Monday, October 20, 2014

Report from ECIL: Opening; and Eisenberg's lessons #ecil2014

For the next few days I will be liveblogging from the European Conference on Information Literacy, held in Dubrovnik. The picture shows people arriving at the conference venue. The conference opened with a welcome from the conference chairs, Serap Kurbanoglu (Hacettepe University) and Sonja Špiranec (University of Zagreb). They announced that this year's conference had the same diversity as last year's, which had delegates from 59 countries. There will be a book of the full paper proceedings available as a priced publication from Springer, as last year (there is a hefty book of abstracts for the delegates here at the conference). Maria-Carme Torras also welcomed delegates on behalf of the IFLA president Sinikka Sipila, identifying the role of information literacy in the Lyon Declaration launched at the last IFLA conference

The first keynote was a passionate and engaging talk from Michael Eisenberg, University of Washington, on Lessons Learned from a Lifetime of Work in Information Literacy. He said that he was retiring in a couple of months, and therefore he was taking time to reflect back on his career, and look at milestones, the lessons learned, challenges and opportunities for information literacy. He started by looking back to his encounter with his doctoral advisor, Tefko Saracevic, and remembered how helpful he had been: two lessons emerged from this - the value of nurtusing young researchers and the continued importance of relevance (Eisenberg's thesis topic) in the networked environment. In fact relevance and credibility could be said to be more important today, when the issue is information abundance rather than information scarcity.
Stepping further back in time, Eisenberg identified the importance of having someone with an enquiry-based approach mentoring him when he was starting as an educator. He valued this involvement in innovative pedgagogy and use of technology as a basis for his career as an educator. Asking meaningful questions, finding quality sources are part ofthis, and "inquiry in itself is an important goal in education" - and vital for (and in combination with) information literacy.
The next focus was studying librarianship, in a career shift from teaching "Library Science - I get tingley even now" ;-) He talked about his teachers, and in particular the issue of service vs. instruction (education) as a role for librarians. He felt that librarians needed to focus on people and their needs, which can be true both for good service and for good education. He felt that there should be a shift from conceptualisation to action, because information literacy was still not reaching everyone, whereas "every human being has the opportunity to become information literate".
Next milestone (or milestones) were to do with technology - thinking back to the various stages of increasingly powerful devices, particular the wonders of Apple technology and then the stages of the internet (through gophers, Mosaic etc. - a nostalgia trip for me too). Looking forward "I'll be the first one to sign up for the brain implant" - he saw that technology will develop and learners need to be supported in meeting life's information challenges. However, whilst technology is important, it does not "change everything": for example he saw the elements in the information seeking process being the same (e.g. selecting, identifying the context and need).
The final moment in time was his first venture at developing an information skills curriculum for schoolchildren. He admitted that he felt discouraged at teh time when the meetings seemed to be focused on getting "laundry lists" of resources, rather than the search process (which is how he saw information literacy, and which he advocates).

His frustration with this process contributed to his eventual development with Bob Berkowitz of the Big6 model of information literacy. Eisenberg provided an interesting insight into how they moved towards framing the Big 6 in terms of process, skills etc. because that behavioural approach is what helped teachers, parents to "get it" (rather than their initial, more conceptual approach). He felt that some of the broader approaches (conceptually and pedagogically) risked losing a focus on information, and were also more difficult to implement in a classroom. So that his conviction from his experience ("kindergarten to doctoral students") was that the process/skills approach was the best way to ensure everyone developed information literacy.

Eisenberg was "insanely optimistic" about the future of information literacy, because he felt that it was so essential to 21st century living. He menioned Obama's declaration of an information literacy month in the USA and the changes he felt had to come about in US education. Eisenberg also praised the ECIL conference as "the richest environment for information literacy".
As a faculty member in an information school, I was heartened to hear Eisenberg say that "Information Schools are built on an information literate foundation". As regards having information literacy in all parts of the educational curriculum and for all people, there is a way to go and this is a challenge that must be taken up. However, optimism is justified because "This is our time".

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