Project Information Literacy, Information Overload, & the Big6

I'm preparing a number of presentations for different audiences about information and technology literacy and information problem-solving. In order to "set the scene" I like to talk about what it's like to live in our information society - in a world where there is an abundance of information, not scarcity.

This wasn't always the case.  Even 30-40 years ago, it was a challenge to find and gather relevant and credible information. We aren't that far removed from the times when you had to make an appointment with a professional librarian if you wanted to conduct an online search. Access was so limited and costly, that the librarian would conduct a pre-search interview and then do the search for you - sometimes not even with you present! Again, those were the days when the challenge was finding, search, and gathering.

Not so today.  Today we have ubiquitious access to the World Wide Web and library databases - from computers, laptops, and even smartphones and mobile devices. As we found through Project Information Literacy, the challenge is now one of dealing with abundance and overload - with sifting through dozens or hundreds of results, sources, and links - rather than struggling to find. In fact, it's not simply abundance vs. scarcity -- most of us suffer from overload.

Project Information Literacy also found that students have the most problems with Big6 Stage #1 - Task Definition - in understanding assignments, framing key questions, and just getting started. They also need help with Use if Information (Big6 #4) and self-Evaluation (Big6 #6). 

For educators on all levels, that means a change in focus for information and technology skills instruction and learning. From a Big6 perspective, we need to focus more instructional time, effort, and lessons on Task Definition, Use of Information, and Evaluation.  If we really want to help our students, it's time to put those "search" lessons aside and work with them on:

  • formulating good questions
  • digital notetaking
  • criteria for self-assessment.

Information problem-solving is more important than ever - but needs have changed and so must our instructional priorities.

Project Information Literacy -

Project Information Literacy (PIL) is ongoing research project, based in the University of Washington's Information School. Dr. Alison Head is the principal investigator and genius behind PIL.  Mike Eisenberg is a co-investigator on the project.  
PIL continues to collect data from early adults enrolled in community colleges and public and private colleges and universities in the U.S. The goal is to understand how early adults conceptualize and operationalize research activities for course work and "everyday life" use and especially how they resolve issues of credibility, authority, relevance, and currency in the digital age.
Also, check out the PIL videos on Youtube -