Information Literacy: Learning How to Learn

The University of Rhode Island
The Rhode Island Foundation
Teachers in Technology Inititative
RITTI Fellows Research

Holly Barton

Why do we send children to school? Is it to implant certain facts, figures, and formulas into their heads to make students ready to enter the world? Do textbooks contain all information important and relevant for a student to survive in today’s marketplace? Can the curriculum touch upon all of the topics that a student needs to know to be an effective member of society? Can educators provide all the information important for students to know so they can become contributing members of society?

Learning doesn’t stop at the school steps and it continues throughout life. To prepare students for the world, we must teach them how to learn. Perhaps the most valuable skill we can give children during their formal school years is the ability to use information to construct knowledge.

Through the advances made through technology, the walls of the classroom and the library have expanded to include the entire world. Technology gives us physical access to a wealth of information. However, the information housed on servers throughout the globe and in software and print resources is so abundant that finding what they need is a daunting task. Students must possess information literacy to put the information to good use.

Information literate students access, evaluate and use information from a variety of sources. They are organized investigators who question and wonder, find and sort, consume and gulp information. They think, create, summarize and conclude. They communicate effectively and reflect on the process as well as the product. The natural juxtaposition of information literacy to current educational issues alerts one to the importance of creating information literate learners who will succeed in the Information Age.

Access to Information

There are two types of access to information—physical access and intellectual access. In today’s technology-rich environment, physical access to information has never been easier. Intellectual access however, can be denied to the student who does not possess the cognitive strategies for selecting, retrieving, analyzing, evaluating, synthesizing, creating, and communicating. Web browsers and search engines yield thousands of hits on a variety of subjects. CD-ROM databases hold vast amounts of information. Everything from scholarly works to personal interest web pages are available on the Internet.

One could say that we have a global internet library. The internet library is one without order, and one without the benefit of review, selection, or the attention of a librarian. An editor has not scrutinized the works contained in this library before they are published. Work posted on the Web has not been judged to be accurate, current, appropriate or meaningful before it’s available to anyone with Internet access. Information retrieval is easy, but the proof of the pudding is in the learner’s ability to evaluate, organize, analyze, and apply information so that it becomes knowledge.

The Evolution of Information Literacy

The accepted definition of literacy has evolved from being able to read and write to the expanded and more elaborate ability to address the practices and outcomes of education in the Information Age. Literacy is referred to in different terms: math literacy, reading literacy, media literacy, print literacy, visual literacy, cultural literacy, computer literacy. Each literacy prescribes a particular process by which that content area can be more easily negotiated. But there is one -- Information Literacy -- under which all the other literacies reside because it is a tool of empowerment. Students who possess information literacy have a heightened capacity for doing meaningful, relevant work. "Regardless of where information literacy skills are employed, they are applicable in any school, play, or work situation."

Shifts in Teaching and Learning Due to Technology

When considering Information Literacy, it is necessary to understand the shifts in teaching and learning that have resulted from the increasing role of technology in curriculum. Technology provides acquisition to greater volume and depth of information than was ever possible before. In Tapscott’s view, it enables students to acquire and communicate their findings in more authentic ways. This has necessitated shifts in the ways educators and students engage in teaching and learning. These shifts include:

These shifts have their roots in a resource based learning approach. As a result of these shifts, teachers must examine subject-area requirements very closely. They must determine where process takes precedence over product. They must design experiences that engage students and enrich the learning environment. They encourage students to pose questions, communicate understanding and reflect upon their own learning. They design lessons that complement content area standards and information literacy standards. It strengthens teaching.

When technology is responsibly and effectively used in the classroom, students learn faster and in more depth. Use of technology can be intensely motivating and engaging. It provides a link to real-life developments. It can be a catalyst that changes schools. Technology changes the instructional role of the teacher and the educational environment of the school. Much responsibility for learning is now in the hands of the students. They are transformed into masters of their own education. For this, they must possess the cognitive strategies inherent in Information Literacy.

