April 19th Provisions Session Summary: “Teaching Information Literacy in the Age of Google”

**The access the audio recording from the session, click here!**

Our last Provisions session of the Spring Semester explored the theme of” Teaching Information in the Age of Google.” Presenters shared previous experience with teaching courses dealing with literacy, and effective strategies for improving success for a diverse range of college students. An audience of approximately 35 faculty and staff members attended to hear presentations from Steve Black, LibrarianCailin Brown, Department of Communications, and a joint presentation from Elizabeth Yanoff, Department of Teacher Education and Mary Lindner, Librarian. 

Steve Black from the Library kick started the session by presenting on “Information Literacy: An evolving perspective.” Steve first provided the audience with an overview of the new definition, standards, and framework for the evolving category of “Information Literacy.” Information literacy can be defined as “a cluster of interconnected core concepts, with flexible options for implementation, rather than a set of standards or learning outcomes, or any prescriptive enumeration of skills.” This new definition of information literacy is brand new, as it was just recently adopted in January. Steve stated that following the evolving definition, information literacy is now more difficult to assess in practice. Included in the new framework for information literacy are:

  • Threshold concepts, which are like “aha moments”
  • Authority, which is considered both constructed and contextual, as opposed to strictly peer reviewed articles
  • Information creation is a process and has value
  • Research should be inquiry based
  • Scholarship as conversation, meaning that students should contribute to the knowledge conversation
  • Searching as strategic exploration

Next to present was Cailin Brown from the Department of Communications. Cailin started off by explaining how she introduces the concept of journalism to her students. She discusses the elements of journalism and then asks her students, “why journalism?” Throughout the course, Cailin will take her students on a walk around the neighborhood, which allows them “to get up and get looking.” For the fall semester, she will take the students early on in the course, and for the spring semester this will happen towards the end (due to weather conditions). Exploring the surrounding neighborhood allows her students the opportunity to make connections between the college and community. In opposition of the “stranger danger” rule, Cailin encourages her students to strike conversation with strangers. Cailin stated that by simply asking one question, you can learn an abundance about an individual, as people are very willing to share information when asked. In addition to community experience, Cailin exposes her students to the legal aspect of journalism by working closely with a local lawyer, Bob Freeman. Bob Freeman assists Cailin in teaching her class how to access public information, such as fire records. In ending her presentation, Cailin shared these two examples of her students’ journalism work that is published on The Pine Hills Blog:

Cailin also shared the website, The Committee on Open Government, which provides additional  information on the freedom of information.

Lastly, Elizabeth Yanoff from the Department of Teacher Education and Mary Lindner from the Library presented on three different ways of examining information literacy. Elizabeth and Mary reiterated the new standards of information literacy, but focused on content area reading, disciplinary literacy, and new literacies.

1. Content area reading refers to before, during, and after processes of reading comprehension.  For this type of reading, K-12 educators typically use KWL charts, which allow the students to reflect on what they already know, what they want to know, and what they learn from the particular reading. For the ECE 230 course at the college, Elizabeth discussed how she requires her students to review and edit their writing. This process encourages her students to locate their topic sentences, reflect on how their ideas were developed, and create an appropriate conclusion. 

2. Disciplinary literacy focuses on skills that are discipline specific and inquiry based. Work in a specific discipline is able to be contextualized. Educators of a discipline are able to view writing as an objective and have specific skills that allow them to excel in their discipline. Educators must be aware that their speciality allows them to view literacy with a discipline specific lens.

3. New literacies refers to the new age of digital literacy. Mary spoke about the research that Donald Leu and his colleagues have done regarding the digital age. Leu and his colleagues found that researching information should be treated like problem-solving. This means that students should identify important questions, locate relevant information, critically evaluate information, synthesize the information, communicate effectively, and monitor/evaluate along the way. Florida Memory is an online platform where students can explore specific skills needed for online learning, such as audio and video. Mary and Elizabeth spoke about how this online resource shows students how to access information, how to narrow results, and how to navigate online websites. Other online resources that are utilized for information literacy include Wimba and ZOOM (which were mentioned in the previous session, “Teaching Online.”Elizabeth shared a recent example of how she utilized technology as an online learning platform when class was cancelled due to the snow conditions. For the missing class, Elizabeth required her students to complete an online WIKI, post on Pinterest, engage in an online discussion, and post on the blog.

