Sunday, 27 November 2011

LIKE 31 - Information Literacy: fit for the workplace

On Thursday 24th November, I attended LIKE 31. This month the topic was Information Literacy: fit for the workplace and speakers had been arranged from three different information sectors. In my current job, information literacy features heavily. Part of my job is to teach higher education students at the college how to use the electronic resources we subscribe to effectively and why they should use them rather than clicking onto the first link that appears in Google. Bearing this in mind, I was very interested to hear what other people's experiences of teaching information literacy were like.

Dr Susie Andretta introduced us to the definitions of information literacy and then the speakers, after first declaring " ultimately, information literate people have learned how to learn". The first speaker was Adjeo Boateng from the Higher Education sector. She spoke about her students needing to know how to use knowledge not just technology, emphasised by the fact that her presentation technology had just let her down! The biggest surprise I found from her speech was when she mentioned that the very role of the subject librarian was being questioned and a more holistic view of teaching information literacy across subjects was being mooted. While I can see that students need to be able to be critical of all resources they come across, I would worry that this approach would make information literacy appear less relevant to the students. Even in a college, we 'sell' our resources by emphasising how particular ones are great for the course they are studying.

Rachel Adams from the legal sector was the next to speak. She claimed that lawyers use the seven pillars of information literacy to create a tangible product and that she sells information literacy to them by stating that "it saves time, it saves money and it saves stress". Lawyers don't need an holistic approach - they need to know which resources are best for them and how to use them most effectively - the less time wasted finding out how to do this, the cheaper it is for the client. Getting people in to the sessions is not usually a problem as they have to have a set amount of Cpd to remain solicitors and training sessions contribute to this. Trainees have information overload just like our students do so instead of training them at the beginning of the course and having them forget it, they try to implement a more relevant and timely approach. I think this is very important and it is something we try and do at my workplace - tie information literacy in with assignments being completed at the time to show students relevant they are. The legal sector also has the same issues with spoon feeding of students - although this seems to be a common problem, as reported on in this Times Higher Education article,  which won't be going away any time soon.

Lastly, Caroline de Brun from the Health sector spoke of her experiences. She explained how health literacy (deciphering medical language) was often confused with health information literacy so now the term 'evidence-based' was being used instead. Claiming that doctors don't get get time to research and that it is difficult to access good resources on the NHS, it is essential that any training they receive takes the least amount of time possible away from the patients. Consequently, Caroline has developed ten minute training sessions. As with all sectors, impact measurement is required.  In the health library they not only assess by collating immediate feedback but also analyse patient feedback and statistics.

Dr Susie Andretta brought the discussions to a close by reiterating the key points which had been made throughout the evening: we need to be able to 'sell' information literacy to the people who need it possibly by giving it a different name, there is still an over reliance on Google and we need to create a 'just in time' approach to keep information literacy at its most relevant.

I really enjoyed this session and found it very interesting that the same issues regarding information literacy keep cropping up across all the sectors. I found it disturbing, but sadly unsurprising, that doctors are using Google to search for medical information and was rather perturbed that the issues seem to continue despite all the librarians in every sector and level of work and education trying their hardest to promote information literacy. Something is going wrong somewhere.

On a more positive note- the next LIKE event is the Christmas dinner! Best start looking for my Secret Santa...

Sunday, 20 November 2011

HE in FE - just keeps on growing...

For the last couple of weeks, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about and writing about HE in FE. I do this quite a lot anyway as I work in a Further Education College and am primarily responsible for supporting Higher Education students with their learning resource and information literaracy needs. However, a couple of weeks ago I went to a meeting where a member of senior management asked me, as a representative of the LRC, to consider the impact of more directly HEFCE funded courses on our service. For those who don't know, if a course is directly funded by HEFCE it means that the student numbers belong to the college rather than the University - the consequence of this is that it is much cheaper for the college to run the course but students don't have access to anything the validating University has to offer. Great, I thought, a request to spend some time thinking and considering rather than just being asked to help with printing enquiries!

So I did and it kept on growing! I initially wrote down my own thoughts such as the need for more University level resources, especially electronic resources, and the fact that Universities have more generous opening hours than colleges. I then opened it up firstly to my work colleagues, one of whom suggested we should have a separate HE budget, and then secondly to my professional peers via various JISCMAIL lists, CILIP's LinkedIn page and the Cofhe Lasec blog. I even asked the potential CILIP counsellors for their opinions in the ehustings. While the responses I received weren't many the ones I did receive were well thought out and detailed. The main consensus seems to be that:
  • this is going to become a massive issue as the government continues to tinker with education
  • clear communication is vital between the many layers of educational institutions so people, and in particular, students aren't misled
  • that it may all become quite fraught with competition between the various providers - see this BBC piece which clearly demonstrates how this is already happening.
Anyway, I found this all very interesting, if slightly doom-laden, and wrote up my findings for the groups I had commandeered for their opinions. This was then retweeted by the Guardian Higher Education Network which I was very surprised and pleased about.

So that should have been the end of it (apart from I am still waiting to feed back to the member of senior management) but not so. My esteemed CoFHE LASEC Chair, Helen Stein, is in contact with all the right people at CILIP and the policy team there were considering responding to the QAA consultation on the replacement of the IQER. So we told them that we thought this was a very good idea and then had a couple of days to put something together. Being not directly work-related meant I couldn't do this on work time so my evenings were a little busier that usual to say the least! Anyhow, it has gone through and everyone is happy and when the new version of the IQER is rolled out I can tell myself that I was involved in that. While I don't expect much, I do hope that we have encouraged a few of the powers that be to think a little more about the work that librarians do to support students and the challenges they face in doing so.