Indicators of Information Literacy

The information-literate student can:

Another interpretation of information literacy comes from Christine Bruce, who describes how a user experiences using information when engaging information literacy skills: The student who possesses the information literacy skills is the master of his own learning. He goes from simply finding and learning facts to the process of creating new information. Knowledge creation includes: The Literacies Combined: A Total Picture of Student Achievement

Combined with curriculum standards, information literacy standards form a complete picture in terms of student learning. According to Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning, information literacy provides a conceptual framework and broad guidelines which describe the information-literate student. The "Standards in Action" headings in each case illustrate application to all four of the major student groups (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12), and to all areas of the curriculum. This helps to illustrate the integral relationship that exists between information literacy standards and learning across the curriculum. The standards consist of three categories, nine standards, and twenty-nine indicators of information literacy.

Resource-Based Learning

Because information is growing and changing so rapidly,it is unrealistic to rely solely upon a static, text-based delivery system for learning. The textbook can best serve as a map suggesting a direction for resource-based learning where students are put in charge of the process of learning. "The primary goal of resource-based learning is to provide the opportunity for all students to develop independent learning skills, in conjunction with the acquisition of a basic body of knowledge which will enable them to become life-long learners." Students create their own paths to knowledge, creating a culture of inquiry, as outlined by the Coalition of Essential Schools. This culture of inquiry emphasizes collecting and using data. As part of this culture, students progress through a continuum-- from being narrow in focus and timid in seeking information; to being able to guide themselves through limited, pre-selected sources. They show persistence in searching out information, and use a full range of information technologies.

Providing Structure to Inquiry and Learning: A School-Based Information Skills Curriculum

If producing information literate students is a goal of a school, it makes sense develop a framework of skills for information literacy. These skills may be clustered to include the following:

To the above list developed by Carol Ann Page, I would suggest an additional skill: Providing structure to the information discovery process benefits students. When left to their own devices, students often become confused and distracted, especially when confronted with the bells and whistles found on a typical web page or interactive CD-ROM. If we expect students to do more than copy information word for word and create the traditional one-dimensional traditional "report," we need to give them more direction. Establishing a school-based model upon which to base their inquiry insures consistency in approach throughout the grade levels, while still allowing the teacher to tailor activities and expectations to the individual class and student. Research models create the framework within which research takes place.

Several such models have been developed, including Michael Eisenberg and Robert Berkowitz’ Big Six Skills for Information Problem-Solving, the SUCCEED Model for Independent Learning, or FLIP it! Each of these models has, as its basis, the higher order thinking skills addressed in Information Literacy indicators. These models cause the student to brainstorm what the research question is, what resources can be used, where they can be found, how the information can be accessed, what information is relevant, how it could be organized and presented, and how it can be evaluated. They look at the total picture.

Research: Encouraging Higher Order Thinking through Information Literacy

In Information Literacy: A Review of the Research Angelo Ciardello categorized four types of questions to be posed to students to encourage higher order thinking. These types of questions range from the most basic of Bloom’s Taxonomy to the most sophisticated:
Type of Thinking Encouraged: Question Posed:
  • Memory (Bloom’s I)
Who invented the printing press?
  • Convergent Thinking (Bloom’s II, III)
How has the printing press affected our daily lives?
  • Divergent Thinking (Bloom’s IV, V)
If there were no printing presses, how would history have been changed?
  • Evaluative Thinking (Bloom’s VI)
What would you do if there were no books to read?


When instruction employs the four types of thinking in research, students are encouraged in several ways: They naturally acquire facts, they compare and contrast information, they sequence events, they classify information, they see cause and effect, and they solve problems and make decisions. Students use specific techniques to strengthen their thinking skills.

