Teaching the Nature of “Truth”

There’s an interesting viewpoint piece by Amy Bruckman in the December issue of Communications of the ACM, “Student Research and the Internet” that looks at teaching students not just how to find sources and recognize differences in format, but to have a better sense of how to evaluate them: “students won’t really learn to navigate the worldwide Internet-based information space until we teach them a bit about the nature and organization of knowledge.”

Even something published online in an extermely informal venue may have a degree of credibility, depending on the source of the idea and the people who have responded to it. The latest meme on Slashdot.org may be highly credible, but something that looks like a formal article but appears on a Web site of a fringe organization may have no credibility at all. These are subtle and complicated judgments.

She asks students to articulate their reasons for their beliefs so that even those with opposing perspectives can understand where they’re coming from. She also requires her students to use at least one book.

It’s an interesting article, but demonstrates something we all know: a lot of faculty don’t think of librarians as partners in this sort of learning. At least in this case, there’s no mention of the author’s library resources, human or in terms of collections – other than books.

By the way, I couldn’t link to this article since it’s not open access. But you can probably find it in your library.

About Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

2 thoughts on “Teaching the Nature of “Truth”

  1. I’m just wondering if Bruckman is thinking she’s discovered a new concept here – teaching students to achieve higher quality research. You’ve pointed out that there’s an obvious disconnect going on here between the faculty and the librarians – at this institution at least. However, I do like the idea of a faculty member who wants to integrate learning how to do better research into her course. Now how can we create the partnership.

  2. That’s the critical question. What’s funny is that for this faculty member the findings of the OCLC survey hold true. For her the library means “books.” I said earlier “what’s wrong with that?” – well, I guess in this case what’s wrong with it is that library does not also mean “people who care about the same things I do and are working hard on the same problems I am.”

    Two schools of thought tend to form up on the ILI-L discussion list. I think it’s fair to say nobody is satisfied that a canned fifty-minute session on how to use the library gets us very far. There is one camp that believes the answer is to offer our own courses that lay the fundamentals of information literacy in depth and in a meaningful way. Another camp (and I’m in it) believes it has to be a partnership with faculty and embedded in the disciplines. But it’s hard for faculty in the disciplines, even when they want to, to work collaboratively. Our curricular structures generally favor teaching as a solitary pursuit, the classroom as a place controlled by a single teacher. I wonder if we shouldn’t be spending more of our information literacy efforts on faculty development and less on “getting into the classroom” by offering fifty-minute sessions that, because they are so limited, barely connect searching with making good choices.

    One thing we really need to let go of is the notion that teaching “the nature and organization of knowledge” means teaching how libraries organize it. They aren’t the same thing.

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