Information Literacy – Ian McCracken


Information Literacy in action: a real life example

“Edward Jenner was one of the greatest killers of the period”

“Robert Crobullpull was the first man to climb Ben Nevis”

These are just two of the wholly inaccurate answers that appear on many schools’ websites. In the first example, pupils copied information badly – it should have said “Smallpox was one of the greatest killers of the period”. In the 2nd example, someone has clearly got bored and just made up a name (it was actually James Crawford who is the first recorded climber)

Mistakes like these occur because everyone assumes that pupils are used to computers and can therefore find information easily – and know when it is correct.

Many school librarians run practical sessions to help pupils overcome these issues. The sessions run in Govan High School are different, in that they offer practical sessions to teachers

 As part of their CPD, teachers in the school are asked to develop a plan on a topic for S2 pupils. They then choose 2 from 5 topics on offer. They are then asked such questions as “how many hits did your search return”, “how many sites were blocked” and most important of all “would a typical pupil in your class have the vocabulary level to read the available sites”

To take a couple of the topics as examples: “expansion”, which came from a Science course being used in a major Scottish city. Whoever had set the task had not checked it for themselves – there are 108 million hits on Google for expansion (and the topic intended was in fact heat expansion of metals)

 Robert Burns is a popular choice but the extract from Wikipedia would hardly be likely to inspire a pupil “He is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement and after his death became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism. A cultural icon in Scotland and among the Scottish Diaspora around the world, celebration of his life and work became almost a national charismatic cult during the 19th and 20th centuries.”

The exercise always raises a lot of points, and causes teachers to effect on what assumptions are being made. These include:

–       are websites at an appropriate reading Age easily available

–       can pupils adjust searches if they get too many hits

–       can pupils extract relevant facts without resorting to “copying and pasting”

–       can pupils use skills such as précising and keywording

Many websites, such as Learning and Teaching Scotland have excellent resources such as

However. time and again, teachers go straight into topics rather than “waste” time when they “know” that pupils can use the Internet already.

 Why is any of this of importance? There are many reasons: Searching for information is found throughout the Outcomes and experiences; the search process helps pupils develop valuable analytical and reflective skills, and perhaps most important of all – pupils learn responsibility and independent learning that will be invaluable throughout their lives.


One Response to Information Literacy – Ian McCracken

  1. Fiona McLeod says:

    Having read this article and Willie’s reminiscences on the BBC Micro it saddens me that 30 years after I was a school librarian information literacy is still not an embedded part of the curriculum – delivered by information specialists.

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