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PARTNERSHIPSAND CONNECTIONS: Building faculty-librarian partnerships to prepare students for information fluency: The time for sharing information expertise is now

by Hannelore B. Rader

Educators in the 21st century must prepare students effectively for productive use of information, especially on the postsecondary level. Students will need to graduate from higher education institutions with the appropriate information skills to allow them to become productive citizens in the workplace and in society. Technology is having a major impact on society; in economics, ebusiness is moving to tire forefront; in communication, e-mail, the Internet, and cellular phones have reformed how people communicate; in the work environment, computers and Web utilizations are emphasized; and in education, virtual learning and teaching are becoming more important. These are a few examples of how the 21st-century information environment requires future members of the workforce to be information fluent so they:

• have the ability to locate information efficiently.

• evaluate information for specific needs.

• organize information to address issues.

• apply information skillfully to solve problems.

• use information to communicate effectively.

• use information responsibly to ensure a productive work environment.

Individuals can achieve information fluency by acquiring cultural, visual, computer, technology, research, and information management skills to enable them to think critically.

The higher education environment

New technology and electronic information are having a major impact on higher education, and faculty are experiencing the pressure of this impact strongly. They have to acquire new sets of skills to teach effectively in this high-technology information environment, where students are often more technologically savvy than their instructors. New learning communities are evolving based on the necessity that learning must be continuous on all levels, at all ages, and must include resourcebased learning. Additionally, faculty are being challenged by higher education boards and accreditation groups to assess the learning outcomes of their students in a very specific and practical manner, differently from past student evaluation methods. Educators need to look closely at the business world, where strategic advantages are based on learning and teaching organizations to take advantage of evolving technology, die Internet, die global marketplace, and die new economy.

Librarians' contributions to the higher education environment

In the present, educationally challenging environment, academic librarians have many exciting opportunities to work with faculty and students in a variety of new and creative ways. Librarians have been closely associated with developments in the digital environment and remain on tire forefront of the technological information environment. Academic librarians have developed diverse technology skills and specialized expertise, which have enabled them to assume leadership opportunities in die higher education environment. They are building partnerships on campus for faculty development, distance education, information technology, student support, and assessment of learning outcomes. They are making the library the center for teaching, learning, and research on die campus by providing die most inviting and accessible information environment. Above all, they strive to ensure diat all students leam appropriate information skills to help them achieve information fluency and become productive members of die information society.

To accomplish this, academic librarians are forming various types of partnerships with the teaching faculty to integrate information skills instruction throughout the undergraduate and graduate curricula and to help faculty to assess student learning outcomes. Thanks to the development of the “ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education,”1 learning outcomes for students in higher education related to the five information skills standards, twenty-two performance indicators, and eighty-seven outcome measurements can be effectively measured.

Informationfluency canbe defined as the ability to navigate infonnation structures and to evaluate information retrieved through these information structures. Infonnation fluency includes library literacy, media literacy, computer literacy, Internet literacy, research literacy, and critical thinking skills.

Librarian-faculty partnerships

Since students need to be involved in more resource-based learning activities and should assume responsibility for locating and assessing the materials upon which they should base their learning, faculty have to acquire appropriate teaching methods to ensure such outcomes. The TLT Group (Teaching, Learning, and Technology), formerly an affiliate of the American Association for Higher Education, works with academic librarians to provide programming related to teaching information skills. In partnership with ACRL, TLT currently offers a series of online information literacy seminars that encourage participation by teaching faculty and librarians.

Teaching information skills includes much preparation, including such activities as developing teaching modules for undergraduates, subject majors, and graduate and professional programs. It also involves customizing teaching to appropriate student levels and students’ existing knowledge bases.

Creating a successful learning environment is also crucial for success. This includes a user-friendly physical environment, diverse electronic information access, appropriate state-of-the-art technology classrooms, and librarian-faculty cooperation and interaction. Additionally, librarians and their faculty partners must work together to ensure that students receive guidance and assistance at the time of need in a collaborative learning and problem-solving learning environment.

Effects of teaching information skills

Various accrediting agencies have recognized the importance of information literacy in tire curricula of colleges and universities and tire important role librarians should assume in the teaching-learning environment by including appropriate criteria for outcome measurements regarding information literacy in tire accreditation requirements. Most noteworthy for their work with information literacy in higher education is the Commission on Higher Education, Middle States Association of College and Schools. Working with the ACRL and the National Forum on Information Literacy, the commission has surveyed 830 institutions nationwide to explore the status of initiatives regarding information literacy. They found that educational institutions in the middle states are leading the nation in applying infonnation literacy strategies on campuses. Several of these institutions have developed fonnal assessment strategies for measuring information literacy outcomes.3

In 1995 the California State Universities (CSU) Commission on Learning Resources and Instructional Technology issued a report entitled “Information Competence in the CSU,”4 which recommends policy guidelines for the effective use of learning resources and instructional technology. Information competency is one major area identified for which recommendations are provided. Among tire many factors considered are cooperative ventures between tire universities, community colleges, and primary and secondary schools to help all students become information literate. Also recommended were close collaborations between faculty and librarians. The report provides a number of useful suggestions to establish an effective information competence program within CSU:

• Undertake a systematic assessment of student information competence to develop benchmarks.

