Big6 and Higher Education: Big6 Transcends Boundaries

Author: Ru Story-Huffman

Discussion lists can be a great resource for learning and professional development, and earlier this year, the Big6 was the topic for one such list Alicia Salaz, Faculty Librarian at Dubai Women’s College, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, wrote that her library was beginning to use the Big6 as their information literacy model of choice.  I learned from Alicia that the library at Dubai Women’s successfully implemented the Big6 model into their information literacy workshops. Alicia’s example shows the kind of success Big6 can create in a short amount of time, even with a unique group of learners.

Dubai Women’s College
Dubai Women’s College, founded in 1989, is an English as a second language (ESL) institution with more than 2300 students. Dubai Women’s College (DWC) is one of 14 colleges that make up the Higher Colleges of Technology system, a public institution of higher education in the United Arab Emirates.  DWC enrolls female Emirati students in a variety of business, education, health sciences and technical programs, and awards both lower credentials (“diploma” and “higher diploma”) as well as Bachelor degrees in these areas.

The DWC faculty and librarians believe that using Big6 as a “common semantic/linguistic framework” to teach students will provide them with a background for success. According to Alicia, students at DWC typically have little experience in completing research. Introducing the idea of a common semantic/linguistic framework – and since this is an ESL institution, in a secondary language, no less – means that Big6’s simple terminology is a big advantage. Alicia also appreciated that there are a variety of Big6 curriculum materials, books, and lessons (not to mention this newsletter!) already in existence.

The DWC librarians completed projects using the Big6 during the spring semester, and students and faculty responded with positive feedback and results. One project included researching various aspects of the global economic crisis. Faculty acknowledged that after one workshop session on Task Definition (Big6, Step 1), students were able to locate a wider range of information about the topic.

Results of the Experiment
Even though students used the Big6 to locate a broader range of materials, DWC instructors found that the students still needed to develop a stronger ability to evaluate information. In my experience working with college students, I emphasize Big6 Step 4.2, Extract Relevant Information, to include evaluation of materials for scholarship, reliability, relevancy, accuracy and authority. Our college students need to learn the difference between a scholarly journal and a popular magazine, and understand the distinction and reliability of multiple web sites on the same topic. Adding this evaluative process to Big6 Step 4.2 provides an essential opportunity to include aspects of critical thinking into the curriculum and course requirements.

Alicia reported that the instructors and students also appreciated the uniform terminology used by the Big6. The library trained large groups of students – in one case, the 11 classes of an entire department – and the whole department faculty adopted the Big6 vocabulary. With this continuity, the ESL students had a shared knowledge base. When everyone, faculty and students alike, are on the “same page” with information literacy concepts and research projects it provides continuity in future encounters.

The library at DWC used Big6 with all levels of students. In one project, a group of beginning level English students presented the Big6 to visiting high school students. As described by Alicia, the college students did a “recursive iteration” during their presentation, as they realized they needed additional information. The students went back through the process, added a resource to their presentation, and then continued with Big6 Steps 5 and 6. These college students demonstrated the Big6 process when they realized they needed additional information in order to complete their project. The ability to revise knowledge through a non-linear process is one of the greatest assets of the Big6 in the academic environment.

Alicia has received positive feedback about their Big6 experiment and the students of DWC indicate they’d like additional training and use of the Big6 process. At the Dubai Women’s College, the Big6 has transcended cultural and physical boundaries to provide a knowledge base to help students become information literate.