Application of Information Literacy: Encouraging Discovery

Information literacy is promoted through assignments that have the feel of immediacy and relevance to real life. "Research projects that improve information literacy skills allow for dynamic exploration of many sources and types of information, both print and non-print. They set students free to solve problems by locating, accessing, and analyzing information to create a unique product". Technology makes possible multimedia activities such as Web quests, virtual field trips, subject samplers, multimedia scrapbooks, and treasure hunts. These activities span the curriculum and encourage higher-order thinking skills. They have their roots in real-life discovery and exploration.
Social Studies
  • Research both sides of a local issue, develop surveys for students and parents on how people feel, publish your research results in the local, school newspapers and on the school web page.
  • Take on the role of a conservative, moderate or a liberal and report to the class how your feel about a social issue such as abortion, gun control, welfare reform, or the death penalty.
  • Go on a virtual trip to an exotic country. Choose three activities from the following list:
  • Design a colorful postcard to send to a friend. Describe your visit to a local tourist attraction.
  • Prepare a travel brochure with at least two pages that will describe the country and its attractions and entice people to visit. 
  • Make a list of all the items you packed for travel to this country and why.
  • Create a colorful restaurant menu with descriptions of all the entrees. Include appetizers, main dishes, beverages, and desserts. Include prices in the currency of the country.
  • Write a travel diary covering one week of your trip. Include what you did each day, how far you traveled, and some of the foods you ate. Also include one incident that was a "cultural" mistake.
  • Visit the SALT survey data online at and make charts and graphs which explain, analyze, compare or contrast the data. Publish your findings in the school or local newspaper.
  • Baseball season is here! The hot dog manufacturers are happy 
because they distribute a total of 26,000,000 hot dogs to the ball 

parks. If you laid this many hot dogs end to end, where are some of 

the places on earth that you would end up? Use maps, almanacs, 

atlases and web sites that measure distance to determine your 


  • Use an almanac or web sites to find the following information: the 
10 largest countries in the world in population, land mass, most 

televisions per 1,000 people. Make bar graphs to display your 


  • Research an inventor and create an inventor trading card, similar to a baseball card, which includes important information about the inventor and a picture.
  • Design a useful product and create a web site designed to sell it. Include graphics.
  • Design a habitat for an endangered species. Be sure to take into consideration all the basic needs of this animal.
  • Research a biome, planet, or body system and create a Powerpoint presentation, web site or handbook to explain its special characteristics to the class.
  • Develop an anti-smoking website.
  • Analyze sun spot data obtained from the Internet and try to determine if a correlation exists between sun spot activity and events that occur on earth such as earthquakes, volcanoes, war, famine, etc.

Language Arts
  • After reading Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, write a diary describing your ordeal after crash-landing in a remote spot in Canada. Describe the landscape, wildlife, plant life and the weather you encounter. Devise a way to survive in the wild (shelter, food, etc.) and a way to be rescued by searchers.
  • Read a book that is available for purchase on Write a review of the book and submit it to their book review site.


Tools to Make the Task Easier: Graphic Organizers

Students find it easier to engage in such projects if they are provided with helpful tools. Graphic organizers are a way to give structure to the process, allowing students to organize their efforts and visualize their progress. It is possible to determine which types of organizer to use by the type of thinking skills the teacher is promoting. Some examples of graphic organizers follow.
Key Thinking Skills Question Type Graphic Organizer
  • Fact Acquisition 
  • KWL Chart
  • Comparing and Contrasting
Convergent, Divergent,


  • T-Chart; Venn Diagram
  • Sequencing
  • Flow Chart
  • Classifying
  • Webbing
  • Cause and Effect
  • Cause and Effect Circles
  • Problem Solving
  • Chart listing pros and cons of an issue
  • Decision-Making


Action Plan: Implementing a Information Literacy Skills Approach

I have the good fortune to serve as Library Media Specialist at Hope Valley Elementary School. This small, unified school in a rural school district in the southern part of Rhode Island has been identified through Salt visits and through state testing to be an effective school. This school has received thoughtful, adequate funding for acquisition and implementation of technology from the Chariho Regional School District, and the staff has the added benefit of having attended RITTI training as a team. Several classroom teachers have employed resource-based learning to deliver curriculum, particularly in the area of science. It is my intention to investigate how teachers at Hope Valley are integrating information literacy into the curriculum. I will also approach the staff with the idea of establishing a school-wide information literacy curriculum and attendant research model. I will look at the following changes in teaching and learning that have taken place as a result of great access to and awareness of the potential of technology and the information literacy approach:

Information Literacy: A Compilation of Web Resources

Extensive resources and interpretations of information literacy are available online. I have compiled these resources and included them in a web page titled Information Literacy.