Difficulties in implementing information literacy programs at Colleague of Social Sciences and Humanities (VNU, Hanoi)

Abstract: This paper focuses on analysing the difficulties that the College of Social Sciences and Humanities (CSSH), Vietnam National University in  Hanoi (VNU), faces when implementing information literacy programs to their students. It also suggests some strategic recommendations on how to conduct information literacy programs at CSSH specifically and universities in Vietnam generally. The first part of this paper aims to analyse the background of the problem whereby global elements having impacts on the development of information literacy policy at the university are indicated. The second part concentrates on analysing difficulties or obstacles which affect the implementation of information literacy profoundly and critically at CSSH. Issues discussed are: the ignorance of lifelong learning goal within the education mission; domination of teacher-centred teaching and learning method; English is not the first language; lack of computer literacy; and neglect of the library and librarians’ role. In the last part, recommendations for the  implementation of information literacy programs made to CSSH are proposed. These recommendations are based on The Best Practice Characteristics for Developing Information Literacy in Australian University as proposed by the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL). In this instance, principles relating to the three levels of information literacy development (institutional; administrative; and implementation planning) are proposed with regards to  the CSSH’s education and social context.

Overview of the Learning Environment and the Library System at the College of Social Sciences and Humanities (CSSH)

The College of Social Sciences and Humanities (CSSH), a constituent of the Vietnam National University in Hanoi (VNU), was officially established in September 1995. CSSH consists of 14 faculties, 4 departments and 4 research centers with over 438 teaching staff, researchers and administrative personals.  The current student enrollment is about 9568 in various teaching programs (CSSH, 2005c). Although it was founded in 1995, CSSH was actually part of the Hanoi University which was established in the 1940s. CSSH has its own mission, that is, building and developing a leading higher education and research institution in the fields of social sciences and humanities in Vietnam (CSSH, 2005c)

The CSSH’s library is administrated directly by the VNU library, which is a network of four college libraries inside the VNU. CSSH’s library mainly serves students studying in the fields of social science and humanities. As a Vietnamese academic library, the CSSH library has functions and responsibilities as determined by the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) and VNU (the organization in charge of CSSH). Regulations on the university libraries’ functions and responsibilities issued by MOET (1986) state that:

University libraries are centers of culture, science and technology at universities. Academic libraries’ functions are: supporting students and faculty in learning and teaching through organizing, developing and managing collections in the fields of culture, science, and technology

VNU has the same determination for its libraries. The responsibilities of the VNU library network in general and CSSH’s in particular, as assigned by VNU (1998), are:

  • Supporting VNU administrators in organizing and implementing library and information activities in order to facilitate learning, teaching and research activities in VNU.
  • Building strategies and short-term plans on developing the library and information system at VNU
  • Organizing and operating the Library and information inside VNU
  • Developing collections in various formats
  • Building a suitable information retrieval system; setting up an automatic information access and searching network.
  • Applying new technology to all sphere of activity.
  • Preserving and circulating publications published by VNU and CSSH and PhD theses written by VNU students and staff; building specific databases for VNU.
  • Enhancing professional skill and knowledge for library staff; providing faculty and students with knowledge about information retrieval and library use.

From the mission statement and the Library’s functions, as stated by CSSH and VNU, it can be seen that CSSH is now in the initial stages of creating a flexible and active learning environment. However, information literacy and the concept of lifelong learning have not been understood and studied properly and comprehensively. Even, the Vietnamese word phrase having the same meaning with the word phrase “information literacy” – “kiến thức thông tin” – has not been mentioned in any CSSH’s document and policy. Phrases such as “information retrieval” (“tìm kiếm thông tin”), “library instruction” (“hướng dẫn sử dụng thư viện”), and “library user education” (“đào tạo người dùng”) are used instead.

