Information fluency – a path to explore and innovate?

by June Wall, Library Coordinator, NSW Department of Education.

Innovation is the new black

Just because it's never been thought about or done, doesn't mean it can't be considered. Of course, this also means that just because it's a new idea, doesn't mean it will be automatically good - however, consider these quotes:

'We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out' - Decca Recording Co, when rejecting the Beatles in 1962

'There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.' - Albert Einstein, in 1932
(OECD, 2019).

So, personal preference or even genius had no bearing on the outcomes of these two ideas. Hence, the framing or mindset for the ideas explored in this article are presented as just that - ideas for exploration. These ideas are based on two underlying premises:

  1. Students in our schools need to be equipped to fully participate in our society and these literacies or fluencies include the general capabilities and soft skills.
  2. Teacher librarians are in a position to support and lead their school communities in these learning needs.

Innovation is doing something different with an idea. It can also be a new idea. The core element to innovation is looking at a problem or issue and thinking differently or laterally about it. It's not new to think about process and skill as more important than content knowledge, but it is something that the OECD (2019) has questioned in a recent report. While it has been recognised that learning about critical thinking or higher order skills is important, actual processes or programs to develop this have not increased.

'Interestingly, in spite of the enhanced awareness of the need to develop students' higher order skills, there has been relatively little expansion in the practices trying to foster them' (OECD, 2-19, p. 28).

Ideas for exploration

The following questions could be useful for staff discussions.

If artificial intelligence (AI), big data and more intuitive search mechanisms are developing exponentially - what elements of content knowledge should be the focus?

How well do you innovate?

Content knowledge is important but how do we balance an exponential rise in knowledge with a focus on learning about learning?

Information fluency

Information literacy has been the primary focus for all libraries, in particular, school libraries since 1987 (NSW Department of Education), as it enables a learning interaction and research process with resources that works within all curriculum areas. It is a basis for inquiry learning which underpins the Australian Curriculum. Information literacy is also embedded within all NSW curriculum.

So, how has this been enabled in schools, as the information skills process requires a specific skill set or expertise within the school community to support learning?

There are a number of other processes that include information literacy or are subsets of it:

  • the general capabilities (2012)
  • higher order thinking / critical thinking
  • transversal competencies (McIlvenny, 2019)
  • inquiry learning (Lupton, 2014).

In a previous article, 'Information + competency + literacy = fluency. A thought piece', (Wall, 2018) the thought or idea of moving to information fluency was presented. Information fluency has been discussed since then by a collaborative team of teacher librarians within the NSW Department of Education as the ability to critically think while engaging with, creating, and utilising information and technology regardless of the platform. With the idea that now is the time for teacher librarians to be radically innovative (Wall, 2016, p.33) the profession needs to re-imagine information fluency.

A journey to fluency

Information fluency was presented to NSW teacher librarians at the state conference in 2018. Figure 1 provides the top-level view of where the team started.

Information fluency development Figure 1. Information fluency development

At foundation level, students learn specific skills without necessarily having an ability to transfer these skills to other disciplines or processes. They are skills learnt and applied for a specific purpose at a specific time. An example of this is when a Google search based on a keyword is successful and the understanding of needing to include the source of the information is displayed by a list of URLs.

At competent level, students include multiple search terms using phrases to construct the query. They then create a simple bibliography that consists predominantly of URLs. At this level, students are starting to be competent in skills that can be used across disciplines. As well, they are demonstrating behaviours that show a level of information literacy has been achieved.

At literate level, students are able to use the learned skills and competency to identify their purpose in information need and they make judgements about the process needed as well as appropriate outcomes. Continuing the previous example, students at this level use a range of sources with a focus on academic databases. This demonstrates an understanding of search strategies and the selection of information, along with the need to account for bias in the source. Students create a sophisticated bibliography.

At the fluent level, students unconsciously know how to interrogate the appropriate search mechanism for information. They then know how to use the results appropriately for their specific need. Students at this level critically analyse information and critique sources. They create a bibliography and in-text referencing that is integral to the project.

This model has been considered in line with an embedded approach to:

  • critical thinking
  • problem solving
  • creativity and innovation

as these three elements are core to a fluent learner.

The journey is ongoing and practitioner led. However, our goal is to develop a more responsive and future oriented K-12 framework for teacher librarians to use in their schools. Eventually, this framework will be mapped to the progressions so that teacher librarians will have a toolkit as the basis for quality teaching and learning.

It started with innovation and this project continues to innovate. The team is now considering what are the core principles of being a teacher librarian in a future learning space. From these core principles, we will develop a conceptual framework for information fluency that will include the subsets identified earlier.

This article started with the mantra, 'Innovation is the new black'. An appropriate translation for this is - innovation is how we can thrive.

What could innovation look like for you?

What are your thoughts about information fluency?

References and further reading

ACARA. (2012). General capabilities. Sydney: Australian Curriculum, Reporting and Assessment Authority. Retrieved 16 September 2019.

Lupton, M. (2015). 'Teacher librarians' understandings of inquiry learning'. Access, 29(4), pp. 18-29.

Lupton, M. (2014). 'Inquiry skills in the Australian Curriculum v6: A bird's-eye view?' Access, 28(4), pp. 8-29. Retrieved 16 September 2019.

McIlvenny, L. (2019). 'Transversal competencies in the Australian Curriculum'. Access, 32(2), pp. 6-13.

NSW Department of Education. (1987). Information skills in the school. Sydney: NSW Department of Education.

OECD. (2019). Trends shaping education 2019. Paris: OECD Publishing. Retrieved 16 September 2019.

Ructtinger, L. & Stevens, R. (2014). General capabilities: their definition, cultivation, assessment and use. Sydney: NSW Department of Education. Retrieved 16 September 2019.

Vincent-Lancrin, S., et al. (2019). Measuring innovation in education 2019: What has changed in the classroom? Educational Research and Innovation. Paris: OECD Publishing. Retrieved 16 September 2019.

Wall, J. (2016). 'Innovation and learning - where to from here?' Access, 30(3), pp. 30-39.

Wall, J. (2018). 'Information + competency + literacy = fluency. A thought piece'. Scan 37(6). Retrieved 16 September 2019.

How to cite this article – Wall, J. (2019). Information fluency – a path to explore and innovate? Scan, 38(9).

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