Practice, Practice, Practice

The semester is drawing to a close at my college and students in the information literacy course that I’m teaching are deep into their work on their final projects. I’m taking a breath before the grading begins and already starting to reflect on the semester: what worked well, what didn’t, what I’ll tweak over the summer and what I can use again in the fall.

One thing has been apparent since my students turned in their annotated bibliographies last month. To put it bluntly: their sources are awesome. Each of them has found solid information on their research topics from a wide variety of sources including scholarly books and articles, conference proceedings, academic websites, specialized reference materials, newspapers, magazines, blogs, and other internet sources. I can honestly say that it was a delightful experience to read their bibliographies.

The students chose topics of interest to them which definitely seems to have helped them embrace the research process. But I think that the main reason they were able to find such excellent sources is time. We had time over the course of the semester to explore where information comes from; how and by whom it’s produced and distributed; how to search for, find, and evaluate it. We also spent time discussing when to use different kinds of information, for example, when it’s appropriate to use a journalistic source and when it’s better to find something scholarly. Like the old joke about Carnegie Hall, this semester my students had time to practice.

I don’t know that I’ve emerged on the other side of this assignment believing that credit-bearing courses are the one and only best way to teach information literacy, but my experiences this semester have certainly been eye-opening. It’s not that taking one course magically creates information literate students — as with English Composition courses and writing, this is just the beginning. But I do feel that the students have built a solid foundation that will serve them well as their information competencies continue to develop over the rest of their time in college and, I hope, throughout their lives.

Realistically, it would be difficult at my college to require an information literacy course of all students; there just aren’t enough available credits in most degree programs. So another thing I’ll be thinking on over the summer is how to port some of the successful strategies I used during the course over to the one-shot sessions that still represent most of the library and information literacy instruction we provide. And I’m hopeful that strategies from both kinds of instruction can continue to evolve and inform each other.

Author: Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

4 thoughts on “Practice, Practice, Practice”

  1. Hi Maura,

    It sounds like you had a great experience with your students. How many credits is you I L class worth? Does it run the whole semester?

    I teach a one credit I L class that runs the whole semester. I too make changes and enhancements each semester and evaluate what worked and what didn’t. Would mind sharing your syllabus? Iwould love to see it.

  2. Congratulations, Maura! I think one of the nicest things about the credit course version of information fluency instruction is the ability to see the results and evaluate accordingly. For the one-shots, we have to ask professors for bibliographies, or devise some other strategy.

    I agree with the practice mantra. I used a class wiki for a course on Harry Potter I taught this year (out of Religious Studies), and required students to make at least 2 entries each week for citations they found dealing with H.P. and religion. They soon realized that after the “low-hanging fruit” was exhausted, that’s when they got into the REALLY interesting material. So I got to teach a bit of information fluency along with my religious studies material!

  3. The class is 3 credits and runs for the entire semester. I agree: it’s nice to have the opportunity to change things mid-stream during the course if need be. I’m happy to share my syllabus — it’s on our course blog here:

    It’s nice to hear about your class wiki, Marilyn — that’s a great example of integrating information literacy into a course. I’ve worked with a few faculty members on things like that and hope to do more in the future. (Also, Harry Potter and religion is a fascinating topic for a course!)

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