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Computer Skills for Information Problem-Solving: Learning and Teaching Technology in Context
Author: Michael B. Eisenberg and Doug Johnson
There seems to be clear and widespread agreement among the public and educators that students need to be proficient computer users--students need to be "computer literate." However, while districts are spending a great deal of money on technology, there seems to be only a vague notion of what computer literacy really means.
Clearly not. In too many schools, most teachers and students still use computers only as the equivalent of expensive flash cards or electronic worksheets. The productivity side of computer use in the general content area curriculum is neglected or grossly underdeveloped (Moursund, 1995).
There are, however, some encouraging signs concerning computers and technology in education. For example, it is becoming increasingly popular for educational technologists to advocate integrating computers into the content areas. Teachers and administrators are recognizing that computer skills should not be taught in isolation, and that separate "computer classes" do not really help students learn to apply computer skills in meaningful ways. This is an important shift in approach and emphasis. And it's a shift with which library media specialists have a great deal of familiarity.
Library media specialists know that moving from isolated skills instruction to an integrated approach is an important step that takes a great deal of planning and effort. Over the past 20 years, library media professionals have worked hard to move from teaching isolated "library skills" to teaching integrated information skills. Effective integration of information skills has two requirements:
Schools seeking to move from isolated computer skills instruction will also need to focus on both of these requirements. Successful integrated information skills programs are designed around collaborative projects jointly planned and taught by teachers and library media professionals. Computer skills instruction can follow the same approach. Library media specialists, computer teachers, and classroom teachers need to work together to develop units and lessons that will include both computer skills, general information skills, and content-area curriculum outcomes.
A meaningful, unified computer literacy curriculum must be more than "laundry lists" of isolated skills, such as:
While these specific skills are certainly important for students to learn, the "laundry list" approach does not provide an adequate model for students to transfer and apply skills from situation to situation. These curricula address the "how" of computer use, but rarely the "when" or "why." Students may learn isolated skills and tools, but they will still lack an understanding of how those various skills fit together to solve problems and complete tasks. Students need to be able to use computers flexibly, creatively and purposefully. All learners should be able to recognize what they need to accomplish, determine whether a computer will help them to do so, and then be able to use the computer as part of the process of accomplishing their task. Individual computer skills take on a new meaning when they are integrated within this type of information problem-solving process, and students develop true "computer literacy" because they have genuinely applied various computer skills as part of the learning process.
The curriculum outlined below, "Computer Skills for Information Problem-Solving," demonstrates how computer literacy skills can fit within an information literacy skills context (American Association of School Librarians, 1995). The baseline information literacy context is the Big Six Skills process (see sidebar and Eisenberg & Berkowitz cites). The various computer skills are adapted from curricula developed by the state of Minnesota (Minnesota Department of Education, 1989) and the Mankato Area Public Schools (Mankato Schools Information Literacy Curriculum Guideline). These basic computer skills are those which all students might reasonably be expected to authentically demonstrate before graduation. Since Internet-related skills are increasingly important for information problem-solving, they are included in this curriculum, and are noted by an asterisk.
Some computer literacy "skills" competencies which do not seem to fit into this information processing model, and which may or may not be important to have stated include:
Listing computer skills is only a first step in assuring all our children become proficient information and technology users. A teacher supported scope and sequence of skills, well designed projects, and effective assessments are also critical. Many library media specialists will need to hone their own technology skills in order to remain effective information skills teachers. But such a curriculum holds tremendous opportunities for library media specialists to become vital, indispensable staff members, and for all children to master the skills they will need to thrive in an information rich future.
Computer Skills for Information Problem-Solving: A Curriculum Based on the Big Six Skills Approach **
copyright Michael B. Eisenberg, Doug Johnson & Robert E. Berkowitz
Included here are skills and knowledge related to technology that are not part of the computer and information technology curriculum. These items should be learned in context, i.e., as students are working through various assignments and information problems using technology. Students will be able to:
Note: Permission is granted for educational use or reprint of all or parts of this curriculum as long as the authors are properly and prominently credited.
* Items are specific to Internet use.
**This curriculum guide is an excerpt from Computer Skills for Information Problem-Solving: Learning and Teaching Technology in Context, ERIC Digest (1996, March), prepared by Michael B. Eisenberg and Doug Johnson for the ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology, Syracuse, NY. (ED number pending, IR 055 809)
The Big Six Skills Approach to
copyright Eisenberg and Berkowitz, 1988.
