Category Archives: Information Literacy

Across Divides: Librarian as Translator

Editor’s Note: We welcome Jennifer Jarson to the ACRLog team. Jennifer is the Information Literacy and Assessment Librarian and Social Sciences Subject Specialist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. Her research interests include information literacy and student learning pedagogy and assessment, as well as issues regarding communication, collaboration, and leadership.

A few weeks ago, I facilitated a few discussion sessions with faculty at my institution who had participated in a recent information literacy study.  Together, we reviewed and interpreted some of the more significant themes of the study’s findings.  We discussed, for example, evidence of students’ competencies and sites of their struggles, our teaching and learning goals and the gaps between our goals and our realities, and so on.  As we identified areas of students’ disconnects, some faculty began to identify a disconnect of their own.  We need help, they said, to better understand conventions and ways of knowing outside our own disciplines.  We recognize that disciplines view and value source types differently, for example, or cite differently, but we don’t know how and why.  As the discussion continued, faculty described wanting to better understand the perspectives that students from different disciplinary backgrounds are bringing to their classes.  In core courses within their departments, faculty described comfort with their own disciplinary traditions, of course, traditions in which their students are becoming knowledgeable or are already well-versed.  Yet, in the increasingly interdisciplinary areas of our evolving liberal arts curriculum — first year seminars and cluster courses, to name a few — faculty described feeling a little more at sea.  So deeply steeped in their own disciplinary traditions, they asked for a little help interpreting other disciplines’ points of view and the varying research approaches through which students might be passing on the way to their classes.

This request — for librarian to operate as translator — is not unfamiliar territory.  We librarians frequently work as translators, as interpreters.  In fact, it seems rather like our home turf.  Facility with different ways of knowing and organization is our wheelhouse. Decoding those schema and perspectives for our different user groups is a language in which we’re fluent.  We interpret our users’ needs when we engage in a reference interview.  We translate their needs into search strategies to best fit database structures or into relevant subject headings in a catalog.  We interpret for students an assignment’s purpose or their professors’ expectations.  We interpret for faculty points of research/information literacy confusion and difficulty commonly experienced by students.  We decipher for users the elements of citations and clarify their means of access.  The librarian-as-interpreter (or perhaps we should say negotiator?) paradigm holds in navigating relationships between faculty and student, faculty and faculty, discipline and discipline, and information resource and user.  It’s in my sphere of public services that I’ve given this topic most thought, but the librarian-as-translator trope doesn’t end there.  The parallel surely continues in cataloging, systems, web design, and beyond.

So what is it about librarians that situates us in this role?  And serves us well in it?  It’s the nature of our work itself, no doubt.  By working with our users, we see through their eyes.  It’s the philosophies and values at our profession’s core (Ranganathan, anyone?), however debated our philosophies might be.  With deep respect for our users and our resources alike, we aim to bridge the gaps between them.  It’s the nature of our location, at the intersections of so many points in our information ecologies and our campus landscapes.

Access to these points — these viewpoints, these skill sets — is not something to take lightly or ignore.  Our unique position affords us opportunities to reach across divides of perspectives, stakeholders, and disciplines.  At the same time, we must take care to evaluate our neutrality in such a position; we must recognize the role we play and our responsibilities in these acts of translation.  With an ear tuned accordingly, we can bring a diversity of voices to our varied campus tables.

What are you hearing?  For whom and how are you interpreting?  I would love to discuss your thoughts in the comments…

Using the New Framework to Teach Ferguson

In moments like the reaction to Brown’s death, we need more engagement, not less, and each of us has something to offer. –#FergusonSyllabus by David M. Perry

Last week, on November 24th, the grand jury of St Louis County announced their decision not to indict Darren Wilson for the August 9th murder of Michael Brown. A flurry of conversation and protest started. People began tweeting and media outlets started covering multiple cities across the nation (and the world) that were protesting in solidarity with Ferguson. London, Atlanta, Boston, New York, and Chicago were just a few that participated.

