaching.
In the near future,
all the representations that human beings have invented will
be instantly accessible anywhere in the world on intimate notebook-size
computers. But will we be able to get from the menu to the food?
Instant access to
the world's information will probably have an effect opposite
to what is hoped: Students will become numb instead of enlightened.
Beswick (1986, p.5)
expressed the same caution:
a learner who finds one book a problem will not find many millions
of books any easier... the problems faced by slow learners,
new learners, insecure learners and teachers, when faced with
vast numbers of learning sequences, multi-megabyte capacity,
and the contents of the world's libraries, are not simply daunting:
they are horrific.
Hall (op. cit) points
out that "the majority of pupils still leave school unable to
retrieve and use information effectively outside the context
of the classroom" and suggests that the "education of information
users should be integrated into formal education programmes
at all levels, from primary education upwards." She adds:
...there is a need
for teachers to recognise that the whole world is a potential
information source, and that the teaching of information skills
to enable pupils to gain experience in seeking and interpreting
information is essential learning for learning in an increasingly
complex world; that teachers need training and experience in
knowledge about information sources, information skills, and
teaching information concepts and skills within the curriculum.
De Landsheere (1991)
focuses on the nature of information in learning. He suggests:
is only of value to an individual if he or she has learned to
use it. It has no significance except in relation to the person
who propagates it. And it constitutes power only for one who,
having understood or interpreted it, has the means to take advantage
of it to administrate things differently.
Hoggart (1991) highlights
this political dimension of information literacy:
The literacy given
to most people is insufficient for the needs of increasingly
complex societies and, more important, inadequate in ways essential
to a democracy. Most leave school critically, culturally and
Cleaver (1987) highlights
the problem teachers face in teaching students for today's realities
and tomorrow's uncertainties:
The transition to
an information society is still in an early stage, and this
presents a formidable challenge. Our educational system... is
now faced with the difficult task of preparing learners to live
in the present and yet be able to accommodate to an environment
that is in the process of becoming. Will the skills students
learn today be useful in coping with their future needs? Are
there generic skills that can be transferred to new learning
environments? What kinds of environments will be created by
are there in understanding and using electronic and print data?
Is information a product, an entity that is complete and unchanging,
or does it change with the nature of the information seeker?
How is information received? How can it he used?
These were some
of the issues which set the pedagogic direction for the development
of the Centre's information studies courses, and underpinned
the perceived need, described previously, to make this training
in information literacy available to as many teachers as possible
throughout New Zealand.
In summary, we set
out to develop a pedagogy for encouraging teachers to explore,
as learners, the scope of information literacy, and the implications
for information literacy learning and teaching in classroom
This pedagogy would
reflect the belief that the students of today will determine
the shape of tomorrow's society, not in relation to their ability
to use technology, but in relation to their ability to select,
interpret, reject and use in socially responsible ways the information
that the technology stores, processes and disseminates.
would focus on developing students as autonomous, self-directed
learners, and on the knowledge, understandings and pedagogic
practices teachers would need to guide these students towards
increasing learning autonomy and self-direction throughout their
this would involve the use of information technologies in classroom
and library teaching programmes, ensuring that students were
able to locate information sources and resources, process and
produce information effectively. However, the focus would be
on the quality of the learning and information use rather than
on the technology per se. The learning would, in other words,
be information-driven rather than technology-driven, and the
focus of the project would be on pedagogy - the pedagogies most
effective in enhancing the teaching and learning, and extending
the understanding of both teachers and learners of the implications
of information literacy, or the lack thereof, in an information
The pedagogy would
stress the need for both teachers and learners to look beyond
the school for information; to see society itself as both a
source and context for the use of information.
We would seek to
embrace the workplace and economic/commodity
dimensions of information
and technological growth and development, but develop critical
and responsible attitudes to the use of information and information
technology. We would have to turn the school inside out, recognising
that information literacy already exists, implicitly and explicitly,
in the business community to a greater extent than it does in
schools; that, rightly or wrongly, educators are running to
catch up with the information age, not leading it. As Barron
and Bergen (1992) state:
The concept of information
literacy cannot be overemphasised. Ours has been characterised
as a society drowning in a flood of information. Our economy
rests on our ability nor only to manage the information but
also to use it creatively. To maintain even a minimum quality
of life, graduates must be able to survive in the world of information.
Reflecting the issues
and concerns highlighted in the literature, the following are
the key ideas and pedagogic principles which underpin the three
phases of the work:
1. That there is
a crucial need to focus on teachers as learners; to provide
them with the competencies to use information and information
technologies effectively in their own leaning.
2. That self-reflective,
'double-loop' learning is most likely to occur in learning based
in the teacher's own school and classroom, but that, given frameworks
and opportunities for reflection, analysis, research, reading
and discussion, teachers will also look beyond their own experience
3. That self-reflective,
autonomous, self-directed student learning can be taught in
similar ways, ie by providing teachers and students with the
frameworks and opportunities for reflection, and guidance in
4. That involving
students, teachers, principals and trustees actively in the
course, encouraging teachers to plan and work collaboratively
with the whole school community, will ensure an improved information
climate in the school, and an increased awareness of the implications
of information literacy for teachers as well as students, and
for school- based developments curriculum and pedagogy.
5. That using information
and communication technologies effectively, efficiently and
imaginatively depend on the capacity to use information effectively,
efficiently and imaginatively; that they are inextricably linked.
Together they are information literacy. Learning to use technology
without learning to use the information it stores, controls,
disseminates and produces, might be technological literacy,
but it is not information literacy.
6. Information literacy
is a cornerstone concept of current curriculum development initiatives
and documents in the countries whose education systems and policies
tend to have most influence on New Zealand developments, ie
Britain, Australia, and America.
needs to provide both the rationale and the methodology in any
New Zealand training initiatives for teachers.
7. The social and
educational implications of the information society and developments
in information and communication technologies are profound.
teachers and students alike need to be encouraged to consider
the broader socio-cultural, socio-economic and socio-political
dimensions of learning in this age. Learning to make socially
responsible use of information and information technologies
is a critical dimension of information literacy.
8. We need to re-focus
our pedagogy, recognising that the information society is a
societal construct, not an educational construct. In encouraging
students and teachers to look outside the school for the information
that shapes their thinking and learning, rather than focusing
on the school itself as the knowledge source and resource, we
must acknowledge that the need for a pedagogy with clearly articulated
educational and ethical principles has never been greater, Teachers
and students alike need to be able to articulate a philosophy
of learning and teaching and demonstrate it in action.
9, The educational
implications of a global information-based economic and social
infrastructure make the need for a small, proudly self-reliant
but parochial country like New Zealand, to look beyond its own
shores for ideas and information. The tyranny of distance can
be overcome, as we have proved, using telecommunication technologies.
But if you do not know what you need to know, how are you going
to know what technology to use to find an appropriate information
source? And how will you be able to judge the quality of information
when it floods your screen?
The tyranny of passive,
uncritical, parochial, socially and politically unaware citizens
poses more of a threat to the future of New Zealand than the
tyranny of distance. Information literacy is not a panacea,
but it is a useful tool, and one which is well within the capacity
of our current education system to resource,
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