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.



Make Your Own Learning

Several weeks ago I wrote a post about courses that I wished that they had offered in library school. There were a lot of great comments from folks about knowledge that they wish they had. These were things like event planning, research methodologies, programming, and others. The reason I wrote it was not so much to complain about the lack of opportunities in library school, but for it to be a signpost for current MLIS students about what they may want to investigate. It was also a recognition of skills that I would like to learn and skills that are useful for librarians today.

After the post, Fiona Bradley wrote a related one saying rather wisely that there is no way that we can learn everything in library school, and that it doesn’t matter because “librarianship is the ultimate extensible profession.” We have the skills for lifelong learning. She says in her post to go out and “make your own learning.” I love this sentiment, and it is getting easier all the time.

Education is noticeably changing. It is becoming less centralized. People with initiative can gain new skills or get a very good (though perhaps not credentialed) education for free or cheap. People who want to improve their skills can brush up or take a class any number of ways online or in person. There are a wide variety of tools available to get those skills in things like event planning or graphic design.

You can learn about entrepreneurship and innovation by watching lectures (like the one above about change and fear) from Stanford’s eCorner. You can learn how to code the fun and easy way with CodeAcademy or learn Python at the Kahn Academy. You can learn how to host a conference or basic graphic design from SkillShare.

With the vast amount of content available, instead of finding a teacher you could create a learning community on a service like Google+ and design lessons that center around shared readings and videos and host discussions via text or video chat.

Anne Murphy Paul at a Time Magazine blog says that projects like these are “ushering in a new golden age of the autodidact: the self-taught man or woman.” I tend to agree with her. Learning is not merely going to be students passively receiving knowledge from teachers. It will be a proactive pursuit for people who are curious and want knowledge that will benefit them either for personal growth or additional job skills. As librarians we are the “ultimate extensible profession.” We can learn graphic design if we want to. But are there also ways for us to help our students and users learn outside of the classroom? Can we somehow connect them with resources like those mentioned above? Can we facilitate peer to peer learning among students and community members who want to share their expertise? How can we create more opportunities for our community members to make their own learning?


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.