Following the brief presentations, the floor was opened up for discussion and questions from the audience. Here are a few points and observations that arose from the discussion:

  • There are an infinite number of stories to be written in journalism
  • There are connections across the themes of this session and the previous session about online learning
  • Suggestions to support learners across disciplines include:
    • Making more connections across work together as professors
    • All writing includes literacy skills, therefore all should teach information literacy
    • Professors should improve their communication and collaboration
    • Use the same “language” and ideas in all disciplines
  • Students are novices in their discipline and need to be taught how to prioritize information
    • Professors need to remember what it was like to be a novice, and be aware of how that can influence their work
  • How can we get support across discipline incorporated into the Liberal Education program?
  • How to get students from point A to point B?
    • Disperse information throughout the curriculum
  • How to encourage student inquiry but maintain boundaries?
    • This is a constant balancing act
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Teaching Information Literacy in the Age of Google: April 19th Session

think-with-google-logo

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What exactly is information literacy??

“Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” – Association of College & Research Libraries.

Dr. Daniel Russell, a technologist who studies how people use Google to access information in a literate way, presents on “The Evolution Of Literacy. ” In approximately an hour, Dr. Russell speaks about how the electronic search system can change one’s understanding of reading, writing, and construction of knowledge.

In January 2015, The American Library Association launched an eCourse:Teaching Information Literacy To College Students. In the course, the instructor, Joanna M. Burkhardt, demonstrated how to create engaging and challenging content to help students learn how to correctly use online searching tools and techniques. Included in the course were ways in which to help students discover which sources of information are the most beneficial. To access more information about Teaching Information Literacy, you can refer to Joanna Burkhardt’s book that accompanies the course. Although the eCourse is not currently offered, it predicted to be available again in the future.

According to Temple University, there are five categories of percieved expected outcomes from students of an information literacy course. These categories include to ability to:

  1. determine the nature and degree of the information needed
  2. access information in an efficient and effective manner
  3. evaluate information critically
  4. apply the information effectively
  5. conduct infromation searching with an understanding of accompanying legal conditions (plagiarism, copyright, citations, etc.)

Courtney Kueppers reports that according to a recent survey (“Ithaka S+R US Faculty Survey”), university faculty believe that their undergraduate students do not have adequate research abilities upon arriving to college. 54% of the particiapants reported that they “strongly agreed” to statements saying that their undergraduate students had poor information seeking skills. Faculty reported the importance of the library and its resources to helping students improve their research abilities. In sum, results from survey concluded that undergraduate students may need more direct instruction of how to effectively conduct research, and faculty are willing to put in the effort.

In an effort to improve student research abilities, professors have access to a variety of sources that can help in teaching the critical skills. The Temple University and Smith College Libraries contain a collection of information literacy resources for teachers and librarians. The websites also provide links to other online resources and book references for assessments, plagiarism, and conducting research. In addition, the Association of College and Research Libraries provides an extensive collection of resources and information on the “Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.”

Project Information Literacy (PIL) is a large-scale, national study about early adults and their research habits, conducted in partnership with the University of Washington’s iSchool.” Project Information Literacy provides an extensive understanding of young adults’ information literacy abilities, lack of abilities, and patterns over time.


