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.

Siva Vaidhyanathan on Outsourcing Risk

There’s an interesting piece in the Chron by Siva Vaidhyanathan – “A Risky Gamble with Google.” He argues that what some think is a David and Goliath story of Google versus big publishing is really more of a fight between Godzilla and Megalon.

He points out that the contract Google signed with U Mich does not protect patron privacy. “I know many librarians who would rather go to jail than reveal my borrowing habits to suspicious snoops. I doubt I can count on Google’s employees to be as committed to user confidentiality.” (By the way, when I wrote about this topic for Library Issues I contacted John Wilkin, Associate University Librarian, who said Google’s privacy policy was consistent with Internet business practices. In fact, that’s debatable – but what’s even more debatable is whether business practices are relevant in a library context.)

But what really worries him is that libraries are partnering with a huge for-profit corporation to “bet the Internet” on a copyright battle that could go wrong. Libraries have outsourced risk – and let Google lay claim to our social and technical role in society. He worries that in so doing, Google will “displace the library from our lives.”

The presumption that Google’s powers of indexing and access come close to working as a library ignores all that libraries mean to the lives of their users. All the proprietary algorithms in the world are not going to replace them. There was a reason why Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, and others of their generation believed the republic could not survive without libraries. They are embodiments of republican ideals. They pump the blood of a democratic culture, information . . . Whichever side wins in court, we as a culture have lost sight of the ways that human beings, archives, indexes, and institutions interact to generate, preserve, revise, and distribute knowledge. We have become obsessed with seeing everything in the universe as “information” to be linked and ranked. We have focused on quantity and convenience at the expense of the richness and serendipity of the full library experience. We are making a tremendous mistake.

Well . . . I don’t know about that. We haven’t seen our libraries empty out as information goes online. I think libraries are as likely to be discovered as books are by their collections being searchable. Books will remain a viable format for sustained reading and engagement with ideas even if their contents can be found in snippets online.

But when it comes to the core values libraries have surrendered in order to let Google represent them in court – that’s certainly worth thinking about.

Follow Up To Gaming Post

Last week I posted (“ Connecting With Generation Xbox“)about trends in gaming and how this cultural phenomenon is impacting – or may be impacting in the future – on higher education. Whether you think it’s something to which academic libraries need to pay serious attention or it’s just a bunch of hooey, there’s no denying that there’s a segment within higher education that is already integrating game playing into the teaching and learning process. The big question is in what ways will academic libraries contribute to that – if at all. I asked ACRLog readers to take part in a completely unscientific and informal survey about attitudes and responses to gaming. I want to thank the 55 respondents for taking time to respond, and for their informative comments. Rather than take up space here with the results of the survey, I’ve created a separate and temporary page for those are interested in learning more about what the respondents had to say. There were some great comments and I wish I had the time and space to post them all, but I think the sampling provided will demonstrate the range of reactions to the gaming issue.

IL Catches the Wave

The Association of American Colleges and Universities has published a new report, Liberal Education Outcomes: A Preliminary Report on Student Achievement in College. The report “documents the emerging consensus among educators, the business community, and the accreditation community about a set of key learning outcomes that are essential for all college students in the 21st century.”

Information literacy is one of the handful of key learning outcomes.

I know, we’ve been making waves about this for years, but now – hey, surf’s up! We seem to be reaching a point where information literacy is widely recognized as a key part of what it means to be educated. This is likely to be a widely-read document. Time to place a few strategic calls, ask some of your favorite power brokers to have a cup of coffee. We made the wave, now let’s catch it.

Another finding of the report is that “little national data is available on how well students are achieving these key outcomes.” They find some value in standardized testing, but it’s not the only answer.

[T]he best evidence about students’ level of achievement on liberal education outcomes will come from assessment of students’ authentic and complex performances in the context of their most advanced studies: research projects, community service projects, portfolios of student work, supervised internships, etc. Institutions can and should use a common framework of liberal education outcomes to report externally on students’ level of accomplishment, but they should help the public understand that the standards for advanced accomplishment take different forms in different fields. The key accountability question to ask of campuses is whether they currently expect all their students to undertake complex projects and capstone assignments that are assessed for advanced liberal education outcomes.

All of which suggests we might want to make sure information literacy is part of our institutions’ common framework and that we become as aware as we can of all the assessment initiatives on our campuses that might help us find in student work the evidence that we’ve made a difference – and where we may need to improve.