Workshop report, part one: Information literacy unpacked

On June 15 the Northeast Regional Computing Program (NERCOMP) held a workshop entitled “Assessment of student learning: Radical implications of the new science of learning.”  The presenter, Zachary Stein (Harvard University Graduate School of Education/Developmental Testing Service), left us participants with much food for thought.

Stein mentioned that skills develop in context: people need multiple opportunities in multiple contexts to  solidify a skill and use it across contexts.  Furthermore many skills we take for granted actually involve a complex array of sub-skills.  To evaluate web search results, for example, one needs to use an internet browser, understand the basics of search engines, put together search terms, recognize different types of web sites, etc.

What do these points mean for information literacy?  Since students need multiple opportunities to develop their skills,  they need to work on a skill in different courses (contexts).  We also need to understand the tasks actually involved in the information literacy skills we ask students to display.  After all, how can we ask a student to find a peer-reviewed journal article if he or she has little experience with the concept of peer review or the concept of a journal article?

As I (Maureen Perry) unpack my suitcase, I hope to practice unpacking the skill of finding peer-reviewed journal articles.  Then I hope to continue with other information literacy skills.  By doing so we can repack them in a sequence that makes them easier to carry.