Information literacy and Infolink
This paper was prepared but not published in 1997.
Jeff Bruce subsequently developed a version for publication in
the NZEI publication Information technology and your school, 1999.
Jeff Bruce and Gwen Gawith
The principles of information literacy and resource-based learning
methods are embedded in numerous recent New Zealand curriculum
and assessment documents. A unique, nationally available school-based
teacher development course, Infolink, is encouraging principals
to examine the policy and planning, curriculum, ongoing staff
development, and resourcing implications of school-wide information
literacy learning. While there is a substantial amount of rhetorical
material on information skills, reading-to-learn and learning-to-learn,
there is a dearth of documented evidence of the reality of the
classroom and school applications and implications. A primary
principal provides such evidence by documenting considerations
in implementing the Action Learning approach to resource-based
learning as a school-wide inservice programme. His account provides
a valuable addition to an emerging pedagogy.
Age requires that the concept of literacy be expanded to include
information literacy - the ability to locate, evaluate synthesize,
organize, and apply information...
is emerging as one of the most critical literacies for an educated
person who will be living and working in the twenty-first century
(Farmer, 1992: 103).
The value of information skills as a tool in building information
literacy has been acknowledged in recent years. Information skills
are one of the essential skills of the New Zealand Curriculum
Framework (MOE, 1993). Information skills are one of the learning
areas being assessed in 1997 by the National Educational Monitoring
Project, while reading to learn and resource-based learning are
seen as crucial for literacy and learning development in a recent
Education Review Office report on literacy (ERO, 1997). An Australian
tertiary educator claims that, "(b)y the year 2000 it is likely
that at least 30% of all undergraduate teaching in Australian
universities will involve the use of resource based learning (RBL)"
(Bell, 1997: 9)
Farmer (op cit) and Breivik (1993) identify resource-based learning
as a means of achieving information literacy. However, while there
is consensus in the range of competencies which comprise information
literacy, there is a paucity of examples of effective practice
in the literature. Bjorner (1991: 151) suggests:
While there has been much discussion and some consensus on the
definition of and need for information literacy, there has been
little examination of the actual details of teaching for information
literacy. What should be taught, who should teach it, when and
how it can be taught have received little attention in the literature.
Information literacy learning is, in fact, widespread in New
Zealand, through a unique programme of school-based inservice
papers. Since 1991, 5000 New Zealand teachers, nearly 10% of registered
teachers, have completed nationally accredited intensive 175-hour
information literacy papers which credit to one of three nationally
accredited specialist information studies diplomas, or to higher
or advanced diplomas of teaching. The foundation course, Infolink
: information literacy, introduces resource-based learning using
New Zealand's own 6-stage information process model, Action Learning.
This model was adapted from an earlier 9-stage British Model (Irving/Marland,
1981). It was first workshopped in 1984 and published in 1986
(Gawith, 1984, 1986), a year before the first Australian adaptation,
and before the, now ubiquitous, American Big Six (Eisenberg, 1988:
Our six Action Learning stages (Deciding, Finding, Using,
Recording, Presenting, Evaluating) form the structure of the course.
The stages are developed as six action research cycles which teachers
implement in their classrooms. Teachers work with students to
plan, monitor, reflect on and evaluate the learning cycle-by-cycle.
The content of the learning is always tied into the national curriculum.
The Action Learning process emphasises self-regulation and self-efficacy,
and provides an explicit focus on cognitive strategies which are
modelled for teachers and offered as a menu to be selected from
at each of the six stages. The structure is simple; the learning
is often profound. The course is grounded in an evolving theory
and pedagogy of constructivist information literacy learning (Gawith,
PhD in progress) supported by well designed materials which reflect
the notion that the best way to learn about constructivist information
literacy learning and teaching is to learn that way yourself as
Integrating information skills teaching into resource-based learning
was a key feature of the first fulltime Teacher-Librarianship
course (1986 - 1988). The three-year Ministry research project
into the educational impact of the 55 fulltime teacher-librarians
trained under this scheme revealed that the main challenges faced
by the trained teacher-librarian were persuading fellow teachers,
and the principal, that resource-based learning was an effective
way of teaching information skills, reading to learn and learning
to learn skills (Lealand, 1990). Many teachers and principals
remained convinced that the job was to organize libraries and
teach classes of children so-called 'library skills'. Where principals
saw and supported the teacher-librarian as a whole-school catalyst
for resource-based learning, and resource-based learning as related
to reading-to-learn and learning-to-learn, the results, even in
a short time, led Lealand to suggest:
It has encouraged a wider and more diverse use of resources,
introduced different perspectives on teaching and learning and
perhaps most important, promoted self-esteem amongst considerable
numbers of students, who are now realizing that the acquisition
of knowledge through resource-based learning can be both a pleasurable
and powerful process (ibid:90).
