Monthly Archives: November 2008

IL Course Credit Does Not Equal Credibility

I can’t argue with many of the points William Badke makes in his infolitland column in the November/December 2008 issue of Online (subscription required) titled “Ten Reasons to Teach Information Literacy for Credit.” All of Badke’s ten reasons will gain full support from any information literacy advocate. Everything from driving students to higher quality information resources to creating greater awareness about library e-resources to providing authentic learning opportunities and even the value of our old friend lifelong learning – it’s all good. I only have two issues with Badke’s article. First, with most of his points he’s preaching to the choir. Faculty and administrators are the ones who need to hear his arguments, and not too many of them read Online. Second, I’m not convinced that creating for-credit information literacy courses or modules is going to achieve our end goal – integrating information literacy into and across the curriculum. Done right, information literacy can be credible – no credits necessary.

There are two basic models for delivering information literacy; compartmentalized and distributed. My reading of the information literacy research suggests the distributed model, in which information literacy is integrated into courses across many disciplines and spread throughout the student’s academic career – starting with freshman reading/writing courses and ending in the capstone – has proven effectiveness. Badke may disagree with that observation because he writes that his courses “lead to consistent and and relatively permanent attainment of both knowledge and skills that match the ACRL standards for information literacy.” If he’s getting successful results that’s great, but I’m not sure it can be generalized to compartmentalized approaches to information literacy. The true power of the curriculum-integrated distributed model is its direct relevance to the student’s disciplinary work. Whether he or she is an english or business major, what they are learning about research skills is directly connected to their assignments – not ones constructed by librarians outside the subject major. The great challenge of the distributed model is that creating a successful initiative can take years, lots of effort and will have difficulty suceeding without significant faculty collaboration – particularly in the area of designing appropriate assignments.

The compartmentalized model is more typically the standalone for-credit course. Logistically it can be a bit more complicated to build it into the academic schedule; at large institutions it is also a challenge to have enough librarians available to teach all the sections needed for hundreds of students. But the dedicated information literacy course clearly gives librarians more control over the content and much more student time is devoted to developing information literacy skills. The real challenge is whether it’s required or not. From his article I take it that Badke’s institution has a three-credit IL course, but that it’s not required. He refers to the experience of a student who took the course and one who didn’t. If the course is not required just exactly what makes us think students will rush to register for it? Another downside to the credit-bearing IL course is that once it’s over it’s over. The problems come when faculty point to the course and develop a “the librarians teach information literacy in their credit course so the students learn everything about it there – I don’t need to deal with it” mentality. So students get some authentic learning in the librarian’s course, but then there’s little in the way of reinforcement in their disciplinary courses. Faculty just ingnore information literacy. It then becomes an awkward appendage to the curriculum which some students take, other don’t and for which faculty take no responsibility.

Why the assumption that information needs to be taught for credit to give it credibility? I think what Badke is suggesting is that faculty will buy into the idea of information literacy as a legitimate academic subject only if we can convince the curriculum committee members to allow us to teach it as a full credit-bearing course. For one thing, you could get your way and have an information literacy course for credit, and still have faculty who scoff at the idea of giving academic credit for an information literacy course. In fact, they may grow even more resentful about information literacy as a stand-alone course because it means there are fewer credits students can apply to courses in their discipline. So I’m reluctant to believe there is a connection between credit and credibility. If credibility is what we seek it may be better to pay attention to what David Watt had to say about the faculty view of information literacy. His point was that if we want faculty to really respect what information literacy is all about – and Badke does an outstanding job of presenting the case for why it is critical to student academic success – it may be best to focus on the hope of faculty for their students rather than trying to sell them on the merits of information literacy programs. By focusing on our common goals for student academic success, and through collaboration in and out of the classroom, I think we’ll make more progress with faculty. I don’t really care whether a faculty member thinks information literacy is a credible academic subject. As long as he or she is allowing me to participate in their course to integrate research skill building and weave it course assignments, then all that matters is that together we are enabling students to achieve designated information literacy learning outcomes.

Let’s not forget that higher education is expensive. Students and their parents may question, justifiably so, spending what could be the equivalent of thousands of dollars on a library research course. I’m not saying I don’t think it’s valuable. I’m just questioning how it will be perceived by important constituents. So let’s avoid getting into that debate. Let’s instead concentrate our efforts on integrating information literacy skill building into the existing course structure, and over time create a learning environment in which faculty can accept responsibility for information literacy education. My long-term version for information literacy is that it will not need to be a course or a module or anything else that is distinct from what students are otherwise doing in their coursework. It should be as transparent to the student as possible. A student would never be in a situation where he or she is given the option to learn how to be information literate – or needs to make a choice about taking a for-credit research course – or worse being forced to expend valuable course credits on such a course. Rather, it is just simply an integral component of what they learn in their courses – and faculty are largely the ones communicating the knowledge and skills.

