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A Higher Level of Information Competence: Improving the Competitiveness of Graduates in the Labour Market

Information competence is a fundamental factor in seeking out or creating new knowledge and in improving ones capabilities and skills in the knowledge society of our present day. This particularly applies to learning awareness. Information competence and the information culture guarantee competitiveness among young specialists. This paper focuses on scientific research which has studied intensive approaches toward educating people in the field of information literacy. The study was conducted among students and personnel at public institutions of higher education in northern Lithuania. The project was partly funded by the European Union under the name BIBLIONOVA, and it ran from 2005 until 2007.


Laima Liukineviien, associate professor, Department of Public Administration, Faculty of Social Sciences, iauliai University

Without going into a detailed discussion about the concept of information literacy, we can understand that the term refers to the level of information that we have in terms of motivating ourselves for lifelong learning and always knowing how to achieve new levels of knowledge and information skills.  People must formulate individual informational needs, they must be aware of modern and traditional information sources and systems.  There must be education about how to use information search engines, to engage in analysis, to select proper information, and to ensure the ethical use of information and communications technologies.  Information literacy training occurs at all levels of education and learning, as well as through self-education.  Figure 1 shows a visual conception of the structure of information literacy, with seven fundamental pillars or information skills.  The design is the work of the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) in the UK.


Figure 1.  The structure of information literacy
Source:  SCONUL (1999)

The level of information literacy grows when individual information skills are improved.  If one can apply these skills in a specific sphere of activity, then information competency increases.
We consider information competence to be the ability to manage information and to create new knowledge and information.  A popular UNESCO definition says that information culture is the higher expression of a persons information competence.  It can also be assumed that the overall culture of an individual is closely linked to a constant improvement of information literacy skills.  The attainment of new knowledge in the area of information education requires more in the way of individualized and targeted education.
The aim of the higher education institutions in northern Lithuania which took part in the aforementioned research project was to improve the information competence of graduates whilst simultaneously enhancing their competitiveness in the labour market.  The participating schools were iauliai University, iauliai College, Paneveys College and emaitija College.  The focus on information competence as a critical issue was defined through Delphi method-based research in 2003.  Northern Lithuania was seen as a developing region which required active and creative people capable of making decisions, knowing how to learn, and being flexible under conditions of a rapidly changing informational situation.  The need to improve information competence quickly required substantial human and material resources and investments.  A whole set of organisational and academic innovations had to be designed, and this was work which could not have been done by people working individually.
After a review of existing experience in the field of information literacy and development of information competence at the level of higher education, thought was given as to how everyone at the relevant universities could be brought into the process.  It was both normative in the sense of achieving information literacy standards and constructive in terms of performing tasks which motivate people to improve their personal information skills.  Methods were defined to activate critical thinking, and the development of information skills was integrated into all subjects in the curriculum of the participating schools.  Everything was done in support of the process.  Academic libraries were transformed into informational, educational and consulting centres which helped to enhance the level of the information culture in the entire region.  Libraries offered open links to information systems and databases, testing of information literacy skills, programmes for supplementary training in information skills, measurements of information literacy levels, research projects, educational programmes, issuing of training CDs, etc.  The libraries became fully integrated into the study process.  Facilities for teamwork were made available, and librarians and information studies specialists worked together in drafting new study programmes and observing how the process developed.
Another new thing was the establishment of interinstitutional and local networks focused on goal achievement and innovation.  This made possible exchanges of experience and the creation of new intellectual projects.  Lecturers, educators, librarians, computer science specialists and students from the higher education institutions in the region are all involved in these networks.  A new programme which administers the study process from the moment the student signs up at college to the moment when he or she is graduated is under development.  Certain disciplines are now being taught on the basis of the Moodle system.
Every single one of the regional educational institutions joined in the co-operative network, thus improving information competence on the basis of a series of processes.  First, a standardised information literacy test commonly used in the United States was adapted for Lithuanian purposes, measuring the level of literacy at each of the participating schools.  The level was re-measured during each of the subsequent three semesters, using the same instruments and the same group of respondents so as to study the efficiency of the methods that were being used. 
Next, analysis of documentation and interviews with representatives of the various schools helped to identify institutional provisions and plans for improving the level of information culture and information competence.  This was a very important part of defining the relevant strategies.  Modern auditoria were equipped for students, complete with Internet access to databases, systems and other educational means.  Lecturers and librarians were offered intensive six-month courses to upgrade their own information literacy and information skills.  After completing the courses, lecturers could modernise the courses which they taught by implementing the Moodle version, preparing CDs and appropriate learning materials, etc.  The library at iauliai University opened up a centre for education and consultations, offering access to databases, Saturday workshops, programmes focused on information education, individual consultations, access to equipment for improving the information culture, and offering all necessary literature and virtual training means.
As initiator and co-ordinator of the project, iauliai University expanded the process so as to help the entire surrounding community to improve information skills.  All first-year students at the university had to take a course on information management, while students in other years of study could take it as an elective.  The course was designed by a group of lecturers, librarians and computer specialists.  Lecturers from iauliai University worked with information specialists to create new ways of integrating the universitys library into the study process.  All sub-divisions at the university were encouraged to develop their information skills.  New areas of specialisation in the study of information management were established.
The Klaipeda Strategic Institute of Local Government conducted research in the spring of 2007 which showed that the level of information literacy at all of the schools that were involved in the project had indeed improved.  iauliai University posted the greatest gains, moving from the category of Satisfactory to the category of Good in terms of overall information skills.  This showed that the integration of information skills into the study process had been successful.  It was also true that the university had a larger group to study than any of the colleges did.  At colleges, the impact was felt by perhaps 100 or so people, including one or two librarians, while the same was true for 2,500 people, including 20 librarians, at the university.  This meant the wider distribution of information, with all members of the community feeling eager to learn innovative skills and then put them to work.  All of the higher education institutions which participated in the project improved their information skills in terms of computer literacy, work with the Internet, etc.  Figure 2 offers a comparison among the various higher educational institutions in northern Lithuania.


