08 November 2022

Knowledge item

Improving your students’ academic output: make your students information literate

Maak je studenten informatievaardig, NL

Are your students googling their entire research question when searching for literature? Do you want your students to use relevant sources instead of an obscure website? Do you want to prevent them blindly citing another article, or ensure they do not forget to add their bibliography? Learning and teaching information literacy skills in the proper way benefits you and your students.

What are information literacy skills?

Figuur-1: SCONUL seven pillars model voor informatievaardigheden (1)

Information literacy skills include the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to find, select, evaluate, organise, process, use and publish information (1-5). In academia, information is often understood as scientific or academic literature or data. However, also information from other sources, such as newspapers, tweets or artwork can be relevant for research. Information literacy skills then serve as an umbrella term including media, digital and data literacy as well (1, 4). 






Information literacy skills form an essential part of the skills and attitude of a competent researcher (6). These skills are based on a set of core concepts (see figure 2), which open the way to acquiring more knowledge and expertise within your own discipline (2, 4). These concepts provide a clear overview of your own position within the academic information landscape, both as a consumer and a producer of information. For example, the concept scholarship is a conversation raises awareness of the different modes of access to scholarly sources, explains why plagiarism is unwarranted, and encourages open science and scientific integrity. Students often overestimate their competence in information literacy (7). However, by mastering the appropriate information literacy skills, students will create output of better quality (8 – 10)

Figuur 2: Treshold concepts die de basis vormen van het ACRL framework voor information literacy (4) bieden een opening naar meer kennis en kunde binnen je eigen discipline.

Besides developing knowledge (cognitive), skills (behaviour) and an attitude (affective) for finding and using information, information literacy requires development on a metacognitive level (critical assessment of your own line of reasoning and learning process) (11). Developing this critical mindset allows students to understand why they should and how they can become lifelong learners (10, 11). This set of transferable skills supports students to learn new concepts in other disciplines (2, 11, 12). Additionally, students can use these skills further on in their professional careers or personal life to keep up with the ever-changing information landscape. 


Information literacy skills gain their relevance within the context of one’s own discipline. Ensure skills are practiced when students can apply them directly, as this motivates them to learn and practice these skills (2, 13 – 15). Ideally, information literacy is incorporated throughout the entire curriculum (16). Try to divide the practicing of skills into small steps. For example, firstyear students initially need to find only one specific article, while at the end of the year they are required to write an essay using several sources. An easy way to incorporate information literacy skills into the curriculum is to use blended learning or by flipping-the-classroom (15, 17). The University Library’s libguides and online training modules, aimed at different target groups and student levels, can help you to do so.

Acquiring information literacy skills is a non-linear process. New contexts come with new obstacles, requiring the student to adapt and use new or different knowledge and skills. Adapting to a new context is not only related to knowledge and skills but to new experiences, emotions, thoughts, and actions as well (2, 18, 19). At the same time, students often overestimate their own literacy skills (7). Hence, to ensure students develop and apply their skills in these new contexts, it is essential to make explicit when you are searching for and using information (2). While practicing these skills, there should also be room for reflection on the process. For example, students might reflect on why certain articles can be found and others cannot. By reflecting on what does (not) work when searching for literature, it is possible to grasp a better understanding of the information landscape (2, 11, 19). This reflection can be applied in your classes by using peer feedback, peer review or having students cooperate when they are practicing their first information literacy skills.

Save time: Ask the University Library to help you! 

The University Library offers a wide range of online training modules, libguides and services that help you incorporate information literacy skills into your curriculum and to make them an explicit part of it.  

For example: flip your classroom with the online training module Compass. Students finish the module with basic information literacy knowledge before class, which allows room to practice and reflect on information literacy skills during class. Compass consists of four separate modules that collectively practice the basics of information literacy skills. These are the four modules: 

  • Finding and accessing information 
  • Setting up your search
  • Evaluating your sources
  • Storing and using sources

Each of these modules can also be incorporated independently into your teaching. This ensures that the appropriate skills are practiced at the appropriate moment. 

In addition to these widely applicable Compass modules, there are two more specific Compass+ modules: Historical sources and Systematically searching for literature. In the module Historical sources students learn to identify which historical sources are required for their research, and how to find, access and use these sources. Systematically searching for literature helps students set up and carry out a systematic search for literature, for instance when performing a systematic review. All Compass and Compass+ modules can be accessed by students on the ULearning platform through their Solis-id. When these modules are completed successfully, students obtain a badge. Badges make students’ learning more visible and make it possible for them to demonstrate their acquired knowledge and skills.  

Another way to elevate information literacy training is to ask one of the library’s information or subject specialists to join your class to help your students in acquiring and deepening their information literacy skills. The specialist’s knowledge and competencies on searching, evaluating, and using information, as well as their expertise on open science, can be an eye-opener for students, helping them reflect on the process of finding and using information (2, 8, 15). The University Library cannot only help you and your students when searching for literature, but also offers training and advice within the field of open science, research data management and digital humanities 

In the Teaching and Learning Collection, examples of learning activities can be found in which the University Library’s training modules, libguides and services could be included into a classroom setting: 

  • Searching better together: the search string shuffle 
  • Evaluating sources with Compass 

Are you looking for other options or do you have more questions on how to incorporate information literacy skills into your education? Contact the University Library and ask for the possibilities.

Figure 3. Infographic about the importance of information literacy training courses and how to incorporate them in your teaching in the best way possible.

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