Information Literacy

Please read and reflect on the following executive summary for this proposal,
or even better, the full proposal given here: InformationLiteracyProposal.pdf
Then please read and contribute to the commentary for this proposal.

Executive Summary: Information Literacy
Authors: Randy Piland and Megan Squire

In the April 17, 2011 issue of the Wall St. Journal, the bar graph to the right appeared in the Review & Outlook section, under the headline “Where the tax money is”. The editorial presented an argument as follows: in the ongoing debate about extending the Bush-era tax cuts in the U.S., most of the taxable income resides with the middle income earners (represented by that high bar in the middle), so that is who should be taxed the most. The graph itself is marked “Source: IRS”, implying that the data came from a government source.

The article created something of a firestorm of controversy. The total number media responses to the original graph and article currently total over 100,000. Many of the responses were sophisticated – using statistical reasoning, economic analysis, and historical references to make a case for or against the data as presented. To craft a persuasive argument in response to this article requires the following:

  • the ability to locate materials to support or counter the argument;
  • the ability to find out whether the data shown is valid and accurate, comes from the sources stated, and is accurately presented;
  • the ability to assess and critique the motivations and biases of each article’s author;
  • the ability to understand and critique the graphical/statistical presentation of the data used in a given argument and effectively pose a counter-argument to achieve a purpose;
  • the ability to craft an argument (pro, con or other) that uses the information from a given domain accurately, fairly, and ethically.

These are, as it turns out, five examples of the five standards describing competency in
Information Literacy, a set of skills necessary for meaningful participation in 21st century society.

Would any given student from Elon University graduating in May of 2011 (a) recognize that the data and conclusions on both sides of the debate are open for discussion, and that their input is critical in forming public policy; and (b) have the Information Literacy skills to craft accurate, convincing, timely, and fair arguments to support a position?

In this proposal, first the relevant background is given on the concept and standards of information literacy. Then a case is presented for why Elon University should make an unprecedented commitment to ensuring information literacy competencies in our graduates. Then a Two-Plank radical plan is proposed for infusing information literacy standards into both curricular and cocurricular programs: (1) The Watch is an initiative designed to increase student exposure to information literacy concepts in a dynamic, problem-based way; and (2) The curriculum development plan features “embedded librarians” and a department and program focus. The conclusion discusses the benefits of this information literacy plan for Elon University.

The full proposal is given here: InformationLiteracyProposal.pdf.

Please read the comments on this proposal and post your own thoughts/responses (or e-mail

Submit Comment


Your comment was successfully posted and is awaiting moderation.

All Comments

  • A few people have asked for an in-depth description of how the Information Literacy standards would apply to the WSJ graph shown in our example.<br/><br/>I've compiled a short description of how my students applied the 5 ACRL InfoLit standards to investigate this graph more closely.<br/><br/><a href="">About that WSJ Graph...</a>

  • Today at the QEP session I passed out a little handout regarding the various ways that we might assess the Information Literacy QEP as currently presented. Here is a link to the Google Doc:<br/><br/><a href="">How to Assess the InfoLit QEP</a>

  • The Watch is one of the greatest ideas I have heard. PLEASE do that either way. Innovative and so important.<br/>

  • This is really interesting and Megan's presentation was compelling. Information literacy skills are obviously crucial for our students. I'm less convinced that "The Watch" initiative is the place we should put the substantial resources we'll invest in our QEP, however. Although I'd hop on board if this gets selected, I see all of us (in our departments and in General Studies) as having the obligation to inculcate these skills regardless of whether this is our QEP (and it's not my top choice at the moment).

  • An absolutely critical skill for us to develop in our students and an area where we could shine as an institution. While this has always been an important goal of higher education, it takes on even greater importance now with the production of information being so fast and unreliable in many cases.

  • All QEP ideas are excellent, but many are already promoted by current Elon initiatives. The “information literacy” proposal is distinguished by the following:<br/>- Information literacy is a fundamental challenge of modern society that applies well to all disciplines and increases in its magnitude exponentially (Moore’s Law). Exponential increase means that Elon graduates in 2018, (when QEP finishes), will be grappling with an information challenge that is approximately 10 times as great as our situation in 2011.<br/>- Information literacy research has a well-established body of literature for how students can cope successfully with information literacy. Most of these recommendations are not currently being implemented at Elon<br/>- Information literacy applies very well to what our students need and want. In fact, it arguably applies more to our students than it does to us, because of all the time they spend plugged in to the information network.<br/>- Because students are motivated to learn how to cope effectively with the mountains of information they face, we can empower students to do much of the work required for QEP. Specifically, we can hire students to help originate, promote, implement, and assess specific ideas that fit within the QEP proposal.<br/>- With the current discussions about restructuring Elon’s library and the upcoming hiring of Kate Hickey’s successor at the library, the timing is superb for us to take on this particular QEP proposal right now.<br/><br/>Rah rah INFORMATION LITERACY<br/>