Information Literacy in a Teaching Hospital

By Badke, William E. | Online Searcher, May-June 2018 | Go to article overview

Information Literacy in a Teaching Hospital


Badke, William E., Online Searcher


After undergoing some surgery, I recently spent a week as a patient in a teaching hospital. Since I get bored easily, and there was no public Wi-Fi, I started noticing my surroundings. Almost immediately I discovered a fascinating example of information literacy that fit in with my vision for the best way to integrate knowledge and practice.

There were nursing students everywhere, roaming through the ward in packs of 10 or 12. Periodically, they would gather for instruction to build on some aspect of their knowledgebase. Then my nurse would ask if a couple of students could practice something on me. They'd make their appearance, nervous but eager, and I'd agree to whatever they wanted to try out. Their enthusiasm was contagious. If they had a gap in their knowledge or practice, an experienced nurse would get them up-to-speed. Their eagerness for learning was truly amazing.

And the learning continues even after graduation. My regular nurse, young but quite skilled, apologized one day for being late getting to me. She'd been given a chance to do her first intravenous into someone's hand all by herself. And she'd succeeded. I pointed out from my own experience how hard that seemed, so much so, that nurses often had to take a few tries at it, much to the discomfort of their patients. She admitted that it had taken three tries, but she'd done it. Her grin said it all. Another milestone in her career.

What does this have to do with information literacy? We could take the narrow view, informed by our propensity for one-shots, that information literacy only involves optimizing databases. In that case, there's not much information literacy in a teaching hospital, just continuing on-the-job training. Purists could argue that it's vocational upgrading, not even real education. But such a view fails to understand the infolit continuum. Let me explain.

IT STARTS IN UNIVERSITY

Nursing education is a perfect example of an information literacy that stretches from the classroom to the profession. True, I'll need to respond to the accusation that preparing nurses is mere training, not a method applicable to disciplines such as history. That's coming. But for now, let's look at nursing education through its trajectory.

The nursing profession has firmly bought into the evidence-based model, by which practice is governed by solid research. In this, students are not simply told what the evidence is. They have regular opportunities to discover and evaluate the evidence; hence, evidence-based education is also research-based education. At our institution, one of our librarians worked with the nursing program in its curriculum revision, embedding extensive information literacy into it and providing for research instruction and assignments through the program. These students cannot avoid becoming skilled discoverers and evaluators of the evidence they need to inform their practice.

But notice that their knowledgebase is operational. It's less, "Did you know that...? " and more, "Given this evidence, we have made the following our practice..." Thus, these students know not only how to function professionally, but also why they can believe that they are following best practices. When they move to a hands-on situation in a teaching hospital, it is not a new environment, just an extension of their evidence-based university education, including their information literacy.

But there is an even deeper process going on. We can separate knowledge and practice in our minds, but genuine knowledge is far more than facts. I have long believed that the real power within disciplines is not knowledge but expertise--knowledge integrated with practice and experience. To study a subject within a discipline without paying attention to the development of expertise is to create a false and superficial understanding of the nature of knowledge itself.

A nursing student can learn about anatomy, bodily functions, and so on without ever coming close to grasping the essence of medicine, which marries evidence-based factual knowledge to practice in such a way that expertise happens. …

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