When the Ministry reinstated the training component of the programme
in 1991 a pedagogy for information literacy learning was becoming
international as a result of the adoption of 6-stage information
process models by every state and territory in Australia, by America,
Canada, and ironically, less so in Britain where the original
9-stage model was developed. If the second course was, ultimately,
to succeed in influencing whole-school approaches to information
literacy learning, the need to involve principals more fully in
understanding the pedagogy was, clearly, an important consideration
in its design. Between 1991 and 1993 the vision of a flexible,
modular distance learning programme supported by a network of
trained local facilitators (course graduates), print, video, audiotape
materials, audioconferencing and email, was achieved and became
a nationally accredited award winning programme. Papers were undertaken
by individual teachers attending campus courses in one of the
In 1993 the first school-based alternatives were trialled. This
involved capitalizing on the rapidly growing network of graduates,
and the flexibility afforded by the technology to deliver the
course in schools anywhere in New Zealand. Between 1993 and 1997
the mode of delivery changed from 100% campus-based to 95% school-based.
This means that a school principal contacts the Centre for Information
Studies and agrees to enrol 10-20 teachers from her/his and neighbouring
schools. The principal also nominates a liaison teacher, and the
Centre undertakes to work with the principal and liaison teacher,
and, in most cases, to provide a site coordinator deliver the
course at the school in after-school and weekend workshop sessions.
Weekly/fortnightly audioconference, phone, written and email interaction
between course participants, site facilitators, course co-ordinators
and markers (all highly skilled course graduates) ensures that
the practical application of the pedagogy in the classroom reflects
understanding of the theoretical principles of information literacy
learning. The participation of the principal and the liaison teacher
(often the head of curriculum) ensures that the course becomes
and integral component of ongoing staff development.
It is fascinating, but exhausting and uncompromising work for
course participants, facilitators, co-ordinators and markers alike.
Far from being 'distanced' learning, the retention rate of 98%
is evidence of the care taken to support each site in the light
of its individual needs. While none of the challenging and specialist
nature of the course has changed, the biggest single factor in
anchoring its success has been the enthusiastic participation
of many of New Zealand's best principals in the course alongside
their teachers. Not only does this afford them an understanding
of the philosophy and pedagogy, but an alternative principals'
assignment with a policy and planning focus enables them to consider
the school-wide initiatives needed to integrate information literacy
learning into school-wide curriculum policy and programmes, and
ongoing staff, information resource and information technology
Jeff Bruce, Principal of Glendene Primary School in Auckland,
examined the dimensions of school-based professional development
in relation to his and his staff's experience of school-based
Infolink: information literacy in 1997. His account comprises
a valuable case study to add to the very sparse literature on
the pedagogical implications of the recent rhetorical emphasis
on information literacy (Bjorner: op cit).
At Glendene School, the implementation of Infolink came about
as part of a school-wide endeavour to improve the effectiveness
and use of the school's library and teaching resources, and to
improve our children's information skills. With our inclusion
in 1997 in the National Library's Library 2000 development contract
(focussing on enhanced accessibility of the school's resources
and development of the library facility as a learning centre),
we recognised, as a staff, the need to ensure that children make
full use of the library, and school's teaching resources generally,
not only as a book exchange centre, but as a research centre.
Consequently, we recognised the need to upskill staff in order
to ensure that they had the necessary teaching strategies for
developing information skills.
