Sheila Webber

  • Information literacy in the curriculum: selected findings from a phenomenographic study of UK academics' conceptions of, and pedagogy for, information literacy in four disciplines.

    Sheila Webber, Sheffield University and Bill Johnston, Strathclyde University

    Research paper

    Themes: skills development and lifelong learning


    Information Literacy (IL) has been identified as a key element in developing lifelong learning (Candy et al, 1994) and as vital to the development of empowered citizens in an information society. The Prague Declaration on information literacy (Information Literacy Meeting of Experts, 2003) also notes that IL “plays a leading role in reducing the inequities within and among countries and peoples, and in promoting tolerance and mutual understanding through information use in multicultural and multilingual contexts.”

    We have defined information literacy as “the adoption of appropriate information behaviour to obtain, through whatever channel or medium, information well fitted to information needs, together with critical awareness of the importance of wise and ethical use of information in society." (Johnston and Webber, 2003). Despite the increasing international interest in IL, and extensive efforts by librarians and some academics, there is still a dearth of research of how information literacy is perceived by learners and teachers themselves.

    This paper is based on emerging findings from a project investigating UK academics’ conceptions of, and pedagogy for, Information Literacy. The project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board, November 2002- October 2005, is investigating:

    • conceptions of IL held by UK academics in four disciplines (Marketing, Civil engineering, English, Chemistry)
    • these academics' practice in educating students for IL
    • whether differences in conception and practice correspond to differences in discipline

    The authors are using the phenomenographic approach for the first stage of the research, having interviewed 20 academics in each of the four disciplines i.e. a total of 80 interviews, carried out at 25 different universities.

    The team have already identified potential differences in the way in which interviewees talk about IL education. For example, there do seem to be disciplinary variations, with some academics making explicit reference to professional practice and students’ engagement with the world of work, whilst others emphasise the value of IL in helping students to engage critically with the discipline. Another emergent theme is students’ easy access to, and overreliance on, information on the internet. This is perceived as a challenge to student learning, undermining the development of independence and the value of self-managed projects and problem-based assignments. Interventions to improve IL are therefore an essential, but as yet underdeveloped means of improving student learning.

    The authors will provide a brief overview of the projects’ aims and methods, and concentrate on key findings, in particular findings which illuminate academics’ conceptions of the role of IL in supporting student learning whilst at university, and preparing students for learning through the lifecourse.

    Candy, P.C., Crebert, G. and O'Leary, J. (1994) Developing lifelong learners through undergraduate education. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. National Board of Employment, Education and Training Report; 28.

    Johnston, B. and Webber, S. (2003) “Information literacy in higher education: a review and case study.” Studies in higher education, 28 (3), 335-352.

    Information Literacy Meeting of Experts. (2003) The Prague declaration: Towards an information literate society. National Commission on Library and Information Science; National Forum on Information Literacy & UNESCO.