Alternative models of knowledge production: a step forward in information literacy as a liberal art.

Author:Shanbhag, Shilpa


Bibliographic instruction has come a long way from the "library instruction" of the 20th century to the "information literacy" of the 21st. Its evolution from "finding your way in the library" to "gaining critical skills to function in the information age" is reflected through the increasing specialization of information literacy pedagogy in higher education. Information professionals' sustained interest in information literacy through various initiatives has led to the redefining of concepts like information, literacy, learning, thinking, and expertise in the context of education and converging technologies. Essentially, information literacy has advanced from a concept to a discipline that subsumes multiple literacies, multiple skills, and multiple competencies in a variety of contexts (Virkus 2003).

In contrast to its specialization, the breadth of the information literacy domain has remained remarkably small. Information literacy pedagogy as well as practice is still wedded to a template of what constitutes knowledge and knowing in formal academic setting. Exclusive references to peer-review and scholarly knowledge present a monolithic picture of the knowledge and information domains. It fails in presenting knowledge as being created as much outside the academia as within it. It is inadequate in showcasing the participation of various agencies and societies in the production of knowledge and hence does not support liberal learning objectives of deeper learning and understanding.

Shapiro and Hughes' idea of information literacy as a liberal art provides a useful framework for discussing of knowledge production other than the traditional academic model. In presenting various meta-messages about information and knowledge creation, alternative models not only address the aforementioned shortcomings, they also address the socio-cultural issues of an inequitable information age, thereby bringing information literacy closer to the concerns of societies that are outside the "information age-knowledge society" paradigm.

Information Literacy and the Traditional Model of Knowledge Production

Information literacy is a domain founded on the concepts of information, literacy, learning, research, and knowledge. Continuing discourse on the varying meanings of these concepts has led to the specialization of information literacy as a domain and an industry in its own right. Literacy is no longer restricted to reading and writing ; computer literacy, network literacy , digital literacy , visual literacy , media literacy , and functional workplace literacy are the literacy offspring of the new knowledge society and economy (Tyner 1998; Bawden 2001; Marcum 2002). Skills are no longer limited to library skills; they include study skills , learning skills , communication skills , and ethical information use skills ( Fjallbrant and Malley 1984 ; Webber and Johnston 2002). Traditional ways of learning have given way to interactive learning and problem-based learning. Instruction, while incorporating these newer meanings and concepts, now provides a range--general stand-alone and resource-oriented geared towards novices to course-related, course-integrated, process-oriented , and disciplinary instruction aimed at a specialized audience of budding researchers.

While meanings of most concepts have evolved, conception of knowledge has remained largely untouched within the information literacy domain. Set within the contexts of higher education and the creation of an organized workforce, information literacy functions within the traditional model of knowledge production and use. Gibbons (2000, 29) calls this model the disciplinary model as its practices and norms "have generated what we know as the disciplinary structure of science and this structure, in turn, has come to govern the management and organization of universities today." Central to this model is the scholar undergoing the process of peer-review in creating new knowledge. The scholar, identified as researcher, follows a set of ideas, values, methods and norms that define the research enterprise. After years of training in research practices, the researcher achieves adequate skills and expertise to participate in the creation of new knowledge. The mechanism of peer-review, whereby other experts in the field judge if the researcher's work merits publication, acts as a filter or quality control tool to the existing scholarly knowledge base.

The traditional model is largely implicit in information literacy practices of demonstrating what is scholarly and what is not, expounding academic honesty and, motivating undergraduates towards graduate education. While all these are valuable tasks in bringing students into the disciplinary framework of knowledge,...

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