The integration of Infolink professional development for staff
and the Action Learning method of resource-based learning into
a school is not a case of simply deciding to do it and getting
under way. It has to be a conscious, and planned for, decision
based on genuine motives for change and a real desire to make
teaching and learning programmes more effective for children.
The staff, Board of Trustees and school community need to be committed
to the concept of a learning process that will, over time, and
with hard work maximise school resources build and develop the
children's information skills
encourage the development of life-long learners.
Unless the vision for making the concept happen is a vision shared
by everybody, there is a limited chance of there ever being a
truly committed outcome.
Getting the staff 'on board' is central to the success of the Infolink professional development and the subsequent application of Action Learning to curriculum programmes. Staff can become complacent about what they are doing, and may have been doing for years, and can become resistant to changes that are 'thrust upon them'.
The key is to let staff realise for themselves that there are other ways of doing things and that what they have always done is not necessarily always the most effective. In no way should their current practices be devalued, but they need to be encouraged to be open-minded about alternative methods that may, or may not, achieve enhanced results. Consequently, staff need to be sold the concept of Action Learning in a way that will motivate them to want to undertake the Infolink course.
The actual 'selling' of the Infolink course is the first big hurdle. Staff are not keen to give up time after school on weekdays and over weekends for professional development, and it is even less palatable when there are 'assignments' to be handed in! It is essential that the idea is sold as being part of a team approach, that 'we are all in this together', and that there will be lots of team support to help everybody through. Other concessions are also helpful, for example, having no staff meetings on Infolink weeks so that staff feel consideration is being given to their personal time and needs.
The second hurdle for staff is putting what they have learned in Infolink into practice. It is important that staff, as for the children they teach, are 'set up for success'. Having to apply, monitor and evaluate in the classroom what is, for some teachers, a different approach to teaching at the same time as learning can be daunting. Teachers need to:
- be helped to choose appropriate topics and find appropriate resources
- have easy access to course staff and experienced Action Learning teachers
- experiment in a supportive, non-judgmental situation
- be encouraged to share successes and failures in a friendly atmosphere
- be assured that nobody will criticise them if it does not work as planned
- be able to make mistakes
if they are going to be encouraged to learn from their initial experience of Action Learning and integrate it into their curriculum programmes on a regular basis.
Many teachers also find that coming to terms with being a facilitator of learning rather than a teacher, and allowing children to drive, and have ownership of their learning, is a difficult mind-shift. They need a lot of support and encouragement to overcome the inherent fears associated with this concept.
Board of Trustees
The Board of Trustees plays a vital role in the integration of Action Learning into the school's curriculum. Firstly, it must support the concept (as presented by principal/ staff) and recognise the motivation for its promotion as a school-wide development theme. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Board of Trustees needs to make a financial commitment to the implementation of Action Learning. This is a twofold commitment:
- funding of staff development;
- funding of resources to support the programme.
Staff development funding (for the Infolink course) is one aspect of professional development financial commitment. Obviously, if the whole staff is going to undertake the Infolink course together there is a considerable financial outlay in one year. However, ongoing professional development needs to be considered too. Ongoing development may well include:
- staff choosing to take their information studies further (for example, Infoteach, IT and learning) in order to better meet the school's need for effective information skills teaching;
- newly appointed staff being 'picked up' on Infolink courses to ensure that the whole staff is always prepared for Action Learning teaching.
Funding for resources, however, is the major consideration. The Action Learning method demands a resource rich environment for students to be able to undertake the level of research that is required. Consequently, development of the school's teaching and technological resources, and the school's library/ information centre require planned development to meet the specific needs of the curriculum topics studies that are to be undertaken.
Integration of Action Learning into the school's curriculum programme requires consideration as to how it addresses the requirements of the New Zealand Curriculum Framework. Staff may become concerned about
- how they are going to document their Action Learning programmes in a way that will satisfy ERO;
- how they are going to record children's mastery of skills when such a wide variety of skills learning is taking place in one unit of work, and different children may be learning different skills within the one classroom;
- how they can keep track of a topic which expands as children ask more and more questions and seek their answers.
