All posts filed under “Information Literacy

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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.

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A Brief Economics Lesson

50, 20, and 100 dollar bills

Money! by Tracy O on Flickr

Last week I had a breakthrough. It was during a class I’ve taught at least 2-3 times each semester for the past 5 years–Intro to Politics–and was such a welcome surprise. Faculty who teach this course typically ask students to write a short literature review on a topic of their choosing (related to politics, of course). I usually come in after the review has been assigned, armed with different information source types. I ask students to divide into small groups and determine which sources are “academic” and why, but then take it a step further and ask them to determine if (and how) a source is “helpful.” It’s a bit more nuanced and is my attempt at subverting the strong emphasis faculty place on “scholarly, academic sources” as the only sources worth using. We have a large class discussion about what makes an information source academic, but more importantly we discuss how different types of information sources can be beneficial to their research.

The class I taught last Tuesday followed this model, however the professor had students find their own information sources rather than having me provide them. The result was a much deeper discussion that hit on the economic underpinnings of information production. Students were quite savvy about advertisements in online newspapers, magazines, and blogs, but were completely unaware of the cost of academic information and barriers to accessing it. It ended up turning into a wonderful social justice discussion about academic publishing. Some myths I helped to dispel included:

  • Academic journal subscriptions cost $50-150 per year for libraries (I WISH).
  • Peer reviewers get paid to review article submissions (Ha!).
  • Open Access journals are poor quality scholarship (nope nope nope).
  • Academic sources are produced by non-commercial publishers (LOLOLOLOL).

That last comment was made by a wide-eyed student who stated that everything she thought about academic sources was wrong! It was such a fun, and powerful discussion, and it got me thinking: How can I purposefully integrate this serendipitous discussion (or ones like it) into my future classes?

I ended up partially revising a class I was teaching the next day: Research Methods and Writing in Psychology. I usually run this class as a workshop, introducing students to different databases and stressing the use of appropriate search language and following citation trails. I talk about the importance of keywords when searching databases, but I never talk about WHY we use them beyond the standard, it’s how databases work! After a call out to Twitter, and watching this supremely inspiring video by Maggie Murphy, I decided to really focus on the why of keyword searching. It was a great discussion to have with a group of juniors and sophomores, some of whom were die-hard Googlers and others who exclusively used database like PsycINFO. We talked about money and search algorithms, what database vendors spend their cash on, what Google is searching when you type in a phrase or whole question, and just what a keyword search does and why. I wanted students to understand the underlying structures of these information resources so that they could then explore them as more effective researchers. The students seemed to really internalize the difference in search approaches, and as I wandered around the classroom during their searching it was clear that they were using different approaches to databases than they were using to Google Scholar.

I don’t know if these are discussions I can incorporate into every class, but I am certainly going to try. Have you had an inspiring critlib teaching moment recently? I’d love to hear about it.