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You are reading: Transitioning from vocational education and training to university: strengthening information literacy through collaboration

Written by Sonia White (Queensland University of Technology)

The Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) established the foundation for students with a vocational education and training (VET) qualification to receive advanced standing when entering a university program. However, VET students face many challenges when transitioning to university. While these vary, commonly identified challenges relate to information skills and university expectations associated with gathering and synthesising information as part of the learning process.

The aim of this project was to understand the information literacy experiences on both sides of the VET-to-university transition in order to develop a targeted information literacy support framework that would aid students transitioning to university. The report addresses three research questions:

  • What is the nature of the information literacy skills currently embedded in diploma modules and bachelor degree units?
  • What information literacy challenges do students face in their current TAFE (technical and further education) or university program?
  • What improvements to information literacy teaching in both the TAFE and university sectors would ease the transition from TAFE to university?

The participants in this research were students in the field of early childhood education from one TAFE institute and one university. They were enrolled in a Diploma of Children’s Services, a Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood) or a Bachelor of Early Childhood Studies. The bachelor degree participants had previously been awarded a Diploma of Children’s Services and had entered university with advanced standing. The data collection was sequential, with an initial online survey used to determine the nature of the students’ information literacy skills. Follow-up interviews were used to gain in-depth detail about the challenges experienced and students’ perspectives on the improvements to information literacy that would ease the transition to university.

An examination of the nature of information literacy in the respective programs revealed that there was a higher expectation imposed on university students to gather and synthesise information as part of written assessments. It is interesting to note however that, while the sources of information differed in terms of complexity, the online information search strategies used were quite similar across the two sectors. Both TAFE and university students reported using various types of filters in order to judge the value of a source, but prioritised different sources of information: TAFE students prioritised recent practical Australian information from sources in the field, whereas university students looked for recent peer-reviewed sources. This example highlights that diploma students have established information-filtering strategies and that these can be built upon by university staff to support these students to adapt their online information search priorities when they transition to university.

The Australian and New Zealand Institute for Information Literacy (ANZIIL) Framework measures the information literacy of a person according to six standards:

  • Standard 1 recognises the need for information and determines the nature and extent of the information needed.
  • Standard 2 finds needed information effectively and efficiently.
  • Standard 3 critically evaluates information and the information-seeking process.
  • Standard 4 manages information collected or generated.
  • Standard 5 applies prior and new information to construct new concepts or create new understandings.
  • Standard 6 uses information with understanding and acknowledges cultural, ethical, economic, legal and social issues surrounding the use of information.

Of the six standards in this framework, understanding the task (Standard 1), bringing together and preparing the assessment (Standard 5) and adhering to the writing and referencing styles (Standard 6) were identified as being the most challenging aspects experienced by both the TAFE and university participant groups. These specific aspects became the focus when developing the targeted information literacy support framework for transitioning students.

Many of the current TAFE students felt very unfamiliar with university and had many questions about studying via this mode. One student suggested that ‘a university experience’ would be beneficial: observing a lecture, seeing what information and guidance were given, and viewing an assessment piece. It was deemed crucial to understand the expectations of university before considering enrolment. When discussing the transition, current university students represented two distinct experiences in relation to the support of their information literacy skills development: the ‘internal’ and the ‘external’ student experience. The internal students described specific support embedded in their units and specialist sessions with library staff. The majority of the external students on the other hand, who were engaged in full-time employment, reported being unable to access workshops, since they were only offered on campus during business hours. Online information literacy activities were mentioned; however, it was clear that some found the online interface challenging and a barrier to their learning. The issues of timing and student access are crucial aspects of the information literacy transitional framework proposed in the discussion section of this research report.

The new understandings gained through the data collection and analyses have contributed to the development of an information literacy transitional framework, in which three key time periods are identified. At these points targeted support needs to be made available in order to ease the transition to university. The key elements to be provided at each time period are also specified.

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White, S 2014, Transitioning from VET to university: strengthening information literacy through collaboration, NCVER, Adelaide.