Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Writing Information Literacy in the Classroom: Pedagogical Enactments and Implications

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Writing Information Literacy in the Classroom: Pedagogical Enactments and Implications

Article excerpt

In the field of instruction and information literacy, we often talk about the need to understand research and perspectives from other disciplines in order to better inform our own. This goal is frequently difficult to achieve unless both areas have articulate spokespersons, individuals who care enough about cooperation to engage in dialogue. In our last column and in the current column we are pleased to be able to provide articles written by a rhetorician who understands information literacy within the context of writing and is familiar with the important questions and connections of these fields. Rolf Norgaard has been a faculty member of the University of Colorado at Boulder writing programs for sixteen years. He is currently working in the Program for Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) and served in the past as Acting Associate Director of the PWR.

The first part of this series appeared in the winter 2003 issue of RUSQ (43, no. 2).--Editors

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Writing and writing instruction can certainly play an important role in the acquisition of information literacy. Yet to limit the relationship between writing and libraries in this fashion is to miss a considerable opportunity. That relationship needn't be merely functional--a matter of application and training. Rather, in ways that are often deeply reciprocal, writing and information literacy can productively shape the conception of each other.

Such was the proposition explored in an article published here in the previous issue: "Writing Information Literacy: Contributions to a Concept." (1) It argued that we might all gain a lot by thinking of information literacy as "shaped" by writing--writing and rhetorical theory, writing instruction, and the very writing process itself. But that proposition, with its focus on the concept of information literacy, is in itself incomplete, and begs more pointed pragmatic questions and thus continued discussion. As we engage writing and writing theory as tools to help us advance and refine our conception of information literacy, in what ways might our pedagogical enactments of information literacy likewise benefit? If writing is to make a difference to information literacy, in what ways must both make a difference in our classrooms and in the intellectual lives of our students? This article, a companion to the first, explores this pedagogical concern.

Questions about how we might enact information literacy in the classroom, and what implications it holds for our teaching, follow naturally from that earlier article. It explored the following proposition: when information literacy is informed by work in rhetoric and composition, we would benefit from a more situated, process-oriented literacy relevant to a broad range of rhetorical and intellectual activities. The course of that discussion moved through three stages.

To speak of information literacy is to conjure up a long history of literacy debates in which libraries and rhetoric and composition have themselves been implicated. Literacy is too often conceived of in normative terms along a deficit model (literacy, of course, being something we "ought" to acquire). In such a model, information literacy can easily be reduced to a neutral, technological skill that is seen as merely functional or performative. Work in rhetoric and composition can help situate information literacy in social and disciplinary practice, so that we might focus not just on simple "look-up" skills, but on the integration and evaluation of information in complex communicative acts. Rhetoric and composition can help ground our efforts in more robust and rhetorically aware conceptions of literacy.

The skill-based paradigm that surely continues to haunt information literacy has, in turn, its own analog in rhetoric and composition. For much of the last century that held was dominated by a formalist, product-oriented paradigm often called "current-traditional rhetoric. …

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