“Ultimately, information literate people are those who have learned how to learn...because they can always find the information needed for any task or decision at hand.” Another way of expressing this idea from the ALA Presidential Committee on Information Literacy Report is that information literacy skills are a bridge between users and information. In order to find this information, information literate individuals must have the ability to navigate through the vast array of information sources available to them. Once information literacy skills are acquired, they can be used from primary school through to postgraduate study. Research indicates that students skilled in researching techniques are more creative, self-directed and independent learners. As such information literacy enhances lifelong learning.
Information literacy actually comprises a series of skills and strategies which permit students:
Given this variety of information problem-solving skills, it involves the mastery of a number of different types of activities at different times during a student’s academic life. They can be introduced into activities at the primary and secondary levels and subsequently refined and expanded in a university environment.
The prime objective of this current study is to introduce basic research tools and resources to grade seven students thereby providing the base upon which more complex resources can be introduced at the post-secondary level. The researchers identified a subset of the most basic resources needed at that level and designed an experimental prototype with the following goals:
Use of this prototype will enhance students’ retrieval abilities, one essential element in the series of information literacy skills. The prototype is based on a subset of desired learning outcomes which have been compiled from a number of sources which include documentation obtained from several school librarians and the report of a Task Force of the Ministry of Education of the Province of Quebec, Canada. Because the level of learning skills acquired by students varies from student to student and from school to school, the following list of desired learning outcomes specific to the prototype may have already been attained by certain children. This discrepancy will be determined during the testing of the prototype.
The learning outcomes specific to the use of the prototype as a teaching tool include:
In order to facilitate the role of the librarian in enabling students to achieve these goals, the prototype is divided into three distinct yet related segments. They are Search Tools, Search Path and Sample Topics. In all sections of the prototype, students navigate by selecting from a main menu. They may then progress in a linear fashion or through use of the links enabled by the html programming.
The segment entitled Search Tools divides the illustrative sources into two sections, that is Information Providing Resources and Information Finding Resources. Information Providing Resources are simply resources in which the required information is found. For the purposes of the prototype, these include dictionaries, encyclopedias, almanacs, atlases and vertical files. Information Finding Resources are resources which initiate a two step process in that they lead the student to a source in which the desired information can be found. These include the library catalogue and periodical indexes.
Specific titles have been chosen as representative examples within both the Information Providing and the Information Finding categories. Figure 1 illustrates the categories with their representative titles.
Figure 1 Information PROVIDING Resources Information FINDING Resources are tools in which the are tools which lead to a information is found source in which the information is found _____________________________ ______________________________________ Almanacs Library Catalogues Canadian Almanac and Directory Card Catalogue World Almanac and Book of Facts Electronic Catalogue Atlases Times Atlas of the World Periodical Indexes Dictionaries Canadian News Index Index de l’Actualite Random House Dictionary of the Readers’ Guide to Periodical English Language Literature Encyclopedias Canadian Encyclopedia Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia World Book Encyclopedia Vertical Files
Upon completion of Search Tools, students have gained an awareness of both the basic one-step and the two-step process when seeking information through their examination of the various Information Providing and Information Finding resources.
The Search Path segment suggests a starting point for finding specific types of information. The user is invited to specify, from a predefined list, the type of information for which they are looking. An example of this would involve the user selecting background information and being directed to an encyclopedia. Therefore, once the user has selected a type of information, possible search tools, to be used as a first step, are highlighted.
Two sample topics, hockey and waterfalls, are included in segment three Sample Topics. Both are illustrative examples of the use of a basic search path to find information. Figure 2 charts a simplified drawing of the linear path of a generic search, however as in all areas of the prototype, either a linear or non-linear format can be followed. The linear format is stressed in order to provide an example of a systematic search format. All too frequently students are overwhelmed by the number of avenues which could potentially be followed when searching for information on a given topic. The prototype stresses an orderly search pattern and subsequent systematic examination of the variety of sources encountered.
Figure 2 - Simplified Generic Search in Linear Format
An example in point would be the student’s understanding of the role of a periodical index in the research path. This is introduced briefly in segment one, Search Tools, and in more detail in segment three, Sample Topics. Search Tools provides a narrative description of the role and function of a periodical index which the librarian can review with a student group or which can be used by a student working independently. Sample Topics features two searches, hockey and waterfalls, which employ a number of periodical index searches as examples within larger search strategies. Again, elements of these examples can be emphasized by the librarian in a group setting or a student can investigate these searches independently.
In the case of the attainment of all desired learning outcomes, the prototype is based on the hypothesis that learning will be more effective if the student is introduced to an element more than once, in a variety of manners.
The objective of the testing is to evaluate the design and content of the prototype. A pretest, evaluating information and library skills, will be administered to a group of students in the seventh grade. Students in this grade level will have completed the first six years of primary education and are at the entry level for secondary education. After the students have been presented with the prototype, a similar test employed as a post test will then be administered to ascertain if any learning has occurred.
In order to work with human subjects, certification of ethical acceptability was obtained from Concordia University in October 1996. Further permission was sought and obtained from the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal, a local school board which covers the city of Montreal and has approximately fifty schools under its jurisdiction. This authorization allows testing to be conducted in two secondary schools, that is Royal Vale High School and Royal West Academy. These two schools were selected based on the interest expressed and the cooperation of the librarians, principals and teachers.
Working with students under the age of fourteen years, requires parental consent. This is being solicited through a letter of consent to be signed by the parent or guardian. The letter explains the purpose of the testing, especially the fact that the prototype is a learning tool, designed to help students understand research methods and research paths. It also emphasizes that the students who participate in the project will profit from this experience. Total anonymity of the participants is guaranteed.
Upon receipt of parental consent a pre-test is administered to the students during an English literature and language class period. In most schools investigated, students are taken to the library during an English class for an approximate 45 minute period. The pre-test consists of two parts. Part one is an open-ended question which allows students to create a search path on a subject of their choice. Part two is a multiple-choice questionnaire designed to test the student’s knowledge vis-a-vis the desired learning outcomes.
Once the pretest has been completed, students will be introduced to the prototype, which will be available in the school library on workstations. Students will be organized in teams of four to experiment with the prototype after a thorough introduction by the investigators in collaboration with the school librarian. A resource person will also be on hand during the testing in order to answer questions and resolve problems as they occur.
The evaluation of the prototype will be conducted in two ways. Students will be requested to complete a brief evaluation form immediately after their use of the prototype. Their responses and reactions during their use of the prototype will also be recorded.
The final step in the testing process is the administration of a post-test, again in the classroom. The post-test, which parallels the pre-test, will measure the impact of the student’s exposure to the prototype and the subsequent increase in the level of library skills.
The results of the testing will allow the investigators to verify the overall design of the prototype with a view to developing it further. Specific areas of expansion include the incorporation of a greater variety of resources and increased explanation which would address the needs of students from primary through to university.
American Library Association. American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report. Chicago, Ill.: ALA, 1989.
Cushen, Dayle. Interview. April 1994.
Findlay, Karen. Interview. May 1996.
Jennings, Judy. Interview. May 1994.
Knudsen, Carmelle and Johnette Orpinela. “Preparation High School or WhatStudents Should Know About Libraries When They Leave High School.” Emergency Librarian 19.5 (May/June 1992): 12-14.
Perles, Susan. Interview. May 1994.
Quebec (Canada). Task force in Elementary and Secondary School Learning Profiles. Preparing Our Youth for the 21st Century: Report. Quebec: The Task Force, 1994.