Screenshot from Fister’s presentation: the ideal library webpage from the student’s perspective.
Writer-scholar-teacher-librarian extraordinaire Barbara Fister gave the keynote presentation at this year’s LOEX conference in Nashville, TN. I encourage you to read the full text of her presentation, which she described in the following abstract:
Developing both the skills and the disposition to engage in inquiry is a ubiquitous if ill- defined goal of higher education. Libraries are a space, physical and social, where students practice a number of inquiry skills they can use after graduation to make a living – and, more importantly, to make a difference. But it’s hard to take the long view. Students are focused on completing assignments as efficiently as possible. Faculty want to cover content. Administrators want strong retention and completion rates. Who has time to think about what comes next? The information universe that librarians invite students to use is so complex that learning just enough to complete academic tasks saturates our instructional efforts, distracting us from a fundamental question: what experiences do we provide that support long-lasting and meaningful learning? How will what students learn in our libraries today help them make meaning in the information universe of the future?
In her presentation, Fister asks us to critically and honestly examine what libraries are for, what universities are for, and what knowledge is for, both within the context of higher education but also with an eye toward creating lifelong learners. She then offers six ”outlandish claims” about first-year instruction to help us answer these questions:
Research papers should not be part of the first-year experience.
We should stop teaching students how to find sources.
Very rarely are citations needed.
We should stop policing plagiarism.
We should stop implying that “scholarly” means “good.”
Librarians should spend as much time working with faculty as with students.
As you wrap up your work week and move into the weekend, I hope you’ll think about these claims. I know I will!
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:
Course professors are the best conduits for IL learning. They are the most-trusted resource in the classroom. (Authority)
Specific, course-related, IL assignments work best. (Scaffolding)
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.
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.
What role should 21st century colleges have in helping students to develop hands-on, manual skills? That is the question Scott Carlson asks in this week’s Chronicle Review. At a time when “sustainability” is not just a way of acting ethically but a popularized lifestyle choice, it’s easy to see the appeal of this type of instruction.
One passage in particular caught my attention. Drawn together by a common interest and a human desire to be makers, students at the University of Vermont formed their own artisan guilds:
L. Pearson King, a junior environmental-studies major, taught his peers how to carve spoons in a woodworking guild last year. “It’s kind of trivial, but it’s also cathartic and kind of fun,” he says of the project, and the students in his group were immensely proud of their work. “To be active in the creation of an item forms a completely different relationship with that item.”
Maybe there is something to the guild approach that libraries can build off of. While information literacy is not as necessary to human survival as being able to build shelter or cook food (pending the zombie apocalypse), it is still a vital skill for 21st century life. For universities that do not have information literacy instruction (ILI) built into the curriculum, librarians have constantly struggled to find ways not only to integrate ILI, but to assess it. If your only interaction with a student is the one-off, how do you know if it sticks?
Could the library be a catalyst for “information guilds” or “technology guilds”? : groups of students that come together over a shared interest to get their hands dirty with information and to build [digital] objects. Could the library be an instigator for hacker co-ops, infonistas, techno-mavens, and virtual gurus?
The first objection that comes to my mind is “There’s no need for it.” But isn’t there? How many students come to us frustrated with an inability to even conduct simple research tasks? How many more students never approach us because they don’t know where to begin?
As someone who can’t tell a circular saw from Adam, I can relate to the frustration of not knowing where to start due to a lack of what is actually very basic knowledge. Guilds like the ones formed by the Vermont students inspire just enough confidence and self-awareness to initiate the process of making. As librarians, are we in a position to inspire these types of groups with a focus on information and technology? How do we begin?
photo credit: from ell brown on flickr (used under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Yesterday, Henry Jenkins posted a follow-up to his Comic-Con discussion of transmedia storytelling (video above), which he defines as: “a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience.” He differentiates this from other transmedia activities like transmedia branding or transmedia activism. “Ideally,” he says, “each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.”
This immediately reminded me of something we do in libraries, museums and archives (LAM) all the time: the exhibit. The LAM exhibit can exist across multiple platforms (display case, print publication, website) and utilizes a variety of formats (books, artifacts, still and moving images, digital interactive maps). Back in 2003, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Brooklyn Historical Society created a project entitled “Worklore: Brooklyn Voices Speak,” an exploration of the working class in Brooklyn from the 18th to 20th century. The collaboration included a traveling exhibit, public program and lectures, curriculum guides for elementary students, an online exhibit that included narratives and oral histories, and an online game called “Can You Make Ends Meet in Brooklyn” in the Early 1990s?” that allowed players to choose a type of work and see how those consequences played out in terms of personal finances (unfortunately, the website does not appear to be active any longer).
