of comprehension, context and compassion

The great Jane Secker published a list of student views of information literacy earlier today:

Of course they’re not just any students. They’re library and information science students, and as such are developing an understanding of info lit at a different level from most, as something to teach, to advocate for, to guide their practice. So it’s interesting to see what they have to say.

I’ve long taken issue with the way info lit is framed. That’s something I’ve talked about at OpenEd. I think my profession has tended to define it down, oversimplify it, so we can do our one-shot instruction sessions and crudely assess them and pretend we’re successful. While that does help students complete their assignments successfully, and perhaps enhance their learning along the way, it doesn’t go so far in preparing them for life or lifelong learning.

I see that narrow view of info lit well represented in the list. It is encultured in us. But there are hints of something larger as well.

Comprehend information and its context.

It’s a deceptively simple phrase. Comprehension is not a yes/no thing. We can understand information at many different levels, deeply to superficially. And context is not a singular thing. Information derives meaning not just from its context within a document, but also from who delivers it, how, when and where, and a host of other social, cultural, political and economic considerations. This makes me think of those criticisms of the CRAAP test, where people assert or assume that context isn’t part of it.

Why need info. Why heed info

I like the poetry in this one. Again, it hides its depth, as it implies a critical examination of context, relevance and authority.

Empowering people with the skills to search for information / knowledge

Perhaps this illustrates the crux of the issue. The “skills to search” can be a relatively simple ability to use an interface. “information” likewise can be interpreted simply, as in something that fits the criteria specified for an undergrad research paper. What really matters is in the bookends – empowering people to build their knowledge. I see that as learning how to learn, to engage in informed learning.

It matters because information is necessary for knowledge and compassion and all the things.”

Yes, all the things that we need to be free and human in today’s world. This was the problem with the old ACRL standards. They envisioned info lit as what you need to get through a college research paper. That’s one thing, or maybe some things, but hardly all, and in no way related to compassion. I don’t think I’ve ever seen compassion listed as an info lit outcome. Is it written out because it’s like understanding – too hard to measure, and therefore not worth considering? Is it written out because we don’t value it? Or vice versa? But it is vital and necessary, especially in today’s world, if we are to live and grow as free people. Including it was a brilliant insight.

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