Amidst the tweets expressing outrage and shock about the decision, a conversation began about education, pedagogy, and the nation’s youth. Marcia Chatelain, an Assistant History Professor at Georgetown, had already started the conversation in late August with #FergusonSyllabus.  But the decision not to indict revitalized the conversation. More educators—of any level, from elementary school teachers to college professors—added suggestions under the hashtag. Moreover, blogs and media outlets started to curate the resources being shared and interview other educators about best practices for starting the Ferguson conversation.

A passage from Dissent illustrates the complexity and magnitude of the effort:

“A middle school teacher in Madison, Wisconsin had students review the grand jury evidence. Meanwhile, I had my students in Washington, D.C. connect the Ferguson decision to Rosa Parks’s activism in seeking trials for black women raped by white men in the South. Volunteers in Ferguson read books from #FergusonSyllabus to children—unexpectedly out of school again—at the local public library.”

Some of the most profound teaching recommendations (I think) came from instructors that were utilizing inquiry-based teaching models. By encouraging students to construct their own meaning and giving them a space to do, these instructors stimulated critical thinking, metacognition, and deep self-reflection in their students. One such example, from an instructor named Melissa, was featured in the New York Times Blog. Here are some of the insightful, open-ended questions she posed to her students:

  • What is justice?
  • How can we enforce it?
  • Who should enforce it?
  • What factors stand in the way of justice?
  • Do we need police? If so, what should be their job?
  • What role does/should the media play?
  • How did the media frame Michael Brown’s shooting and why? (Looking at various media outlets, including the New York Times obituary, which surprised me…)
  • Why do humans hold prejudices and how can we acknowledge them and move on?

The variety of topics introduced range from racism, housing inequality, and militarization of the police to international human rights. This movement has even gone beyond the humanities. PBS reported that science teachers were also challenging their students with issues surrounding Ferguson. One example included an instructor asking his students to learn more about tear gas and its effects on the human body.

Yet, the conversation—at least publically—on education and Ferguson has been almost silent in the library world. Some of the incredible #critlib folks mentioned it in passing in regards to critical pedagogy, but otherwise it is difficult to find other conversations. Many have rightfully acknowledged the Ferguson Public Library and their instrumental support of the community. But there still seems to be a gap in librarians’ conversation and sharing of resources, specifically among those of us that do instruction and work directly with students on information literacy.

And there is a need for our voices! The same PBS transcript featured the following conversation:

Jeffery Brown: You know, Liz Collins, you just said something a minute ago about determining the truth. When information is coming at us so quickly, especially in social media, there’s misinformation, right? How do you — how have you dealt with that?

Liz Collins: That’s so tricky and something that teenagers deal with all the time, because they love Twitter, and Facebook, and Instagram, and the information moves faster than the fact-checking. So, I think that’s an important lesson for them to learn across the board.  Just because you’re getting this information, who’s the source? How trustworthy is it? What’s that person or organization’s bias? What do they want you to think and why?And I think teaching them to challenge that and think about that goes beyond this issue, but also gives them a lens with which to approach this issue as more and more facts come out.  And every day, we’re learning more and more about what happened and having to sift through all those facts.  And I think teaching that skill is valuable in any subject and easily transferable. 

If this isn’t information literacy, folks, I don’t know what is. It might be a coincidence that ACRL released the third version of the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education exactly two weeks prior to the grand jury’s decision, but I think that we should see it as an opportunity.

Several pieces of the new Framework challenge us to teach students these exact skills. The issues in Ferguson can be a current, relevant, and important vehicle for students to explore their information literacy skills in. Here is an introductory list of the more salient examples in the newest document that could reflect issues specific to Ferguson as well as questions/ starting points librarians might use to form learning outcomes and activities:

Experts understand the need to determine the validity of the information created by different authorities and to acknowledge biases that privilege some sources of authority over others, especially in terms of others’ worldviews, gender, sexual orientation, and cultural orientations (lines 160-164) 

  • What type and/ or medium of information is privileged? What are some structural reasons for this?
  • How might you be an active member of the information ecosystem in combatting this privilege? What specific forms of communication might you use?
  • What modes of communication lend themselves to bias? How can you detect bias about current events like the issues in Ferguson?