Creating a LAM exhibit that exists across different media is a similar activity to transmedia storytelling, but it comes at the story from a different angle. Rather than creating or extending a story, LAM exhibits attempt to recreate a narrative of cultural experience told through the perspective of people and objects that made up that narrative. The content of these exhibits serve some of the same functions outlined by Jenkins by offering a backstory, mapping a world, providing other character’s perspectives on the action, and by deepening audience engagement.
For librarians and instructors, the discourse surrounding transmedia could not be more relevant to the work we do. We seek to engage students in thinking about the ways in which the nature of information is changed as it moves from one platform to the next, how the choice to present information in one medium to the exclusion of others affects how we interpret it, and how we can convey meaning through these actions.
It doesn’t appear that we’ve fully agreed upon a definition for transmedia, but that shouldn’t stop us from using the term and discussing it. I recommend following Jenkins’s writings if you are interested in such things. His posts never disappoint.
What are your thoughts on transmedia storytelling? How do we do it? Are we doing it right? I’m especially interested in hearing about ways you’ve integrated it into instruction… but it’s the comments so do what you will ;-)
One way I stay up-to-date with the general discourse of academic librarianship (and, specifically, information literacy) is by regularly reviewing scholarly publications. While blogs, Twitter, and other online networks let me know what librarians are thinking at this very moment and offer a more organic approach to peer learning, refereed publications clue me in to issues that are significant enough that someone was willing to spend months, possibly years, or their professional life investigating them.
Unfortunately, my life is an out-of-control batting machine right now, I’m the poor schmuck locked in the cage. The four articles below have been sitting on my desk for few weeks now. Hopefully, I’ll have the chance to read them more closely, but in the meantime, I wanted to call your attention to them.
From Abstract: “This paper articulates the need for a data information literacy program (DIL) to prepare students to engage in such an “e-research” environment. Assessments of faculty interviews and student performance in a geoinformatics course provide complementary sources of information, which are then filtered through the perspective of ACRL’s information literacy competency standards to produce a draft set of outcomes for a data information literacy program.”
From Abstract: “Based on information gathered from two discussion sessions moderated by members of the Education and Behavioral Sciences Section’s Online Learning Research Committee a survey was conducted to identify how librarians use course/learning management systems and learning objects to deliver instruction. [...] A description of a ‘Toolkit for Online Learning’ created by the Online Learning Research Committee is provided.”
From Introduction: “This article is intended to explore peer evaluation of teaching in higher education in general and of library instruction in particular, then propose a methodology for the development of a set of practices of peer review of course-related library instruction for an individual institution [...].”
David Brooks wrote an op-ed for today’s New York Times where he talks about how we as an American society have failed the generation of college students about to enter the work force. Read the article at your leisure, but I’m planning to digress a bit from the topic. Brooks makes one comment that struck me as applicable to academic library work:
No one would design a system of extreme supervision to prepare people for a decade of extreme openness. But this is exactly what has emerged in modern America. College students are raised in an environment that demands one set of navigational skills, and they are then cast out into a different environment requiring a different set of skills, which they have to figure out on their own.
Academic librarians talk a lot about developing skills, most notably in the context of information literacy. We spend many waking hours and significant resources teaching students how to effectively research information for their coursework, how to analyze it, use it, and (if we’re lucky) how to develop lifelong learning habits that they can use beyond the classroom. But in the opinion of Brooks, we (as part of the system that builds up young learners) are letting our students down.
Granted, Brooks is speaking in terms of the entire educational system, both institutional and cultural. He isn’t focusing his comments directly at universities but also at K-12 schools, parents, and communities. Yet, I think his conclusion is a helpful reminder of why librarians do what they do: one that provides a broader context.
Yes, we ought to teach students how to choose appropriate databases and developing effective search strings, but, all the while, keeping in mind that this is a skill that may only be applicable to the students’ time at university. What is important is the application of learned skill to other life experiences.
To that end, I would advocate for academic librarians to engage more with students by helping them develop better “ground level” skills: learning to manage personal information, to research job opportunities, to stay politically or socially involved with their communities, to build up communities… activities they will continue to struggle with far beyond graduation. We should talk to our students; find out what they think their needs are (or will be), then develop programming around those needs.
What are your thoughts? Should academic libraries be concerned with non-research-related (but information-related) skills development? Have you been a part of a similar program at your institution? How did it go? Let me know in the comments!
