All posts tagged “information literacy

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What Do We Mean When We Say “Evaluate Sources?”

Like you, I am drowning in COVID-19 news and opinions. I get it from Twitter, Facebook, emails from my university and professional organizations, daily updates from newspapers and public media, conversations in the hallways at work, and signs up in bathrooms with detailed hand-washing instructions set to TLC’s No Scrubs (my fave of the hand-washing instructions, by the way).

It’s a lot. Too much really. And yet here we are. This is the world we live in.

It becomes this odd moment for libraries and librarians to once again hail the importance of information literacy and turning to “good” information and “evaluating sources.” I always cringe a little when libraries are placed into that odd position of “savior,” because libraries are institutions that are shaped by people and collections, and people and collections are flawed (myself included). We also don’t always know or agree on what we mean when we say we need to “evaluate sources,” and often struggle to teach this concept in classes. It’s a concept and practice I continue to learn about through trial and error, knowing that there isn’t just one way to evaluate an information source and therefore not just one way to teach it.

Here are a few of things I’m beginning to think we actually mean when we say “evaluate a source”:

  • Fact-Check a la Michael Caulfied’s 4 Moves, which is really about finding truthful information that you deem worthy of trust. This is where issues of bias and misinformation come into the discussion.
  • Relevance/Usefulness to a topic at hand. Is it about what you need it to be about? Is it useful to you as you seek to learn more about a topic? Does it contain the information you need to find?
  • Appropriateness to situational need. If authority is constructed and contextual, what information source is appropriate for your particular information context? Is it rhetorically appropriate?
  • Quality of the information source, which is really different than appropriateness even though they often end up conflated. You might need a scientific paper for your particular context but is it GOOD? This is where disciplinary knowledge, understanding data, and subject expertise come into play.
  • Privilege embodied within the information source by virtue of the author, topic, format, or access. When we view a source through a critical lens we also have to examine the negative space around it. What are we missing and why?

It is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are some of the things I’ve been taking note of as I teach this year.

Then there are the things that circle around the whole concept of evaluating sources like life experiences, personal beliefs, biases, and views of the world, all of which have an impact on how people evaluate information. We’re sometimes encouraged (and encourage others) to set aside those personal beliefs and biases when encountering information, but why? Is it ever really possible? Can we instead, adopt a practice I learned about last week via the ARL LCDP program, which is to embrace paradox and be comfortable with discomfort, non-closure, and the fact that there is not always a consensus or solution.

This is just the beginning of what I’m sure is going to be a bigger research project into how we teach source evaluation, why we teach it the way we do, and whether or not it’s even possible in the kind of one-shot workshops we frequently teach. What do you focus on when you teach source evaluation? What am I missing?

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To One-Shot or Not?

Earlier this week I had a wonderful research discussion with Nicole Pagowsky about the work we do as instruction coordinators and managers in libraries, information literacy, teaching, and feminist praxis. The next day I co-taught a workshop about teaching research as an iterative process with my lovely colleagues, Emily Deal and Carolina Hernandez. It was sparsely attended, but the English graduate students and faculty who showed up were interested and engaged. I bring up these two events because they both left me thinking about my own relationship with teaching information literacy, how it’s changed over the years, and how something I’ve been mulling over may be in direct contradiction with my own career path and experience.

I don’t like a one-shot: the drop-in visit/guest lecture from a librarian to a class where the instructor may or may not be present, the students may or may not have any context for why the librarian is there, and overall time spent together in awkwardness is anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. I’ve written about one-shots tangentially in previous posts and directly talked about them at conferences. I want us, as a profession of teaching librarians, to move beyond them to a practice of information literacy education that is more equitable, sustainable, and meaningful for students. We can do so much more than just pop-in to do a session or babysit a class while an instructor is away at conference. We want to build relationships with students and talk to faculty about pedagogy and curriculum. We are capable of and deserve more.

All that said, I think back to how I learned to be a teacher, how I fostered professional relationships with faculty, how I learned about students. All of that happened in one- two- or three-shots. All of it. I designed assignments with first year seminar faculty because I taught two classes the year before that didn’t really work. I better understand students’ understanding of information sources because I saw senior thesis writers attempting to find information more commonly found in statistical reports in academic journal articles. I saw first hand how students approached searching Google vs. searching library databases. I talked to faculty about the questions students were asking in a one-shot and ended up coming back to class again and again after that.

I’ll stop there.

As librarians we don’t always have the option to teach a semester-long class, so how then, without a one- or two- or three- shot do we learn how to teach? How do we learn how to be critically reflective practitioners? How do we talk to faculty about teaching if we’ve never done it?

I ask these questions not to support one-shot teaching–I still honestly believe it is deeply problematic–but to ask, without artifice or underlying answers or passive-aggressiveness, how DO we do this?

Do we co-teach? Do we teach outside the traditional classroom? What does that look like? Do we focus intensely on one class and build expertise and relationship there?

There are no easy answers, but I want to wrestle with these questions. We can’t expect new librarians to engage deeply in conversations of pedagogy and information literacy without ever teaching, so where and how do we create space for meaningful teaching?

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Scaffolding Instruction

Hagia Sophia Scaffolding (detail) by Flickr user kutluhan celik

Photo credit: Hagia Sophia Scaffolding (detail) by Flickr user kutluhan celik

Beginning this week I’ll be teaching a variety of classes for several different departments on campus. I’m excited to get back in to the classroom and try out a few new lessons. All of the sessions cover fairly straight-forward content: EndNote 101, searching the scholarly literature, search strategies for novice researchers, and refreshers for senior students. My only lament about these classes is that there is no rhyme or reason to the structure of the skills that these students learn.

  • I’m teaching EndNote to two different required classes in the same department (one a 200 level, the other a 300 level course).
  • I’m teaching search strategies and database navigation to two different required classes in the same department (one a 200 level, the other a 400 level course).
  • I’m teaching a core course where students will learn (yup, you guessed it) search strategies and database navigation.

I have no problem teaching these topics, although I must admit I cringe when asked to do a database demo and usually try to steer the lesson towards developing research skills instead. I just fear that students are getting the same class multiple times throughout their college career, instead of building on their information literacy skill set in the same way that they progressively learn more about their major area of study through traditional coursework. Or if I’m being completely honest with myself, I don’t fear that this repetition is taking place, I know it is. I counted on it when I taught research sessions for psychology students at the University of Houston, and even built lessons around the fact that I knew at least 5 students in any given class would have already been in a class that discussed conducting a literature review using scholarly sources.

The college where I am currently employed has adopted information literacy as one of the core skills for a liberal arts education, and yet there is still not a programmatic approach to incorporating information literacy into the major areas of study.  Librarians’ involvement with classes is completely at each professor’s discretion, and the content we teach often overlaps. It’s not for lack of trying that we’re still at this one-shot stage. Our librarians are active liaisons and busy teachers, we just can’t seem to move past the supporting role into a partnership with our departmental faculty.

I suspect it may have something to do with departments often finding it difficult to map out their own curriculum requirements. No prerequisites exist where perhaps there should be some, making sequencing classes in the major difficult. I wonder if I should be taking a more pro-active approach, though. After teaching both EndNote classes I will hopefully be able to attend that department’s next meeting and talk a bit about the ways in which I might be able to strategically place library instruction throughout their major requirements.

I know I’m not alone in this dilemma and I’m curious as to how other instruction librarians have successfully moved beyond a piece-meal library instruction approach to programmatic information literacy integration.