Competency Standards for Higher Education

Teacher Librarian, February 2001 | Go to article overview

Competency Standards for Higher Education


INFORMATION LITERACY IS A SET OF ABILITIES REQUIRING individuals to "recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information." (ALA, 1989).

Information literacy also is increasingly important in the contemporary environment of rapid technological change and proliferating information resources. Because of the escalating complexity of this environment, individuals are faced with diverse, abundant information choices -- in their academic studies, in the workplace, and in their personal lives. Information is available through libraries, community resources, special interest organizations, media, and the Internet -- and increasingly, information comes to individuals in unfiltered formats, raising questions about its authenticity, validity and reliability. In addition, information is available through multiple media, including graphical, aural and textual, and these pose new challenges for individuals in evaluating and understanding it. The uncertain quality and expanding quantity of information pose large challenges for society. The sheer abundance of information will not in itself create a more informed citizenry without a complementary cluster of abilities necessary to use information effectively.

Information literacy forms the basis for lifelong learning. It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education. It enables learners to master content and extend their investigations, become more self-directed, and assume greater control over their own learning. An information literate individual is able to:

* Determine the extent of information needed

* Access the needed information effectively and efficiently

* Evaluate information and its sources critically

* Incorporate selected information into one's knowledge base

* Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose

* Understand the economic, legal and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally

Information Literacy and Information Technology

Information literacy is related to information technology skills, but has broader implications for the individual, the educational system and society. Information technology skills enable an individual to use computers, software applications, databases and other technologies to achieve a wide variety of academic, work-related and personal goals. Information literate individuals necessarily develop some technology skills.

Information literacy, while showing significant overlap with information technology skills, is a distinct and broader area of competence. Increasingly, information technology skills are interwoven with, and support, information literacy. A 1999 report from the National Research Council promotes the concept of "fluency" with information technology and delineates several distinctions useful in understanding relationships among information literacy, computer literacy and broader technological competence. The report notes that "computer literacy" is concerned with rote learning of specific hardware and software applications, while "fluency with technology" focuses on understanding the underlying concepts of technology and applying problem solving and critical thinking to using technology. The report also discusses differences between information technology fluency and information literacy as it is understood in K-12 and higher education. Among these are information literacy's focus on content, communication, analysis, information searching and evaluation; whereas information technology "fluency" focuses on a deep understanding of technology and graduated, increasingly skilled use of it (NRC, 1999).

"Fluency" with information technology may require more intellectual abilities than the rote learning of software and hardware associated with "computer literacy", but the focus is still on the technology itself.

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Competency Standards for Higher Education
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