Developing information literacy skills for PhD students

Mark Campbell & Niall McSweeney

eMedia Interactive, National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI Galway)

With the increasing deluge of online data, the path of the PhD student in navigating, locating and critically reflecting on literature within their research fields has come to rely heavily on information literacy skills. The importance of this set of competencies has long been recognised. The American Library Association’s (ALA) Presidential Committee on Information Literacy, Final Report states, “To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information (1989). With growing numbers of search engines, repositories, databases, and the internet at large,  this digital landscape is changing rapidly. Becoming information literate has become a critical proficiency for any 4th level researcher.
Supporting the growing number of Irish PhD students in this regard is a challenge for all Irish higher education institutions. In 2008, NUI Galway proposed and bid for an Information Literacy Module, which was funded by the HEA Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF). NUI Galway subsequently lead this project in partnership with UCC and Trinity College Dublin. The project was named SIF Generic Skills, and lay within the SIF thematic area of Enabling 4th Level Ireland. Within this project, NUI Galway led the development of an Information Literacy module. A network of librarians based at the three institutions shared resources and expertise in order to plan the module and accompanying support service. It aimed to assist students in developing the generic lifelong skills necessary to locate, evaluate and use information effectively.
The services of an Irish eLearning company, eMedia, were employed to facilitate the development of a blended and active learning approach. The Information Literacy module was developed for 4th Level students within Science, Technology and Medicine disciplines initally. The module content specified a full set of measurable learning outcomes. The online resource used a range of media, including video and self-paced interactive components, and could be integrated within a Virtual Learning Environment. It is also accessible publically on www.informationliteracy.ie. The module is currently being piloted by the participating instutitions. The initative represents an important step in facilitating the development of students’ information literacies, ensuring graduates are equipped for a lifetime of innovation and change in their place of work or continuing research.

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