Promoting Public’s Information Literacy
A National Search Competition
For: Information Literacy Association of Wuhan University (ILAWU)
Challenge: Improve the information literacy of China's youths
Length: 12 months
Skills: Leadership, communication, team motivation, funding negotiation, project management, advertising
My role: President
Information literacy is important. More than just understanding how to search the internet or compose a text document, information literacy involves seeking and critically analyzing information—the key to making informed decisions for oneself.
Recognizing that many people, the digital generation included, need to better navigate and utilize the wealth of information available to them, the Information Literacy Association of Wuhan University (ILAWU) began an annual campus search competition in 2008.
Although initially successful, by the time I joined the ILAWU in 2011, the organization was failing, and the campus search competition was a small, overlooked event. With just 30 members and 1110 competition attendees, the ILAWU was doing little to influence information literacy.
Determined to spotlight the importance of information literacy, I became president of the ILAWU in 2012 and challenged myself to extend the impact of the search competition by transforming it into a momentous, sustainable event.
About the competition
Information Literacy Search Competitions assess participants’ online search effectiveness and efficiency.
I led the team to design the competition in 2013 as three rounds. In round one, Participants are given 10 randomly-selected questions (4 easy questions, 4 medium and 2 hard) from a collection of 1612 questions and 60 minutes to complete all of them. The top 10% move to round two, where they are again given 10 randomly-selected questions from a collection of 248 questions and 30 minutes for completion. The top 30 participants are then moved on to the final round, where they compete in-person for a total of three rounds in four hours.
In the final competition, all participants compete in rounds one individual and two small teams. The top six participants enter the last round, where they must present their answers and understandings to a panel of judges for a final score.
I began by establishing three primary goals:
Increase the size of the ILAWU, both on and off campus
Increase the scope of the search competition
Increase ILAWU event momentum
To attract new ILAWU members, I started by changing the organization’s vision. I aimed to connect students’ personal goals with the overall mission of the association. By speaking with existing members, it was decided to refine the member experience. We developed a new slogan “Joy & pro, believe together we achieve”, which I used to guide ILAWU changes:
I rejected the ILAWU’s hierarchical structure in favor of a flat organization—a highly unusual move in Chinese student associations—to encourage equity and collaboration.
I promoted passion-based project assignments to allow members autonomy, voice, and self-driven professional development.
I offered training workshops and social gatherings to create a fun, supportive, and relationship-driven association.
I opened admission up from strictly graduate students to include undergraduate members as well.
To expand the scope of the search competition, I developed an international outreach strategy:
I invited past ILAWU members, iSchool alumni, and students from universities across China to join as honorary members. We held online meetings to discuss innovative ways of growing the organization, reducing costs, and marketing on a national level. The ideas generated in these meetings were further developed and mobilized by on-campus ILAWU members.
I connected with the UNESCO Information for All Program, receiving formal endorsement of the search competition and permission to use their name in advertising materials.
With the foundation of the ILAWU and international connections established, I focused my attention on planning a large-scale national information literacy search competition:
To secure funding, I spent two months negotiating with Baidu, for a total of 30,000 RMB (a 300% increase from the previous year’s’ funding).
To discover potential obstacles, I led the ILAWU in hosting a small-scale competition for Wuhan University Graduate students. The problems that were discovered in this two-round competition informed our training materials.
I harnessed my team to launch a national marketing campaign. We advertised through multiple channels, including: Sina Weibo, WeChat, flyers, and billboards.
With the ILAWU’s overall goal of promoting information literacy, we held on-campus training events on topics such as search engine mechanisms, search query construction, and search strategies. We also designed a digital search skills booklet (link) for distribution to all registered participants.
Over 2500 students from 261 universities across China participated in the first round, with 197 participants making it to the second round, and the top 30 entering the final round, which was hosted on May 19, 2016 in the School of Engineering Auditorium.
Due to its national success, the achievement of the competition was presented by Prof. Xiaojuan (Julia) Zhang at the European Conference on Information Literacy, 2013, in Istanbul, Turkey.
I was also invited by Baidu to deliver a speech on information literacy at the Baidu Supporting Power Conference in Sanya, China.
At the end of my presidency, there were 118 ILAWU members and 60% of them decided to stay. (Most of the ones who left were leaving for job seeking or graduate admission exam preparation.)