Information literacy has left the library

Keyboard keys spelling out "Information literacy"

What do you get when you put information literacy together with online communication, collaboration, creating, sharing, networking? And season with a healthy dose of critical thinking about life online? 

At the Open University (OU), it resulted in the Digital and information literacy framework and Being digital, the award-winning collection of bite-size interactive activities.

Building on information literacy

Information literacy at the OU is well-established. The integration of information literacy skills into the OU curriculum had been a key objective for some years. The information literacy framework, created in 2009, focused on the skills needed for academic study: finding, evaluating, managing and referencing information. It was approved at high level and used extensively across the university. 

However, it was becoming apparent (for example, through Jisc and HEFCE projects) that more was needed to equip learners for work and everyday life in a digital world. We were also aware that the Safari tutorial, created by OU Library Services in 2001, was in need of updating.

Using the information literacy framework as a foundation, and consulting key staff across the University, a new framework was developed. This added a range of digital practices, including online collaboration and use of social networks.

Being digital and the bite-size model

At same time, we were developing Being digital, a collection of short interactive activities to show in student-friendly terms what some of the skills in the framework are about. Being digital is aimed at learners who may be quite new to life online and each activity takes no longer than 10 minutes to complete. Content drew on Safari and other existing material. We also wrote new material, for example, on digital identity, making the most of social networking, communicating online, and using Wikipedia.

The bite-sized model used by Being digital is based on previous OU Library Services research which found that this flexible type of learning is particularly suitable for time-poor individuals, whether studying or at work. This has proved to be true, with learners at all stages of study - ranging from school to PhD level - benefitting from Being digital. It is also being used for workplace staff development.

Factors for success

Both the framework and Being digital were developed in close consultation with staff and students. In the case of Being digital, student input helped us to pitch activities at the right level.

Collaboration and teamwork were vital ingredients. In the case of the framework, I worked closely with Robin Goodfellow, Senior Lecturer in Educational Technology at The Open University.

The Being digital team included expertise in project management, writing, instructional design, website design, IT development and accessibility.

We took time at the beginning of the project to establish requirements both for the Being digital site and for the authoring software we would use. We chose the free open-source Xerte Online Toolkits for its ease of use and accessibility. 

Challenges

One of the big challenges has been in defining digital literacy. We went with the broad Jisc definition and took a deliberate decision to focus on the critical and evaluative aspects of life online, rather than on basic IT skills.

It was important to gain institutional buy-in, and ensure that digital and information literacy stayed on the agenda.

Even with a dedicated team, it took longer than we had initially expected to complete Being digital.This included getting initial approvals (for example, for branding) and setting up the web site. 

What has been the reaction?

Both the Digital and information literacy framework and Being digital are well-used in teaching and learning at the OU.

The decision to make both resources openly available on the web has increased impact and meant that they have also been picked up by the wider community. For instance, the framework was cited in the New Media Consortium Horizon Report 2015, Higher Education Edition, as an example of how institutions are approaching the challenge of improving digital literacy. Being digital is included in the Jisc digital student exemplars as a resource which prepares and support students to study successfully with digital technologies.

Top tips

What advice would I give to others embarking on similar projects? Establish what is working well already and look at how you can build on it. Collaborate with key people across the institution. For example, we have close working relationships with colleagues in the Learning Design and Careers & Employability teams, as well as OU faculties. This helps us to be well-aligned to the university’s priorities. 

It’s also about spotting opportunities and seizing the moment. Perseverance is needed to stay focused on the goal, and overcome hurdles along the way.

Where next?

On a personal level, winning the Information literacy practitioner of the year award has not only been about recognition. It has also given mean opportunity to get the word out about the importance of digital and information literacy. This is at a time when these skills and capabilities are needed more than ever, in all areas of life.

As well as getting involved in OU strategy for digital skills, I am now starting to focus on staff digital capabilities. Student engagement remains high on the list, with forthcoming live events via Livestream. And watch this space for some new Being digital activities coming soon!

About CILIP's Information Literacy Group

CILIP's Information Literacy Group (ILG) encourages debate and the exchange of knowledge in all aspects of Information Literacy, including:

References

Image source: This work, "Information Literacy Keyboard", is a derivative of "Keyboard" by mburpee, used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. "Information Literacy Keyboard" is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by cilipmarketing

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