Please join us for our upcoming Tuesday, April 19th session on “ Teaching Information Literacy in the Age of Google.” Our esteemed presenters for the April 19th session include:

Cailin Brown-Department of Communications
Elizabeth Yanoff– Department of Teacher Education & Mary Lindner-Reference Librarian
Steve Black -Reference Librarian

Provisions’ sessions are held from 12:00-1:15 in Standish A&B. All are welcome and no reservations are required. Free lunch and refreshments will be available! Hope to see you all there!! 🙂

Reflecting on Flipped Library Instruction, Part 2

In this post, I pick up on my reflections on flipped library instruction, using the design principles outlined in the Kim article below.  My previous post addressed the first five principles; here I conclude and add thoughts on how I might modify flipped instruction in the future, based on my reflections.

Kim, M. K., Kim, S. M., Khera, O., & Getman, J. (2014). The experience of three flipped classrooms in an urban university: an exploration of design principles. Internet & Higher Education, 2237-50. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2014.04.003  [Read this article]

  1. Provide an opportunity for students to gain exposure prior to class
  2. Provide an incentive for students to prepare for class
  3. Provide a mechanism to assess student understanding
  4. Provide clear connections between in-class and out-of-class activities
  5. Provide clearly defined and well-structured guidance
  6. Provide enough time for students to carry out assignments
  7. Provide facilitation for building a learning community
  8. Provide prompt/adaptive feedback on individual or group work
  9. Provide technologies familiar and easy to access

#6 – Provide enough time for students to carry out assignments

My thinking on this principle has evolved.  Initially, I believed that, of course, there was enough time for students to both watch my video/s out of class and then make progress on their research in the class itself.  However, I am beginning to question the open-ended nature of the in-class assignment that has been the case in two of the four flipped classes in which I participated.

When students are simply given the go ahead to “work on their papers” or to “start their research,” I have observed students engage in a wide range of activities, from searching in library databases to searching Google to logging into their Facebook accounts.

While the goal of flipped library instruction may often include teaching concepts and strategies that result in effective topic research, a simple “go to it” does not necessarily further that goal.  Certainly experimentation and iteration are key parts of the research process, but during the limited time that a librarian works with a group of students, I think more structure in the in-class assignment is necessary.

Some possible examples:

  • Find three peer-reviewed articles that address your topic.
  • Discover one or two authors who write extensively on your topic.
  • Identify one citation from the reference list of an article you have found that may be of interest.  Find out if that article or book is available through the library.
  • From your initial research, develop a list of keywords and subject headings that appear to cover your topic interest.

Having a more specific assignment connected to in-class work would allow the librarian to better gauge the level of success of the class and allow intervention — both individually or by briefly bring everyone’s attention back together — to address problems or highlight successes.

#7 – Provide facilitation for building a learning community

Creating a class that encourages collaboration and collective learning can be an important goal for a semester-long course.  Within the traditional one-shot library instruction, this goal is difficult to address.  However, what I have found during the in-class part of flipped instruction is that many students naturally work together.  This is to be encouraged, and as I walked around I always found a little bit of teaching and learning going on in those conversations.

Another way I attempted to remind the class that we are all learning together was by periodically bringing their attention back as a group to highlight something I had observed: a unique solution to something, a common difficulty, an extension on something previously taught.  And in the best of these moments, students would also contribute to the conversation and, of course, that becomes infectious.

#8 – Provide prompt/adaptive feedback on individual or group work

This principle represents perhaps the most important benefit of flipped library instruction.  As mentioned in my last post, playing the role of “guide by the side” provides a way to informally assess student understanding of the concepts presented out of class.  Indeed, providing feedback and direction during this period of in-class activity is the action that completes this circle of assessment.

#9 – Provide technologies familiar and easy to access

After trying a few alternatives, I wound up uploading my videos to YouTube.  This is about as basic as you can get, and it is a guarantee that all students should be able to access the assignments.  While I don’t necessarily see the need to introduce more complex — and perhaps unfamiliar — technologies to what I am doing, the point of this principle is well-taken.  Don’t let the technology be an obstacle; make sure it is a tool to learning.