Difficulties CSSH Faces in Developing Information Literacy in Students

As mentioned earlier on, CSSH is now at the beginning period of their information literacy development. This means that the importance of information literacy has not been duly recognized. The significant aspect is that CSSH’s information strategy is not systematic and comprehensive. Although it has the advantages of technology infrastructure, CSSH has not built an academic environment which fully supports the purpose of achieving the goal of lifelong learning. In addition, the role of librarians has not been recognized and brought into play, especially the librarians’ contributions in providing students with the knowledge and skills to deal with their information needs and the information universe. CSSH, like as many other Vietnamese universities, may face many difficulties and obstacles, which to a certain extend, relate closely to the need for lifelong learning and information literacy.

Lifelong learning goal has not been emphasized in the university’s education mission and policy.

The concept of lifelong learning and information literacy has not been understood comprehensively and accurately at CSSH, although CSSH has been concerned with the student-centered approach. CSSH is now in taking its first step in building an active academic environment with a series of programs for infrastructure modernization and standardization. This can be seen from the six strategic plans by the year of 2010 issued by the CSSH at the Academic Committee meeting (2003) which emphasizes on:

1. Standardizing and modernizing curricula in order to ensure curricula’s currency and adaptability, which is suitable to the need for global integration and development

2. Modernizing programs and courses based on developing library collections and textbooks with a strong emphasis on tradition, modernity, and suitability to teaching and learning at all levels

3. Renewing teaching and learning methodology with the aims of:

  • Providing students with the ability to learn and study independently; improving students’ creativity, practice, and research skills; emphasizing on providing students with knowledge about research methodology.
  • Developing presentation skills in students
  • Increasing use of modern technological means in teaching and learning

Although CSSH has paid more attention on providing students with practical skills and methodology and invested considerably in human resource development and technology infrastructure (CSSH, 2005), CSSH has not issued a framework of graduate qualities and teaching and learning organization. In the Report on CSSH’s achievements (2004, p.2), CSSH’s graduate qualities are stated briefly and generally as follows:

CSSH, a constituent of VNU, is the higher education institution which educates and researches fields of social sciences and humanities. Students graduating from CSSH are provided with knowledge and skills which can meet the requirements of teaching, research, and working in higher education settings, social and economic organizations, and other areas.

Clearly, CSSH has not had a strategic education planning with the goal of lifelong learning. As a result, a support mechanism for information literacy development is not in place as yet.

Domination of teacher-centred teaching and learning method

One of the main obstacles which makes the implementation of information literacy difficult at CSSH is the learning and teaching methods. In fact, the teacher-centred approach is still dominant in classrooms. This means that learners have to depend mainly on what the teachers give in class. Therefore, textbooks, lectures and other documents as suggested by the teachers are their unique learning tools. Students are unaware of the need for active learning; their role in the widening and deepening of their own knowledge; and, the most important component, life-long learning. These teaching and learning methods can slow down the development of information literacy at CSSH specifically and Vietnam universities generally.

English is not the first language

The English language can be another obstacle CSSH has to face when developing information literacy since English is not Vietnam’s first language but, most of the information retrieval tools use the English language. English is also not taught effectively at Vietnam’s schools and universities, except for some universities with foreign language studies. A survey conducted by Le & Association (Van 2004) showed that about 60% of Vietnamese students are not good at communicating in English. This is a big barrier for Vietnamese students to enter the world of human knowledge which is mainly in English. According to Global Reach (2004), 68.4% of the Web content on the Internet is in English. In fact, although CSSH requires the students to complete compulsory English courses before they graduate, English has yet to become a useful studying tool for most CSSH’s students. This limitation of English proficiency in students isolates students from the information universe, especially information resources in English. This leads to the thinking that students probably do not recognize the benefits these information resources can bring to them. As a result, the need for information literacy has not been properly addressed.

Therefore, in order to become an information literate person, one has to possess a good command of the English language. The proficiency in English can also help people to communicate with others who have the same interest and concern worldwide as well as exploit the Internet and other online services effectively and efficiently. In other words, English should be considered an important criteria in evaluating the information literacy competency of Vietnamese students’.

