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Information literacy in the classroom : assessing the competency of Western Cape teachers in information literacy education.

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This study investigated teachers’ competency in mediating information literacy in the classroom. At the heart of the problem was teachers’ own understanding of information literacy and their competency in information literacy education. The significance of the study is based on the following premises: information literacy is inferred in all the national curriculum statements; first year university students are expected to be able to learn independently from information resources, access and use information increasingly available online only, and write assignments based on research papers but their preparation at the school level appears inadequate and disparate; the education ministry has queried teachers’ lack of abilities in teaching research assignments and projects, often the vehicle for information literacy; and school librarians, the traditionally accepted purveyors of information literacy education, are scarce in South Africa making teachers the default information literacy educators. Further support for the study comes from the international literature: there is continued vocalization of the importance of information literacy through its association with inquiry-based learning. In teacher education certain assumptions have been questioned such as teachers’ innate abilities to mediate information literacy through their subject; and trainee teachers not needing information literacy education. Twenty nine participants in an information literacy education course at the University of the Western Cape formed the purposive sample. A mixed methods approach combined quantitative and qualitative modes of research and data. Data collection methods and tools included a pre- and post-course questionnaire, journals, interviews and assignment artefacts. The overriding mode of inquiry for the current study was qualitative. The principal theories guiding the study are constructivism, inquiry-based learning, and the process-based approach to information seeking behaviour. The important elements of an inquiry model, that incorporate information literacy, such as process learning, asking good questions, motivation, scaffolding, mediated learning and metacognition formed the kernel of the study. The study achieved its purpose in showing in a nuanced way that teachers, having undergone information literacy education, could teach their learners information literacy to a greater or lesser extent using a guided inquiry project. The course intervention saw participants progressing from a limited, unclear understanding of information literacy to having a satisfactory grasp of information literacy (education). Formerly, participants presented learners with a research project accompanied sometimes with a list of instructions, but only saw the completed project at the end. The course taught participants that information literacy needs to be made explicit in the classroom. One of the biggest challenges was using web-based information. The research shows that teachers need to be conversant and comfortable in the web environment and this conversion takes time and persistent breaking down of barriers. Using a change agency continuum, the study shows the participants’ varying degrees of change of beliefs from transmission teaching to using a guided inquiry approach. In comparing a (school) librarian’s approach to information literacy to the teachers’, the most glaring differences were teachers’ initial acceptance that information literacy occurs instinctively; that libraries were storehouses of “stuff” such as books; that textbooks are adequate for research projects; and that the ethical use of information was inconsequential. The study suggests that alternative sociological theories such as ICT for Development or Chatman’s Information Poverty could better explain the historical effect of teachers’ unequal access to information and the challenge of educating teachers in information literacy education in developing countries. The study recommends that all teachers receive information literacy education as part of their pre-service teacher training and that practicing teachers receive effective in-service training in mediating projects in the classroom. Teacher education policy documents need to make more explicit reference to information literacy education. The absence of the position of school librarian requires serious consideration as the lack of access to an organised, functioning school library continues to thwart literacy and information literacy.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2012.


Information literacy., Information literacy--Study and teaching., Teachers--Training of., School librarians--Activity programmes., Information literacy--Western Cape., Information literacy--Standards., Theses--Library and information science.