This morning, the USC librarians had an all-hands-on-deck meeting to discuss the results of a recent survey and our new strategic plan. Toward the end, one of our Library IT staff (who, let me tell you, is the coolest guy) said he had seen the Libraries mentioned in the platform statements of the Student Government candidates. Moreover, he had noticed that the students wanted more 2-credit courses and he said this would be a great opportunity for the Libraries to create semester-long Information Literacy course.
I couldn’t agree more. And this got me thinking: what would this course look like? Would it be interdisciplinary or a broad overview? How would it differ from a full, 3-credit course? I haven’t completely fleshed out these thoughts but I wanted to get some of them out there and hear what you think.
The course that I have in mind would be called “Information Architecture.” The objective of the course would be to introduce students to the information ecosystem of the 21st century and teach them the skills necessary to succeed (however we choose to define that) in an information-rich environment. Here’s a basic breakdown of the course:
Unit 1: Introduction. Covers: what we define as information, how we encounter it in daily life, how we choose to divide it (work vs. play), and the importance of access.
Unit 2: Information Organization and Structure. Covers: Types of information systems, how to navigate specific systems, how info is organized in these systems and implications of such organization.
Unit 3: Basic research skills. Covers: Types of information sources, database searching, using controlled vocabulary and folksonomies, personal information management.
Unit 4: Production of Information. Covers: history of publishing and dissemination, current formal and informal methods of production.
Unit 5: Medium and Message. Covers: how medium affects message, politics of choosing one over another, implication of transferring between media.
Unit 6: Ethics of Information. Covers: Proprietary information, open access, copyright, intellectual property, and proper vs. improper use of information. (big section!)
Unit 7: Advanced research skills. Covers: Types of information resources for specific subjects, human and institutional resources, archives.
Unit 8: Final project focus.
The course would offer students (undergraduates) two tracks: (1) general research skills and (2) topic-specific skills. Depending on the student’s major and academic year, she could be assigned (or choose) either Track 1 or Track 2. Track 1 (general research skills) would be geared toward undeclared majors and 1st-2nd years. Track 2 (topic-specific skills) would be geared toward declared majors and 3rd-4th years.
Both tracks would require keeping a weekly log (written, typed, blogged, recorded, etc.) of experiences (problems, feelings, successes) encountered while doing research. The final project would include a reflection paper (or other format) and a brief annotated bibliography consisting of a variety of sources. Those on Track 1 would select a topic of their choice on which to focus their research. Track 2 students would connect their research to their declared major. Both tracks would be encouraged to use coursework in another class as a guide (per instructor’s approval).
I won’t go into more detail than that. I’m still trying to work out what is the essential content of the course (so much to teach and the time so precious!). Of course, I would work in digital technologies, collaborative work, self-assessment and peer-feedback, but the critical thing is that it integrates with other courses. What do you think? Does your university teach a semester-long IL course? Is it successful? Tell me about it in the comments!
Yesterday, I took a few moments to sit down and read Greg Bobish’s recent article in The Journal of Academic Librarianship, “Participation and pedagogy: Connecting the social web to ACRL learning outcomes.” In it, he claims that a constructivist approach to learning underlies the ACRL standards for Information Literacy and, as such, Web 2.0 tools can provide a rich landscape for building instruction activities rooted in pedagogical theory and practice (as opposed to being used simply for their “shiny” qualities).
He cites five requirements of the ideal constructivist environment and links these to qualities inherent in many Web 2.0 tools/platforms:
Complex and challenging learning environments
Social negotiation and shared responsibility
Multiple representations of content
The understanding that knowledge is constructed
The first half of the article lays out his justification for integrating Web 2.0 into the academic library classroom using these five elements. But what I found especially valuable was the latter half of the article which provided an example of a learning activity for each of the 87 performance indicators and outcomes in ACRL’s standards. These are brief but they offer some unique ideas for instruction.
For example, Standard 4.3.c states that information literate students can “incorporates principles of design and communication” as part of the act of “using information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose” and “communicating the performance and product” of that act. Bobish offers the following activity for this learning outcome:
Students are asked to present the information they have gathered to a Facebook group created by the instructor. A follow-up discussion is held (either in-class or online) about how the platform influenced the way they presented their findings and how they might have done it differently if it had been an in-class presentation or a PowerPoint slideshow. (p. 61)
I love this idea! It takes a step beyond simply using Web 2.0 for its entertainment value (or just because we can) and asks students to question the platforms they use daily to communicate information, both personal and professional. Granted, some of Bobish’s examples fall into the former category (“shiny”), but most promise to provide simple ways to engage students in familiar, digital environments and reconsider the assumptions inherent in them. I recommend keeping this article on hand for when you are looking for ways to update your instructional cookbooks.