This phenomenon is also true for lecturers with foreign language capabilities where Russian and not English, is the dominant foreign language. Most CSSH lecturers and researchers were sent to Russia to study during the Vietnam War. This has an impact on the way these lecturers select teaching materials and information resources whereby textbooks and materials supporting the students’ learning are mainly in Vietnamese and Russian. This means that the scope of these teaching and learning materials are not broad and deep enough. And this inadvertedly will prevent most lecturers from understanding the importance of information literacy.

Lacking computer literacy

CSSH’s curricula have not fully supported information literacy development as yet. This means that the knowledge which is essential for users to approach information resources is not provided effectively, especially that of computer literacy. Computer literacy skills are not taught adequately enough for students to use a broad range of materials and different modern media effectively. At CSSH, only basic computer skills such as word and datasheet processing are taught, whilst other knowledge which relates to information content has been neglected. The Internet and other reference resources are not used actively and positively. AS survey by VietnamNet (2004) indicated that from the number of Vietnamese people using the Internet, only 7.39% use it for learning and research purposes whereas the percentage for online chatting services is 33.57%. Clearly, massive amount of information resources on the Internet are not explored and used as they should be. Excluding the limitations of the English language and computer skills, users do not even know about the types of information they can get from the Internet and how to retrieve it.

Neglecting the library and librarians’ role

At CSSH, information literacy is being slowly developed and faces many since the Library and librarians have not promoted themselves as playing a role in this area. The Library focuses too much on technological aspects with many infrastructure modernization projects, but ignores user support and education. For instance, in the 2004 Library Report 2004, there is no statement that relates to investigating students’ information needs, conducting training courses in information skills,  and collaborating with faculty in developing library collections as well as designing teaching and learning frameworks. The external reason being that there has not been an organisation which can take responsibility for standardizing, implementing, and evaluating information literacy programs and related issues. In Australia, ANZIIL’s mission and roles is:

The Australian and New Zealand Institute for Information Literacy (ANZIIL) supports organisations, institutions and individuals in the promotion of information literacy and, in particular, the embedding of information literacy within the total educational process ….. ANZIIL’s activities and initiatives will primarily target vocational and higher education. The Institute will work in collaboration with a range of national and international organisations, forums and groups to complement their existing information literacy aims, objectives and initiatives (ANZIIL 2005).

Without support similar to those as ANZIIL, CSSH may face many difficulties in implementing information literacy initiatives especially in the design of a global strategy for information literacy development, and to build information competency standards suitable to its education context and students’ characteristics. Due to lack of a consistent policy on educational missions and teaching and learning methods, CSSH has not had a suitable strategy for information literacy development for her students. Obviously, CSSH needs to pay more attention on determining education policy, developing human resource,  and building information infrastructure for the goal of lifelong learning.

Advantages

Firstly, CSSH has initially mentioned and referred to library collection development and independent learning. This indicates that CSSH has paid more attention to providing students with practical skills and new learning methodology. Furthermore, CSSH is currently investing considerably in human resource development and technology infrastructure (CSSH 2005). At the Conference of Teaching and Learning Method Renewal, which was conducted by CSSH in 2001, the student-centred approach was shared and understood thoroughly by the faculty and administrators. These are the important foundation of realizing lifelong learning and information literacy at CSSH.

Secondly, the relationship between the Library and faculty which is decided by the VNU Director (1998) and stated in the regulations of VNU Library Network’s functions and organization, is as follows:

Article 12:

The Library takes responsibility for collaborating closely with faculties and schools inside VNU in developing and managing collections and information resources; and distributing those information resources to all staff and students at VNU”

and:

Training and improving the library staff’s skills and knowledge about organizing, processing information, and distributing information resources; providing VNU staff and students with necessary knowledge about information search methods, cataloguing, and library instructions

Although it does not mention the role of the other stakeholders, these regulations established important foundations for further information literacy plans. In other words, the top leadership at VNU and CSSH has understood the role of collaboration between librarians and other education stakeholders in responding to the information needs of staff and students. They are aware of the need for equipping library staff, academic staff and students with information skills and knowledge.

