The Big Picture: learning and teaching in today's schools
Herring, James E. (2011) Improving Students' Web Use and Information Literacy - A Guide for Teachers and Teacher Librarians. London : Facet Publishing.
Herring contends in his introduction that "most students do not use the web effectively, and are unlikely to transfer what they are taught about web use across the subject which they are studying." (p. xiii) Transference is a thorny issue for all educators. In particular, the high school setting is codified and delivers subjects in discrete units. This does not encourage students to view their learning within the one learning community as connected and therefore there is little if any transference of learning from one subject area to another. Whilst on one hand Herring's statement does not surprise, the fundamental skills of using ICT, which is a mandatory requirement in every KLA, would seem to be the one thing that students could READILY transfer. So the question remains why they don't? Perhaps it comes from the manner in which students view the tasks they are completing and not viewing the skills required to navigate and use the web effectively as part of the "pencil case" that they take with them to every class. "It is very important to have a common terminology when teaching information literacy and web use to students" p. 13
The enthusiastic, passionate, time-rich dreamer part of me see the role of the TL as fundamental to showing students and teachers that these skills are required in all subjects and perhaps if a common metalanguage was used and an agreed set of skills through the various stages explicitly taught and consolidated, then there would be much greater chance of transference of the invaluable skills all learners need to successfully navigate the information rich waters of the web.
As Herring writes - " the aim is to change staff and students in schools from web users to critical web learners" (p. xiii)
The modern teaching and learning context is one in which many educators find themselves dealing with the political initiatives of governments. As the perennial election platform along with law and order, health and transport - education gets all the clever and new ideas in a cyclical fashion. This means that the state of play for teachers and students in constantly changing and the pace of change will not lessen with the addition of technology into the mix. As Australian educators have found - thanks to Kevin Rudd - DER laptops are now in schools and something that educators have to deal with. Now whilst some educators shudder at the thought of having their role dictated by trends and political conveniences, the technology must be seen as a tool to be harnessed and not just used because it is the latest and greatest. The use of any technology NEEDS to have a pedagogical foundations - otherwise it is as a lecturers once crudely put it to me, "a bit like a dog licking its balls - it does it because it can".
Herring points out that "the use of ICT in schools is now often viewed as a sine qua non for learning and teaching." (page 2) But often the technology is not being utilised to its full capacity and that means that expensive bits of kit being under-utilised, students are bored quite often, and teachers generally resistant and frustrated.
As Herring stated in his introduction with regards to the issue of students not transferring their web use knowledge and skills between subject, he makes the related point that "there is often no systematic approach to teaching web use." Which in the context of web 2.0 and the emphasis in most schools to create innovative, life long learners who can contribute to the 21 century context they find themselves in - seems like a breathtaking oversight.
Just as literacy and numeracy was finally accepted from the mid 1990s onwards, as a whole school, cross-KLA responsibility, so too does the teaching of information literacy skills and the effective use of the web. These skills are too important, too fundamental and deemed MANDATORY in every subject, so they too need to be given a whole school approach and not the sporadic and piece-meal approach which is currently commonplace in so many schools.
"Web use and information literacy skills should be part of each student's learning and the focus in school should be on how students can use information literacy skills to enhance their learning. Learning from e-resources is the key educational factor here, not the students' increased use of the web. Teachers and teacher librarians who reflect on how effectively their students learn, and not just on what the students learn, and who also reflect on their teaching, will be making a great contribution to the overall aim of the school: to educate students." p.2
The purposes of education and schools.
Whilst the purpose of educating a population of citizens can have a wonderfully positive outcome which has been valued and pursued for millennium - peace, freedom, social justice and general advancement of society and civilisation. The purpose of schools, whilst falling under the rubric of education, has a narrow focus or purpose than that of "EDUCATION" which is life-long and on-going. Ryan and Cooper, according to Herring have identified FOUR KEY PURPOSES
- INTELLECTUAL - academically challenging work
- POLITICAL AND CIVIC - developing active citizens
- ECONOMIC - provide a skilled workforce to increase society's overall wealth
- SOCIAL - development of socially acceptable habits.
