Let Us Inquire Together

students working together

Image by Lower Columbia College on Flickr

What if instead of coming into an information literacy session planning to teach students how to evaluate a website or explain searching the databases or catalog you came into class planning to explore an interesting information literacy question with your students? This would be a really interesting or important question that affects not just college research but our everyday lives. These would be questions interesting to us as librarians, but also likely interesting to anyone living in this information age. I thought through an example of a question and session below.

How do I know what information to trust?

In this session, you could ask students to think of a person that they trust and then write down 3 reasons why they trust them. You could then begin to discuss what makes something or someone trustworthy. They might say they trust a person because he or she is smart (you could bring in the idea of expertise or authority). They might say they trust someone because they have earned it and have given them good information in the past (you could bring in the idea of reliability).

You could then transition into having groups of students finding the most trustworthy information they can in 15 minutes about different questions. One question could be “you want to have an informed opinion about the Trayvon Martin case; what information source in your opinion is most trustworthy?” In this instance a book or database likely wouldn’t be the best option and you could bring up ideas about currency, bias and perhaps primary sources.

Another question could be “You want to understand the scientific theory of evolution; what information source in your opinion is the most trustworthy?” The Google results for “theory of evolution” are to put it mildly, all over the place. They may choose a book or science magazine article and you could discuss the nature of the publishing process and again discuss bias. They could also come up with the Wikipedia entry and you could talk about the references and citations at the bottom and a different type of editorial process. In addition you could discuss how knowledge (just like research) is constructed as opposed to simply finding the answer.

Instead of simply deciding to teach about primary sources or bias, by focusing on an interesting question you are able to bring those concepts and others in while putting them in their proper context and highlighting their importance. Primary sources (for example the police report or audio recordings of 911 calls in the Trayvon Martin case) are really helpful in piecing together what actually happened. News media may bias things in the way they present the events, who they choose to interview, or even the pictures they choose to show of the parties involved.

You give up control in a session like this. You may not hit all your points and students may take you on tangents or places you didn’t even think about. This can make the session a little scarier. But it could also be really fun, and it makes the learning that much more meaningful to the students.

Some other possible interesting questions I thought of were:

What would these lessons look like? What are other interesting questions that you would ask? Would you like doing a session like this?


The title for this post came from, among other places, the book Teaching With Your Mouth Shut and from Marilee Goldberg Adams.



Teaching, And Reaching, First Years

Last week a few of the Teaching Librarians here at Champlain finished teaching our first-year, first semester information literacy course. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about some of the best videos for information literacy instruction. We used one of the videos, a TED talk by Eli Pariser about online filter bubbles, to open up a conversation about information and the web. After teaching nine of these classes, I have to say that it was extremely successful and probably one of my favorite sessions.

For one, it utilizes technology really well. We begin by using mobile phone polling which allows students to begin thinking about their own information habits and preferences. We ask them questions about their habits and then they have to respond and ultimately explain why they chose what they did. This gets at the motivations behind why students prefer getting information from the web, or face to face from people. It also gets at the idea that in different situations you might want to consult different sources or types of information.

We then show the TED talk and have students quietly reflect on it for a couple minutes by writing down their reactions and thoughts about it. This allows them to develop coherent opinions about it, especially useful for reflective learners. Following this, we discuss as a group the video and it’s implications. Opinions and discussions have ranged widely in my different classes, but there were a lot of strong reactions (both positive and negative).

Since it’s an inquiry based session we explore a number of different questions and don’t always come to the same conclusion. In most of the sessions though, we have agreed that in order to grow as human beings we need to get outside of our comfort zones and learn about things that may challenge us or that may be outside our immediate interests. We also often come to the conclusion that Google is just a tool and that we probably shouldn’t rely only on it to make our information decisions for us. We need to be thoughtful, and take responsibility for the information we consume.

Overall it seems like students enjoy the lesson because it’s accessible and immediately relevant to their world. They may not all agree with Pariser’s points, but most of them come away with slightly shifted perspective on information; and I am guessing many of them will be more mindful of how they search and what they are getting (or not getting) when searching Google.

The lesson has a great balance of activities that appeal to all types of learners, and I think it uses tech in the classroom really successfully. And one of the cooler things is that I overheard a couple students talking before one of the sessions and one them said “my friend said that this is a really fun class.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before in reference to a library session, so we must be doing something right.