Recognize that authoritative content may be packaged formally or informally and may include audio, visual, and other nonprint sources (lines 185-186)

  • Find an example of authoritative, visual content about Ferguson. What type of source is this (primary or secondary)? Why do you consider it authoritative?
  • Compare a tweet, blog post, and news source about Ferguson. Which one(s) are authoritative and why? Does authority always correlate with medium?

Understand the increasingly social nature of the information ecosystem where authorities actively connect with one another and sources develop over time (lines 191-192)

  • Find one conversation on Twitter that includes more than two people and has more than ten tweets. How were opinions changed? Were beliefs confirmed or challenged? Was anything cited and if so what impact did that have? 

Understand how and why some individuals or groups of individuals may be underrepresented or systematically marginalized within the systems that produce and disseminate information (lines 276-278)

  • Find one source where a protester is interviewed (not just photographed). How difficult was it? How is the protestor portrayed? How does this portrayal relate to the medium and/or the article’s author’s affiliation?

Employ critical skills to evaluate information; effectively resolve conflicting information; monitor gathered information and assess for gaps or weaknesses (lines 319-321)

  • Find two sources that express conflicting information about what happened between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. Where are gaps present in either? What sources do they have (eye witnesses, forensic evidence, etc.)? What conclusions did you reach and why?

This work is hard, especially if you only have one-shot sessions. But it’s still important. For those of us that would rather stick with looking at peer review or studying the information cycle, David B. Cohen has some wise words to offer. He challenges us to think about this singular time in history as well as what we want and expect our students, the future leaders of this country, to be able to do:

And for some students who will most certainly remember this time, we’ll have to explain why this particular event—and the tragic pattern in which it fits—that mattered so much to them was not worth our time, not considered educationally relevant (emphasis mine)

We must remind our students that both stories and information are not one-sided but instead very complex and contextual. Despite some technical flaws I (and others) might see in the Framework, it is clear our profession is moving in this direction. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie articulates what happens when people engage with only one story or perspective:

The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar- “The Danger of a Single Story”

As librarians, we must still continually remember that failing to teach students to be perceptive, empathetic critical thinkers has immense consequences for our entire society.

Note: It would be impossible for me to cover all of the brilliant blogs, tweets, and summaries of teaching material covering Michael Brown’s death within this forum. This is in no way an exhaustive list. Please feel free to explore more sources on your own and tailor the pedagogical conversation to your area of expertise.

Likewise, the ideas generated from passages in the Framework are merely starting points intended to start conversation. They are not meant to be prescriptive or exhaustive. Librarians should adapt these ideas (and other parts of the Framework) to best accommodate their teaching constraints and style.

Intentional teaching, intentional learning: Toward threshold concepts through reflective practice

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Jennifer Jarson, Information Literacy and Assessment Librarian at Muhlenberg College.

This fall marked the start of my tenth academic year as a librarian. It startles me, to say the least, to count up the years and arrive at (almost) ten. Having spent the majority of my career so far at a small college, I’ve been fortunate to be involved in a wide variety of projects. As a public services librarian, though, my attention has most frequently been directed to reference, instruction, and all things information literacy. It’s no surprise that, six-ish weeks into the semester, information literacy instruction is on my agenda and my mind.

Just the other week, a faculty member and I were chatting about our past versus present selves in the classroom. A critical eye back over the years dredges up some pretty squirm-worthy memories. Because they were performed in front of an audience of students and faculty, these mis-steps are especially embarrassing to bring to mind. I cringe to recall, for example, some excruciating moments in early years in which I droned on about the minutiae of search strategies, students’ eyes glazing over, drool practically trickling down their chins. I’m grateful, then, to look back and also recognize successes and, more importantly, evolution in my teaching. Perhaps it’s just those most awkward and agonizing of moments that best surface the need for change and fuel experimentation with alternate approaches.