Thoughts on Future Flipped Library Instruction

In addressing the nine principles of flipped instruction above and in my previous post, I point to some of the ways I would change or “tighten” flipped library instruction in the future.  Included on this list:

  • Be more explicit about the goals of the out-of-class video and the in-class assignments.
  • Foreground higher level concepts and stress knowledge that is transferrable to alternative domains.
  • Incentivize the pre-class assignment/s.
  • Work more closely with classroom teacher to develop both the assignment/s and goals of in-class work.  Develop more specific outcomes than simply to “work on your assignment.”
  • Concentrate on creating videos that are more individualized for the specific course needs.  As my inventory of existing videos grows, I will more easily be able to reference additional help without making explicit assignments of multiple videos.

And my final thought on future efforts: keep trying!

Flipping Again

In our last post, Jenn and I provided reflections on our experiment with flipped library instruction.  In this post, I wanted to provide some additional context for library instruction, as it’s been my experience that many faculty are not quite sure what this entails.

needle

One-shot instruction: not always the best medicine.

The goal of library instruction is to build a range of competencies in students, often referred to as information literacy, which will give them a framework for engaging in college-level research. The opportunities for this type of instruction are presented in a less than systematic fashion — often delivered in response to classroom faculty who have research-based assignments.  Much to the dismay of many librarians, the reality is that we often engage in “one-shot instruction,” which — just as it sounds — happens once without much opportunity for follow up or assessment.

However, the range of new pedagogical strategies in the classroom presents new opportunities for rethinking library instruction.  Indeed both Jenn and I came enthusiastically to the idea that flipping library instruction could have some significant benefits.  The absence of a teaching lab in the library limits our ability (or conversely — challenges our creativity) to engage students in active learning.  I was excited to be able to be in the writing lab in Albertus, helping students as they worked through their assignment, which the assigned videos had modeled .  While this flipped instruction still can be seen as one-shot instruction, the fact that the videos serve as both pre-class assignments and as semester-long learning assets means that the normal limitations of a typical one-shot class are able to be overcome.

While there is a large body of research on the flipped classroom, there is yet to be a lot published that focuses on flipped library instruction.  The article referenced below provides a good overview, teasing out the benefits and challenges inherent in this relatively new form of library instruction.  Among the challenges many librarians would face:

  • Logistics.  It is difficult to plan for out-of-the-classroom work for a class that you have not yet met.   Fortunately, the goals of Jenn and I as Provisions’ fellows dovetailed nicely and helped eliminate the usual logistical issues; but on more normal one-shot requests, this issue would be one that could be particularly challenging.
  • Engagement.  It is always a challenge for a librarian who sees a class once during the semester.  Think substitute teacher and you have an idea of the challenges we face in engaging students and gaining their trust.
  • Time.  Creating and editing instructional videos, I quickly discovered, is very time-consuming.  I was fortunate to have a good deal of lead time, but this would not typically be the case.  However, I do think I would tend to get better — and quicker — with experience.

Part of what Jenn and I are discovering this semester through our work together and through an examination of the research on first-year students is that many of these students struggle to adapt to higher expectations and a new information environment at the college level.  One-shot instruction is simply one tool — and perhaps not the most effective one — to help first-year students build that “research toolkit” that will let them progressively improve their ability to find and utilize resources in their new and complex information ecosystem.

As I read more research on teaching first-year students and as I gain experience trying new approaches to library instruction, the suggestion that Stephanie Bennett offers in the concluding Provisions’ meeting from 2013-14 to “change just one thing” resonates strongly.  While there are many changes on the institution-level that can address the transitional needs of first year students — both generally and in the area of information literacy, the status of that larger process should not hinder or delay the individual efforts I can make to try to improve the things I do in the classroom.

W.B. Yeats once said

Life is an experiment.

I’m running with this, thinking library instruction is an experiment, and it’s an experiment processed one change at a time!