Schools implementing Action Learning need to establish planning procedures that focus on specific achievement outcomes and the sequential development of the essential skills in order to meet the documentation requirements and the 'sanity' of its teachers.
It is impossible for teachers to monitor every skills that is covered during an Action Learning unit of work, so the initial planning needs to set specific achievement outcomes and to highlight two or three essential skills that are going to be the focus of the unit. All subsequent monitoring would be based on these criteria, and while other successes would be observed, no specific recording would be made at that stage. The narrative logic of the stages - children decide what they need to know, children find information in print, people and electronic sources and then use information by interviewing it using their key questions, and so on - provides an inherent skills focus, and the weekly/fortnighly feedback requirements during the course provides the context for schools to develop monitoring and recording strategies commensurate with their normal practices.
The point is made strongly during the course that Action Learning is not something teachers do on top of their other curriculum work. It becomes one of the ways teachers implement the curriculum, particularly the resource-based learning, inquiry, problem-solving approaches embedded in all of the curriculum statements.
This points strongly to the need for schools to develop a clearly defined, school-wide sequence of skills which show a progression of skill development. This would make planning and monitoring straightforward for teachers and would satisfy the requirements of the Education Review Office for documentation of change over time. Teachers have to be careful, however, to ensure that Action Learning does not become focussed on skills development alone, and a checklist approach is not adopted. It must be strongly based on learning outcomes.
Schools now know how to do a reasonable job of teaching children routine, basic skills. We do not yet know nearly enough about how to teach these more comprehensive skills that we will soon think of as basic. To some extent, it has been assumed that these higher level skills simply emerge as a by-product of education and development and need not be addressed head on. But we know now that such assumptions are unwarranted and that we must design ways to support the development and learning of these comprehensive skills (Sheingold, 1987: 81)
The Action Learning process is one such way, and integrated into school-wide curriculum planning, becomes a powerful tool for meeting and recording, in a planned, systematic and sequential way, the growth of students' skills development and curriculum content knowledge.
Parents/ caregivers need to be made aware that Action Learning is taking place in the school and be given the opportunity to see it in action, learn what it is all about, and see the work the students do. Many parents/ caregivers get concerned when their children are not sitting in rows and being taught by the teacher, and they feel that children 'doing their own thing' is a soft option for the teacher with no gain for the child. We need to dispel this myth by
• explaining to
parents/ caregivers that children are actively involved in their
own learning by setting their own questions and researching answers;
• showing that children are developing skills and learning information as a result of their studies;
• involving parents/ caregivers in the programme as resource people, assistants on field trips;
• giving them opportunities to see the learning process and outcomes of a unit by being invited to be an audience at a presentation by the children of what they have learnt, and how they went about the different stages in the learning.
Making parents/ caregivers feel that they are part of the process will have the double benefit of helping them to gain an insight into what their children are doing, as well as allowing them to understand better, and support, the work that children may be doing at home, for example, finding resources, taking notes.
Development of learning resources to support Action Learning curriculum topics throughout the school is a major factor contributing to its ultimate success in supporting student learning. Action Learning demands a resource rich environment if students are to have choice in their research requirements. All teaching resources in the school need to be accounted for (perhaps on the school library computer database) and made accessible to the students if their use is to be maximised.
The school library/ learning centre becomes the focus of the Action Learning student research programme and the library's collection development policy needs to reflect this. Collection development (book, non-book, artifacts) for the library needs to take cognizance of the topics that are being used in classroom programmes if students are going to have access to appropriate materials when they embark on their studies. It is essential that staff identify, each year, the topics they will be setting for Action Learning so that a buying (or borrowing) programme to cater for the needs can be put in place. Establishing these clear curriculum topic-focussed buying priorities ensures that the school's investment in resources is not hit and miss, and that the resources will be used intensively to support curriculum learning.
Hand-in-hand with this is the development of technological resources to meet research needs of students and teachers. Provision of a telephone line, facsimile machines, conference telephones, photocopiers, computers, CD Roms, and their associated software and consumables are integral to equipping students to learn in an information age. These are expensive items, and a commitment to resource-based learning would mean a planned approach to the development of these facilities.