For many, a protocol of reflection and experimentation, of trial and error, seems a natural drive. Yet demands on our time and attention might cause us to repeat an ineffective session because we don’t have the time to examine its inadequacies and restructure. Our many competing obligations might prevent us from effecting the more wholesale change we sometimes desire. In an effort to promote the “intentionality” of my reflection and experimentation, as Booth (2011) might say, and to pay it more of the attention it deserves, I’ve been compelling myself to make space for it, adding it to my to-do lists, to my annual goals. In years past, themes of my reflection-for-self-improvement-in-the-classroom regimen have included, for example, scaffolding skills to slow the pace adequately for students’ development and enhancing student engagement through more constructive (and constructivist) in-class activities. This intentional reflection is giving me the perspective and head space to uncover my assumptions and shortcomings and to motivate improvement, rather than revisit the same practice again and again for no good reason.

I don’t mean to claim that I’m reinventing any library instruction wheels. Far from it. But I do hope I’m oiling its sometimes rusty squeak for a smoother, more productive and engaging ride that takes us all (student, faculty, and librarian alike) a little further down the pike. As are you, I don’t doubt. How I will feel in another ten years when I look back on yesterday’s class or today’s blog post, even, is up for grabs. But on we march. And thank goodness for this drive forward, for the chance to reflect, learn from these shortcomings, and try again. Moment to moment, class to class, semester to semester. Small or large, these steps trend toward progress.

As I reflect on my practice in this particular year, then, I think that what I’m trying to teach—and where I’m still coming up short—is the practice of reflection. Too often, I know I have focused on the how at the expense of the why. I long ago moved beyond the point-and-click method of library instruction. Yet despite my efforts thus far to model, scaffold, and construct our way toward information literate, a connecting piece seems to be still sometimes missing. When I look back now to find my in-class nods to the what for, I better recognize their nuance and how hard it must have been for inexperienced students to catch them, decode them. While my modeling and scaffolding certainly have had the why at their core, many students haven’t had the frame of reference to recognize its presence. I want to uncover for students the habits of mind—the “knowledge practices” and “dispositions,” so to speak—of information literacy, not just the clickpaths to mimic it.

So this year I’m looking to add reflective, metacognitive moments to help expose rationales, purposes, and processes for students. With the metacognitive mindset made visible, I hope students will develop a more flexible information literacy lens to apply to their future paths. I think this is a strength of the new (draft) Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: highlighting the reflective practice and metacognitive mettle at the core of information literacy. Metacognitive awareness is, no surprise to us, inherent in information literacy skills and development; the new draft framework helps us to enhance its prominence.

Now to the business of actually doing this. How, you might ask? Good question. I wish I had more answers. So far I’m trying to integrate more direct discussion of process and purpose into my classes. I’m trying to lay bare for students the practice, reflection, and progression that complicates this work, but also connects the gaps, that brings them closer to crossing the threshold. And I’m trying to work with faculty to extend this work beyond the limitations of single, isolated library sessions. I see some successes so far, but it feels more than a little premature to claim I’ve conquered such a problem. By their nature, these concepts and this work are complex and protracted. For now, I am (mostly) satisfied to be working on it.

I feel I can’t so much as stick a toe into these waters without at least a nod to their expansiveness. I imagine you recognize, too, the shared roles of librarians and faculty in this kind of information literacy instruction. These are not topics and goals isolated to a one-shot instruction session. This is the work of not one class, but many. This is the work not only of librarians, but of faculty, too. We work to establish the library as a leader in information literacy on our campuses, but it’s also our aim to recognize the extensive information literacy work that takes place outside the library-instruction-specific classroom. Our ambitions to promote shared faculty and librarian understanding of information literacy, common investment in students’ learning, and opportunities for collaboration and curricular development are ever more relevant.