The Big Six is an information literacy curriculum, an information problem-solving process, and a set of skills which provide a strategy for effectively and efficiently meeting information needs. The Big Six Skills approach can be used whenever students are in a situation, academic or personal, which requires information to solve a problem, make a decision or complete a task. This model is transferable to school, personal, and work applications, as well as all content areas and the full range of grade levels. When taught collaboratively with content area teachers in concert with content-area objectives, it serves to ensure that students are information literate.
The Big Six:
References and Suggested Reading
American Association of School Librarians. (1995, November). Information literacy: A position paper on information problem solving. Emergency Librarian, 23(2), 20-23. (EJ number pending, IR 531 873). Also available from the American Association of School Librarians.
California Media and Library Educators Association Staff. (1993). From library skills to information literacy: A handbook for the 21st century. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc. (ISBN: 0-931510-49-X)
Coulehan, J. L. (1995). Using electronic mail for a small-group curriculum in ethical and social issues. Academic Medicine, 70(2), 158-163. (EJ 499 651)
Doyle, C. S. (1994). Information literacy in an information society: A concept for the information age. Syracuse, NY: ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology. (ED 372 763)
Eisenberg, M. & Berkowitz, B. (1988). Curriculum initiative: An agenda and strategy for library media programs. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Eisenberg, M. B. & Berkowitz, R. E. (1992). Information problem-solving: The big six skills approach. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 8(5), 27-29,37,42. (EJ 438 023)
Eisenberg, M. B. & Ely, D. P. (1993). Plugging into the "Net." Emergency Librarian, 21(2), 8-16. (EJ 471 260)
Eisenberg, M. B. & Small, R.V. (1993). Information-based education: An investigation of the nature and role of information attributes in education. Information Processing and Management, 29(2), 263-275. (EJ 462 841)
Eisenberg, M. B. & Spitzer, K. L. (1991). Information technology and services in schools. In M. E. Williams (Ed.), Annual Review of Information Science and Technology: Vol. 26. (pp. 243-285). Medford, NJ: Learned Information, Inc. (EJ 441 688)
Garland, K. (1995). The information search process: A study of elements associated with meaningful research tasks. School Libraries Worldwide, 1(1), 41-53. (EJ 503 407)
Johnson, D. (1995). Captured by the web: K-12 schools and the world-wide web. MultiMedia Schools, 2(2), 24-30. (EJ 499 841)
Johnson, D. (1995). The new and improved school library: How one district planned for the future. School Library Journal, 41(6), 36-39. (EJ 505 448)
Johnson, D. (1995). Student access to the Internet: Librarians and teachers working together to teach higher level survival skills. Emergency Librarian, 22(3), 8-12. (EJ 497 895)
Kuhlthau, C. C. (1993). Implementing a process approach to information skills: A study identifying indicators of success in library media programs. School Library Media Quarterly, 22(1), 11-18. (EJ 473 063)
Kuhlthau, C. C. (1995). The process of learning from information. School Libraries Worldwide, 1(1), 1-12. (EJ 503 404)
Mankato Schools Information Literacy Curriculum Guideline. Internet WWW page, at URL: http://www.isd77.k12.mn.us/resources/infolit.html (version current at 11 March 1996).
McNally, M. J. & Kulhthau, C. C. (1994). Information search process in science education. Reference Librarian, 44, 53-60. (EJ 488 273)
Minnesota Department of Education. (1989). Model learner outcomes for educational media and technology. St. Paul, MN: Author. (ED 336 070)
Moursund, D. (1995, December). Effective practices (part 2): Productivity tools. Learning and Leading With Technology, 23(4), 5-6.
Pappas, M. L. (1993, September). A vision of school library media centers in an electronic information age. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 10(1), 32-34,38. (EJ 469 122)
Pappas, M. L. (1995). Information skills for electronic resources. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 11(8), 39-40. (EJ 499 875)
Todd, R. J. (1995). Information literacy: Philosophy, principles, and practice. School Libraries Worldwide, 1(1), 54-68. (EJ 503 408)
Todd, R. J. (1995). Integrated information skills instruction: Does it make a difference? School Library Media Quarterly, 23(2), 133-138. (EJ 497 921)
Wisconsin Educational Media Association. (1993). Information literacy: A position paper on information problem-solving. Madison, WI: WEMA Publications. (ED 376 817). (Portions adapted from Michigan State Board of Education's Position Paper on Information Processing Skills, 1992).
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This ERIC Digest was prepared by Michael B. Eisenberg, director of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology and professor of Information Studies, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, and Doug Johnson, district media supervisor for Mankato Public Schools, Mankato MN.
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