People are a vital component of research resources. Access to experts in the field of the studied topic are valuable to students as they can give, first hand, some of the answers that are being sought. Schools need to develop a database of human resources that can be 'tapped' for use in their studies, and establish how they can be utilised (for example, guest speakers, class visits, teleconferences). It should be noted, however, that people lead busy lives and may not want to be contacted repeatedly by groups of children. Consideration needs to be given to alternative ways of making contact, but respecting their time. Ideas such as
video or audio recording of interviews (with their permission)
vertical filing of information that children have received from their contacts
so that the information remains in the school as a permanent resource are ways of avoiding overuse of contacts. Consideration also needs to be given to the etiquette of establishing personal contacts. Teachers need to ensure that children are well instructed in asking, thanking, questioning, interviewing and using the telephone, fax and email in order to promote the school in a positive light, and to maintain a willingness for ongoing contact.
What happens to Action Learning after the Infolink development course is over is an important consideration. It would be easy for staff to adopt a 'been there, done that' approach and allow Action Learning to disappear without a trace. The financial, philosophical and pedagogic commitment that staff make to the Infolink development programme demands that Action Learning becomes a core and planned component of the school's curriculum delivery, and strategies must be put in place to ensure that this happens.
Policy for resource-based learning needs to be formulated to include details of
How often each year Action Learning will occur at each class level;
how it will be resources;
how the school will cater for new staff who have not yet undertaken the Infolink professional development
Without policy driving the school's commitment to resource-based learning it would be too easy for it to become overlooked and lost. Coupled with the policy, the development of school-wide information skills learning progressions is essential so that staff have a defined programme to follow throughout the year, at each level of the school. This would mean that those skills not specifically monitored during an Action Learning unit of work could be picked up and built into other teaching programmes. By the same token, weak skills displayed during Action Learning could be further developed and practised in other units of work during the year.
Annual planning for resource-based learning units of work needs to be carefully considered to ensure that there is not going to be a drain on the school's resources at any one time. Liaison with the school library, the National Library Service, and other outside resources that are to be used would ensure systematic preparation for the unit, and the required resources in the right place at the right time.
Bringing Action Learning to life in a school is not a 'soft option' for principals. It requires commitment and drive, a positive approach, patience, and the use of some kid gloves! Not all staff are going to welcome a 'new' way of facilitating learning, and they need to be reassured that they are already using a lot of the strategies in their classrooms. They need frequent reassurance that they do not have to get it 'right' the first time, and the next time, and that when they build on their initial experiences, it will seem a lot easier. Teachers are already daunted by all of the curriculum changes that have occurred over the past few years, and many are, quite justifiably, worried when they are expected to take on board something else.
I think the problem of teacher stress will continue to grow until we stand back and spell out what it means to see the wood instead of the tress. Simply, that means looking at what all these emerging curriculum initiatives have in common and trying to emphasise that in inservice. All of the curriculum initiatives are grounded in a constructivist view of learning which sees children as active in constructing their own learning, using a variety of learning methods or pedagogies, for example, problem-solving, resource-based learning or experiential learning. Given our traditional child-centred approach to curriculum in New Zealand, we are already doing much of this anyway (Gawith, 1995).
However, in the pressure placed on teachers to do it, do more, and more, and more, and do it faster and with more technology and more interruptions and less time, it is easy to lose sight of this point - that the curriculum documents and formalizes a lot of what we do already. It represents an evolution, not a revolution. Infolink, and its clear, systematic and child-centred approach to information literacy learning capitalizes on the strengths of the curriculum statements, but also, potentially, on the strengths of New Zealand teachers, by building both into a coherent school-wide pedagogical commitment. This was summed up by one teacher who proclaimed it to be "Tough teaching; magic learning". It is.
1993 Telematique Pedagogique Aware for Research Report: Information literacy through information technology
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Jeff Bruce is Principal of Glendene Primary School in Auckland.
He and his staff participated in the school-based Infolink inservice
programme in 1997.
Gwen Gawith is the developer of Infolink and, at the time of
writing, was Director of the Centre for Information Studies.