Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Facilitating Students' Intellectual Growth in Information Literacy Teaching

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Facilitating Students' Intellectual Growth in Information Literacy Teaching

Article excerpt

To graduate as self-guided, motivated lifelong learners, university students must become information literate. Teaching information literacy (IL) skills has long been a core role of librarians. As information and communication technology evolves, the focus of IL teaching changes with it. When information first became digital, librarians focused on computer-and database-searching skills. With the advancement of the web, the information environment has become much more complex, even overwhelming, thus the focus of IL needs to shift to conceptual understanding and critical thinking. Teaching IL effectively at a cognitive level requires librarians to understand and consider the stages of students' intellectual development. In addition, well-designed IL interventions can facilitate students' intellectual development.

This column describes the development of an instructional session aimed at enhancing students' IL skills by using socioeconomic data. It explicitly considers the current stages of students' intellectual development and focuses on promoting intellectual maturation in the context of information use.


With rapid changes in the current global and information-intensive society, institutions of higher education face the challenge of developing attributes of their graduates beyond subject knowledge. The development of twenty-first-century skills, which include critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and creativity has become an important goal. (1)

It is essential to helping students to become critical thinkers and lifelong learners. McCormick wrote in 1983 that "one of the values of formal education is to help us continue our education throughout life, and library education can play a vital role in that process, especially education which teaches us to question." (2) Traditionally, a considerable portion of library teaching has focused on mechanical search skills. However, librarians understand the necessity to enrich instructional programs beyond the tool-based approach. IL promotes learning through reflective thinking; it encompasses the conceptual understanding of information creation, dissemination, and use. Gibson contrasts the mechanical, tool-based approach to library skills and the approach that develops critical thinking:

   skills must be linked to concepts and taught in context;
   learners should develop the ability to move from parts
   to wholes; and the librarian should become a guide who
   helps students develop appropriate mental models for
   understanding new and complex information systems
   and environments. (3)

With information so abundantly available, taking a conceptual approach in IL teaching becomes more imperative. The challenges for information users have shifted from search skills to information evaluation and use. Herro writes that "the 'magic' of computer-generated information and students' quick acceptance of its validity call for a particular emphasis on applying critical thinking in library research." (4) Librarians must develop effective instruction programs to help students navigate the information world wisely, select information sensibly, and use it responsibly.

Librarians report many good practices of IL teaching with a strong focus on concepts and reflective thinking. Examples include the following:

* a first-year biology course at Napier University in Scotland that encouraged students to explore and reflect on the processes of finding and using information; (5)

* a third-year course in the teacher education program at Chicago's North Park College that incorporated debate into the library session, which required students to search for information from multiple points of view; (6)

* an English composition course that taught students how to distinguish scholarship from propaganda. (7)

* an activity in source analysis used in an international business class at Arizona State University East; (8) and

* a lifelong values-based syllabus for teaching IL and critical thinking that was incorporated into the orientation course at San Diego State University. …

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