Each week, I ask my Information Literacy for Teaching and Learning students to respond to a few prompts in a letter to me. (Like I mentioned last week, I usually have folks blog, but because they are doing field experiences, I felt I needed to keep the conversation a bit more private this time around.)
This week, here are some things on my mind:
1. If we can’t agree on what information literacy is, how do we get others to see that it’s valuable? Our course is specifically titled Information Literacy, so we have to use that in class. But I feel myself straining against it. The typical “need, find, evaluate, use” definition sounds so, um, BORING. And it’s so much more, isn’t it? Doesn’t reading comprehension play a part? Digital navigation savvy? Prior knowledge? I want to be excited about the power of library-hosted instruction, and “need, find, evaluate, use” just doesn’t fly my flag. Is it that we need to keep the IL definition as is but recognize that librarians need to extend into new arenas? Or does being information literate mean expanding the definition? Reader, it leaves me unbewitched, bothered, and bewildered. See #3 below. I’m also itching to look at things like the Common Core State Standards as potential entrypoints for librarians. We’re looking at information from all sides. Some of us are on the roots end of things; some on the wings side.
2. Anticipation (to quote Carly Simon). This week, most folks (and, I’m sorry, there are a few of you whose potential hosts I’m waiting to hear from) start in their placements. That’s going to add an entirely new layer to the conversation. I can’t wait.
3. Inquiry. I’m biting my tongue not to jump straight to this topic.
4. Differentiation. How does our class move nimbly when we have students with such a wide variety of past experiences? Some students have been pondering these questions, literally, for years. Some for just a few days. How do we welcome all and keep the conversation relevant to all?
5. Diigo group. Oh, how I love our class Diigo group as a way for everyone to contribute interesting nuggets, news stories, blog posts, online shoutouts, and more. Everyone in our class has Diigo’s toolbar installed and, when they run into something interesting, can post it to the group. We determine individually how often we want to receive notifications of what others have posted, and we decide individually if we want to add their link to our personal account. I am learning so many things that have expanded my knowledge about literacies-related issues, and I use it when I’m reading their reflections to push out information that may answer questions or add background.
This fall, I’m teaching the course called Information Literacy for Teaching and Learning for the first time. I’m excited — once I got over my moment of panic that the class would have 27 students in it, only three of whom were future school librarians. When I took this course, it was, almost exclusively, the teaching methods course for future school librarians. And while the course had been restructured a few years ago to include all types of librarianship, it was still kind of known as, well, the teaching methods course for future school librarians. Suddenly, the class was full of all kinds of future librarians — academic, school, and public, in particular — plus several students from the School of Education. How was I going to make a class that could speak to all of those students?
And then I realized … I could either see this as a big problem, or as a tremendous opportunity. To be able to have conversations about information literacy, inquiry, and other surrounding literacies was actually a historic opportunity. Why not have future secondary teachers and future school librarians together? Public librarians talking about how they could start, in the earliest years, building literacy foundations that would later be shared with school librarians, then (for college-bound folks) to academic librarians? And what about all of the other folks out there who might not formally be called teachers or librarians, but who are concerned about literacies as well?
So I decided to take a big leap and make this a course about questions, not answers. Now, surely I do have my own opinions on things, but so do the others in the class. So through a combination of readings, reflections, discussions, field observations, face-to-face lessons, and an extended information literacy project, how could we capture and explore those questions and, at the conclusion, report beyond our classroom walls what we learned?
Now THAT sounded fun. Well, it still makes me feel a bit nauseous, because there is a bit of walking the blade of the knife, but mostly, it’s fun. Exhilarating, even.
Usually, for my courses, I like students to blog about their thinking and for a cohort within the class to comment on one another’s blogs. But given that we would be in the field, I felt that public conversations might not give us the kind of authentic responses we would need to begin to answer big questions like, “Is information literacy working?”, “Does it matter?”, or, “How can we build on what has gone before?”
So I’m asking students to turn in, the night before each class meeting, a private letter to me where I can get a sense of what they’re thinking about related to class and projects. I called them Prof Letters, originally thinking it meant, “Letters to my professor,” but now thinking it also means, “Professional letters.” (Please, nobody write a PROFligate letter, mm-kay?)
If we’re really going to be a community of learners, I should do the same, right?
This week, they had to respond to two questions. First, they had to rewrite a syllabus’s plagiarism/academic honesty/research statement in response to some Head and Eisenberg / Project Info Lit findings. That part of the Prof Letter I’m going to hold back for class … for reasons I’ll explain to them.
