Information Competency Plan
for the California Community Colleges


National Perspectives
on Information Competency
What is Information
The Information
Competency Plan

Over a million students enter California's 106 community colleges each year. Their learning landscape is strikingly different from that experienced by yesterday's undergraduates in yesterday's classrooms. Ever-increasing waves of data are engulfing our culture, due to well-known innovations in storing, organizing and accessing information. "The continuing shift from an industrial-based to a knowledge-based society appears certain," states the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges (CCC Board) in their 1996 publication, The New Basic Agenda, Policy Directions for Student Success. "What is not altogether clear, however, is the set of specific skills and knowledge that will best prepare community college students for the emerging work place in a rapidly changing culture."

"At one level," the Report continues, " 'learning to learn' will be of major importance, including critical thinking, problem solving, and communications skills. Students must learn how to acquire, manage, and analyze large quantities of information. The expansion of information and knowledge is proceeding at such a pace that the ability to quickly review and discard irrelevant information through the use of appropriate technologies, for instance, becomes a valued skill."

The Report notes, the "characteristics and experiences of entering students" are changing, and suggests "as students come from a greater variety of cultures and backgrounds, it is likely that their learning styles will vary more widely than they did in the past. The challenge of varied learning styles becomes all the more complex because the knowledge and skills students need from the community college area are also becoming more, rather than less, complex."

The problem, then, as noted in national as well as California State University (CSU) and California Community College (CCC) studies: most students arrive on campus without information competency skills. They lack information retrieval skills necessary for successful collegiate or vocational experience, or to support lifelong learning.

Organizations and government offices at both the state and national level are responding to the need for a new literacy brought on by the Information Age. Examples may be found in Appendix A.

A. National Perspectives on Information Competency

In 1989, The American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy published a report drafted by a group of national leaders - primarily from education and librarianship. Their document continues to be a centerpiece on this issue, and the parameters of their discussion continue to be useful in discussing the importance of what they termed information literacy - and this report calls information competency. A 1998 ALA progress report provides a summary of the original document, which:

In the 1980s, failures and problems in educational achievement included the much-cited studies: A Nation at Risk, Prologue and Major Recommendations of the Carnegie Foundation's Report on Colleges, and The Crisis in California School Libraries.

During the 1990s, a plethora of important studies, reports, proclamations and resolutions from various segments of the educational world pointed to the need for information literacy or information competence/competency, the term more in use throughout California and the nation at present. Early on, the National Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development, in its 1991 report Issues and Results urged "schools, colleges, and universities to integrate information literacy programs into learning programs for all students."

Documents providing a rich background on these issues and the key studies are Carolyn Norman's Information Competency in the California Community Colleges, a Status Report, issued in March 1996 and Basic Library and Information Competencies, a Unified State-Wide Approach, Final Report, 1995 by Inez Cohen and Elmer Jan.

Along with these studies, came reports and projections on the changing nature of work in the 21st century, forces shaping the American economy, and the interrelated issues of workforce preparation, job training and education. What Work Requires of Schools, a SCANS Report for American 2000, for example, was issued by the US Department of Labor in 1991. Responding to the American workforce shifting to an information-based economy, the report identified five "competencies" central to job performance in the coming decades, including "the ability to use information." These SCANS "competencies" have, by this date, permeated curriculum design discussions at all levels, grant proposals, and the literature at large.

A 1997 Department of Labor-funded study, Workforce 2020, issued by the Hudson Institute, dramatically highlights the impact of the Information Age on the American worker in the immediate future. This document is particularly relevant. Students now enrolled in college will experience the full brunt of the economic forces outlined. These students, it posits, will encounter a changed work environment. Increasingly, successful companies will require adaptability in management structures, ever-shorter product cycles, and premiums placed on the rapidity and responsiveness to product design, engineering and marketing. Workers will change jobs and even occupations more often than in the past and demands by developing technologies for highly skilled and well-educated workers will require continuous updating of skills and knowledge, a true lifelong learning requirement that appears well matched with the CCC mission.

The Chancellors’ Offices of CSU and of the CCCs have taken a leading role in addressing the challenges of the Information Age in learning and teaching. Appendix B provides a brief background of this involvement and making use of the California Community College Fund for Instructional Improvement in addressing this issue.

