Farmingdale Public Library
|Michael B. Huang
Stony Brook University
ABSTRACT: Vocational education has undergone major changes in recent years. The need for incorporating information literacy into the vocational school curriculum exists, given the nature of the mission of this particular type of educational institutions. Over the past decade or so, vocational education has shifted its focus from preparing students for occupations that required less than a baccalaureate degree toward a broader preparation that develops the academic, vocational, and technical skills of students for more competitive careers or advanced degrees. This shift has broadened the purpose for vocational education, demanding more attention to issues and skills related to information literacy. This article introduces a course model of teaching information literacy skills at one vocational school, the Katharine Gibbs School in Melville, New York. It describes the guidelines in place for incorporating information literacy into the curriculum and its implementation, including the course design and the evaluation process.
The library literature presents little scholarship on the issue of information literary and vocational education. As a result, practice of integrating information literacy into vocational schools is little known to the outside world. While scholarship on incorporating information literacy into the classroom is widely available at the college and university level, the need to examine how the issue of information literacy is dealt with in vocational education seems to be urgent to certain degree, given the nature of the mission of this particular type of educational institution.
The Katharine Gibbs School in Melville, New York, is one of the vocational schools which have experimented with incorporating information literacy into the vocational education, and in the authors’ opinions, has successfully done so. A course model of teaching information literacy skills at the Katharine Gibbs School will be introduced. And the guidelines in place for incorporating information literacy into the curriculum will be described as well as their implementation, the course design, and the evaluation process.
…In the last hundred years, vocational education has evolved from its original inception in response to changes in society, technology, education and education philosophy, and the workplace. At the dawn of the 21th century, vocational, or career and technical, education goes far beyond the specific technical knowledge and skills required for a particular occupation; today, vocational education encompasses not only technical preparation but also sound academic foundations, higher-order thinking skills, and personal qualities needed for success in the workplace.
In more recent years, there is a steady increase of interest among high school students in taking courses in vocational education. The data from the National Center for Education Statistics indicate that almost all public high school students take at least one vocational education course, that 16 percent of all public high school credits are earned in vocational education, and that 49 percent of all students seeking subbaccalaureate degrees major in vocational fields.
In the past decade in particular, with the Internet and online resources becoming increasingly available, vocational education faced challenges in more specialized fields. For example, about one out of every five public high school graduates who take a concentrated vocational program also completes a rigorous "college prep" program; and over half (55 percent) of the public high school graduates who take concentrated vocational coursework enroll in a postsecondary institution within 2 years of graduation. About half (49 percent) of all subbaccalaureate students major in a vocational field. Among subbaccalaureate students, those pursuing a vocational major are more likely than those pursuing an academic major to have a previous postsecondary credential; and as the education level of their parents increases, subbaccalaureate students are less likely to major in vocational fields and more likely to major in academic fields.
The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, a degree-granting agency for colleges and universities in the Middle States region, has further defined information literacy and requires it to be incorporated in the regional accreditation standards. In Standard 11, the section on educational offerings, it defines information literacy and sets the framework in which information literacy is an important part of the general education:
Information literacy is an intellectual framework for identifying, finding, understanding, evaluating, and using information .… Information literacy is vital to all disciplines and to effective teaching and learning in any institution. Institutions of higher education need to provide students and instructors with the knowledge, skills, and tools to obtain information in many formats and media in order to identify, retrieve, and apply relevant and valid knowledge and information resources to their study, teaching, or research.
The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools further requires that “upon degree completion, students are proficient in oral and written communication, scientific and quantitative reasoning, technological capabilities appropriate to the discipline, and information literacy, which includes critical analysis and reasoning…” Consequently, an effective mechanism is built in the process of education that is necessary for students to be equipped with lifelong learning skills.
These efforts have been met by the support from legal organizations and government agencies, which provide policy guidelines for vocational education. Stevenson pointed out that “It is … not surprising that the importance of information literacy skills has been associated with the employment and education policy of national governments throughout the world during the last decade. Many of these policies conceive of information literacy as being a functional competence necessary for the modern workplace.” Such policies have lent a great deal of support to establishing guidelines regarding the role of information literacy in vocational education.