Whichever side of this fence you sit on I would commend Badke’s article to you. It reminds us why information literacy is so important to our students and our future role in higher education. I imagine that as a profession we will continue to debate the best ways to accomplish our common goals for information literacy.

What You Can Do In Seattle With Just 36 Hours

Those academic librarians who travel to Seattle for ACRL’s 14th National Conference will be there, on average, about 60 hours. According to the New York Times that will leave plenty of time to explore the city of Seattle. A travel section article offers a diverse listing of fun things to do and see in downtown Seattle in just 36 hours. That leaves more than enough time to catch a couple of the keynote and invited speakers, a panel session or two, mix with the poster session crowds and still experience Seattle. The article provides a nice mix of the obvious tourist things not to miss while in Seattle, along with some lesser known attractions. It even points folks to the Seattle Public Library. For those going to Seattle for the first time I’d recommend leaving some time (a half-day should suffice) for a side visit to Bainbridge Island - which also gets you on the ferry.

As the article says, downtown Seattle is now more like its own neighborhood and less like a place to go see the Space Needle.

Digital Scholarship Reconsidered

In 1990 Ernest Boyer made an important contribution to the literature of higher education by authoring the book Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. Boyer’s material was based on the results of a 1989 survey of faculty across the nation sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Boyer said we must “…break out of the tired old teaching versus research debate and define, in more creative ways, what it means to be a scholar”. He described four types of scholarship in order to expand higher education’s thinking about what it meant to produce scholarly work; it needn’t be defined only by scholarly monographs or publications in high-impact peer review journals. Boyer suggested that teaching, application, and integration (of existing knowledge) could be as important to the advancement of knowledge and higher eduction as the scholarship of discovery. While Boyer’s work is considered a classic of higher education literature and is essential reading for academic librarians, the ideas in the book never really had much of an impact – at least not in the ways for which Boyer had hoped. Instead the academic community, has for the most part, stayed true to its one narrow vision of scholarship – the scholary journal article or book.

Fast foward to 2008. A new report by the Ithaka Group explores how faculty make use of digital scholarly resources for their research, and some of these resources expand the notion of the phrase “scholarly resource.” In the report Current Models of Digital Scholarly Communication authors Nancy Maron and Kirby Smith explore the range of digital resources being used by scholars for their research. These resources include e-only journals, data, blogs, and discussion forums. About blogs, the report says they are “being put to interesting use by scholars.” Blogs can contribute to scholarship by providing a forum for discussion. They let scholars share new research findings, and commentary can help shape or refine these new ideas. But their informality is also a weakness for true scholarly communication, as complete quality control is neither completely possible nor desirable. Still, blogs offer perhaps the lowest cost model for allowing (fast) scholarly communication. The tension between control/review and openess/informality will continue to challenge the ability of digital resources like blogs or scholarly social networks to obtain credibility as scholarly publications.

That many of the digitial publications covered in the report are not yet accepted as scholary resources is perhaps a benefit to academic libraries. That’s not to say this content isn’t valuable, but just imagine libraries having to take ownership of these digital scholarly resources. We have barely begun to figure out how to preserve e-journals or store and make accessible e-science data sets. Just try to envision our profession coming up with efficient mechanisms for the tracking, storage and preservation of the contents of blogs or scholarly social networks? Would we be up to the challenge? But before we need to cross that bridge the report suggests another role for academic librarians. The report says “By sharing knowledge about independent digital scholarly resources with faculty…librarians can help promote high-quality projects and build the audience for these resources.” While preservation is a challenge, for now the focus needs to be engaging our faculty in the possibility that scholarship could be broadened to allow for new definitions of scholarly resources in the rapidly expanding digital landscape. Who’s going to go first?

