GUIDELINES FOR DEVELOPMENT OF AN ONLINE
INFORMATION LITERACY COURSE FOR DISTANCE EDUCATION STUDENTS
The ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (http://www.ala.org/acrl/ilcomstan.html) form by far the best statement to date.
With regard to information literacy for distance education students, the standards state:
For students not on traditional campuses, information resources are often available through networks and other channels, and distributed learning technologies permit teaching and learning to occur when the teacher and the student are not in the same place at the same time. The challenge for those promoting information literacy in distance education courses is to develop a comparable range of experiences in learning about information resources as are offered on traditional campuses. Information literacy competencies for distance learning students should be comparable to those for "on campus" students.
The standards themselves are characterized by:
A. A strategies approach that moves the student through various stages of the information gathering and use process.
B. An emphasis on acquiring information for a purpose, thus making information literacy strongly goal-oriented.
A stress on evaluation of information and use of it within clear
ethical/legal boundaries. Information is thus not viewed as value-free but as
having potential for good or ill, depending on how it is used.
II. Features of a Successful Information Literacy Course Regardless of Delivery System
The Gale Group, in collaboration with the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE), has produced a website entitled Bibliographic Instruction Support Program (http://www.galegroup.com/customer_service/alise/) that provides sound advice to library school graduates intending to implement information literacy training. Module 4, in particular, offers assessment advice that is helpful in determining the nature of the recipients of such a program, the objectives (though these use the 1987 ACRL standards), and measures of success. This site may prove helpful to those implementing an information literacy course.
Basic features that need to be included in any course:
A. Emphasis on a strategically planned research process.
The days of the architectural model of bibliographic instruction (“Here is the catalog; here is the reference collection”) are long gone. Students require a context, a strategic framework, into which they can fit virtually any research topic and move from topic to completed project through a series of well-defined steps. Such an approach may seem “canned” or simplistic, but it does not have to be. Examples are to be found in many research tutorials, including the Doing Research From a Distance website (http://www.royalroads.ca/coppul/default.htm), TILT (http://tilt.lib.utsystem.edu/) and my own textbook, Research Strategies (http://www.acts.twu.ca/lbr/textbook.htm).
The element that keeps a research strategy framework from being simplistic is the use of strong information theory. For example, we know that the best way to acquire complex information is to build on what we already know. Thus students are urged early in the process to develop a background, a working knowledge. We are aware that information is of little value without a purpose, thus we urge students to develop a research question in order to focus their information search to that which will be most relevant to their purpose. We understand that larger collections of information, such as books, tend to be more established and to cover a topic more broadly. Thus we send students first to books before moving them to the more narrowly focused periodical literature.
B. Emphasis on information as a means rather than an end
We do not acquire and use information simply so that we may know but in order to solve problems with it. This emphasis reflects the goal orientation of information gathering and results in an analytical rather than a merely descriptive product (the research essay, research report, etc.). Thus there is stress on critical thinking, with information being a tool rather than a product.
C. Emphasis on evaluation of information
Information can be useful to a purpose or not, accurate or inaccurate, sophisticated or naïve, scholarly or popular, relatively objective or strongly biased. With the growing influence of the Internet, students of Information Literacy need to be given tools to evaluate all information as to whether or not it meets established criteria of usefulness. This is not merely a test of how scholarly or “peer reviewed” the information is, but how suitable it is to meet the goals of the research project.
D. Emphasis on information ethics
Since information is rarely ethically neutral, students need to be aware constantly of established conventions for its use. This includes issues of copyright, plagiarism, manipulative use of evidence, slander/libel, misrepresentation, and so on.
E. At least some coverage of the philosophy of information and information systems
very idea of “information” is changing dramatically in our time, with the rise
of Postmodernism’s emphasis on the subjectivity of all information, the growth
of electronic media that can both disseminate information rapidly (I first
learned of the Sept. 11, 2001 events in New York 4 minutes after the initial
aircraft hit the WTC) and can alter that information without a trace of the
original form being left. Large questions are arising – Who owns information?
How can we guarantee that the information of today can be preserved for
tomorrow? What is the final form of a document?, and so on.
III. Guidelines for a Successful Online Course in Information Literacy
A. Structure is all important
1. Determine what elements of Information Literacy you wish to cover.
2. Form your content into modules that can be covered by a student in 10 hours or less each for three credits; 3 hours or less for one credit. If using a strategies approach, as recommended, construct the modules around the various steps of research, from developing background and formulating a research question, through the various steps of information gathering, to evaluation of the materials gathered, to development of the final research essay/report. In general, 5 to 10 modules should be sufficient.
Make sure that your format/instructional pattern/assignments remain
constant in each module so that students know what to expect and will not be put
off by a constant variety of presentation.
B. Both instructional
content and opportunity for direct experience must be provided
1. For ILI to succeed, students need instructional content.
Information Literacy is not simply a matter of method and skill but of understanding and evaluative ability. A course may use a print or online textbook or provide links to the many sites on the Internet that provide instruction in all aspects of Information Literacy. (Note that there are ethical/legal implications to providing links to some materials).
2. Students need opportunity for relevant hands-on experience
There has been an increasing emphasis on point-of-need instruction, which stresses that students are not ready to learn research skills until they have an actual project to work on. An online course functions best when students are allowed to do Information Literacy assignments using actual research projects they are doing for other courses, or at least topics from their own interests. In allowing topics from other courses, the online developer may need to go through a permission-seeking process with the institution’s academic dean/faculty.
b. Extensive small assignments on every aspect taught
Information literacy students need to practice, practice, practice. This can take a variety of forms, from having them develop a topic from initial research question to completed essay using assignments in each module, to reference question scavenger hunts, web-based tutorials (such as The Internet Detective for evaluation of Internet sites). How is all of this to be accomplished in an online course?
Have students turn in a variety of assignments using tools on the
Internet or tools they find in a local research library. One option I have
tried is to have 2 sets of assignments based on topics of a student’s choice.
If the student is one hour or less from a research library, they do assignment
set A. If they are not near a library, they do assignment set B. which uses
online library catalogs, online access to research databases, etc. to simulate a
ii. Provide links to online tutorials, informational sites, and so on, then send feedback to their instructor.
Clearly, the grading of a myriad of assignments from each student is
labor-intensive, but there seems to be no way around the need for practice.
D. There must be opportunity for student interaction with the professor and one another.
This can be as simple as providing a listserv or as complex as convening a Net meeting. Some courses use scheduled chat sessions. The intent of interaction is primarily to provide the sort of community and community benefits found in a classroom. Thus students can get clarification, encouragement from others, the opportunity to present findings in a group setting, and so on.
E. A workable platform must be in place
Most institutions are now using a designated platform – Blackboard, WebCT or some other. An Information Literacy online course will need to fit well into such a platform, allowing all of the above functions to operate well.
IV. A Possible Model for Module Construction
The following is only a suggestion of the kind of structure that could be found in a module.
William Badke, Trinity Western University, April 30, 2003