It’s that time of year when most librarians go about teaching new students about information literacy and reteaching those that have seemingly had their minds wiped over the six weeks of summer. Luckily, since getting rid of having to teach information literacy and putting it into the hands of our teachers on a daily, lesson by lesson, basis (see previous posts for more information) I don’t have that ‘beginning of the year turmoil.’ Yet, I have been thinking quite hard about how the process of information searching works and how to help develop the habits in both our students and staff when it comes to information searching.
For the last couple of years these thoughts have progressed in my own mind after reading and conducting research and collaborating with many fantastic teachers. A lot of this work has gone into creating a new model for information literacy and learning (OPUS) more information can be found about this in future posts but an outline also exists under its own tab. What drove me to create this model was to insistence that there is a strong link between the process of learning and information searching. It seems a silly thing think to say because they are of course linked. Finding information is learning at is basic. However, all the models that exist for information literacy don’t take learning and teaching into account and this is the same with teaching and learning models omitting the links to information literacy.
OPUS is therefore the ‘glue model’ that sticks both these things together. However, this post isn’t about OPUS per se, it is in fact about some of the questions that led to its creation. Questions such as what makes a successful searcher of information? How can we ensure all students and staff are successful searchers etc etc.
Working with a number of teachers we set up an information experiment where we had two (science) classes of equal ability perform a number of tasks over the year. We mapped their abilities, their levelled pieces of work and their output against each other. They were studying exactly the same topics but one class was being taught explicit information literacy skills (through the OPUS model) and the other group had no explicit information skills taught to them. Group A (the group with information literacy training) was given a number of regular opportunities through the year to undertake research and prep (our version of homework – see previous posts for its link to information literacy) was given to aid and support this. Group B had fewer opportunities through the year to undertake research work and their prep was set in a more piecemeal way.
There were a number of things we learnt from doing this and this included, importantly, the teachers seeing the benefits of teaching information literacy within their lessons. Over the next few months I will writing more about this project and it’s impact but for this post I wanted to look specifically about the impact frequency has in creating an effective information literate student.
The grid above shows how frequency of information searching has a correlative impact on the quality of a students ability to be information literate. One of the things we were hoping to prove was that by being frequently given the opportunity to undertake research students would become more effective searchers. This almost goes without saying, the more you do something, the more proficient you come at it. But it does still need proving. However, what we also found was that students that were being set research and given the opportunity to research on a regular basis were not only achieving better but were also putting more effort into their searching and so were being more effective. If you look at the graphic above, one of the many we produced from our work, you can see how we categorized students based on the frequency of their research work and the effect their research was having. In terms of effect we looked at how effective their research skills were throughout the task and also at the end product and its success related to the task objectives.
We then plotted each of the students into the four categories from both of the groups. What we noticed was that the majority of students in group A appeared in the maximum effect and high frequency one. In fact 95% of students from group A sat in this category. In group B, the group with a low frequency of opportunities to conduct research, the students were a little more mixed but the majority (67%) appeared in the minimum frequency minimum impact category. What the results were showing us was that those students that were being fed a regular diet of information literacy skills (through the OPUS model) and being given lots of opportunities to conduct research were being more effective in the quality of work they were producing.
Quite obvious when you think about but to see the specific impact that this was having on the students was brilliant and was justification of the style we adopted with group A. Not only is it about training, teaching and making explicit the skills of information literacy but just as importantly regular opportunities need to be given to allow the students to compound these skills and continue to improve. This then needs to be built into our lessons across the school with all teachers taking the opportunity to make these skills visible and to allow students the opportunity to undertake research regularly.