Figure 2.  Status of higher educational institutions in northern Lithuania
* SVETC:  iauliai Vocational Education Training Centre

The research results showed that the methods for improving information skills were effective, and the complex approach to dealing with issues such as inactivity and inefficiencies in learning information skills were successful.  The overall level of information skills improved by 20% between the spring of 2005 and the autumn of 2007.  A ten-point evaluation system was used to determine this.  The quality of all educational aspects at the participating institutions increased.  The effectiveness of the BIBLIONOVA project was demonstrated via the fact that the level of information skills was increasing more rapidly because of the objective educational method, as opposed to any non-specialised approach to the matter.
Another positive fact was that information skills were distributed on an even basis among all of the various constituencies in the project.  Participants who were the subject of the research learned about individual elements of information skills and then proved able to apply them thoroughly in various processes.  This demonstrated the success of the training cycle.
At the same time, it has to be said that the quality of information skills at the higher education institutions of northern Lithuania is not universal.  Participants at iauliai University posted far better results than did people at the other institutions in terms of basic, standardised and common parameters of all kinds.  On the ten-point scale, the level of information skills at the university was rated as Very good, Paneveys College and iauliai College were rated as Satisfactory, while emaitija College drew a rating of Sufficient.  In terms of the specialised objective approach to information skills training, only iauliai University posted Good results.  The other institutions are on the right path, but they are still far from the highest evaluation of information skills education.
The educators, study managers and librarians who were part of this project can be proud of the results which they have achieved.  Their objective information skills improved more than non-specialised skills did, according to a study run among libraries in 2007.

CONCLUSIONS

After careful analysis of Lithuanian and global experience in the development of information competence at institutions of higher education, after the research that was done on ways in which information skills can be developed, and after a complex approach was taken to the improvement of information competence, we can say that the main factor in determining improvements in information skills is that the relevant educational institution must take a positive approach toward the development of the skills and toward the complexity of the means for achieving this.  Students must be able to choose among various ways of improving information literacy.  Educational institutions must have the internal resources to create an educational environment for lifelong learning and development of information competence.  Normative means were brought to bear after existing levels of information literacy skills were defined, as were integral means of education in the sense that information skills development occurred in all study areas on the curriculum.  There were programmes of complementary education, the information competence of lecturers was monitored at all participating institutions, and people found that they could improve their qualifications in this regard.  It was very important to integrate academic libraries into the study process, making use of their intellectual and material resources to provide entirely new services.  The library is the centre of development for information competence, as well as an institution which helps to create modern products, develop information skills, and provide new knowledge and information.

REFERENCES

1.  Bruce, C.S. (1997).  Seven Faces of Information Literacy in Higher Education, Queensland University of Technology.  See http://sky.fit.qut.edu.au/~bruce/inflit/faces/faces1.php. Viewed 6 September 2007.
2.  Glosien, A. (2006)  Akademins bendruomens informacins kompetencijos ugdymas: po dvideimties met, Knygotyra, No. 47, 2006, pp. 186-202.  See http://www.leidykla.eu/fileadmin/Knygotyra/47/AUDRONEGLOSIENE.pdf.  Viewed 6 September 2007.
3.  Lain, D. and A. Maginn (2003).  Labour Market Involvement in Quality Assurance in Vocationally/Professionally Oriented Higher Education in Europe.  Final report, Institute for Employment Studies, UK.
4.  Rukus, J. and L. Liukineviien (2003).  Interaction Between University Studies and the Labour Market: Priorities and Chances (the Case of iauliai University), Socialiniai mokslai, No. 5(42), 2003, pp. 21-33.
5.  Simmons, M.H. (2005).  Librarians as Disciplinary Discourse Mediators: Using Genre Theory to Move Toward Critical Information Literacy, Portal: Libraries and the Academy, No. 5(3), pp. 297-311.
6.  Tuominen, K., Savolainen, R. and S. Talja.  Information Literacy as a Socio-technical Practice, Library Quarterly, Vol. 75, No. 3, pp. 329-345.
7.  Гендина, Н.И. (2005). Информационная культура винформационном обществе: взгляд из России.  See http://www.eilc2005.c-bit.ru/reg.php?action=getdoctxt&id=44.  Viewed 6 September 2007.

Authors contacts: +370-41-595815, laima.l(at)cr.su.lt


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