Negotiating information literacy pathways : learner automony in higher education
This study examines ways in which the practice of information literacy is experienced by undergraduate students in Biology and Social Sciences, using a learner-centred, phenomenographic approach. It challenges simplistic connections which are made between availability of information, learning and learner autonomy in the contemporary information environment. Variations in the experience of information literacy practice in relation to academic assignments are presented. Four distinctive information literacy pathways, or ways of experiencing the process, are identified. The learner-centred perspective has enabled clear distinctions to be made between information literacy pathways, in particular clarifying the concept of focus which has been problematic in earlier work. The Minimalist pathway was associated with poor academic performance. The other three, Gathering, Pinpointing and Connecting, enabled students to be successful in their courses but differed in terms of the development of: subject-matter autonomy; confidence and a sense of competence as a learner; and personal engagement with academic work. The student experience is viewed as a negotiation of ways to act involving the study context, subject knowledge and the student's own role. A key differentiating factor is the student's ability to discern subject knowledge as something which exists outside its embodiment in study tasks. A further factor is the position of the student in relation to both the subject and the study context. This is associated with differences in the sense of control and students' perceptions of themselves as learners. Suggestions are made for educational practice. Attention must be given to the processes of learning and not just its products, such as assignments. A developmental approach towards all students is needed. Even students who appear to be doing well may need guidance to develop autonomy in relation to subject matter. The electronic information environment can provide opportunities and tools but it is interpersonal interaction, between lecturers and students and amongst students, that builds the bridge between information, learning and learner autonomy.