The discussion surrounding the definition of transliteracy has been sending waves throughout the internets this morning. David Rothman took the concept to task in yesterday’s post, “Commensurable Nonesense (Transliteracy),” responding partially to a post by Lane Wilkinson.* David brings up a few good points about transliteracy, most notably:
its lack of a definition
The first of these has been dealtwithextensively, so I won’t do into it here. The lack of a concise definition is certainly problematic and, until one such is developed, it will difficult to bring the concept into the academic arena, much more so to the desks of administrators and policy makers. The second point, I think, deserves more attention. The ideas that make up the amorphous concept of transliteracy may not be anything that hasn’t already been discussed, but they may be beneficial to libraries and their users if the ways in which they are discussed (either conceptually or practically or as a methodology) provide unique perspectives.
So does transliteracy give us a unique perspective? Rotham asks this and essentially concludes that the levels of discourse that transliteracy provides can already be attained through discussion of information literacy. He also compares attempted definitions of transliteracy to more established definitions of other literacies.
We’ve come to a point in the discourse where the term “literacy” is used in far too many ways. One can be information literate, health literate, financially literate, digitally literate, statistically literate, or emotionally literate. How do all of these relate to the broader concept of literacy? As I was reading over these, I started thinking about this and discovered two predominant approaches: metaphorical and metonymical.
Let’s begin with a literal approach to the definition. The OED defines literate as “acquainted with letters or literature; educated, instructed, learned; a liberally educated or learned person; one who can read and write.” Webster’s Third defines it as “characterized by or possessed of learning; able to read and write; well executed or technically proficient.” Literacyis defined as the characteristic of possessing any of these traits. So a strict definition focuses on either “learning” or “reading” and this is generally how the term is used in everyday conversation. A somewhat broader definition implies understanding and comprehension, not just the ability to read and write but the ability to do it well. From here, the splintering of definitions takes off.
Literacy is then extended metaphorically to mean an understanding or comprehension of other subjects beyond written text (most of which require reading and writing): being health literate is the ability to understand health issues and read medical documents; being financially literate is the ability to understand markets, economies, and fiscal concerns. These “other” literacies require many of the same skills (ability to read and write, most notably, but also the ability to seek and retrieve documents) but do so in entirely different contexts. They require a specific domain knowledge which adds value to the understanding gained through simple reading comprehension.
Literacy can also be extended metonymically to mean any of the skills related to or comprising the ability to understand information. This use of the word tends to play on the various meaning of “reading” and “writing” to included activities such as choosing the right font for a business letter, evaluating a website or editorial for bias, or deconstructing body language. One is digitally literate if they have the skills necessary to navigate online or use electronic databases. One is orally literate if they have the ability to interpret the subtleties of human communication or understand the complexities of storytelling. While domain knowledge still plays a significant part, the focus here is on the ability to “read” signs (e.g. verbal, written, performed) and “write” effectively (e.g. compose, format, design)
Transliteracy seems to straddle the fence between these two uses (hence, its prefix kinda works in this regard). It attempts to encompass both the skills necessary for understanding “texts” in a [mostly digital] environment (metonymical) and the understanding of how different contexts require different domains of knowledge (metaphorical). Herein lies the problem: Which connotation of literacy are we using when we say someone is “transliterate?” Is it problematic to imply both? And most importantly: if we imply both, how is that different from the all-inclusive term “literacy” defined in a less-than-strict way, i.e. the ability to understand and comprehend “texts” and to do it well?
Perhaps the answers to these questions could be the foundation for further development of a definition of transliteracy. Or they could be its negation. Whatever the outcome, the discussion will continue into the near future and it will be defined by its ability to add value to our understanding of how individuals interact with the world around them, one which is increasingly becoming more digital.
*As a side note, I didn’t find Lane’s post to be either inaccessible or “needlessly” linguistically elite, as David suggested. It is academically sterile, perhaps, but I don’t think anyone should be faulted for trying to use language specifically and intentionally, in a way that suggests the style of scholarly communication. It deserves its place just as much as the more casual or snarky language that comprises most of internet. But then, I’m biased given that I spend most of my day in an academic library.
A recent discussion thread on Friendfeed toyed with topics dear to the heart of information literacy enthusiasts. I gave up regularly contributing to FF months ago (so many social networks, so little time), but this particular conversation caught my eye and made me reconsider jumping back into that community. In short, one commenter was lampooning one of those “Top X Library Blogs” post that had suspicious authorship (remember to always check out the “about” page!). The conversation that ensued touched on issues of bias and authenticity on the web, the link economy, and then devolved into hilarious punning.