They were also asked to share what was bubbling in their mind this week. Here’s what’s bubbling in mine.
First, I have to say that for almost five years, since the AASL Standards were in draft form, the school library part of the library profession has been talking much more about inquiry (a more expansive process of instructional design that encompasses information literacy skills) than information literacy. I’ve been one of those folks. So even using the TERM information literacy again is taking some getting used to, even though it is still in common use in academic library settings. (I never even made a blog category called “information literacy.”)
Part of why I embraced inquiry over information literacy is that I was discovering that the info lit skills of search, find, and “use” really never went much of anywhere if the overall arch of the project wasn’t very deep. If you give students a thin project (“find 5 facts about _____”), then you really just need to find one semi-reliable source and copy five facts. You really don’t need information literacy skill development for that kind of low-hanging fruit. Put the librarian and the educator together to co-plan, however, and the librarian can gently nudge the teacher in a different direction that might both deepen the overall cognitive experience, better mirror the kinds of information tasks they will do in real life, career, or college, and open up a more genuine need for more sophisticated skills. Inquiry planning will naturally wrap information literacy skills into the package.
We talked about Prensky’s Digital Natives/Digital Immigrants terminology, which was referred to in one of the readings. The class discussion started with a great deal of endorsement for the digital native term. Slowly, as more examples were brought up by students, that endorsement faded a bit. Was I just pushing my own beliefs onto them? I believe that Prensky was a visionary in getting folks to think about today’s kids and the skills many (but not all) bring to school. But I also believe that way too many teachers have used, “I’m a digital immigrant” as an excuse for not trying new things or thinking in new ways.
Some students with a science background talked about how stunned they were to learn that the science databases they used in their undergraduate programs were paid for by the library. They had never used the library (they thought), as their perception was that the science departments paid for the databases. What does that tell us about how we brand the databases to which we subscribe?
In office hours, a student was asking about how to break the, “I’m a boring librarian here to give you a boring lecture about databases” trope. I thought about things like using student-friendly examples, greeting folks at the door, and having an open attitude instead of a, “You guys are dumb for using Google but I’m here to show you why our library stuff is awesome.” We also talked about how much students struggle with topic definition and how to teach about this at an academic library reference desk when the students may not want a mini-lesson but just the answer, please.
Another office-hour visitor is looking at synthesis as her project module. We talked about how her students might need a metaphor to help them see the difference between fact-gathering and synthesis. (She eventually came up with an awesome one: Lady Gaga’s meat dress is a great example of synthesis. Meat + fashion + the Gaga team’s inventiveness = something new we’ve never seen before. We tossed out — but eliminated — ideas like fan fiction (she warned that there’s just too much s*x in most of those to make them a useful classroom example), Gwen Stefani’s “Wind it Up” take on Sound of Music‘s “Lonely Goatherd,” referenced in Lankes’ Atlas of New Librarianship (her community college students might know Stefani’s work but weren’t likely to know Sound of Music). The Martha Stewart example I’ve used with school librarians before? Again, not quite the cultural vibe needed. We wrestled with ideas like, “What’s the difference between summarizing and synthesis?” and the big one, “How do you teach all of this online?”
I’m also thinking about organizing the observations and field experiences. Sometimes, a student does all of the field work in one place; sometimes in two. Plus, balancing career goals with the slots we have and the areas where we need folks to observe is important. Class is not the same as an internship.
I’m also thinking of how awesome it is that folks are adding articles that might relate to course content to our class Diigo group. While one or two were articles or sites I’ve visited before, they’re also churning up new stuff that I haven’t seen before. One student-found blog post references a study that we tend, when searching, only to look for things that substantiate what we belive … so having people contribute from numerous perspectives helps all of us stay alert and get a more well-rounded view of information literacy.
INFOGRAPHICS. I love ‘em, these graphical representations of data, but I’m chewing on whether or not the creation of infographics is worth the time they take up in students’ academic days. How do most infographics (lists of facts) differ from the PowerPoint lists of facts that we have been working to get away from, except that they have gotten a fashion makeover? Gnaw, gnaw, gnaw.
Well, folks, that’s what’s been on this prof’s mind. Readers, we’d love to know what you are thinking about related to information literacy.
PS – For those of you curious about Gwen Stefani’s yodelrrific tune: