Big6 in Higher Education: Considering the ACRL Standards in a Big6 Context

Author: Ru Story-Huffman

In 2000, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association, approved theInformation Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (ACRL, 2000). Since its release, the standards have been met with widespread approval by a variety of educational, library and standards-making organizations, including the American Association for Higher Education and the Council of Independent Colleges, who sanctioned the standards in February 2004.

While the ACRL Standards document speaks directly to information literacy in the higher education setting, the central premise of the standards is universal; the document defines information literacy as a set of skills enabling individuals to identify information needs and locate, evaluate, and effectively use information. Furthermore, the standards document examines issues related more specifically to information literacy in the higher education setting, including information literacy and the use of information technology, issues of pedagogy, assessment, and use of the standards in an academic setting (ACRL, 2000)

Information Literacy and Lifelong Learners

In elementary school, students are taught the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic (Hancock, 1993). In the twenty-first century, necessary information skills go beyond the ability to read, write and subtract. Print, film, magnetic, and optical storage media produced about five exabytes of new information in 2002 (Regents of the University of California, 2003). With the amount of information produced each year, the question becomes what information is available, when to use the information and how to locate the necessary information.

Education systems and institutions must take seriously the challenges of the Information Age. This includes restructuring the learning process to reflect the use of information in the real world, changing the role of the teacher from presenter of prefabricated facts to facilitator of active learning, and including the library/media specialist as a collaborator in curriculum planning for effective use of information resources.

A core mission of higher education is the development of lifelong learners, individuals who posses critical thinking skills and excel in the professional setting thanks to flexible, engaged minds. Achieving information literacy skills and knowledge of the information literacy process is a natural component to achieving success in an academic environment and beyond, and the ACRL standards presents a simple way for university and college faculty – who may be more concerned with their academic discipline than with pedagogy – to integrate information literacy into instruction. It is at this point Big6 in the college curriculum becomes an important aspect of pedagogy.

College students can benefit from Big6 instruction in numerous ways. Not only must they locate research to complete assignments, they face many decisions throughout their academic career. From the relatively simple questions, like “What classes should I register for?” “Should I move off-campus or stay in the dorms?” to the higher-stakes questions, “What should I major in?” or “How do I find a job after graduation?” college students face decisions on a daily basis. The Big6 can provide a key to successful decision-making and benefit students well beyond graduation. For this reason, academic librarians should consider Big6 instruction for some of the college faculty and staff who counsel and advise students on some of these important decisions, such as advisors, career center staff and others.

Use in Higher Education

The Standards are used by educators in a variety of settings. Academic librarians use them as a guide for curriculum development and design, program assessment and as methodology for achieving competency in information literacy skills. The Standards’ benchmarks and best practices can be implemented by instructors to demonstrate proficiency in information literacy skills. The Standards can also be used to assist when academic librarians seek campus and administrative support for an information literacy curriculum.

Often the development of information literacy competencies will mirror the objectives outlined by the Standards and incorporate specific outcomes as related to the general education curriculum. At my institution, Cumberland College, an initiative is underway to incorporate information literacy into the pre-service teacher education curriculum to assist students with meeting the Kentucky New Teacher Standards. While still in the research phase, the Cumberland College initiative is projected to follow outcomes as presented by theStandards document.

The University of Denver Library and Information Services Program uses the Big6 as a model for their online information literacy tutorial. When students use the tutorial, they are exposed the methodology employed by the Big6 toward achieving information literacy. Gaining knowledge through the Big6 tutorial may provide methodology to achieve standards and benchmarks as outlined by the ACRL document.

The University of Washington provides an online course titled “The Big6™ Skills Approach to Information Problem-Solving.” The course, designed for education majors, but applicable to all disciplines, provides methodology to use the Big6 in information problem solving and gain knowledge to instill learning in others. As is the case with using Big6 based information literacy tutorials, curriculum where the Big6 is an integral part of the core content instills learning and knowledge, benchmarks of the ACRL standards document.

Information Literacy Standards and Big6

While it is great news that college educators are recognizing the power of information literacy, what does this have to do with Big6? There are several reasons why the Big6 and the Standards are natural partners, each complementing and strengthening the other. First, it is common knowledge that college-age students have grown up with technology and many of them have used computers throughout their elementary and secondary education. Even better is the fact that many of these technology whiz kids got their first taste of information literacy instruction through Big6 from library media specialists and teachers determined to teacher their students to use technology skills in the context of information-problem-solving. In other words, many of these students are technology experts who are fluent in Big6!

Even if your college students did not learn Big6 in the classroom, there is a good chance that he or she is already a Big6er. Anecdotal evidence has shown that highly successful people proficient at solving information problems tend to use the steps of the Big6 without realizing it or knowing what it is. Your class of high-achieving college students is a class of Big6ers, so using their natural information problem-solving tendencies to teach the Standards will help students learn them better and apply them more easily.

The ACRL’s Standards document provides a scaffold for developing and measuring the abilities of the information literate individual. In developing the Standards, ACRL recognized that many of the students entering higher education benefited from information literacy instruction as K-12 students. The document broadens the efforts of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Task Force on Information Literacy Standards and their document Information Power: Building Partnerships for Learning in the K-12 setting. The ACRLStandards leverages the information literacy foundation developed by Information Power and extends those skills into the higher education setting. The linkage of the ACRL and AASL standards indicates a range of information literacy outcomes developed for students at all levels. Through the blending of the K12 information literacy standards and the standards from the ACRL document, that Big6 can become part of the information literacy process in higher education.

It is easy to make the link between Big6 and ACRL’s Standards. The five standards outlined in the document mirror the six tasks of the Big6 model of information literacy. This chart, based upon Janet Murray’s excellent work on her Applying Big6™ Skills, information literacy standards and ISTE NETS to Internet Research Web site, provides a framework for information literacy integration into the higher education curriculum.

Since Big6 and the Standards are so closely related, Big6 can provide simple, convenient shorthand for the day-to-day academic use of information literacy skills. I have created a Big6 primer on the Cumberland College library Web site to assist students as they begin the information problem-solving process. This simple tool illustrates the steps of the Big6 — and consequently, the principles of the ACRL standards — in an academic information seeking sense and uses information sources specific to an academic environment. Designed as a self-paced tutorial, the information presented is intended to represent a logical sequence of events to assist students with their information needs.

The Big6’s applicability to existing information literacy standards is well established, and we have begun to explore the kind of difference Big6 can make in the life of college students. In my next column, I will address specific components of Big6 and the general education curriculum.

Selected Web Resources Illustrating Information Literacy in an Academic Environment

ACRL Information Literacy

Institute for Information Literacy

Standards Toolkit

Literacy as a Liberal Art

Library Association: Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report

Progress Report on Information Literacy: An Update on the American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report