All posts filed under “Information Literacy

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Tacit Knowledge and English Composition Classes

We’re in the throes of the heavy teaching period of the fall semester at my library, and based on conversations with other teaching librarians and coordinators, the same can be said just about everywhere. As soon as the breeze turns brisk we find ourselves wolfing down a granola bar/cheese stick/back of peanut m&ms in the 5 minutes we have in between classes and calling it “lunch.” (I see you teaching libs. I see you.)

It’s my first fall semester at a new school, with a new focus, and a new information literacy English composition two-shot curriculum I revised with my colleague, Emily Deal, this summer. English comp makes up the bulk of our lower-division instruction responsibilities, so we decided to try something new this year with our lesson plans. We developed a new workshop for the first course in the two course composition sequence. Typically English Comp I doesn’t have a strong research component, but students do a lot of information literacy work in the form of analyzing information sources and synthesizing ideas. In addition to a class on quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing developed by our previous instruction coordinator and teaching librarian, we developed a class on analyzing multimedia/non-written texts. Students are often asked to write an analytical essay about photographs, videos, or advertisements, and we thought this workshop could be a great way to embed information literacy beyond the typical “here’s how you find stuff” classes we normally teach for lower division courses. We absorb SO MUCH visual and video content via social media so we thought this would be a great way to help students think more critically about what they see or watch on Facebook or Twitter (or whatever social media site the olds like me don’t use)

Our first few passes at this class didn’t quite go the way I thought they would. I started off with big questions. Things like:

  • What’s the purpose of this video ad?
  • Who created it?
  • Who was it created for?
  • How did it make you feel?

Which are all well and good, but they weren’t prompting a critical analysis of the ad, which is what I was trying to accomplish. Few students seemed to see these ads–which, to be fair, were more long-form Superbowl-style attention grabbers–as meant to sell anything or prompt behavior. The feels noted were all surface level (“good. confused. happy.”), and the creator was often just the name of the product company. The questions were basic rhetorical analysis approaches applied to multimedia information sources but they fell flat. At times the students wouldn’t engage with the material or did so in a way that wasn’t as critical as we had hoped.

So, we went back to the drawing board.

I realized that a big problem with our approach to this class was that I hadn’t deconstructed the process of analysis to a manageable degree. I assumed a critical approach to these questions, but that was own bias and tacit knowledge coming in to play. I’m a librarian and have lots of practice picking things apart and critically dissecting them until there is nothing left! But students are often just beginning this practice OR using other strategies of analysis that have served them well in the past. If I wanted to teach a new method of analysis, I needed to be more explicit.

For the next version of this session, I dug a little deeper. We started by students thinking about the last video they watched on social media and why they watched it. We discussed and focused on the why as a means of realizing that sometimes our decisions to watch what’s in front of us aren’t always conscious choices, but that content creators are always thinking about viewers and impact. Next I introduced our class ad for analysis, the AirBnB #WeAccept video. I made it clear that we were going to watch it again and again and again, because that’s what we do when we deconstruct and analyze something. Before each viewing came a different prompt, with discussion in between each viewing:

  1. How does this ad make you feel? Write down 2-3 details that make you feel this way.
  2. How do you think the ad creators want you to feel? What do they want you to think? To do? Write down 2-3 details that make you think this way.
  3. For this last viewing, write down 2-3 details you haven’t already noticed/noted. Why do you think they are included in this video? How do they add to what the creators want you to think, feel, or do?

We talked. A lot.

The students noticed amazing details about the ad that completely slipped past my repeated viewings. They had time to think, process, write, and share, and their responses were detailed, critical, and interesting. Focusing on the details and allowing for multiple viewings gave us all time to dig deep into the creation of the ad.

Then, I asked students to do a little research in pairs. Each pair was asked to Google “AirBnB discrimination” and “AirBnB regulation.” Students discussed their findings, but more importantly, discussed their findings in relation to the ad we just viewed and the details they just noticed.

This whole process took the act of analysis step by step. I worried it would be a little formulaic or basic, but it actually prompted great discussion and student engagement. It made me think about my own response to activities, group work and discussion. Having parameters, details, and clear instructions is so important to me, and students need that too! The rest of the class was devoted to students going through the same analysis process in pairs with ads they were analyzing for an upcoming paper, and it was awesome to see them applying the same strategies to their own work.

If you’re interested in replicating this activity/class, I’ve shared the lesson plan, worksheets, and slides below!

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The Intermediary We Don’t Need?

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Photo by Mark Rabe on Unsplash

My first experience teaching an information literacy class (10 years ago!!!) was a dud. It was a Psychology Research Methods course. I did the requisite library catalog and PsycINFO demo. I used student-supplied keywords. They didn’t “work.” I got flustered, but doubled-down and stuck to panicked typing in hopes that a demo would finally yield the “right” results. I was terrified, frustrated, and no doubt frustrating to students.