With a Tangled Skein

My library, and the branch campus where I work, is quite small and in a very rural part of Alabama.  We have about 250 students right now, though enrollment doubled since we opened the new building and we expect it to keep growing.  I’ve been quite busy the last few weeks with a new and rather odd trend, and I’m wondering if it’s demographically based or perhaps caused by a wierd atmospheric disturbance.  Students are coming to me to ask how to do assignments for other instructors.  I’ve gotten used to teaching basic computer literacy, “This is a mouse” or “this is how you print,” or “this is how you make Powerpoint print slides with six on a page.”  We are heavily invested in technology, and almost every class requires the students to do some work within our WebCT/Blackboard framework.  So of course I’m also answering a LOT of questions about how to attach documents and how to use the email system, but I expect that.  Recently, though, the threads of my library life have become a bit more knotty as it appears students are thinking I am nearly all-knowing.  Heh.

Two weeks ago I had a student come in and ask “I have this assignment due, can you tell me what I’m supposed to do?”  I said sure, assuming it was a research assignment and that she needed help with getting started.  Nope.  It was a math assignment.  And it wasn’t that she didn’t know how to print it out, or save it to her jump drive.  She wanted me to tell her how to do the math problems.  I was an English major in college and math is not so much my strong suit!  I recommended that she see her instructor.  She hemmed and hawed as though she thought I was holding back on her.  She was one of the students that I’d helped quite a bit with WebCT and Office 2007, so I suppose I can see why she thought I could be of assistance. Finally I explained that while I was quite capable as a librarian, her needs were of the kind that really should be addressed by her instructor.  She left, somewhat disgruntled, with a promise to me that she would talk to her teacher.

A few days later, I had a student ask me how to do a sociology assignment.  Not research, but answering technical questions about scatterplots and outliers.  ::she shivers::  Nursing students and bone structure, elementary education students and D’Nealian handwriting.  It keeps happening!  Today was the final straw – a student came in and wanted me to show her how to use a website that was required for an assignment.  The instructions were quite clear, and after just a moment I saw that it was a basic online survey to evaluate a student’s computer skills.  She seemed in a panic about what to do, and terrified that she would fail her computer class.  I had her read through the assignment out loud, making comments like “see, you go to this website” and “once you click on the link it takes you to a survey” and said that was really all I could do to help.  She really wanted me to stand there while she did it, but fortunately I had another student waiting at the desk which made for a convenient excuse.

I am fine with helping students navigate websites.  I am fine guiding them to information about D’Nealian handwriting, or telling them what reference book they can use to find a labeled skeleton or some statistical analysis definitions.  But where is the line to be drawn?  If I had walked her through using this website, I would’ve essentially DONE her assignment for her.  Whether by fate, luck, or blessing, I am not a nursing instructor, nor an early education instructor, and DEFINITELY not a math instructor.  But I am comfortable using computers and navigating online, so it’s harder for me to “say no” when students ask for help in those areas.  How do y’all handle students who want you to help them with everything – especially those things far outside your purview as a librarian – even when you may have some knowledge about the subject?

Empowering Our Users With Fair Use

Editor’s Note: Working at an academic institution in Philadelphia had its advantages recently for providing proximity to a significant event – the formal release of the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education. My colleague Kristina De Voe, Reference Librarian for English & Communications at Temple University, attended the event. Here she shares some observations and thoughts from the event, along with some useful links. Many thanks to Kristina for contributing this guest post.

On November 11, 2008 I attended the release event for the much anticipated Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education, a succinct, easy-to-understand document outlining the concepts and techniques for interpreting the copyright doctrine of fair use. Fittingly taking place at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center and coordinated by The Center for Social Media, The Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, and Temple University’s Media Education Lab, the event was attended by fair use stakeholders: educators, students, copyright lawyers, and librarians.

An archived stream of the event is available, but as media literacy maven Renee Hobbs and other panelists spoke on the significance of the Code in terms of both teaching and student learning, I was struck by their sheer call to action. Here is a document that we as librarians can use as a teaching and learning tool with our faculty, our students, and one another.

Whether helping faculty design amazing curricula or helping students with research projects, promoting a stronger culture of fair use within our institutions allows us to help empower our users in accessing and utilizing media rich resources – available from our libraries or elsewhere. It is no surprise to me that comments about the Code from librarians were celebratory (there were cries of “Hallelujah” and even “This rocked my word!”) because too often, I think, we become bogged down by the image of librarians as gatekeepers of information.

This code offers librarians a new role as well as a fresh way for integrating information literacy concepts into practice. For example, the organizers of the event created a corresponding wiki, “Unlocking Copyright Confusion,” filling it with curriculum materials for teaching about fair use, in addition to a space for continued dialogue. Joining in or simply starting a conversation about fair use with educators and fellow librarians just may lead to unexpected discoveries.