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Library support for research skills: an HE information literacy framework developed for Writtle University College

 

Introduction

The term information literacy (IL) is most commonly used by library and information professionals.  When we describe someone as being ‘information literate’ we mean they are able to find, evaluate and use information effectively and with integrity.  The behaviours and skills involved in IL are vital ingredients of successful academic study.  These attributes are also essential in the modern workplace, and more generally as life skills.
 

“Information literacy is a continuum of skills, behaviours, approaches and values that is so deeply entwined with the uses of information as to be a fundamental element of learning, scholarship and research. It is the defining characteristic of the discerning scholar, the informed and judicious citizen, and the autonomous learner.” (ANCIL definition of information literacy, 2011)
 

Information literacy crosses over with other ‘literacies’ such as digital and media literacy.  The acquisition of digital skills and the ability to use technology to seek, produce and communicate information, are important factors in becoming information literate.
 

Developing the framework

Several definitions of IL exist, along with models to support the delivery of IL instruction within higher education[1].

We revisited and compared some of the existing IL frameworks, and mapped our current delivery against them.  While this confirmed that we cover appropriate content, none of the frameworks completely met our needs.  In developing our own, we drew from the other frameworks those aspects that focused on the development of good habits around gathering and handling information.
 

We have taken this behavioural approach in preference to a more prescriptive skills-based approach because it gives us the flexibility to demonstrate to students, using real-life examples appropriate to their course, the value of acquiring and putting new techniques into practice.
 

This approach should additionally help students to identify the learning gains that they have made in respect to information literacy and how it impacts not just their studies, but their personal effectiveness and readiness for employment.
 

About the framework

The library’s information literacy framework introduces a scaffolded approach to helping students acquire new understanding and skills appropriate to their stage of study, from L3 (foundation year) to L7 (postgraduate).  The framework will underpin the library’s contribution to the ‘Empowering students for success’ tutorial programme, created and delivered in partnership with the Student Success team.  The tutorial programme uses the expertise of professional staff to support lecturers, by complementing and reinforcing teaching within the curriculum.
 

Our framework covers only those aspects of information literacy for which the library team has a specific responsibility within the institution.  Colleagues from other areas provide complementary support or have a specific remit to cover additional aspects of information literacy, such as referencing and avoiding plagiarism.  These are covered in other strands of the ‘Empowering students for success’ programme.
 

The library framework encompasses:
 

Learning to learn

As new undergraduate students make the transition to higher education and become part of the academic community, they will identify skills gaps, plan how to gain and develop those skills.  We will support them to become independent, lifelong learners. Students will understand that making mistakes is part of the learning process, and that learning is not always a linear process.   For postgraduate students, this might involve supporting other learners.
 

Additional support:

Personal management skills (Learning Mentors)

Understanding transferable skills for the workplace (Careers and Employability)
 

Research landscape

This skill is about developing knowledge of the conventions, values and terminology of their discipline. Students will develop knowledge of specific journals, databases and organisations that are trustworthy sources. They will learn about key experts in their field. Although this knowledge is in large part delivered in lectures, the library will facilitate access to the resources students need, and equip them with the tools to find them.
 

Additional support:

Lecturers and practical support from the Student Success team
 

Practical skills

These skills are closely linked to the research landscape, in that the practical skills will enable students to use the resources such as research databases, library catalogue and reference management software. As students progress through university they will be required to manage increasingly complex amounts of information and data, and will need to learn the practical tools and techniques to do that effectively.
 

Additional support:
Digital skills and reference management software support (Sandra Watts)

 

Handling information

This aspect of information literacy broadly covers the acquisition, processing and sharing of information. Students will learn to evaluate information through means such as currency and purpose. Additionally, they will develop knowledge of the ethics of information handling such as open access, copyright and the need to attribute ideas appropriately.
 

Additional support:
Consolidate referencing skills and how to avoid plagiarism (Nik Barrall)

Mary Davidson, Lead Librarian and Eleanor Marsh, Assistant Librarian - April 2023

 

[1] https://infolit.org.uk/definitions-models/

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