bringing flexibility to information literacy instruction


Lately I’ve been thinking a bit about the way that the academic library is reaching out to students, researchers and academic staff to help them access and use the library’s resources.

There’s a lot of interesting discussion ‘out there’ around this subject, and I’m hoping to engage with these ideas more fully over time – but for now I am simply going to pull together some my thoughts.

In recent years there has been a definite move away from the more ‘traditional’ approaches to information literacy instruction that are fairly standard in academic libraries.  By ‘traditional’ approaches, I mean the kind where the librarian as ‘expert’ stands in front of a class of students and demonstrates functions and skills, such as how to conduct searches using journal databases.

The trend in instructional learning is toward a more collaborative approach, where teacher and students become partners learning together through activities and discussion.  The ‘lectures’ or demonstrations are still valuable, but can be available to participants via video, where they can watch (and re-watch) when they need to.

It is a real challenge to adapt this ‘flipped classroom’ model, which works well in normal classroom situations, to the kind of teaching provided by the library.   It means we have to let go of the safety of what we know and are familiar with, to experiment, and be prepared to learn from our experiences.  It may also mean we need to rethink aspects of our role to encompass the broader notion of ‘digital literacy’.

The education landscape is changing dramatically, and it is important to respond accordingly.   We can re-design our information literacy so it is presented in a range of different formats to suit different learning styles, situations and contexts.  We can create ‘learning objects’ that can be embedded in the range of learning environments which the students inhabit, as well as be a real ‘presence’ – so students can access the learning where and when they need it the most – for example, when starting on an assignment.

It is tempting to take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to information literacy because it appears to be an efficient use of time and resources.   However, this approach can be limited.   Individual faculties and the disciplines within them have very different needs.  For example, the kinds of resources or information they need to access, and the databases they frequently use, are very different.  Similarly, individual learners have different needs and learning styles and come to their learning with very different knowledge and experience. In short, we need a flexible, adaptable, customisable approach.

This means that we need to be open and responsive to needs as they arise.  We need to be prepared to jump in and do a webinar, create a one-off short video or screen capture, or collaborate to create a unique program for a particular assignment or unit.  It means we need to try out, and use, new e-learning tools and technologies. Perhaps most importantly we need to be prepared to build ongoing relationships with our clients, and to say ‘yes’ to opportunities to engage.

Is it more time-consuming?  Maybe yes.   Does it require more planning and thought?  Probably yes.  Is it scarier?  I feel that yes, it is.

Is it worth giving it a go? Definitely!

5 Responses

    1. Hi Andrew

      Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that a mix of both is important, and that it is indeed a balancing act. The generic content is useful and practical, particularly in some areas. For example our Endnote classes (which are open to anyone) are very popular, and we are just starting to run some eBook workshops which are suitable for a wide range of clients.

  1. You might be interested in a free virtual session Megan Ingle and I are hosting on July 2 – Who’s afraid of Wikipedia in the classroom? It looks at how University of Canterbury taught information literacy skills to 3rd year law students using Wikipedia. More details can be found here

    1. Thanks Sally – that looks really interesting and I’ve registered already! I’m looking forward to interacting with some innovative kiwi librarians, I just know it’s going to make me feel homesick 🙂

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