I don’t do resource demos in classes anymore. I will occasionally talk a class through a particularly sticky part of our link resolver if everyone is having the same issue, but for the most part I let students explore in groups, pairs, or alone and offer one-on-one assistance as needed. It warms my little librarian heart to see students helping one another. I am excited to facilitate discussions and listen to students’ points of view, experiences doing research, and comments on the appropriateness of different information sources to various needs. Those are the classes I love. The ones rooted in conversation and reflection, the ones where I don’t go near an instructor podium computer, the ones where my teaching tech tools are dry erase markers.

Last week one of my favorite librarians sparked this pedagogical reflection with a tweet:

That last line was telling: I never go near the library website. It made me try to think about another discipline that relied on teaching a website or web tool as central to the study of that subject. I couldn’t think of one.

Then I read a fantastic article by Kevin Seeber and Zoe Fisher, in which they, among other things, revised their lesson plan for English Composition II to focus on source evaluation rather than database selection and searching. It was uncomfortable for some of their colleagues who were used to database demos, but ultimately fit in better with the English Composition curriculum and helped students practice a more nuanced version of information evaluation.

And, because all my reading and worlds seem to be converging together these days, I just opened up my blog reader to see a wonderful post by Dani Cook on the Rule Number One blog that lists 10 ideas for making your teaching more learner-centered. Some of my favorite suggestions focus on active practice, showing an interest in students as people, and authenticity as a teacher in the classroom.

When taken together, Jo’s tweet, Zoe and Kevin’s article, and Dani’s post made me jot down a flurry of questions: How amazing would our teaching be if we didn’t have an instructor computer at all? Is our focus on databases, websites, and functionality of resources interrupting our relationships with our students? How much more effective would we be as teachers and facilitators without that tech intermediary? Do we even need it?

I spent 4 years as the web developer and administrator for my library’s website, so I’m no technophobe. I understand the value of a simple, easy-to-use interface and good information architecture. But I also don’t see the value in teaching the technical details of digital resources that are becoming to easier to use, and, let’s be honest, that students won’t be able to access after they graduate. They aren’t paying attention, I’m bored, and we could all just be at home watching Drag Race. I know that at this point in information literacy practice and teaching many of us are all about active learning and exploring deeper information literacy concepts. But I know–because I do it too–we sometimes still revert back to click here, here’s where you go to access this one thing, this is what this one error message means, etc. What if we just completely eliminated that from our teaching? We could give students a URL and let them have at it, offering help as needed individually or in small groups. Or we could just not have a class in a computer lab. No computers. None. Zero. What would that kind of information literacy class look like?

Relationships are scary, especially when you are the temporary instructor for a class that knows one another much better than they will likely ever know you. We tend to place the computer, resource, or website at the center, as the focus of our relationship with students in the classroom because it is “the information” in information literacy. It is seen as primary, as the thing that’s important. It’s a security blanket we all hide behind (myself included) because it’s easier to focus on our ability to know information and information resources than it is to emphasize our roles as teachers and facilitators of discussion with ambiguous results. But this intermediary places a roadblock in our relationship with learners. It might be an annoying pebble or a boulder, but it’s the object that can block the librarian from cultivating a relationship.

I used to hope that if students could remember one thing from class, it was that I was available to help them whenever they needed help. But my actions in the classroom were emphasizing the website, libguides, and datbases–the things–not me or our relationship. Now I hope that students remember our connection in class, and I try to structure classes (as much as they can be structured) to foster that connection. I don’t want an intermediary between my students and myself, and if that means I never turn on my instructor computer, I’m ok with that.

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Conflicts in Curriculum Mapping


Last week I presented at the 2017 LOEX Conference with my Instruction Coordinator colleagues Joanna Gadsby (UMBC) and Natalie Burclaff (University of Baltimore). We wanted to tackle the messy, complicated process of curriculum mapping for information literacy programs, but not in a this-is-how-you-do-it sort of way. We each (briefly) shared our own experiences with the curriculum mapping process at our home institutions, but really tried to focus on

  • what makes curriculum mapping problematic
  • the ownership of information literacy and its impact on educational planning
  • the tensions between critical pedagogy and curriculum mapping
  • conflicts between our personal pedagogical values and the entire notion of curricular efficiency planning
  • and ways to incorporate our teaching values/identity and reflection into the planning process

Like our topic, our presentation is a little messy and a little complicated. We don’t purport to have all the answers. We just want to let other teaching librarians and information literacy coordinators know that if curriculum mapping has you scratching your head, rolling your eyes, or feeling the panic, we are with you.

Slides are above, and clicking on the gear will get you to our speaker notes.