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New Framework For Information Literacy

image via Andreas Levas on Flickr

image via Andreas Levas on Flickr

The current Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education were adopted in 2000. A lot has happened since then. Facebook was founded in 2004. In 2005 Youtube was born. 2006 saw the creation of Twitter. In 2007 the iPhone debuted. We’re now talking about futuristic things like wearable technology, smart everything, and quantum computing. To say that the information landscape has changed would be an understatement. It has been revolutionized and there is no sign of that slowing. That is why I applaud the efforts of the committee working on the new Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. The draft Framework that they have put out is a step in the right direction, and I’m looking forward to the discussion that ensues.

The committee proposes an updated definition of information literacy:

“Information literacy combines a repertoire of abilities, practices, and dispositions focused on expanding one’s understanding of the information ecosystem, with the proficiencies of finding, using and analyzing information, scholarship, and data to answer questions, develop new ones, and create new knowledge, through ethical participation in communities of learning and scholarship.”

In addition to the new definition, the committee uses Threshold Concepts and Metaliteracy as anchoring elements to structure the Framework. I think there are a number of really beneficial elements of the framework as well as additional work to be done, but through the review process the committee has set up this Framework is going to be a solid guiding document for the future.

Benefits of the New Framework

Holistic – The initial draft is feeling more complete than the previous IL Competency Standards. The previous standards focused on important skills but in a piecemeal way. Students may master some skills, such as evaluating information, but fail to recognize the wider information landscape. This makes it harder to transfer these skills easily across different disciplines and situations.

Habits of Mind – The Framework specifically elevates the importance of dispositions or habits of mind in developing information literate abilities. These are things like valuing persistence and tolerating ambiguity and are a necessary element of becoming an expert information user/consumer/creator.

Future Focused – In addition to being holistic, this Framework seems like it will be better able to meet the unknown information challenges that will face us in the future. Our conceptions of privacy our changing. The ways in which information is created and accessed is quickly evolving. Teaching students just how to successfully use tools or evaluate using a set of criteria may serve them well for an assignment but might not prepare them for the future in which the tools and criteria (such as the changing concept of authority) change.

Possible Challenges

One possible challenge for the Framework is that it might not be as accessible for all librarians. One concern I heard raised in the open forum at ALA Midwinter was the introduction of new jargon such as “threshold concepts.” A related concern that was raised is that metaliteracy was not necessary as an anchoring element and could be integrated into the rest of the document so as to reduce jargon. I personally love the ideas of threshold concepts and at least elements of metaliteracy, but I feel that it needs to be clearer how people can use this in practice (which is why I’m excited about the idea of an online sandbox to share resources).

So far the Framework is looking solid and I’m excited to hear  and be involved with the conversations that are developing around it. It addresses issues that we regularly discuss but that might not fit somewhere (such as the idea that there is no one correct answer in research but that you build and refine the answer from what you find). I’ll be sure to share my thoughts and ideas on their feedback survey, but probably after additional conversations with colleagues.

For other thoughtful responses to the Framework, check out:

What are your reactions to the draft Framework?

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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.

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MOOCs and Information Literacy Instruction

I’ve been taking a Coursera MOOC and have been thinking a lot about how libraries can utilize elements from some of these new educational models. Daphne Koller, one of the founders of Coursera, discussed in recent TED Talk a key difference between face to face learning and online education models.

Massive online courses, like the Introduction to Finance class that I am taking, are great at evaluating students through things like multiple choice and fill in the blank quizzes. Peer grading and self grading are also being explored with some success. But these courses are still mostly successful at teaching content and practical, how-to skills. The value of face to face education is being able to “ignite creativity.” Face to face learning is best suited for active learning, critical thinking, and problem solving as opposed to delivery of content.

What could this mean in information literacy instruction? Content is important. Students need to know the nuts and bolts of evaluating a website or how to properly cite so as to avoid plagiarism. But I would argue that some of this “content” is better suited for outside the physical classroom. Avoiding plagiarism and knowing the difference between a reputable website and a questionable website are skills that all professors want and that all students need to succeed.

If this content could be delivered outside of the classroom via video, module, game, flipped TED Ed lesson, or other learning objects, in class information literacy instruction could focus on critical thinking about information choices. Lessons could focus on the changing nature of attribution, citation, and ethical uses of information in the digital age. There could be lessons about having a balanced information diet and understanding where your information comes from. These type of lessons have the potential to unleash the curiosity and creativity of our students in ways that talking about plagiarism and how to use a database can’t.

I don’t think that face to face learning will ever be replaced, but some pieces surely will. I see elements of MOOCs and other new online education models enhancing our effectiveness in the classroom as we’re trying to help students become sophisticated information consumers and creators.

How do you see these changing educational models affecting information literacy instruction?