I have been on blog-writing hiatus of late due to my new status as a PhD student in Information Science. Happily, this past year has given me plenty of time to delve deeply into the theoretical underpinnings of information literacy and information seeking. I learned a lot, and have been chewing on one problem in particular: What are the missing components of information literacy instruction? What is not currently being addressed?
I believe the answer lies in the essence of every information seeking model out there, and especially in Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process (ISP) model, which I had the pleasure of deconstructing in a theory development class. What is that essence? Uncertainty.
Uncertainty is present in the information seeking process (just about every information seeking model recognizes that role).
Uncertainty is inherent in inquiry and reflective thinking (John Dewey).
Uncertainty is the primary principle of Kuhlthau’s ISP model, and she defines uncertainty as “a cognitive state that commonly causes affective symptoms of anxiety and lack of confidence.”
There you have it. Addressing uncertainty is key to information literacy development. In the absence of understanding ways to overcome the barriers that uncertainty creates in the information search process, we teach skills that will likely not develop beyond the classroom.
So, how do we address uncertainty in the information search process? A good place to start is Costa and Kallick’s Habits of Mind They identified 16 habits of thought and action that help students manage the uncertainty that comes with ill-structured problems (e.g., information problems). These habits are described to some extent in the Dispositions of the ACRL Framework. However, habits of mind are broader than the realm of information literacy. They are ways of thinking and doing that are essential to many areas of lifelong learning. In a nutshell, habits of mind are life skills.
I found that 10 of the 16 habits Costa and Kallick describe are absolutely essential to information literacy development:
- Thinking about Thinking (metacognition)
- Thinking Flexibly (being comfortable with multiple perspectives)
- Thinking Interdependently (collaborating)
- Questioning and Posing Problems
- Gathering Information through All Senses (being an observant researcher)
- Striving for Accuracy (choosing accurate or evidence-based sources)
- Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations (transferring skills)
- Persisting (growth mindset)
- Creating, Imagining, Innovating (looking at information in new ways)
- Communicating with Clarity and Precision
Some of these habits are addressed in IL instruction, but we must remember that there is a big difference between teaching a skill to a student and creating an environment where the student can put that skill into continuous practice. The latter is more important in the development of habits of mind, and the library is just one environment that can be designed to reinforce them.
One simple way to help students keep these habits at the forefront of their minds is to provide them with a profile of the highly effective information seeker (a la Covey’s 7 habits). Post them around the library. Give classroom instructors a copy. Create an institution-wide movement. With these habits of mind, students will be able to search for information with more confidence and purpose, and they will be more discriminant in their selection of sources.
Why not just use the Dispositions from the ACRL Framework? In my opinion, there are too many of them and they are too detailed. The habits of mind simplify those dispositions, making them much more accessible and easy to understand.