Document Referred to in the Post

Arnold-Garza, S. (2014). The Flipped Classroom Teaching Model and Its Use for Information Literacy Instruction. Communications in Information Literacy, 8(1), 7. [Read article]

“Flipped” Library Instruction

In keeping with the theme of the “flipped” classroom in first-year writing, Pete and I decided that we would also attempt to flip the library instruction that tends to be a standard part of our ENG105 classes and FYW in general (In fact, in the “Learning the Ropes” article that Pete wrote about, researchers found that “Freshman said they found campus librarians (29%) and their English composition instructors (29%) were the most helpful individuals on campus with guiding them through college-level research” (3)).  To accomplish this, Pete created a helpful series of videos to guide students through the library research processes and databases that are typically covered during a librarian’s classroom visit.  The students came to class with a basic understanding of how to approach the research assignment at hand, leaving class time free to spend answering questions and doing some hands-on research with the assistance of our reference librarians.

Hopefully the students learned as much as Pete and I did.  We thought we’d share some of our thoughts about the experience:

  • In the Hofer, Townsend, and Brunetti article that Pete details in his last blog post, there is a lot of concern with the “flat” landscape of Google.  Respondents (librarians) to the authors’ survey describe their issues with students’ research tactics:  “They [students] seem to see information as flat, as coming all from one place, Google” and “How to read a citation and understand what type of publication it represents–journal article, book, etc…  Many are used to getting all information from one flat source–Google.”  While I understand what the respondents are trying to get at with the word “flat” (there is more to the research beyond Google and much of the diversity in sources needs to be sought out in other ways, and, as Pete describes below, sources all seem the same to students), I also find the word a bit misleading.  What struck me in working with my students while they were researching this week is that the types of sources available via a Google search are more complex and diverse than ever before.  Part of the assignment [Citation Trail library worksheet] that the students were working with asked them to identify citations and source types, and yes, as the previous respondent describes, students struggled with this, but to be honest:  So did I.  One student discovered a massive online project about digital literacy that isn’t quite a blog but certainly isn’t a static webpage as it regularly publishes articles by scholars researching the topic of teens and digital literacy.  So what is it?  What kind of articles are these pieces that aren’t necessarily peer reviewed or appearing in print publications but involved in scholarly research by experts in a field?
  • The other aspect of the flipped library instruction time that proved challenging was getting students to move away from Google and into the library databases.  This difficulty is described in both the “Learning the Ropes” article and in “Troublesome Concepts and Information Literacy: Investigating Threshold Concepts for IL Instruction.”  Because the assignment asks students to track down sources contained in both scholarly and popular sources, there is good reason for many of the students to start with Google search to help track down a source from a reading that doesn’t have a bibliography (for example, as Pete details here in his video about “tips on running down elusive documents”).  Students did well with using Google to find the details of the specific reference; however, getting them to then take that information and use it to find the book or article in our own library’s holdings was a bit of a struggle (it often involved me hovering and directing them to open additional tabs and pull up the catalog or databases).

— From Pete

Two things resonated with me as I walked around and helped students make sense of the documents they had brought up on their screens.

  1. Many did in fact seem to have difficulty understanding format types and purposes outside of the context of their computer screen. The landscape had indeed become flat and within that one dimension, all content was in an important sense equal.
  2. Last year Bryan Alexander, educator and futurist, delivered a keynote speech at a conference I attended. What I most remember about his speech was that he contended that we had moved from being a “culture of the page” to a “culture of the screen.”  One implication of this shift is that a new generation, largely unfamiliar with the print counterparts of online journals, ebooks, etc., have a hard time making critical distinctions between the types of resources that show up on their computer screens.

An inability to determine the context of the resource hampered their ability for critical evaluation.  The Hofer article referenced in an earlier post contends that a key understanding that many students have trouble grasping is, in her shorthand, “format as a process.”  By this she means:

What makes a book a book and a newspaper article a newspaper article has nothing to do with how one accesses it (print/digital), but with the process that went into creating it. Understanding this principle helps students navigate the information they find online and evaluate it according to the process underlying its creation, rather than by a set of memorized, constantly changing, inconsistent characteristics.

