Developing new ways to study information literacy: examples from the workplace context and among youth

This workshop was presented by Professor Gunilla Widén(@gunillawiden) to members of Edinburgh Napier University’s Centre for Social Informatics. This post is based on my live-tweets and the text of Gunilla’s slides, so the good things here are from Gunilla, and any mistakes are by me. My thoughts are in block quotes.

Gunilla started with a quote from Kofi Annan:

‘Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity.’

Just about all of these speak to me, although I’m not a fan of culture. (I see it as being mostly only that which the powers-that-be permit.) My biggest interest of these is possibly literacy for democracy.

Gunilla reminded us of the traditional, linear view of IL (Figure 1).

Figure 1: a traditional view of information literacy

I would have thought that ethical aspects must be considered and implemented all through!

However, in reality, information comes from many sources, such as colleagues, family, friends and neighbours. Much comes from digital sources. There are problems of disinformation, ’fake news’ etc. Also, information comes from so many sources we can just get confused! Hence one of Gunilla’s current projects is The impact of information literacy in the digital workplace (DiWIL). She and colleagues are

  • developing measurement tools to study workplace information literacy
  • connecting IL to innovation, 
change, social capital, well-
being, distance work
  • investigating IL and generational differences.

On the latter theme, the results show that

  • Digital literacy has a positive effect on the intention to use (both digital immigrants and digital natives).
  • For digital natives, information literacy has no effect on intention to use, but it has a strong effect for digital immigrants.
  • Moreover, the relationship between attitude to intention to use is not significant for digital immigrants, but it is significant for the digital natives.

(Nikou, Brännback, & Widén, 2018)

NB there is discussion about the meaningfulness and usefulness of the terms digital native and digital immigrants. See, for example, Inside Higher Ed and Kirschner & De Bruyckere (2017). Personally, I think that there is are spectra of digital involvement: from people who ‘live’ digital, to people who ‘do’ digital (I’m one of them), to people who use some digital techniques (my sister can scan and email documents, and look for some information online, but cannot navigate complex information) and people who just don’t do digital at all.

Closer to Gunilla’s work, our Information Literacy for Democratic Engagement projects have shown that community councilors work with information almost entirely collectively, and that the important point is not just to present information but to use it to achieve concrete changes to policy.

Gunilla and colleagues also investigated open-source software communities. These communities’ work can be seen as globally distributed, digital work, and involving heterogeneous production teams (because many companies staff sites). Gunilla and colleagues researched

  • How workers obtain information from the actual work artefacts
  • What skills and competence workers must have to continuously sense the information embedded in an always-evolving work artefact.

Some of this may be of interest to Hugo Watanuki.

Concerning IL and wellbeing, Gunilla and colleagues will investigate the following, using PIAAC data:

  • How does information literacy (information sharing, readiness to learn, numeracy, computer self-efficacy) and workplace factors (flexibility, control) influence wellbeing at the workplace?
  • Do types of work influence how information literacy and workplace factors influence wellbeing at the workplace?
  • Do generational differences influence how information literacy and workplace factors influence wellbeing at the workplace?

Overall, the lessons so far from DiWIL are

  • Positive relation between IL and innovation, change, social capital
  • IL perceived as important, younger generation has stronger IL self efficacy
  • Information landscape is changing, what information is in today’s workplace is not always so clear
  • This implies new dimensions of IL (social, artefacts)
  • Collective approach (in contrast to individual)

Concerning measurement of IL, Gunilla says

  • We can follow how much we use the Internet.
  • 89% of the Finnish population use internet (82% daily, 76% several times a 
  • This is mainly for accessing digital services, communication, news and media, social media, purchasing services and goods.
  • 70% use a data security service on the mobile phone.
  • 3% has lost information or contact details because of viruses.
  • 66% have actively limited access to their personal data etc.

However, we know less about how we evaluate and use the information we access. We also need to focus those who are NOT active in the digital world.

Evaluation and use of information in local democracy was the subject of the LILDEM and MILDEM projects by Peter Cruickshank and me. Unfortunately, we haven’t managed to crack measurement of IL, and the relationships between IL and competence in local democracy YET. A paper on MILDEM results is in progress.

Gunilla and colleagues have some interesting results on information reliability and evaluation (Figure 2). This data covers users and non-users of Youth Information Centres.

Figure 2: information reliability and evaluation

Gunilla said that we need to know more about information avoidance.

  • This is a rarely studied information behaviour strategy and little is known about information avoidance in relation to what factors moderate information avoidance.
  • In this survey around 25% of the respondents stated that they avoid information that they perceive to cause them anxiety or discomfort.
  • Age and the gender of the respondents did not have any major influence on information avoidance.
  • Correlation was observed between education, information literacy, and information avoidance.
  • This means that information avoidance can be considered as an expression of one’s information literacy and conscious information management strategy. The youth may, for example, avoid information that would cause unnecessary negative emotionality, such as avoiding news they know would upset them.
  • Information avoidance is a rational information strategy in the context of information overload.

This strongly reminds me of some of my information avoidance. I have an incurable condition but could learn much more about controlling it. However, I just don’t want to, probably because knowledge will not lead to a cure. I don’t want to know from day to day how bad my condition is, because then I’d know how non-compliant I am. I am not a borg!

Gunilla went on to cover the Future Foresight project. She also noted that ‘Challenges with digital divide and diversity was much emphasized by all three groups that were involved in the foresight pilots (youth, youth information workers and youth experts)’. Some of the challenges are shown in Figure 3 and Figure 4.

Figure 3: challenges

Figure 4: more challenges

Gunilla said that it is important to predict different, alternative futures. Questions include

  • What kinds of alternative futures are there?
  • How can we predict consequences of different futures?
  • What are the ways to reach the future we want?

The lessons learnt so far include

  • Information mastering strategies of young people is a complex and diverse matter.
  • They include information avoidance.
  • We need to understand youth information behavior even better to be able to support their information mastering skills. Focus on media and information literacy important.
  • The role of counseling will be important in the future. Youth Information Centres need to explore and apply innovative ways to inform and build young people’s autonomy and resilience.

Gunilla’s next project is #DesYIgn. This will involve

  • focus group interviews with young people about
  • their information needs, seeking and use
  • their information source preferences
  • their information mastering strategies
  • creating an online course for youth information service design
  • developing youth information service strategies.

Finally, Gunilla reminded us that not everyone is part of the digital society (Figure 5) but, according to Benjamin Disraeli, As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information.

Figure 5: ‘The digital leap is a fact – but a million Finns are outside’


Kirschner, P. A., & De Bruyckere, P. (2017). The myths of the digital native and the multitasker. Teaching and Teacher Education, 67, 135–142.

Nikou, S., Brännback, M., & Widén, G. (2018). The impact of multidimensionality of literacy on the use of digital technology: digital immigrants and digital natives. In Well-being in the information society: fighting inequalities (Communications in Computer and information Science 907)(Vol. 907, pp. 14–27). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.



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