• Develop model list of information competence skills for students entering the university and graduating from the university. Establish agreement with K-14 on these skills.

• Develop pilot information competence programs or courses on several campuses.

• Develop a “teaching the teachers” program so that faculty development in information competence can occur.

• Develop computer software that enables the teaching of information competence.

• Work with the community colleges and support their ongoing information competence initiative.

• Collaborate with textbook publishers to help with the integration of the concepts of information competence into textbooks.

• Pilot a distance-learning effort with information competence.

These examples from higher education begin to document concerns related to educating students to become effective in the information age by helping them gain information and critical thinking skills. Nationwide academic librarians are realizing the importance of training students in the use of information and that such training must become integrated into the higher education curriculum. This is the time for academic librarians to become actively involved in curriculum development on their campuses. This is also the time for academic librarians to work with faculty in rethinking their teaching styles from lecture mode to interactive, resource-based, and collaborative modes of instruction.

In many academic institutions, centers for teaching excellence are being created to help faculty rethink their teaching styles in terms of the electronic environment and student learning needs. Offen these centers are rightfully located in the library and provide opportunities for librarians to form partnerships with teaching faculty for curriculum development and new teaching initiatives. The higher education environment now offers academic librarians opportunities as never before to demonstrate their expertise in information handling and user training and to become involved in the teaching/leaming process on the campuses.

Expected outcomes of teaching information skills are to help students:

• become lifelong learners; acquiring critical thinking skills.

• become effective and efficient users of all types of information.

• use information responsibly.

• be effective in doing research.

• become productive members of the workforce.

Achieving productive information use in the global environment

The emergence and rapid growth of the Internet have created much interest and need on the part of students to gain access to electronic information and to become information literate. The need to find, organize, assess, and apply information to problem solving is a national as well as an international concern. Given the ease and speed with which information can now be shared, it is advisable that librarians and educators cooperate and share their expertise and experience not only locally and nationally but also internationally. To prepare both librarians and teachers for educating students in the information age, the following factors need to be considered:

• Information changes continually.

• Learning and teaching must be interactive and recognize diversity in learning styles.

• Teaching and training must be a process of facilitating and sharing, rather than dispensing.

• Information work is becoming more and more competitive.

• Librarians and teachers must market themselves aggressively as information experts.

• Information is a commodity and must be handled like a valuable product.

• Teachers and trainers must be continuous learners.

• Effective teaching uses learning outcomes and behavioral goals.

• Good teaching is based on student need.

• Information skills must be integrated into the curriculum and taught incrementally.

• Teachers and librarians must work with accrediting and education agencies and curriculum planners to ensure that information skills become a required component of the curriculum.

Conclusion

This is a brief summary of the changing philosophy, which will predominate in academic and research environments of the future. The future is hard to define and planning is difficult because changes are occurring rapidly. Academic and research libraries will continue to be the centers within universities if they offer up-to-date information environments and efficient access to any kind of information, address user needs, and take a leadership role in training the university community in efficient and effective infonnation handling.

This is not the time for academic librarians to be timid or to wait patiently for new developments. On the contrary, it is the time for them to become aggressive and dynamic participants in the campus community’s teaching, learning, and research agendas. They must share their information expertise with their campus community and build productive partnerships with teaching faculty. There aœ numerous examples in the nation where academic librarians have become leaders on their campuses. On some campuses librarians have become campus information officers, on other campuses they have become high-level administrators to foster information technology, assessment, and faculty development. Other models can be developed, and only the lack of imagination can stop academic librarians from becoming leaders on their campus.

There are no limits for academic librarians in the 21st century, there are, however, endless opportunities. “The future looks bright for librarians who embrace their emergent roles as teachers and scholars. In many ways, technology is a vehicle for expanding the librarian’s sphere of influence and collaboration with teaching and research faculty is certainly one of the key elements to the profession’s future.”5

Notes

  1. ACRL’s “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.” (Chicago: American Library Association, 2000). Visit www.acrl.oig/ infolit.
  2. For more information on the TLT Group visit: www.tltgroup.org.
  3. O.M. T. Ratteray and H. L. Simmons. (1995) Infonnaticur Literacy mHigherEdiicationPP↓-^a.áe↓- phia: Commission on Higher Education), 1.
  4. Commission on Learning Resources and Instructional Technology (1995). Information Competence in the CSU. A Report, 19-21.
  5. D. Raspa and D. Ward, The Collaborative Imperative, 2000 (Chicago: Association of College and Research Librarians), 153-54. ■
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