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Information skills:
The Big 6

03 August 2020 by

Whenever a student encounters a problem or task that requires information in order to be solved, they are encountering an information-based problem. In order to solve this information-based problem, students require a process for information problem solving.

One such process is often referred to as the Big 6.

Two American gentlemen, Mike Eisenberg and Bob Berkowitz developed this process, which guides students through information problem-solving as well as providing a basic framework for teaching and promoting information literacy. The process integrates information ‘searching’ and ‘using’ skills, along with technology tools, to systematically locate, utilise, apply and evaluate information for specific needs and tasks.

  1. 1. Task definition requires students to identify the exact information problem presented to them. They must also identify the types of information needed in order to solve the problem. They must have a clear hypothesis, a specific question, and a clear understanding of what is needed in order to answer the question and fulfill the task requirements set by the teacher.
  2. 2. Information seeking strategies require students first to identify all the possible sources of information, and then to evaluate each source to determine which are best for them to use for the task.
  3. 3. Location and access and use of information are comprised of traditional bibliographic skills. Students must not only find individual resources such as books, magazines, reference materials, and websites, but also find the information within each source using tables of contents, indexes, and other resource-specific tools.
  4. 4.  Utilising the information requires students to engage each source (read, view, listen or interact with the information) and extract specific information from it through the application of note-taking, highlighting, and summarising, along with noting citation requirements.
  5. 5.  Synthesis requires the restructuring or repackaging of information into new or different formats to meet the requirements of the task. Synthesis can be very complex, involving several sources, a variety of media or presentation formats, and the effective communication of abstract ideas. This is where the real learning takes place as new information is brought in and links are made to pre-existing knowledge as students make decisions, create products, or formulate answers. Synthesis is linked to task definition in that students are expected to answer the specific question they created when initially engaging in the problem-solving process.
  6. 6. Evaluation determines how effectively and efficiently the information problem-solving process was conducted by judging the final product and the process undertaken by the student.

Working through the Big 6, whether consciously or not, is a process undertaken when students require information for an assigned task or even to make decisions. It may not necessarily follow the stages in order but in most problem-solving situations the stages are addressed.

A further overview of the Big 6 problem solving process can be located at:

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