As I recognize the role of intentional reflection in my own development, then, I’m struck to see its place of primacy in my teaching goals, as well. I might typically brush this aside as a self-apparent truth requiring no further deliberation. In my reflection-oriented state, though, I’m more inclined to pause for a moment and consider the parallels of these themes in information literacy teaching and in information literacy learning. With my ongoing push (some days it’s a bit more like a shove) into an intentionally reflective practice, I’m aiming to improve student learning as a more effective, responsive, and flexible instructor. I’m simultaneously aiming for a congruent push toward a reflective and metacognitive student mentality to tip their scales toward greater engagement and transformation. As Townsend, Brunetti, and Hofer (2011) wrote, it’s these “big ideas that make information science exciting and worth learning about.”

What about you? What are you uncovering and developing in your pedagogy? What roles have reflection, metacognition, and threshold concepts played in your instructional evolution? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

All the News, In Print

My household recently started getting the print edition of our local newspaper again. I know what you’re thinking: Really? Print? In 2014? When everyone in the house is fortunate enough to have a device on which they could read the electronic version (if they were so inclined)?

I’m old enough that I’ve spent most of my life getting the news from a print newspaper until relatively recently. When I moved into an apartment with friends halfway through college, ordering up daily newspaper delivery made it seem like we were truly adults despite a diet consisting mostly of boxed mac and cheese. My partner and I kept getting the paper delivered when we moved to graduate school and jobs, even as the paper got somewhat smaller and slimmer. And then it suddenly seemed like too much — all that paper to haul downstairs to the recycling every week, especially on the weekends, with sections we didn’t even read. The newspaper website had the same content and didn’t cost anything, so we canceled our subscription. Eventually the paywalls went up so we bought a digital subscription.

And there we stayed until recently. About two weeks ago, to be exact. What changed my mind? My kid is finishing up middle school this year, and I wanted to see if he would pick up and read the newspaper if it was left physically around the house. He could read it digitally, as do my partner and I, but he doesn’t. We tell him about big news stories, and he sometimes has to find a newspaper article or editorial for school, but that’s about it for his encounters with the paper. And since we don’t tend to watch the news on TV, he doesn’t have any regular exposure to news other than what he seeks out (while he reads a lot online, he tends to gravitate more to video game news than current events news).

It’s been really interesting to go back to the print newspaper. Some things I’ve noticed:

  • I now read or skim a larger number of articles than I used to when I read the paper solely online, and in (some) sections that I often would more or less skip. But that also takes longer, and the result is that I typically can’t get through the entire paper at breakfast and have to leave some sections for the evening.
  • It’s much, much easier to browse through the newspaper in its physical form. This is good for my kid, because his science teacher has requested that he and his classmates each find a science article in the paper every week. The images are better too — there are more of them, and you don’t have to click to embiggen like on the website (which often means I don’t take the time for that click).
  • In general I hate advertising, but I appreciate the ads much more in the paper paper than online. It seems like there are ads that don’t make it to the website — mainly political ads — which is interesting. And the juxtaposition of news and ad content can be fascinating: my favorite was a recent story about New York City’s “poor doors” — an awful proposal for separate entrances in apartment buildings with both market-rate and affordable housing — right across from a full-page spread advertising a new luxury building. I know these kinds of contrasts occur on the website too, but I find it easier to tune out the ads online so I guess I don’t notice them as much.
  • Some of the non-news content that the paper (still!) runs was a complete surprise. Weather I can see the value in, though it seems like the weather’s so changeable now that even printing the forecast the night before could be of limited use. But TV listings! For all of the channels! Movie times! At all of the theaters! Who knew they’re still in the paper? I’ve been racking my brain for a use case for those listings — it seems unlikely to me that there are folks out there who’d only have access to or would rather get that information from the print newspaper.

All of this means that I’m suddenly finding myself very nostalgic for the age of paper newspapers in our academic libraries. I know they’re impractical for a whole range of reasons (so I’m not really serious about their return), but I do think they’re better for students in a number of ways. Yes, our students can browse and search the websites for their local newspapers, and they’ll often get the full text and at least some of the photos that accompany the article. But they lose the context provided by the layout of the physical page and the section and location in which the articles appear. And if they use a library database to search multiple newspapers simultaneously they’ll get lots of content but even less context: no images, and no visual cues as to what audience the newspaper seeks. I can’t imagine that print newspapers will ever come back to academic libraries, but I wonder what we can do to bring the positive aspects of the print experience to our students’ use of online newspapers?

