Can Web-Based Instruction Foster Information Literacy?

Article excerpt

A Web-based distance learning course developed with World Wide Web Courseware (WebCT) is the focus of this article. The course, Advanced Reference: Online Searching Techniques, concentrates on assisting students in developing information literacy skills. Results from a study of the pilot course indicated that (a) participants' attitudes toward Web-based instruction are positive, and (b) Web-based instruction provides a learning environment in which participants can develop electronic literacy skills and share their ideas and projects. Building on the findings of the study, the course was modified and updated to take advantage of the enhancements in a new version of WebCT. The second iteration of the course incorporated Web-based activities to strengthen the information literacy competencies of the participating students. The unique capabilities of Web-based delivery in combination with sound instructional design guidelines created an active, learner-centered experience for the participants.

Introduction

Collaboration, leadership, and technology are seen as the underlying themes for guiding the school library media specialist in developing an effective, student-centered program (Hopkins, 1999). The three themes are intrinsically interrelated. To collaborate and lead effectively, media specialists must possess the information technology skills essential for providing aggressive information literacy education. The abundance of information and the complexity of new information structures require that people be information literate.

What knowledge and competences does an information literate person possess? The California Library Association (1996) characterizes the information literate person as one who has knowledge of the four sub-literacies of information literacy: (a) literacy in reading and writing; (b) computing literacy (managing the enabling technologies and productivity software); (c) media literacy (creating, manipulating, and integrating various media including images, sound and video); and (d) network literacy (finding and retrieving globally distributed information). In order to provide information literacy education, librarians must possess the competencies of the four sub-literacies. In addition, librarians must master the processes required to create instructional resources and to teach the four sub-literacies to a largely unprepared populace (California Library Association, 1996).

Information literacy requires information access skills, that is, knowing how to locate information in varied formats; and knowledge management skills, that is, how to use and evaluate information to construct meaning and value from information. In order to plan collaboratively with teachers and to be recognized as instructional leaders, school library media specialists should have the competencies to guide and assist others in becoming information literate. The power to create communities of learners who are able to share information, ideas, and projects begins with enabling teachers and students to use technology as part of their daily educational experiences.

Courses for school library media specialists should provide varied opportunities to develop information literacy competencies. According to Sarah Long, the President of the American Library Association, "A clear statement of the required skills and competencies is key to how we define our profession" (American Library Association, 2000, p. 8).

These thoughts and the definition of information literacy from the California Library Association helped delineate the objectives (see Figure 1) and influenced the development of a Web-based course, ELMT 8370, Advanced Reference: Online Searching Techniques. The course is a requirement for practicing school library media specialists in the Educational Specialist Program in Library Media Technology at Georgia State University in Atlanta. The course had traditionally been taught on campus. …

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