6

The Evolution of Library Instruction

image via Denise Chan on Flickr

image via Denise Chan on Flickr

The other day I read Lane Wilkinson’s excellent post about his thinking as he and others are tackling revising the ACRL Information Literacy Standards. This is important work since, as Lane points out, they were approved 13 years ago. Much has happened since that time and this is a document that affects a lot of libraries. Libraries around the country use it to guide their own teaching, college competencies, and accreditation. Lane talks about the idea that instead to simply teaching skills and abilities such as evaluating information, we teach intellectual virtues and dispositions.

This got me thinking about library instruction more generally and the way that it has changed through history and even the way my view of  it has changed since I was in library school. It seems to me that library instruction has undergone an evolution over the years in both the way we talk about it and the way we approach it and teach it. This evolution has been a three step process and each of them build on and are informed by the previous one.

1. Bibliographic Instruction

This type of focus is very tools based. In bibliographic instruction, students are taught how to use our catalog or our databases. They are taught how to do Boolean searching and how to use a table of contents. Many pieces of this instruction are necessary and also inform the other evolutionary iterations. Students need to know how to use our library specific tools to find and evaluate the information they need. It’s much easier to teach tools, but if we simply stopped at teaching students that we have stuff and how to use it we would be doing them a disservice. That is why an evolution was necessary.

2. Information Literacy (ACRL standards from 2000)

For the most part, our current evolutionary step, as Lane points out, is focused on teaching skills. These are important skills like locating and evaluating information. We use tools like the CRAP test and we teach research strategies. Much of the way we devise our own local competencies is based on the language of teaching student the skills and giving them the abilities to succeed in challenging research and in meeting their various information needs. But this language can be limiting. If we are only providing them the skills and abilities and not aspiring for something greater, students may be able to succeed in college but when they get to the real world will they be able to continue that success?

3. Information Sophistication

Something we talk a lot about at Champlain College is fostering “habits of mind.” This sounds similar to the idea of intellectual virtues that Lane was putting forward. I’ve heard other librarians talk about this same idea in different terms as well. We want to help students become not  just literate but sophisticated and fluent in their use of information. This involves not just learning skills but applying and practicing those skills to develop certain habits and dispositions. A student who is sophisticated when it comes to information does not just know how to evaluate a source of information, but would have have the habit of regularly questioning and critically examining information they come across instead of taking it at face value.

Teaching habits of mind is not something that is simple though, and it might involve different pedagogies. At Champlain we often try to use the inquiry method which is directed specifically at teaching habits of mind and helping students to form “an educated response.” Our awesome new Assistant Director for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Alan Carbery has had significant experience with Problem Based Learning and I’m excited to learn more about it and try some new methods. In both of these cases the methods focus on giving students experience in working through problems and doing critical questioning. These methods allow students to practice the habits of mind needed for someone who is sophisticated in their use of information.

Each of these evolutionary steps are necessary for students. They cannot develop skills if they cannot use tools to find information. They cannot develop habits of mind unless they have skills that they can practice. But when students leave college, they shouldn’t just be literate–they should be fluent, sophisticated. It’s an aspirational view of library/information instruction. I hope to hear more librarians continue to talk about it and I’m glad that Lane’s view will be represented when the ACRL standards are being revised. We have to remember that we are not just trying to help students succeed while they’re in college. We want to prepare them to succeed in life.

4

Information Literacy In An Age Of Networked Knowledge

Net Smart: How to Thrive Online

From SXSW Ogilvy notes

I love this visual note from a Howard Rheingold presentation at SXSW. He was launching his new book called Net Smart: How To Thrive Online. From just looking at the note, these seem like things librarians can or should be teaching and discussing (curation, crap detection, triangulation, consumption v. creation).

I also just finished reading David Weinberger’s new book Too Big To Know. It’s about how “knowledge and expertise are becoming networks, and are taking on the properties of networks” in this age of abundant and hyperlinked information. In the book he touches on things like echo chambers, the changing nature of authority, the unsettled nature of knowledge, and information overload. I know that this book is definitely going to change the way that I discuss research and information literacy concepts with students.

In his final chapter he makes several recommendations about how we can best move forward now that knowledge is changing and becoming networked. Among them is teaching young people and students “how to use the Net, how to evaluate knowledge claims, and how to love difference (pg. 192).”

These types of literacies that Rheingold and Weinberger mention are important, but I don’t know if they get discussed many places. Librarians address some of them such as evaluating information and crap detection, but we don’t teach a lot about consumption vs. creation, loving and seeking out difference, curating/filtering information, or attention/distraction.

I agree with Rheingold and Weinberger that these are skills that our students as citizens of the web should have, but I’m not sure where they should be discussed. We often get trapped into thinking that we’re simply helping students with their research. But we’re not just trying to teach students to become successful academic researchers. We are trying to help them become sophisticated consumers and creators of information. This is a much bigger view that encompasses student’s critical thinking skills, lifelong learning and the future of the web.

Are there lessons or ways that you address some of these skills in your information literacy instruction? How do you talk about curation, loving difference, or distraction? Are there places or instances in which you see these conversations taking place? Are these topics we should be talking about with students?

2

Content Farms and Teachable Moments

I’ve noticed a lot of posts lately about how the quality of Google’s search is declining. This is mainly due to content farms that churn out mediocre to low quality articles about every imaginable topic. They do this in the hopes that people will find their pages through Google and click on the ads there.

These content farms are things you have seen in search results before. They are sites like eHow, eZine Articles, HubPages, and Yahoo Answers among many others. And they are annoying as hell. I can’t remember ever finding a useful post on Yahoo Answers. Luckily, it seems that Google is finally trying to do something about it.

For some things, Google is great. I can type “Aljazeera” in and quickly find their English page without knowing the URL. For articles where I can’t remember who wrote them or where I read them, I can type a few keywords that I remember and retrieve them. But if I am doing any shopping I’m not going to Google. There is far too much spam and bias. I’ll go to Amazon or directly to a site. If I am looking for a somewhat credible answer to a not simply factual (Wikipedia) sort of question, I’m not likely going to search Google. Or if I do, I am often disappointed.

This was part of what I was trying to get at in my information landscape post earlier this month. Google is not magic and can’t do everything. It often fails us, and we lower our standards for it because we believe that it’s magic. It seems like these posts about lower quality search results could be used as teachable moments for students.

I observed another librarian teaching and she talked to students about sites like these. She pointed out things like the “belly fat” ads and how the content is normally pretty terrible. It seemed to work very well. Can we use this problem with search to help students become more discerning information consumers? Does anyone else talk about this?