The school currently has 838 enrolled students at Melville, including both traditional and non-traditional students. A typical student seeking associate degrees takes four courses, about 12 credits, in each quarter, which lasts eleven weeks. The Katharine Gibbs School, like most of the community colleges, serves students from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, ages, levels of academic preparation, educational aspirations, work and family responsibilities, and levels of English competency. Incorporating information literacy into the curriculum needs to take all these into consideration.
The Information Literacy course is mainly taught by librarians at the Katharine Gibbs School. Librarians and faculty members collaborate to have information literacy incorporated into a subject course as part of an assignment to address information literacy issues tailored to that course. The fact that librarians have already established strong relationships with a number of faculty members provides a favorable environment.
With the goal of developing a curriculum that would motivate students to become information literacy competent, the course was designed with student active learning in mind and ways to incorporate information literacy, based on the objectives developed. Each session consists of a combination of lecture and demonstration, followed by a hands-on exercise, designed to reinforce skills or concepts taught earlier. Homework assignments expand on in-class instruction and exercises. These instructional methods are appropriate because information competence is best learned and/or enhanced by “doing”. Hands-on exercises in collaborative groups give students an opportunity to try out techniques which have been demonstrated by the lecturer in a non-threatening environment with help readily available. The course is taught with a focus on life-learning skills that are transferable from one occupation or profession to another.
It should be noted that students at the Katharine Gibbs School share much the same characteristics with those at most community colleges. According to Schuetz, about half of all students entering community colleges need to be assigned to some remedial course, mainly in Math and English. This is also true with students entering the Katharine Gibbs School. Compared with their counterparts at four-year institutions, students at Gibbs may benefit more when provided with the opportunity to learn fundamental and systematic knowledge about information.
Week One Objectives:
This session gears towards discussion on general issues surrounding information. Information is ideas, facts and imaginative works of the mind that can be communicated, recorded or published formally or informally in any formats. Despite the realization that information is organized generally by subject terms, few students have knowledge of schemes of such organization. This session discusses popular existing classification systems, with an emphasis on the Dewey Decimal Classification System and the Library of Congress Classification System. It also introduces the information characteristics, including factual vs. analytical, subjective vs. objective, and primary vs. secondary.
Students are required to establish a research topic that would motivate them to undertake a “formal information research” project throughout the whole semester. The topics can either be issues that interest them or an assignment from another class. It would be a perfect match if students use what has been discussed from the Information Literacy class for their writing assignment of another class. Needless to say, when students see its immediate benefit to their course work or to an assignment that they need to accomplish, they will be most receptive to learn.
Each student needs to keep a research log to contain all details in the process of information searching. The log should include specific citations retrieved, steps, errors made, tools used, skills or strategies applied, and any thoughts for information evaluation. The research log serves several functions:
It is generally a difficult task for students to know what to write about, and even more difficult when they need to narrow down a topic. Prior to addressing this issue, librarians discuss facets of a topic and the relationship between disciplines, subject fields and topics. Facets of a topic, according to List, refer to aspects or angle of a topic, and discipline refers to the three major divisions of knowledge: the Sciences, the Social Sciences and the Humanities. Each discipline contains an expandable number of subjects which are not equivalent to topics. List continues to say that: “a topic is the idea you’re researching and its subject field is the field of knowledge or study into which your idea (topic) fits.” It is important to teach these conceptual differences to students.
Clarification of the relationship between topics, subject fields, and disciplines provides tremendous help in the process of broadening and narrowing a research topic. Consequently, students find it easier to work out focused research questions. In order to help students understand research process or steps, as defined in the course objectives, students are required to select a research topic, explore the research questions from any possible angles for a better understanding and mold it into a searchable topic, write research statement paragraphs, and construct the research outline.
Students are guided to brainstorm concepts or terms associated with their topics. Once the research topic is narrowed down to a manageable level, a set of search terms will be created to provide means of access into the literature. The most important, and sometimes frustrating, part of finding information is to identify key words, as pointed out by Larkin and Pines. Once again, students find it beneficial to have done analysis and discussions about the relationship of disciplines, subjects and facets of topics, as one needs to understand the topic well enough to come up with the right set of terms or concepts for information searching.
The hands-on section focuses on familiarizing students with selected reference materials for further understanding of concepts at different levels. Students are asked to construct a conceptual taxonomy, in which a search term or keyword can be positioned in a framework of “superordinate (broader), subordinate (narrower) and co-ordinate (synonymous)” Students were instructed to use the Subject Heading’s list from the Library of Congress, thesauri, dictionaries, and encyclopedias to facilitate this task.
