Teaching Information Literacy Skills to Prepare Teachers Who Can Bridge the Research-to-Practice Gap

Mark Emmons, Elizabeth B. Keefe, Veronica M. Moore, Rebecca M. Sánchez, Michele M. Mals, and Teresa Y. Neely

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This paper explores ways in which academic libraries can partner with colleges of education to prepare teachers who can apply research to their practice. Federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind (2001) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004) require teachers to implement evidence-based practices in their classrooms, which presents a challenge to teacher preparation programs and raises important questions about the nature of evidence in education. We believe that information literacy (IL) skills are critical in preparing teachers who can thoughtfully, critically, and ethically implement evidence-based practices. We report the results of a study into the effectiveness of infusing IL throughout the coursework of a teacher preparation program at the University of New Mexico. We describe the collaboration between library and education faculty, the development of an instrument designed to measure IL skills, and results that revealed a statistically significant difference between the pre and posttest scores of teacher preparation cohorts. We conclude that the integration of IL into coursework is a key element for teacher preparation programs.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 and the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) increased expectations for academic achievement for all students.1 One of the major guiding principles of NCLB and IDEA is scientifically based intervention, also known as evidence-based practice. This principle states, “Highly qualified teachers will use research-based curricula and instructional methods.”2 Under IDEA, this principle extends to the evaluation as well as the instruction of students. Complying with the federal mandates based on this principle presents a significant challenge to teacher preparation programs.3 We believe colleges of education (COEs) must go beyond an attitude of compliance or noncompliance with these mandates. We must prepare teachers who can design and implement evidence-based practices and who can also thoughtfully and ethically articulate and justify these practices. To achieve this purpose, COEs must improve their students’ information literacy (IL) skills. We believe this provides an impetus and opportunity for increased collaboration between COE and University Libraries faculty. This article will describe the ways in which COE and University Libraries faculty have worked together at the University of New Mexico (UNM). We will report research documenting our progress toward addressing the challenge of preparing teachers who can bridge the research-to-practice gap through the infusion of IL skills throughout the coursework of the Special Education Dual License Teacher Preparation Program.

Evidence-Based Practice

IDEA identifies two major barriers to improving educational outcomes for students with disabilities. The first is low expectations and the second is “an insufficient focus on applying replicable research on proven methods of teaching and learning for student with disabilities.”4 In the 2004 reauthorization, IDEA was brought into alignment with NCLB by including the same requirements for scientifically based interventions.5 IDEA (2004) defines “scientifically based research” as research that:

  1. employs systematic, empirical methods that draw on observation or experiment;
  2. involves rigorous data analyses that are adequate to test the stated hypotheses and justify the general conclusions drawn;
  3. relies on measurements or observational methods that provide reliable and valid data across evaluators and observers, across multiple measurements and observations, and across studies by the same or different investigators;
  4. is evaluated using experimental or quasi-experimental designs in which individuals, entities, programs, or activities are assigned to different conditions and with appropriate controls to evaluate the effects of the condition of interest, with a preference for random-assignment experiments, or other designs to the extent that those designs contain within-condition or across-condition controls;
  5. ensures that experimental studies are presented in sufficient detail and clarity to allow for replication or, at a minimum, offer the opportunity to build systematically on their findings; and
  6. has been accepted by a peer-reviewed journal or approved by a panel of independent experts through a comparably rigorous, objective, and scientific review.6

While teachers need to understand the requirements of federal legislation, they also need to be able to address the question “what is evidence?” in a thoughtful and critical manner. This currently is a major area of debate in the field of education and constitutes a large part of the context within which IL skills must be developed.

Educational Research

In response to the mandates of NCLB and IDEA, many questions have been raised as to the nature of research and the meaning of evidence-based practice in the discipline of education.7 There are concerns about special education in particular.8 One of the major criticisms of the federal definition of evidence-based practices is that the concept is too narrowly defined as only including experimental research. Erickson and Gutierrez state that “within the executive and legislative branches of the federal government a leap of faith has been taken toward belief in the unmixed blessings of hard science-causal analysis by means of experiment as the only way to improve educational research.”9 With regard to special education in particular, Danforth laments that the U.S. Department of Education “has taken a ‘hard science’ stance on what counts as knowledge, calling for experimental designs that are more common to medical research than to educational inquiry.”10 For example, the National Research Council (NRC) report took up the challenge of what constitutes scientific research within the field of education.11 The NRC report acknowledged the importance of multiple methods in educational research, but Lather and Moss are representative of many educational researchers who expressed concern about “the kinds of research that appeared to be ignored or relegated to the margins of the debate as not scientific and about the effects of these choices.”12 Other critics of this report believe that the authors failed to take into account the complexity of educational research.13 Another criticism is that the report fails to address the challenges represented by research in effective practices for students with exceptionalities.14

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