During this same period, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (Academic Senate) took action. In 1996 the Academic Senate adopted a resolution urging "the Chancellor’s Office and the CCC Board of Governors to acknowledge that any development in information competency components and/or programs be the primary responsibility of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges." In April 1998 the Academic Senate adopted a position paper Information Competency in the California Community Colleges.

Recommendations of the paper included:

B. What is Information Competency?

It is not surprising that in a system with 106 colleges, there is a variety of working definitions of information competency. Participants from the first CCC workshop onwards noted the importance of working with a clear and generally agreed definition. Without basic agreement on what we are talking about, it would be difficult to work with administrators and discipline faculty.

The one-sentence definition used throughout our workshops was "information competency is a subset of critical thinking representing an individual’s ability to recognize the need for information and to find, evaluate, incorporate, use, create and communicate data from a variety of sources and in a variety of contexts." Concurring on this definition are the American Library Association, Association of College and Research Libraries, the National Commission on Library and Information Science, the National Forum on Information Literacy, and the American Council of Education. These basic elements are reflected as well in the CSU Work Group on Information Competence report.

An Academic Senate’s position paper defines information competency as "the ability to find, evaluate, use, and communicate information in all its various formats. It combines aspects of library literacy, research methods and technological literacy. Information competency includes consideration of the ethical and legal implications of information and requires the application of both critical thinking and communication skills." Given the central role of the Academic Senate in curriculum matters, we are using the Senate definition as the working definition in this paper, with the addition to their definition of "the ability to recognize the need for information."

The Academic Senate position paper calls for a listing of "key components for information competency, expectations of what students need to know before they complete their educational endeavors…." This information, along with that of working models within California higher education, should help to put into context the components of information competency that could go into a proposed course or a revision of a present course.

Thus, this planning document commends the Academic Senate recommendations and proposes the CCC Board adopt the Senate definition and implementation path as well as the following listing of the key components of information competency. In order to be able to find, evaluate, use and communicate information, students must be able to demonstrate the following skills in an integrated process:

C. The Information Competency Plan

In August 1997, Gavilan College was awarded a Fund for Instructional Improvement (FII) grant to review the current and projected roles of information competency instruction within the California Community Colleges and to develop an Information Competency Draft Plan for system implementation, training and evaluation, in consultation with a 13-member Information Competency Ad Hoc Advisory Committee (IC Committee). The original charge was "to develop a plan for information competency as a prerequisite to the certificate and/or the associate degree in the California Community Colleges." The IC Committee later modified the charge "to develop a plan for integrating information competency into the certificate and/or the associate degree programs in the California Community Colleges."

The Planning Process

An organizational meeting of the IC Committee met in December 1997, to organize the process. (Members are listed page 2.) This was followed by five daylong workshops hosted by Foothill College, College of the Sequoias, Butte College, Riverside Community College and the Los Angeles Pierce College, held across California in February and March of 1998. Additional consultations took place with educational segment groups at board meetings and related occasions during March through May. In the five workshops, a total of 139 participants from 67 California Community Colleges provided feedback related to the current and projected roles of information competency instruction within the California Community Colleges, making a series of recommendations concerning system implementation, training and evaluation.

This project is consistent with California State University published discussions on information competency. Members from the CSU Chancellor’s office participated in the workshop sessions, along with members from CSU campuses.

Methods Used to Develop the Plan

The workshop approach

Meetings with educational segment groups

Research: reviewing documentation and legislation

IC Committee advisory meetings

An IC Committee website for sharing information

Consultations with innovators on similar projects and with government officials


Workshop participants responded to several questions during breakout sessions. They were asked to answer the following:

  1. identify keys to successfully integrating information competency programs on your campus
  2. what are the resources you need to do this?
  3. what staff development opportunities and faculty training do you recommend?
  4. how will information competency be established, developed and supported as part of the instructional program within California community colleges?
  5. what aspects of the California community college culture inhibit or enhance the establishment of a program in information competency and
  6. review and respond to the information competency draft resolution.

Several key issues emerged from the discussions. They were:

This report regroups these key issues into the following five topics which will be discussed in the body of the report.


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