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Learning and Unlearning Habits of Mind

Image via Mark Strozier

Image via Mark Strozier

I attended ALA Midwinter last week and there was forum about the upcoming revisions to the ACRL Information Literacy Standards. There was a fair share of angst and anxiety expressed about the upcoming changes. The previous standards were focused on searching for, retrieving, and managing information, while the upcoming changes appear to take a more holistic approach. From the forum it sounds like there will be much more focus on things like metaliteracies, abilities/dispositions, and threshold concepts. These sound a bit different from what we’re used to, and the argument was made at the forum that we are replacing our library jargon with other disciplines’ jargon.

From my perspective though, it’s simply another approach to teaching information literacy, and that it has to do with things that we talk about all the time. Some examples of threshold concepts included “scholarship is a conversation” and “information has value.” By focusing our instruction on some of these larger ideas it seems like it will be easier for students to begin making connections across classes and assignments. Instead of students simply thinking “I need another article,” they might think “I wonder who else is contributing to this topic?” These are big ideas that take practice, but once students get them their thinking about information will be much more integrative.

Another idea that jumped out at me is that of dispositions habits of mind as a part of metaliteracies. We talk about these regularly at my institution. An example of an important habit of mind for a sophisticated information user/sharer/creator is having a healthy skepticism and questioning of information that they find. I wonder though if it is also necessary to unlearn habits of mind to use information in a sophisticated way?

I’m reading the book Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath and they discuss the concept of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the well researched phenomenon that states  ”when people collect information from the world, they are more likely to select information that supports their preexisting beliefs, and actions.” We see students do this all the time saying, “I just need a few more sources to strengthen my argument,” as opposed to being open to what their research surfaces. This is a habit that can be detrimental to the creation of new knowledge and can lead to polarization. Even being aware of this phenomenon would likely be helpful to students. Are there ways that we could more explicitly integrate this concept into our information literacy instruction?

What other habits of mind should our students be learning and perhaps unlearning?

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Hacking The Learner Experience – ACRL 2013

I had an amazing time at ACRL in Indianapolis, learned a lot and talked with some really smart, engaged people. I also had a blast presenting on Hacking The Learner Experience with Brian Mathews and Lauren Pressley. I’ll be posting some of the themes that I took away from the conference soon, but I figured I would get our slides up in the meantime.

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The Short Game And The Long Game

“Librarianship is not a set of skills to be learned, or a set of degrees to be mastered. Librarianship is a conversation that has taken place over millennia.”

David Lankes recently had a great post about engaging in the big questions in the profession. He said that “bad conferences are filled with ‘how we do it good’ pieces.” His point is that what is really important is to invite others into a bigger conversation as opposed to talking about just what you do or how to do something.

There is a great deal of value in talking about how to do something. It’s practical and people can see the tangible effects right away. My posts on this blog about iPad apps or Twitter are by far my most popular. But our profession isn’t solely about keeping up on the newest tech or trends. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day of your job or focus on new technologies that you can bring back from a conference, but if we don’t regularly ask bigger questions we’re compromising our future.

I see this other places as well. In library instruction its easy to concentrate on tools or how to do things, such as how to successfully navigate the databases. We’re experts in these things and students need to know how to use them to succeed on assignments. But they are just tools. If we only spend time on them we’re giving students skills for the present, but compromising their future. Tools change. We have databases and catalogs and discovery and Google today. There’ll be things we can’t imagine yet. That won’t be true in the future. In addition to teaching students how to succeed now, we also need to give them the skills to succeed in the future. We don’t want them to succeed just in their upcoming assignment. We want them to succeed in life. And knowing how to use a database is not the answer, or at least not the whole answer.

We need to be helping students develop the habits of mind that are crucial in research and lifelong learning. These are things like critically evaluating different pieces of information, perseverance in the search for information (not just giving up after a failed Google search), and a spirit of inquiry and constant questioning. These skills will last much longer than learning a database whose interface will change in the next few months.

We need to be playing both the short game and the long game in teaching and in the profession. There are tangible, practical skills that students need and that we need as professionals to succeed in our short term pursuits. But we can’t get so caught up in what we are doing right now that we forget to teach habits of mind or have the bigger conversations that will shape our future.