Addressing the digital divide in teaching information retrieval. A theoretical view on taking students from ICT access to knowledge sharing

Publication Date01 July 2006
Date01 July 2006
AuthorIna Fourie,Theo Bothma
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Library & information science
Addressing the digital divide in
teaching information retrieval
A theoretical view on taking students from ICT
access to knowledge sharing
Ina Fourie and Theo Bothma
Department of Information Science, University of Pretoria,
Pretoria, South Africa
Purpose – The purpose of this article is to help students to move from ICT access to knowledge
Design/methodology/approach – An overview of the literature on information literacy skills and
the digital divide, an analysis of information seeking research, as well as experience in teaching a
course in advanced information retrieval at the Department of Information Science, University of
Pretoria, South Africa, inspired a theoretical model for addressing different layers of the digital divide.
Findings – The digital divide concerns more than just ICT access and information skills. Individual
commitment, group work, and intellectual and academic support from the institution might contribute
to bringing people to higher levels of knowledge generation and communication.
Research limitations/implications At this stage it is a theoretical model that needs to be tested
in practice.
Practical implications – The model should hold possibilities for information literacy programs,
programs in information retrieval, collaborative learning, and the developments of communities of
Originality/value – The proposed model allows for higher levels of knowledge sharing and should
help society to bridge the digital divide.
Keywords Information literacy, Informationretrieval, Knowledge sharing, Learning contracts,
South Africa
Paper type General review
Current day society is marked by a growing need for information skills at all levels,
including school, university, workplace and ordinary life. This is in line with the
increase in access to the internet and the diversity of people using the internet.
Similarly, there is an increase in outcries to bridge the digital divide. Against the
background that will be portrayed in the following paragraphs, the authors rea lized the
increased urgency to bridge the digital divide. According to our interpretation the
digital divide concerns much more than access to technology infrastructures and
information seeking skills. To truly bridge the digital divide, we need to increase the
spectrum of skills we address. From an information science perspective, we will use
our experience in teaching information retrieval skills, knowledge of information
seeking behavior and teaching per se to suggest a theoretical model in this article that
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Addressing the
digital divide
Received 23 September 2005
Revised 28 October 2005
Accepted November 2005
The Electronic Library
Vol. 24 No. 4, 2006
pp. 469-489
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/02640470610689179
ranges from offering access to an information and communication (ICT) infrastructure
to information sharing, and building communities of practice on the highest level.
From the subject literature it is clear that there is a continuing increase in searching
the internet by a wider population. Evidence can be found in the interest shown by the
general public (Spink et al., 2001; Carey et al., 2001; Jansen et al., 2000) and even senior
citizens (Burwell, 2001). A number of studies have recently also appeared on the use of
the world wide web (WWW) by children (Bilal, 2002; Bilal and Kirby, 2002), as well as
knowledge workers (Choo et al., 2000) and selected professional groups (Ellis and
Haughan, 1997; Kuhlthau and Tama, 2001). There is also a growing interes t in
collaborative information retrieval (CIR) and collaborative information seeking (Fidel
et al., 2000; Preskop, 2002; Hansen and Ja
¨rvelin, 2004) as well as collaborative work and
collaborative learning (Lee, 2005; Jonassen et al., 1999 and Sonnenwald et al., 2004).
Choo et al. (2000) stress the importance of the internet in an organizational setup.
The WWW should be a vital component of an organization’s enabling infrastructure: it
should offer a shared work space where information is accessed, communicated, and
acted upon, and in the case of an intranet it should promote information and knowledge
sharing by providing dedicated areas where such communities can share information,
etc. The importance of information is also stressed in the concepts of learning
organizations, knowledge organizations, life-long learning and continuing professional
The impetus of the WWW as an information source is also evident from the
growing interest in web information-seeking studies. These are studies where pe ople’s
information seeking behavior (including information retrieval) is studied. Spink and
Cole (2004), p. 303) for example declare:
...the internet is the driving force behind broadening LIS’ [Library and information science]
analysis of information seeking beyond work and school. The interactive potential of this
hybrid information flow channel should bring the power of information use to many more
sectors of society than is now the case, but it also forces researchers interested in these issues
to take a wider, more integrative approach to studying information seeking and use that
includes non-seeking behavior in its human information behavior perspective.
The ultimate success of information literacy and retrieval skills lies in the use of the
information (e.g. essay writing, completing assignmen ts or research projects,
marketing plans, strategic plans, etc.). These skills are also stressed in the Big Six
model of model of information literacy proposed by Mike Eisenberg and Bob
Berkowitz (
The following questions arise:
(1) Is the quality of “information use” affected by the quality of information
seeking, the quality of access to information resources or the quality and scope
of access to ICT, etc.
(2) If so, how can these be addressed from a theoretical point of view to support
students in using equal opportunities to ICT, information retrieval and
knowledge generation to be ultimately successful in their jobs?
The importance of using information and information resources
Apart from an increase in access to the internet, there is also an increase in web-based
teaching programs with numerous reports on their value (Kahn, 1997). This is further

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