Information Literacy Within the General Education Program: Implications for Distance Education
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Information Literacy within the General Education Program:
Implications for Distance Education

Common Ground: Relationships Between General Education Programs and Academic Libraries

General education is experiencing a renewed resurgence of attention across the United States. As outlined in a 1994 report by the Association of American Colleges Project on Strong Foundations for General Education, several concerns prompt a reexamination of the undergraduate curriculum: Students need to ultimately possess qualities such as a “broad base of knowledge . . ., the ability to think critically and logically, the capacity to express ideas clearly and cogently, . . . and the capability to work independently and collaboratively.” Beyond exposure to diverse areas of study, newly designed general education curriculums should foster a coherent course of study that is more than the sum of its parts (Association of American Colleges, 1994). The Boyer Commission report, Reinventing Undergraduate Education, includes recommendations that undergraduate education should “make research-based learning the standard, construct an inquiry-based freshman year, and link communication skills and course work” (Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University, 1998). This includes the ability to frame a research question, and conduct the research necessary to answer the question.

Academic libraries are among the leaders in higher education working to realize these goals for undergraduate education. The desired outcomes of a well-designed and implemented general education program are achieved with skills and competencies fostered in successful information literacy programs. According to the Model Statement of Objectives (Association of College and Research Libraries, Bibliographic Instruction Section, 1987): [End Page 23]

The role of [information literacy] instruction is not only to provide students with the specific skills needed to complete assignments, but to prepare individuals to make effective life-long use of information, information sources, and information systems. A strong information literacy instructional program should include how information is identified and defined by experts; structured; intellectually accessed; and physically organized and accessed.

Evaluation of information in both traditional print and emerging electronic and networked resources is one of the most critical elements of this instruction. Indeed, “Society does not need more people who are content simply to accept information handed to them by an expert. We need to educate students who are able to discriminate among various sources . . . and to discover countervailing opinions to those which are first presented to them” (Frick, 1986). Effective use of library and information resources supports the primary goals of general education: to promote an understanding of the breadth of knowledge and of the variations in communication among the disciplines and to provide the ability to examine controversies and learn how to learn, thereby fostering lifelong learning.

Content of Information Literacy Programs

“Information literacy is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education. It forms the basis of lifelong learning” (Association of College and Research Libraries, Task Force on Information Literacy Competency Standards, 1999). Within the context of various disciplines, successful Information Literacy programs include:

  1. 1. Defining the topic, including writing the topic definition/thesis statement. This involves metacognitive activities such as concept mapping, brainstorming, preresearch, establishing and maintaining a search log, and so forth;

  2. 2. Implementating effective electronic database strategies, including application of generalized search principles; ability to troubleshoot, modify, and refine search results; [End Page 24] appropriate use of keyword and subject searches; combining search concepts; and knowledge of when a computer is not an appropriate information source;

  3. 3. Appropriate, effective selection and use of a wide range of materials, including books, journals, statistical resources, internet resources, materials from government sources and professional associations, supplemental handbooks, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and more;

  4. 4. Selection and appropriate use of a range of research, scholarly, government, professional, trade, and popular information resources;

  5. 5. Evaluation of networked and traditional resources, using established criteria as well as criteria specific to the new information environment;

  6. 6. Documentation and copyright skills;

  7. 7. Understanding of economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information; intellectual property issues; and ethical information issues;

  8. 8. Using technology for retrieval and manipulation of data; downloading and configuring plug-ins; and printing, saving, or transferring files.

Application of Teaching/Learning Theories: Using Information Literacy to Achieve General Education Goals

Incorporating information literacy into the general...