CSSH is now in the process of modernization and automation with special emphasis on the technical and technological infrastructure. In relating to the context of lifelong learning and information literacy, CSSH (2003) plans to “increase financial investment and human resource development in order to modernize the learning resource center; supports all students and staff to use the electronic library effectively”.

At the national level, librarians and educators are now paying  more attention to information literacy concepts and theories. There are more workshops and conferences on information literacy being conducted in Vietnam. CSSH and IFLA RSCAO conducted a workshop on information literacy at CSSH in March 2006. This workshop attracted the attention of library and information professions in Vietnam. A training workshop on information literacy capacity building for Vietnamese academic librarians was recently held in collaboration with the Hanoi University of Foreign Studies, UNESCO, and the Australia Development Scholarship Center. Librarians from numerous universities in Vietnam were invited to participate in the workshop and they experienced an array of activities such as studying information literacy concepts, understanding the role of librarians in developing information literacy, exploring information literacy elements, and building an action plan for the implementation of information literacy. These activities formed the theoretical and practical foundations for promoting information literacy programs in Vietnam.

Recommendations

We will be proposing some strategic recommendations, which are applicable to CSSH, based on The Best Practice Characteristics for Developing Information Literacy in Australian University compiled by Council of  Australian University Librarians. In the guideline, the implementation of information literacy in Australian universities operates on three levels:

Level A: Institutional/Strategic Planning: this is concerned with designing and making institutional documents and educational policies. At this level, CAUL recommends universities to adapt their policies to the trend of lifelong learning with a strong emphasis on information literacy’s core role. This vision will determine institutions’ support in developing information literacy, especially identifying responsibility of all participants.

Level B: Operational/Administrative Planning: this level refers to the ways institutions o operate and administrate information literacy programs. Aspects considered here are: raising understandings of information literacy throughout the university; defining the role and responsibilities of stakeholders, establishing infrastructures for implementing information literacy programs; encouraging and fostering the collaboration between stakeholders; and, determining curricula, courses and subjects into which information literacy is integrated, and implementing that integration.

Level C: Implementation/Curriculum Planning and Development: this level specifically deals with the implementation of information literacy. CAUL suggests three sub-plans. The first one relates to developing particular information literacy programs and corresponding supports. The second one focuses on supporting and developing staff for information literacy programs. Finally, plans on assessing and evaluating information literacy are considered, including “curriculum effectiveness”, “student outcomes”, and “periodic review of all assessment and evaluation methods”.

Principles relating to the three levels of information literacy development (institutional; administrative; and implementation planning) are now considered with regards to CSSH’s education and social context.

Institutional planning (CAUL’s level A)

The lack of a strategic plan that ensures students’ lifelong learning ability is one of the main obstacles for information literacy development at CSSH. In fact, CSSH has been concerned with the lifelong learning goal as reflected in its education policy (CSSH 2005a). However, the problem is that CSSH has not built its graduate quality framework in which lifelong learning goal is not mentioned as critical. The goal of lifelong learning has not been consolidated by specific principles and criteria. These affect the university members’ awareness of information literacy profoundly. Additionally, it may not be able to help the university to determine a legal framework that supports the development of information literacy and lifelong learning.