How does this apply to the role of the TL???
"...developing student who effective users of information literacy skills ...
- improve students' academic work
- extend their knowledge of active citizenship
- prepare them for the workplace (effective information practices a desirable skill)
- encourage good social habits (sharing websites or social networking etiquette)
Identifying how information literacy skills, including web sue, fit into the overall purposes of the school can enable teachers and teacher librarians to meet wider aims, for example, encouraging students to apply their information literacy skills to all subjects (TRANSFERENCE) and from school to work." page 4
Pritchard's definitions of learning:
- a change in behaviour as a result of experience or practice
- knowledge gained through study
- gaining knowledge of, or skill in, something through study, teaching, instruction or experience
- the individual process of constructing understanding based on experience from a wide range of sources.
Learning theories such as behaviourism (rote learning, chunking information to be learnt, scaffolding) and constructivism (two broad groups) have been commonplace in schools. The major difference between the two learning theories is that constructivism views learners are NOT merely receptacles of knowledge passed on by a teacher - students are CONSCIOUS CONSTRUCTORS OF KNOWLEDGE - that learning is an active not passive activity. And of course, behaviourism is an outdated approach.
Herring encourages the current learning theory of choice - constructivism as the basis for teaching students who to use the web effectively. Pritchard's summary of the key aspects of constructivist learning :
- prior learning is a key factor as students construct new knowledge from what they already know
- students will (if encouraged) make connections between ares of knowledge and will reflect upon them
- the social context of students' learning is important in influencing how students learn
- learning is very personal and students who are effective learners will be able to reflect on their own learning
Teachers and Teacher librarians should be reflective practitioners as much as their students need to be reflective learners.
"Learning theories, in the context of the development of information literacy skills in schools, should be seen as abstract concepts, but as the basis on which teachers and teacher librarians design and develop opportunities for students to learn to be effective learners." p.6
How to put theory into practice?
A TL or a teacher needs to be very clear about what they want the students' to learn, describe it in terms that their students can understand, select appropriate information that will aid in the students' learning, encourage students to link their prior learning to the new concepts and skills and finally relate this to other areas of learning. SIMPLE!
All this learning needs to take place in a suitable environment - creating an atmosphere which help students to engage. And then give the students opportunities to demonstrate their learning and understanding either through application or presentation.
LESSON PLANNING - an essential requirement which needs to be done collaboratively with the classroom teacher if you are TL. And as Herring points out "incorporating information literacy skills into curriculum is a very effective and meaningful way of introducing students to these skills" p. 8
Incorporating the web into teaching
- the web as a source of resources for personal staff development - so teachers can extend their subject knowledge by finding websites or articles on the web (p. 9)
- the web can be a resource for teachers to plan activities for students in the classroom (p 11)
- the web can be used a resource which provides students with mediated sites, which have been vetted by the teacher and, in many cases the TL in a particular school
Students will need to develop the skills to evaluate website - but in order to complete a specific task it might be more pertinent to streamline the "search" and have the students focus on engaging with the concepts and material which has been expertly selected for them rather than aimlessly wandering around the Internet trying to find appropriate information - which for some topics is hard to find. It can also be very demotivating for students if they cannot readily find the information required to complete the task.
Having the "sites" and "sources" pre-prepared means that the activity can be an in-class one, providing equal access to information and eliminating the "digital gap" which exists for some students. Students can also be active learners in the professionally selected information - Killen suggests that this is an essential step in what good teachers do so that they can help their students gain the understanding which is outlined in the learning outcomes.
Effective teachers and teacher librarians set appropriate challenges for students using the web, according to the abilities and learning styles of the students. p 13
Herring is an advocate of "inquiry based teaching" and "to be successful practitioners of inquiry based teaching, teachers and teacher librarians need to collaborate to ensure that their students have the requisite information literacy skills, abilities and techniques to use web resources effectively." p.13