a handle on information skills
Paper presented at the Reading
Association Conference in Wanganui, 1984.
I read recently in an American periodical that someone had developed a matrix of 900 information skills. I gave up on my own list when it reached 250, and my response to the 900 was a distinctly rude 'so what?' So, it may well be true that there are 900 infoskills, but what does that mean to the average teacher, and, more importantly, the average (or above average) student?
Information age, information explosion, information society, information flood, information generation, information rich, information poor, information power, information overload...
These are all truisms because they are true! We are living in an information age where information is being generated, transmitted, stored and processed at rates and using technologies not predicted, even ten years ago.
Are our library skills programmes enough to equip the information generation for life in this information age where information (the right, strategic information applied strategically) will determine economic, institutional and political power, and where the ability to select, reject and use information using appropriate technologies and strategic skills and insights will determine which countries, and individuals, comprise the new rich/poor divide?
If the answer is no, what do we do? Do we teach students 900 information skills, test them and certify them information literate or illiterate? Or do we sit back in the knowledge that the gifted children will succeed, whatever, because they are gifted, and sort of teach themselves through some kind of osmotic learning?
This isn't either fatuous or flippant. It's at the heart of one of our most urgent educational issues. It needs to be addressed at every level - national system, school system and individual teacher/ student level.
If there are 900 information skills, teaching them in isolation as a 'subject' will require extending the school day till 5pm. Simply, there is no alternative - if infoskills are to be learned it must be through integrating their learning into every curriculum area and at every level. To make the integration of information skills in all subjects and levels manageable for all teachers and all students, we need some kind of handle on the quantity and complexity of these skills.
The handle I've developed in the Action Learning information skills workshops is PROCESS. It is based on the work of British educators Ann Irving and Michael Marland who produced a nine-stage model (Marland, 1981).
By demonstrating to teachers and students that a simple six stage process can provide a framework for planning, monitoring and evaluating information-related learning, we can harness the fragmentation and complexity of the core information skills into a coherent and interesting learning/ teaching process. Action Learning provides:
• A framework for students of all ages to develop independent self- reflective information skills, monitoring themselves and conferencing- with peers and teacher after each of the six stages
• A framework for teachers to plan and guide the six stages that comprise the AL information process, and to co-evaluate with students their progress through the stages.
The stages are:
1. DECIDE what you need to know
2. FIND appropriate sources of information and resources.
3. USE the information analytically and critically.
4. RECORD only the information relevant to your purpose.
5. PRESENT information in your own words.
6. EVALUATE both the information product and process you used.
The teacher's role is that of stage-by-stage monitor, guide, mentor. Conferencing (between peers, with teacher) between each stage ensures formative as well as summative evaluation of the research process as well as product, ie driven by the questions 'how well did I do what I did at this stage? What skills do I need to develop and practice? What did I do better this time than last time? What will I do better next time?'
By learning to drive the Action Learning stages, like using the gears of a car, the learner has the framework for driving the process, using the skills appropriate to each stage, and is in control of the process. This is the essence of Action Learning. It is a student-driven, student-controlled, student-empowering process of teacher-guided resource-based learning.
The student breaks the information process down into stages, uses questions (the teacher prompts) to work out what skills are required to do each stage of the process, and because it becomes more tangible and less abstract by being broken down and chunked up, self-reflects and self-evaluates and uses the teacher as a guide and mentor.
All children need techniques and strategies for learning to drive the information process confidently and independently. Students with inquisitive minds, an appetite for learning, good literacy skills, the ability to think laterally and critically need the skills to make confident, effective and self-reflective use of information like fishes need water. Information is their medium! Teaching them the strategies to swim to it, in it, through it is probably the most valuable thing that any teacher can do for them.
Using Action Learning as a teacher requires a great degree of trust, confidence and skill. Sending 30 kids to the library to do a project is NOT resource-based learning or Action Learning in any guise or disguise. Giving learners total control over their learning does NOT mean that the teacher abrogates responsibility. In contrast, it's tough teaching and it feels a lot like sitting in the passenger seat teaching someone to drive.
How do teachers learn Action Learning? A short workshop like the workshops I'm doing at this conference can do little more than give a taste. The best way to learn Action Learning is consistent with what it is, ie a self-reflective, metacognitive resource-based model of learning.
Marland, M. (Ed.). (1981) Information skills in the secondary curriculum. (Schools Council Curriculum Bulletin No 9). London: Methuen Educational.