Faculty Involvement Makes All The Difference

In a previous post I expressed my vision for the future of information literacy – and in that vision it’s not the librarians teaching students the skills needed to be wise consumers of information – it’s the faculty. That’s why this Wired Campus post caught my attention. It’s about two faculty members who wrote a research guide for students, and who integrate some elements of information literacy (evaluating content) into their courses.

Students don’t research like they used to. And they have a hard time evaluating the credibility of information they find, both in print and online. At least that’s what two instructors at Mesa Community College saw in their courses. So the instructors, Rochelle L. Rodrigo and Susan K. Miller-Cochran, who is now an associate professor of English at North Carolina State University, wrote The Wadsworth Guide to Research, published this year by Cengage Learning. In November they presented some of their teaching strategies at the New Media Consortium’s Rock the Academy symposium, in Second Life.

Ms. Miller-Cochran talked to The Chronicle about how to help students determine when a source is reliable. She emphasizes the need for students to learn how to think critically about their information searches. In her class students learn about the publication process, and that leads them to better understand the difference between popular and scholarly literature – whatever format it is in. She said:

The most immediate difference is that my students don’t go to Wikipedia or Google first. When they come into class, that is usually their MO. Now they’re much more likely to go to a library database, for example. And when they use the library database, they might choose the option to search only for scholarly articles.

When I read a statement like this coming from a faculty member it pretty much validates, for me, everything I’ve said and written in the last 10 years about the vital role faculty can play in changing student research behavior when they make it a priority and integrate it into their course material. Just consider the amount of time Miller-Cochran’s students must spend on research skill development compared to an instructor who invites in a librarian to offer a one-time instruction session. And we know that students place enormous trust in what faculty tell them. As expected there were multiple comments to this post from librarians communicating a “we’re here to help you” message.

Then shortly after this article appeared, Inside Higher Ed came up with another example of faculty designing an information literacy component into their course. In an article about changes in the teaching of history at community colleges we learned that some faculty are “focusing on basic information literacy and research skills, which their students tend to lack.” Could our faculty colleagues finally be getting the message? We learn that Brian Casserly of North Seattle Community College uses assignments in a U.S. survey history course to teach the basics of conducting research and writing a research paper. I wish more faculty would consider taking on greater responsibility for teaching research skills in their courses as Casserly does.

But I can imagine some information literacy and instruction librarians asking themselves “if faculty do ever fully integrate this into their courses and teach it without me – what will I do for a living?” The possibility of librarians being made obsolete by faculty following the examples described above, I think, is highly unlikely. But even if the majority of faculty did, I think that academic librarians would still be needed to support the development and design of instructional activity and digital-learning materials. Our new opportunity would be back-end support – making sure faculty were up-to-date on the e-resources and well equipped with the tools to integrate them into their courses. This could be a whole new growth area for librarian educators. That’s where I’ve advocated the growing importance of instructional design and technology in the work of librarians. I don’t know exactly where academic librarians will be in the future, but if it wasn’t at the front of the classroom that would be fine with me – as long as we play a role in what happens there.

5 thoughts on “Faculty Involvement Makes All The Difference”

  1. Amen. I’m always bemused that we shy away from information literacy for faculty (not that they’re ignorant – but they may appreciate the help with keeping up with new interfaces, tools, approaches) and that we don’t spend more effort creating spaces and opportunities for faculty to sit down and share ideas about how to do information literacy in their courses. Those libraries that provide faculty development find it’s far more effective for supporting the whole range of information literacy than the limited “can you meet my class next Wednesday and explain how to use X database?” collaboration.

    If we diverted 25% of the time we spend talking to other librarians about information literacy and spent it talking with faculty….

  2. Thanks for the nice note about Susan and I! And I’ll second the various comments about chatting it up with the faculty. This semester our librarians at Mesa Community College are doing a series of faculty workshops about the various different databases.
    Keep up the good fight!

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