Embedding, Flipping, and More at LOEX 2014

I was fortunate to be able to attend the LOEX Conference this year, which took place May 8-10 in Grand Rapids, MI. I have only ever heard great things about this conference, and accordingly, I had a great experience.

This was my first time attending the LOEX Conference and I only became aware of it recently (within the past year). Many readers here will likely be familiar with LOEX, but for those who aren’t, LOEX stands for Library Orientation Exchange and it is a “self-supporting, non-profit educational clearinghouse for library instruction and information literacy information.” The annual conference has earned a reputation for being particularly relevant and exciting for instruction and information literacy librarians, as attested by the many people I met who were either multiple-time attendees, or thrilled to finally get to go to the conference.

I went into the conference with high expectations, which were met and exceeded. The two days were full of presentations and workshops that are extremely relevant to my work, and with ideas I can incorporate by making small changes. I love coming away with new ideas that are practical, so I can actually implement them myself. Here are some things that the LOEX Conference got me thinking about:

Embedding

A few presentations focused on embedded librarianship in one way or another. “Embedded” often refers to being embedded in an online course, but these conversations also brought up ways to extend the library’s presence beyond the one-shot, without necessarily being embedded online. For example, librarians can collaborate with faculty to redesign a course or a central assignment. That sounds like it can be a huge task (to me, at least), but some possibilities for integrating information literacy outside of the one-shot could be having students do a reflection paper about their research process, introducing concept mapping to develop literature reviews, or discussing with faculty how information literacy fits in with their own disciplinary content and pedagogical goals.

Another opportunity to be more embedded comes as a solution to a common problem – when you receive a request for instruction at the very beginning of the semester, clearly not at the point-of-need. Of course, try to schedule the instruction session at a time when students will benefit more from the information, but you could also visit the classroom at the initial request for a short 5-10 minute introduction of yourself and the library. This would increase students’ familiarity with a librarian and allow you to build a relationship with students prior to the one-shot session, an important connection which I think can go a long way. If the initial classroom visit gets too time-intensive, it could be replaced by a re-usable introduction video.

Flipping

During the interactive session on the flipped classroom, my group ended up talking about student buy-in and accountability: what do you do when students come to class having not done the pre-assignment or reading? One answer is to plan ahead with faculty so that the pre-assignment can be added to their syllabus, thus adding more accountability. My first reaction to this idea was that there is no way I can have instruction sessions planned out far enough in advance to be added to a syllabus. However, I now think this could take the form of a more general statement, for example:  “At least one class session will be led by a librarian to introduce you to library resources and assist with research skills. This may require a pre-assignment.” This leads to another point that the presenters stressed as important for a successful flipped classroom: identifying faculty who will be supportive. It’s less likely that students will see value where their instructor doesn’t.

That session also served as a great reminder for me that flipping the class should not be an opportunity to cram in more information, but an opportunity to cover a topic more in depth through the use of a pre-assignment and in-class active learning. I realized that the one time I somewhat-flipped the classroom, it was because I didn’t have time to cover everything I wanted to. I sent a video tutorial for them to watch ahead of time, and it was just an add-on, rather than an enhancement.

And More

These are really just a few things that I came away with after LOEX, and it’s already my longest post here yet. Some other useful ideas I picked up had to do with active learning assessment, design recommendations for online tutorials, and reflecting on and improving teaching strategies.

I constantly had a tough time deciding which session to attend, because they all looked good. By scrolling through the conference hashtag (#loex2014) on Twitter, I could tell that was the case. One thing I didn’t expect was how much I enjoyed the interactive sessions. Although I didn’t think I would want to interact very much, I ended up loving how they facilitated conversation and sharing of ideas with new people.

It was great to attend a conference for academic librarians that was so focused on instruction and information literacy, and I definitely hope to go to the LOEX Conference again sometime.