This lack of understanding was evident as I spoke to many students and did indeed appear to be one of the outcomes of a “flat environment.”

  • Our awareness of these challenges of student research influenced both the assignment design, as well as what Pete covered in his video series.  I wanted students to begin making these distinctions and being able to identify types of sources early on in the research process and also for them to be able to see the range of sources that all scholars and writers use when composing a researched text.  Perhaps by next time framing “what makes a book a book and a newspaper article a newspaper article” in the terms that Hofer, Towsend, and Brunetti describe as “the process that went into creating it,” students might better understand the concept of “format as a process.”  This, after all, needs to be a goal of ours according to Hofer, Townsend, and Brunetti.  Citing “format as a process” as a “threshold concept” means that “the next step from a pedagogical standpoint is to make curricular changes that surface the teaching and learning of these concepts and then to assess student learning in these areas” (402).

Threshold Concepts

Alice and doorway

Well, that’s a threshold I can’t cross!

Threshold concepts are, in essence, those stumbling blocks that prevent a student from advancing within a chosen discipline.  Those fully invested in a discpline have a shared vocabulary, body of knowledge (and approach to it), tools, and sometimes, biases.  However, pracitioners in a discpline are often so immersed in their field that the foundational framework from which they think and work is often unspoken and unrecoginzed.

A student new to a field of study, however, must somehow learn and integrate these foundational concepts of the discipline.  Often the concepts must be encountered in a progressive manner, with one leading to insights that prepare them for the next.  In formulating the idea of threshold concepts, Jan Meyer and Ray Land provide a theoretical and practical method to help teachers identify and address these important disciplinary understandings.

As they point out, not every important concept within a discipline should be identified as a threshold concept.  Indeed, they outline five qualities that characterize a threshold concept:

  • Transformative: grapsing the concept will help a student experience a “shift in perspective”
  • Integrative: it brings together other competencies or disciplinary concepts into a unified understanding
  • Irrersible: no turning back!
  • Bounded: in the disciplinary context, it helps define the unique boundaries of the field
  • Troublesome: moving beyond the idea is difficult and not initially intuitive or even logical

I find this construct to be very compelling, as it fits in well with what I observe while working with students.  Amy Hofer, a librarian at Portland State University, writes about how this idea of threshold concepts can be applied to information literacy.  While the focus of threshold concepts is within a discpline (e.g., helping students “think like a biologist”), Hofer contends that all college students would benefit from “understanding some of the information science concepts that underlie the practice of librarianship.”

The concepts that rise to the level of “threshold concepts” are certainly open to debate, and in fact, ideally should be constructed within the context of local discussions.  However, as a starting point, those identified by Hofer seem to be appropriate.  They strike me as a useful checklist to consult when planning strategies and programs that will help high school students make that difficult transition to college.

Here are those troublesome threshold concepts Hofer identifies (Note: the article itself — link below — provides more detail on each of these):

  • Metadata = Findability
  • Good Searches Use Database Structure
  • Format as a Process
  • Authority is Constructed and Contextual
  • Primary Source is and Exact and Conditional Category
  • Information as Commodity
  • Research Solves Problems

Simply used as a starting point for discussion, this list holds great promise.  I easily see connections to the objectives outlined by Jenn in her ENG 105 syllabus, and it points the way to further initiatives that will help students transcend these major stumbling blocks in order to advance as readers, researchers, and writers.

Documents Referred to in this Post

Hofer, A. R., Townsend, L., & Brunetti, K. (2012). Troublesome Concepts and Information Literacy: Investigating Threshold Concepts for IL Instruction. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 12(4), 387–405. [Read article]
Meyer, J. H. F., & Land, R. (2005). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (2): Epistemological considerations and a conceptual framework for teaching and learning. Higher Education, 49(3), 373–388. doi:10.1007/s10734-004-6779-5 [Read article]