Teaching Information Literacy for Inquiry-Based Learning

March 11, 2010

Information professionals in higher education spend a considerable amount of time teaching information literacy, either through group sessions or more often one-to-one at the enquiry desk in libraries or learning resource centres. To be information literate is empowering, as it means students have the skills to seek out, appraise, evaluate and use information wisely while at university and beyond.

In Teaching Information Literacy for Inquiry-Based Learning, there is comprehensive coverage of four approaches to how learners learn, covering behavioural, cognitive, constructivist and social constructivist theories. These are examined in detail in part one and then applied to learning interventions, showing how to make use of the knowledge we have about the theory of learning and applying it to the delivery of sessions intended to help people become more literate in their understanding and use of information. Attention is mostly paid to teaching in higher education, but the book also offers useful insights into information literacy for young people and children, and in the workplace.

The second part of the book outlines some of the authors' tried and tested learning interventions for various scenarios. Each scenario considers how different learners would prefer to synthesise the information being presented, suggests ideas for assessment to check understanding, highlights the underlying pedagogy and lists the tools and equipment needed to run a session. Each intervention ends with useful examples of the intervention in practice, detailing actual sessions the authors have run. As a relative newcomer to teaching and understanding how students learn, I found it helpful to see the theory being put into practice, and thus could visualise how teaching sessions can be run in order to meet the needs of learners with varied learning styles.

The underlying pedagogy for each intervention is clearly described and set out, which will be useful to information literacy practitioners seeking inspiration and guidance. For those who may not have a teaching qualification, the combination of theory and application is a useful aid for improving existing user-education sessions. Some readers may be put off by the protracted discussion of learning theory and styles outlined in the first part, but they should persevere, as part two demonstrates just how much more effective user sessions can be if the instructor has some understanding of these issues.

The authors recognise that information literacy is an abstract concept, but nevertheless leave the reader in no doubt as to what it is. They argue that it is important to explain the principles of information literacy to students so that they can understand why what they are being taught is important for their ongoing information-seeking skills and understanding. Although this is a good idea in theory, in practice when there is only limited time available, there may not be the opportunity to go into such depth where the priority is on teaching practical skills such as database searching and referencing.

A good range of resources is presented at the end of the text, including information literacy portals, conferences and journals and web resources of teaching material.

This book would be a good starting point for information literacy practitioners who wish to understand more about how theories of learning can be practically applied to information literacy training, especially if they do not have any teacher training. It would also be useful to lecturers who have a role in teaching information literacy as part of their courses, and would like advice on doing that in the most effective way.

Teaching Information Literacy for Inquiry-Based Learning

By Mark Hepworth and Geoff Walton. Chandos Publishing, 4pp, £49.50. ISBN 9781843344414 Published 22 September 2009

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