Information Literacy for Researchers Virtual Classroom
Department of Library & Information Studies
About iMEM

Information Literacy for Researchers Virtual Classroom

Mrs Wendy Gordon and Dr Graham Stewart, iMEM Centre, Department of Library and Information Studies, M.L. Sultan Technikon. 19 October 2000.


The project originated in the context of a larger undertaking, commissioned by the National Research Foundation (NRF) Division for Social Sciences and Humanities (DSSH) aimed at producing several modules for staff research capacity building at technikons. The development of literature review writing skills within a virtual classroom environment constitutes the Information Literacy module of the DSSH programme. The course begins with training in the analysis of information needs and sources, and then goes on to address information retrieval and organisation. Finally, the course focuses on the integration of retrieved information into a coherent piece of academic discourse: the literature review

The phase 2 pilot of the Information Literacy for Researchers module was launched on 9 October 2000. Authoring of all 20 sections is now complete. The authors reported on the work in progress at the annual conference of the Library and Information Association of South Africa conference, LIASA 2000 in a paper entitled “Using a virtual classroom for the development of literature review writing skills”.

The learning path

1. Analysis of information needs and sources
1.1. Clarification of concepts
1.2. Identifying information needs
1.3. Information skills
1.4. Library services
1.5. Primary secondary and tertiary sources
1.6. Database service providers
1.7. The Internet as a resource

2. Information retrieval
2.1. Search Strategies
2.2. Search engines selection and use
2.3. The World Wide Web
2.4. Evaluating Internet documents
2.5. Networking and collaborating on the Internet
2.6. Designing and maintaining a Web Page

3. The literature review
3.1. The role of the literature review in the research process
3.2. Organising the information
3.3. Using the information
3.4. Managing information on a personal computer
3.5. Word processing for research
3.6. Using a database to manage your information
3.7. Reference techniques

Theoretical framework

While the virtual classroom is an ideal student-centred learning space, our authoring criteria were also influenced by the notion of “knowledge-centred” learning (Bransford, Brown and Cocking, 1999). To encourage thinking, problem-solving and reflection, the learning experience needs to take place in “… well-organized bodies of knowledge that support planning and strategic thinking.” The learning path (Sections 1-3. above) and the individual subsections present a coherent content framework intended to foster “inquiry, including critical thinking, problem solving, decision making, and communication at increasing levels of complexity.” (National Science Foundation, 2000).

Content structure

Basic elements included in the authoring of each section were:

Relevant epigraph (quotations suited to the content)
Statement of outcomes
Table of contents
Introductory material
Links to related sites
Test-yourself quiz

Project development path

The project development process included the following steps:

Development of the course outline
Installation and configuration of the network server and the WebCT virtual classroom software
Authoring, HTML conversion and uploading of  pilot content
Registration of the first pilot group
Implementation of the first pilot phase
Evaluation of the first pilot phase
Reconfiguration of the course outline
Authoring, designing and uploading of additional course content (Sections 1, 2 and 3)
Proofing and editing of new and revised course content
Uploading of revised content to the WebCT server
Registration of the second pilot group
Implementation of the second pilot phase
Evaluation of the second pilot phase

The way forward

The theoretical and developmental basis of this module is student-centred, collaborative learning. A virtual classroom combines a high level of interaction and collaboration amongst participants with direct access to the resources of the Internet, underscoring its appropriateness as a medium for training in information literacy. A virtual classroom is uniquely suited to the growing need for learners to develop information literacy skills. For a start, the virtual environment pre-supposes a basic level of computer literacy, which is an essential prerequisite for research. The technikon researchers that constitute the primary target group of this project all have access to the necessary IT equipment and software thanks to the success of the UNINET project (“… provid[ing] a computer network that works to the standards of the Internet, for the use of every academic, researcher and student in South Africa.” FRD, 1997). The expectation that researchers should now be IT literate is evidenced by the South African National Research Foundation’s requirement that all research proposals have to be submitted online.

A train-the-trainer workshop for representatives of the six participating technikons (
Eastern Cape, Border, Mangosuthu, M.L. Sultan, Northern Gauteng, North West) early in 2001 will pave the way for the enrolment all intending technikon staff researchers in the virtual classroom after March 2001. Course materials for the other modules: Proposal Writing, Research Methodology and Supervision will be distributed to participants via the same medium.

The virtual classroom has the virtue of providing a controlled environment in which the participants at the various technikons can develop their research capacity, share resources and network with each other without the necessity of costly travelling. In addition, the system automatically logs the individual progress of registered trainees and their commitment to the programme.

List of references

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. 1999. Chapter 6: The design of learning environments. How people learn: brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. 
Foundation for Research Development. 1997. UNINET. Foundation for Research Development. [Online]. Available: [1998, 12 March]
Gordon, W.F. and Stewart, G.D.J. Using a virtual classroom for the development of literature review writing skills. Paper presented at the LIASA 2000 Conference. Durban, 27-29 September 2000.
National Science Foundation. 2000.  Program solicitation and guidelines NSF 00-99. Instructional materials development (IMD) program. Arlington: NSF Directorate For Education And Human Resources.