Imagine there’s no one-off…

November 14th, 2012 § 2 comments

Today, I’ll be attending the last of a series of library workshops on integrating information literacy into the curriculum. In preparation for the class, I’ve been searching for examples of librarians that have worked with faculty to develop system-wide changes to student learning outcomes, course assignments, and degree requirements. I’ve listed a few examples at the end, but they are few and far between.

The difficulty, as many of these studies point out, is that models for intense librarian/faculty collaborations in curriculum reform and/or oversight are not sustainable. In particular, assessing student learning according to accepted information literacy rubrics requires significant resources, mostly time and often additional funding (e.g. incentives, additional staffing). It is possible to focus on a single academic department or sub-unit of the student population and expect reasonable success, but to create change at the institutional level, that requires momentum and resources from beyond the library.

On the other hand, we know from both the research and anecdotal evidence that one-off courses do not provide enough information literacy instruction to last a student throughout her four years at the university. It can be a powerful push in the right direction, but students need more than just forward momentum to keep going for the long term. They need time and space for reflection, synthesis, application, reassessment, and realignment: all of which require a longitudinal approach to info-lit learning. Yet despite over a decade of research focused on information literacy, universities have been slow to recognize its importance in their goals. So in lieu of institutional support for system-wide info-lit instruction, librarians continue spend a large amount of their time teaching and preparing for one-offs.

All this is prologue to an idea I’ve been thinking about of late: what if we didn’t? What if we didn’t spend 60% of our week teaching 1-hour info-lit courses? What if, instead, we spent that time on curriculum integration and strategic design? On info-lit assessment at multiple levels of student experience? On proving to stakeholders the benefits of info-lit skills and connecting those to institutional goals?

As I see it, that reality is not far off. I can easily imagine converting 90% of our one-off classes into asynchronous online tutorials. All the basics — search strategies, primary vs. secondary, specific database usage, the information cycle, source evaluation, etc. — could be converted to online modules and assigned by faculty as needed for each class. Yes, this would require a gargantuan amount of work at first, but once up-and-running (and if assigned to a dedicated staff member), it could be easily maintained. If not librarians, I am quite confident someone will do this. Soon.

What then? To what would instruction librarians turn their time and attention? There are three things I’ve learned from my experience and research thus far regarding effective info-lit learning:

  1. Course professors are the best conduits for IL learning. They are the most-trusted resource in the classroom. (Authority)
  2. Specific, course-related, IL assignments work best. (Scaffolding)
  3. Info-lit must be constantly reinforced and requires reflection over time. (Longitudinal growth and meta-analysis)

To this then I would turn my attention: taking a more holistic view of undergraduate education and searching for ways to embed info-lit beyond the individual class assignment. This approach must produce scalable programs that can benefit both the entire curriculum and individual courses of study that include assessment procedures seamlessly integrated and connected to the institution’s student learning objectives. The ultimate goal of such a program would be to prove that every student has the essential info-lit skills necessary to succeed post-graduation

It sounds cheesy, I’ll admit, but I see it as where we are headed given the growth of online learning, the importance of learning assessment, and the need for more in-depth info-lit instruction. In the least, it is a potential direction and one we should strategically position ourselves to pursue.

 

Further Reading

Bennett, S. (2007). Campus cultures fostering information literacy. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 7, 147–167.

Booth, C. and Matthews, B. (2012). Understanding the learner experience: Threshold concepts and curriculum mapping. Invited Paper at the California Academic & Research Libraries Conference, April 7, 2012, San Diego, CA.

Dupuis, E.A., Maslach, C., Schrager, C.D. and McDaniel, S. (2007). Information literacy and undergraduate research: Meeting the challenge at a large research university. In Information Literacy Collaborations that Work, T.E. Jacobson and T. Mackey (Eds). New York: Neal-Schuman.

Field, T. and Macmillan, M. (2011). Toward development of collaborative, comprehensive information literacy and research skills program inside the journalism curriculum. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 66(2), 176-86.

Gamsby, M.K. (2010). The physics of designing an integrated physics information literacy program. Science & Technology Libraries, 29(4), 350-61.

Pritchard, P.A. (2010). The embedded science librarian: Partner in curriculum design and delivery. Journal of Library Administration, 50(4), 373-96.

Salisbury, F. and Sheridan, L. (2011). Mapping the journey: Developing an information literacy strategy as part of curriculum reform. Journal of Librarianship & Information Science, 43(3), 185-93.

Scaramozzino, J.M. (2010). Integrating stem information competencies into an undergraduate curriculum. Journal of Library Administration, 50(4), 315-33.

Travis, Tiffini A. (2008). Librarians as Agents of Change: Working with Curriculum Committees using Change Agency Theory. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 114, 17-33.

§ 2 Responses to Imagine there’s no one-off…"

  • FSkornia says:

    I did a ton of research on this a couple of summers ago for my MLS capstone. You can check out my research proposal here: http://www.frankskornia.com/assignment/94

    For librarians to remain relevant, we need to reach and act outside of the library more. One of the obstacles to this is the current academic culture where the library is increasingly viewed as lower value in research. The resources the library provides are valuable, of course, but the place and the people that work there? Not as much.

    One idea I’ve had regarding this is for librarians not to reach out solely to faculty, but to graduate students. Especially the graduate students that are working as TAs, and adjunct lecturers or are planning careers in higher education. Demonstrate to these students how we can aid them in their own research and in the design and preparation of their classes. Then, when they move on in their careers, they will have an expectation of what the library can offer and can teach that to their own students. If the go to an institution that doesn’t offer the same sort of services, perhaps they can spread it. In short, I see that the current academic environment largely does a run around libraries, merely using us as a resource supplier. We have to change that, and do it aggressively.

  • John says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Graduate students, especially TAs, are a worthwhile investment. We also need to find better ways of proving our worth. Meagan Oakleaf’s research has gone a long way in providing us with the means, but many librarians are still hesitant to venture into more robust assessment methods. We also need to do a better job of tying library instruction to the university’s strategic/learning objectives. There was a recent survey that interviewed the leaders of various companies and discovered there is an appalling lack of basic information literacy skills among new hires. We could help fix that!