Social Justice: Information Literacy Training at UCL’s Institute of Education

This blog post was adapted by the Chartered Institute of Information Professionals (CILIP) and published on 11th February 2015 as ‘Why teach information literacy in an academic library?’

IOE Back

Image source: “Institute of Education” by Philip James, used under CC BY 2.0

Founded in 1902 as a teacher training college in London, today’s UCL Institute of Education (IOE) is a world-class research and teaching institute whose mission is rooted in commitment to social justice.

As the world’s premier school of education, with academics and alumni active across every continent, the Institute’s reach is truly global.

The IOE provides training and consultation to governments, international and national agencies, charities and the private sector and has over 7000 students from 111 different countries. It also trains 1500 new teachers every year.

The Alexandria Proclamation and Social Justice

Staff at the Newsam Library and Archives see information literacy as an extension of this commitment to social justice. The Alexandria Proclamation (UNESCO-IFLA, 2005) states:

Information literacy lies at the core of lifelong learning. It empowers people in all walks of life to see, evaluate, use and create information effectively to achieve their personal, social, occupational and educational goals. It is a basic human right in a digital world and promotes social inclusion of all nations.

Information literacy therefore not only comprises “the competences to recognize information needs and to locate, evaluate, apply and create information within cultural and social contexts,” but it also includes within it elements of democracy and social justice. Our aim is to ensure that information literacy training is delivered to as many students as possible in ways that make an impact both in terms of the positive outcomes in their studies and in terms of their understanding the complexity of the information world today.

The Information Literacy Team at the IOE

Library pic with two students coming up the stairs

The Newsam Library and Archives at the UCL Institute of Education

In order to achieve this goal a team of six members of staff at the Newsam Library and Archives work to provide information literacy training to staff, students and visiting scholars. Sessions are provided as part of induction programmes, as lunchtime drop-ins, as one-to-one sessions and as a compulsory module in the case of the Doctoral School. The team also produces material to support information literacy, from leaflets to specially written web pages in LibGuides.

In my role as Research Support and Special Collections Librarian I deliver the module for the doctoral students. It takes place over eight hours spread over four weeks. I would like to give an outline of the course content to demonstrate the range of knowledge required to participate fully in today’s information environment. This is our most in-depth course, but many of the skills and resources are introduced in sessions provided for other parts of the Institute.

The IOE’s Doctoral School

The Doctoral School is the largest in the UK, with over a third of its students from abroad. These students undertake research degrees leading to an MPhil or PhD, EdD (Doctor of Education), DEdPsy (Doctor of Education Psychology) or an MRes (Master of Research). Many of them are mature students, usually professionals working in education at leadership level in their organisations: they could be heads in schools, university lecturers, administrative managers and /or policy advisors in educational institutions, and even ministers of education in their countries. This provides an invaluable opportunity to promote libraries and the role of librarians, particularly in our rapidly changing information world. We are also able to play an advocacy role so that these future educators can influence their organisations in ensuring information workers are there to curate, manage, preserve and make accessible information for their communities’ social progress.

IL Training for Postgraduate Students at the IOE

Concept map

Image source: Klotz, F., (n.d). Concept mapping. Complexworld. Accessible at

As I go through the compulsory module, which is offered, both face-to-face and online for the students on the Online PhD programme, I introduce all the traditional elements of an information literacy course, embedding digital literacies as they are required.   Students are shown how to navigate various library catalogues and databases in order to search and find information and critically evaluate resources relevant for their literature reviews. In doing this, students learn about search strategies and the need to define concepts and keywords. They are tasked to create concept maps that link the main themes contained in their research question and, as shown in the image, may go as far as linking the key readings they have found by theme. The readings highlight different aspects of the research process for the literature review, which in turn, encourage discussion. Students are introduced to different types of resources, including historical materials in archives and special collections, policy documents, audio-visual content and data. They look at ways in which impact is measured using citation counts and alternative metrics such as mentions on the social web.

Digital Literacies

Many of the students have been away from formal education for some time, however, they are quickly made aware of how new technologies can make their lives easier. Students are introduced to ways they can keep current with research such as TOCs and alerting services and RSS. They are introduced to referencing software such as such as Zotero and Mendeley. Students are encouraged to reflect on their readings by creating a blog and writing about their research. This allows them to build confidence, keep a track of their ideas, get feedback through comments and establish their digital identities. Our digital researcher guide is used to introduce students to social media sites such as Twitter both for research and to consider ways in which they can share, network and even crowd source for information.

Information Literacy Support

Additionally, a considerable amount of time is given to discussing how research is disseminated, both traditionally and as open access. Examples of open educational resources including the IOE’s home-grown Digital Education Resource Archive, DERA and its research repository IOE ePrints, the Doctoral School’s open access journal Educate ~, the IOE’s London Review of Education, JORUM and other open access content such as DOAJ and OpenDOAR are given as examples of the trend towards quality knowledge becoming freely and openly accessible globally. The merits of open access, both from the perspective of enabling their own work to be found and cited, and from the perspective of creating a more equal knowledge society, are not lost on many of our international students. They too recognise this as social justice. They are particularly pleased to then have the library guides and demos available to them as a YouTube playlist so that they can come back to the course at any particular time of need.

Thus the course enables students not only to acquire the necessary skills to navigate the information landscape for research but it also allows us to change perceptions – of libraries, the role of librarians and value of information literacy in the Information Age. By using and spreading their knowledge they will open the door of information privilege to others.

This blog post was adapted by the Chartered Institute of Information Professionals (CILIP) and published on 11th February 2015 as ‘Why teach information literacy in an academic library?’

About Nazlin Bhimani

Research Support and Special Collections Librarian, UCL Institute of Education, London
This entry was posted in Library and Archives, Research Support and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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