Information is organized with the purpose of being accessed so it can be utilized. Apparently, means of access is the key. Although students are comfortable accessing the Web via popular search engines, few of them have the knowledge of looking for various types of information through other tools available.
The library’s online catalog is an ideal tool for manipulating search terms and “unlocking a library’s resource”. Oftentimes, it is not surprising to see one retrieve hundreds or even thousands of hits when searching library databases or the Internet with one term. However, the library catalog may return nothing due to incorrect search terms used. For instance, a student will not get any relevant results by typing in “ecstasy” into the School’s online catalog until he or she tries “drug abuse”. The library catalog as a search tool is an excellent starting point to provide students with a relatively controlled environment for understanding the concepts of access points: author, title, subject, or keyword. In other words, students will find it easier to apply those skills as to other databases or the Web. For the hands-on part, students are expected to do the following:
Concepts such as scholarly communication, peer-reviewed and scholarly journals, and scientific communities are fairly foreign to the student population. Before discussing these issues, students are divided into groups, with 4-5 students in each, and provided with a set of periodicals comprising popular, professional or trade, and scholarly journals. They follow instructions to identify similarities and differences of selected articles on features, contents, structure or format, length, availability of commercials, authorship, etc.
Discussions ensue on concepts of peer review, scholarly communications, and scientific communities after students have had first-hand experience with the publications provided. Based on the knowledge gained on different types of periodicals in print version, it will be natural to introduce the concept of electronic publications, especially scholarly journal articles which could be found in subscribed electronic databases. According to the pre-testing results done during the first session, the majority of students may not be aware of the availability of electronic databases. In fact, the Katharine Gibbs School makes available a range of electronic databases mainly through Career Education Corporation – the Cyber Library, which functions as a comprehensive virtual library, supplementing to the School’s physical library. It provides access to full-text databases, electronic books, links to relevant websites, and guides for research through a group of database providers such as EBSCOhost, ProQuest, Thomson Gale, and Wilson Web. These vendors provide both general and discipline-specific databases, including Academic Search Premier, CINAHL, Business Source Elite, Art Full-text, Criminal Justice Periodicals and National Newspaper. After being instructed on how to use the above databases, students will be given an assignment to locate two scholarly and two popular articles on their topics, recording entries to the research log and completing a 3-page exercise as a reinforcement on using electronic databases. Questions from the exercise intend to familiarize students with the various database interface structures.
The ability to evaluate retrieved sources is even more desirable in today’s rich information environment. Students are expected to be critical thinkers who possess the ability to assess the authenticity or accuracy of information claims or arguments to successfully meet information needs within this setting.
Students again work in groups with distributed sample books, articles, pamphlets and audio-visual materials. They follow given guidelines, which help them to evaluate any given source in aspects of authoritativeness, timeliness, credibility, objectivity, and intended audience. The detailed evaluative content should be presented in the form of questions within each category. For instance, in category of “Credibility”, students should answer the following questions: Is the information based on facts? Are the facts supported by authors in other sources? Is the information trustworthy? Then the class will get together to have a focused discussion on the results from each group, where students are given an opportunity to elaborate on their choices and opinions, through which critical thinking skills are exercised.
The test is administered in the form of multiple choices, true/false questions, and short essays. It is designed for students to apply previously learned knowledge and skills in locating required information and evaluating that information. It is important and necessary to test on previously learned knowledge, something that is often missing in information literacy instruction. Instructors are often pressed by time and tend to present a tremendous amount of information, skills or concepts to a group of learners with little learning experience. Julien and Boon ask the right question: “How can one know whether anything has been learned if students are not tested on the content of that learning?” This exercise will prove that learning needs to be reinforced.
Issues surrounding information technology will be addressed here. Basic Internet concepts, including search engines, relationship between the subscribed databases and the Web, portal and nonlinear feature of the web are discussed in class. Type of information the Web provides, and special features coming with the information presentation will also be investigated. Website content evaluation is the primary theme in this session. Use of clues from website addresses such as .com for commercial, .gov for government, etc. for making initial filtering is recommended. Students may find it hard to locate author(s) or responsible body of the site, to distinguish from title of the whole site and title for a specific piece of information on a page, and to search for credential information of the site’s creator. These types of information tend to be hard to locate and are not presented in an organized manner. Based on the findings, students will realize that information from the open Web may have issues of credibility and reliability. They will also learn that being critical is the key in Web searching.