Recommendation 1: Revising and constructing educational mission and policies should be CSSH’s top priority. In particular, CSSH needs to have a comprehensive education strategy for developing students’ lifelong learning ability. Aspects which should be considered by CSSH should be:

  • Building graduate qualities with a strong emphasis on the lifelong learning goal
  • Revising teaching and leaning framework as well as education strategy in the student-centered approach.
  • Adopting and applying studying assessment tools and methods suitable to the graduate qualities

Recommendation 2: CSSH needs a strategy to bring into play the Library’s role in the form of partnerships between the Library and other educative sectors. Owusu-Ansah (2004) argues that academic libraries should be put in the center of a comprehensive solution to information literacy. The active and positive collaboration between the librarians and other education stakeholders play a very important role in developing information literacy (Doskatsch 2003). The aim of this planning is to advocate and acknowledge the educative role of librarians. As a result, librarians are aware of their responsibilities for the information literacy development. More importantly, librarians and faculty can work together equally and effectively. Those are essential foundations for CSSH to implement information literacy programs at the next levels.

Administrative/Operative planning (CAUL’s Level B)

As indicated previously, there are weaknesses and difficulties the information literacy development process at CSSH. CSSH has taken some initial steps in determining the stakeholders’ responsibilities and partnerships with relative sectors in administrating and operating information literacy programs. CSSH is now improving its technology infrastructure dramatically. This can be considered as a premise for further information literacy planning. However, CSSH’s policies have not been specific enough to allow for the effective implementation of information literacy program and therefore, CSSH needs to:

Recommendation 3: Build a publicity campaign to improve the understanding of information literacy throughout the entire university. In this campaign, documents and policies on information literacy should be disseminated through the various media.

Recommendation 4: Continue to construct specific regulations and statements related to determining education stakeholders’ responsibilities and relationships.

Recommendation 5: Redesign curricula with regards to integrating information literacy into courses and programs.

Recommendation 6: Establish a learning support center (similar to the Learning Connection at UniSA)

Recommendation 7: The Library should investigate students’ information needs and develop information resources adequately. This will help the Library to have a good understanding of its client and collections. The Library can have a suitable strategy for providing students with information literacy and advises CSSH’s leaders and administrators on ways of applying information literacy to graduate qualities.
Implementation Planning (CAUL’s Level C)

At this level, CSSH has implemented some basic modules of information literacy programs. Due to particular features of CSSH as mentioned earlier on and CSSH’s education context, the following aspects should be taken into account:

Recommendation 9: Develop and implement a framework of  information literacy standards.

Recommendation 10: Enhance students’ English proficiency and computer skills through integration of these subjects into curricula and courses.

Recommendation 11: Improve the library staff’s profession through training courses and library research projects to meet the requirements of an educative role

Recommendation 12: Make teaching and learning activities flexible and diverse with a strong emphasis on encouraging students to put their creativity and critical thinking in reality.

Recommendation 13:- Conduct pedagogical practice which is recommended in CAUL’s level C (2004, p. 4):

  • Emphasizes student centred learning
  • Supports diverse approaches to teaching
  • Incorporate appropriate information technology and other media
  • Includes active and collaborative exercises
  • Encompasses critical thinking and reflection
  • Responds to multi-learning styles
  • Builds on students’ existing knowledge
  • Link information literacy to ongoing coursework and real-life experiences appropriate to disciplines and course levels.

Conclusion
From the analysis outlined before, we can see that an information literacy strategy can be successful if it is understood and implemented systematically and unanimously from the top leadership down to participating sectors. In this sense, CAUL’s guideline, The Best Practice Characteristics for Developing Information literacy in Australian Universities, is seen as a suitable and comprehensive solution. It recommends universities to implement their information literacy strategy at three level namely institutional, administrative/operative and implementation.

This study, based on the analysis of information literacy-related documents issued by CSSH, proposes some strategic recommendation for CSSH in order to develop information literacy in their students. The significant aspect is that CSSH’s documents on information literacy policy and education theory are neither comprehensive nor specific enough for information literacy programs to be implemented properly. CSSH has not really put lifelong learning as a graduate quality and student-centred learning method has not been used comprehensively the university. Furthermore, the educative role of librarians which has not been fully recognised may also be cited as a reason for the slow development of information literacy at CSSH.

Bài đăng tại Hội thảo quốc tế về Năng lực thông tin tại Malaysia, tháng 6/2006

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