The assignment for this session is to locate and evaluate two websites on chosen topics, to make entries to the log, to complete a search exercise on comparing the Internet and other electronic databases, and to construct an outline for the research paper using guidelines from the textbook.
Week Eight and Week Nine
Instruction on citing sources using a specific style is seldom provided in regular two-year colleges. And quite a number of students experience difficulties in this area. The Modern Language Association (MLA) style is adopted at the Katharine Gibbs School. How to cite books and print journal articles in the MLA style is demonstrated and discussed in detail so that students will understand essential elements of a citation and therefore be able to create citations. Students are instructed to use the title page, front and verso, for needed elements of a book citation. They are provided with a photocopy of a book title page (both sides) with notes added. In the case of a journal, by the same token, a copied page with necessary information is provided. Students have a writing manual to follow. But the instruction and discussion will be of great help. Issues on plagiarism will be addressed extensively, which clarifies concepts between a direct and an indirect quotation, paraphrase, and summary. In-text citation will also be addressed.
By now, students should be able to compile their annotated bibliographies containing the following sources: one primary source, one secondary source, two reference entries, one book source, one or two scholarly articles, one or two popular articles, and two websites. They are also prepared, at this point, for the upcoming presentations based on research logs.
The last two sessions are used for students presenting their accomplishments, experiences, successes and failures in the information searching process. Each student is required to give a presentation in front of the whole class on what they have found and how they have done it. They are encouraged to create and communicate information using various media.
As discussed in this study, the world of information is changing, and so is vocational education. Vocational education must meet the needs of the students who are changing with the environments they are in. The Katherine Gibbs School is facing these changes and meeting these challenges. The case at the Katherine Gibbs School may serve as a model for other educational institutions in their endeavor to meet the challenge of providing a broader education that develops the academic, vocational, and technical skills of students for more competitive careers or advanced studies.
 Wonacott, Michael E. (2003). History and Evolution of Vocational and Career-Technical Education (p. 2). Columbus, Ohio: Center on Education and Training Career and Vocational Education, College of Education, Ohio State University.
 Hudson, Lisa. (2001). The Data on Vocational Education (DOVE) System.Education Statistics Quarterly, 2(4). URL: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/quarterly/vol_2/2_4/f_section1.asp. (Accessed on 14 April 2006).
 The National Forum on Information Literacy. Forum Overview. URL: http://www.infolit.org/. (Accessed on 14 April 2006).
 The Middle States Commission on Higher Education. (2002). Standard 11: Educational Offerings. Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education: Eligibility Requirements and Standards for Accreditation (p. 33). Philadelphia, PA: The Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
 Ibid, 38.
 Thompson, Gary B. (2002). Information Literacy Accreditation Mandates: What They mean for faculty and librarian. Library Trends, 51(2), 218.
 Stevenson, John. (2003). Developing Vocational Expertise: Principles and Issues in Vocational Education> (p. 115). Crows Nest, N.S.W: Allen & Unwin.
 For more information on the Katharine Gibbs School, please go to http://www.gibbsmelville.edu/.
 National Center for Education Statistics. URL: http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/cool/InstDetail.asp.(Accessed on 14 May, 2006).
 Katharine Gibbs School, Melville. (2003). Master Course Outline (p. 4). Melville, New York: Katharine Gibbs School.
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 List, Carla. (2002). Information Research (p. 2). 2nd Ed. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
 Ibid., 60
 Ibid., 64.
 Ibid., 61.
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 List, Carla. (2002). Information Research (p. 3). 2nd Ed. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
 Duff, Alistair S. (1996). The Literature Search: a Library-based Model for Information Skills Instruction. Library Review, 45(4), 17.
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 Stevenson, John. (2003). Developing Vocational Expertise: Principles and Issues in Vocational Education (p. 75). Crows Nest, N.S.W: Allen & Unwin.
|Xing, Ying; Li, Haipeng, & Huang, Michael B. (2007). Information Literacy in Vocational Education: A Course Model. Chinese Librarianship: an International Electronic Journal, 23. URL: http://www.iclc.us/cliej/cl23XLH.htm|