Currently browsing 'information literacy'
Registration is now open for the California Conference on Library Instruction, the best little conference that could. It’s an annual, one-day conference focused on librarian-led instruction and information literacy.
CCLI played a critical role in my career. A couple months after graduating library school, while working part time in a temporary position, I attended CCLI. The keynote presenters that year were Nicholas Schiller, Char Booth, and Karen G. Schneider. I had (once) previously met Karen, but it was my first time seeing any of them speak.
Nicholas Schiller presented about engaging students by teaching Google search strategies, SEO, and how Google Search works under the hood. Char Booth presented topics from her (then) new book, Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning, including how to be a self-aware, reflective teacher. Karen Schneider spoke about incrementally transforming a small academic library. In addition to the keynote speakers, there was also a panel that featured Nicole Greenland discussing faculty outreach through technology training.
Nicholas’ presentation formed the nucleus of a freshman workshop I developed later that year, a workshop that has evolved but is still in use for our first-year English students. Char’s presentation gave me confidence and inspiration in finding my voice as a teacher, something that at the time I had very little experience with. Four years later, I’m happy that I can now say I am friends with both of them. But equally importantly, Nicholas and Char gave me ideas to use when discussing library instruction and librarianship during a job interview I had a month later. I was a green, inexperienced librarian, but I approached that interview like I knew what I was talking about. Thanks to CCLI.
That interview was with Karen and Nicole. They hired me into my first (and current) librarian position.
CCLI is small, and compared to national conferences, affordable. It’s only a one-day commitment, and I guarantee you will learn new things and come away with practical ideas. If you’re a northern California instruction librarian or MLIS student, it’s a great place to be.
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with maps. I had maps on the walls of my bedroom and I would browse an atlas for fun (nerd alert!). When I started reading, I liked the books with maps in the front (still do). By middle school, I had descended into roleplaying games and would spend hours (poorly) drawing maps of my own fictitious world, a habit that lasted longer than I care to admit.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise when professional peers started talking about curriculum mapping, I got interested. My first exposure to the concept came during the CARL Conference 2012 during a keynote presented by Char Booth and Brian Mathews. Char was presenting the curriculum mapping work she was doing at Claremont Colleges through an IMLS grant.
Meanwhile, my colleague Nicole Branch was investigating curriculum mapping as well. She attended a curriculum mapping workshop at ACRL 2013, and brought back a number of templates and materials we could incorporate into our work.
Scaffolding on the side of the Boston Public Library, used via Creative Commons license, courtesy Boston Public Library.
Nicole and I co-coordinate library instruction at our place of work. We are a small, private liberal arts university. We do not have a semester-long library skills course as some institutions do; information literacy instruction is a part of university learning outcomes and is intended to be integrated with regular course curriculum. Librarian-led instruction takes place in one-shot workshops, either initiated by the faculty or in conjunction with partnered academic programs.
As our program expanded and we received more faculty requests, Nicole and I ran into a problem that will be familiar to other instructional librarians: students who think (rightly or not) that they’ve “already had this workshop before.” As a small school, we do often see the same students in many of our different workshops. We needed to ensure we were delivering different presentations each time, not only to maintain student interest, but to actually address all five ACRL standards for information literacy instruction over the course of a student’s matriculation (which is plainly impossible in any single workshop).
Before we were “mapping,” we were already starting this coordination: sharing lesson plans with each other, identifying skills we wanted to address in one course vs. another, and working with academic departments to ensure that our instruction would be regular parts of course curriculum (our primary partners were our school’s freshmen composition classes and an interdisciplinary general education program attended by all undergraduates.) This “scaffolded” program of information literacy was the foundation of our curriculum map: the landmarks, as it were, to which we’d apply a roadmap.
Charting Our Program
The next phase in the development of our curriculum map was a response to an opportunity: our campus administration was starting to think about curriculum mapping as it relates to graduate and undergraduate programs, and our University Librarian suggested Nicole and I could present on the subject to our annual Dean’s Conference, an end-of-academic-year faculty meeting. Most faculty had only seen the portions of our information literacy instruction that related to their courses; this was a chance to unveil the comprehensiveness of our program and use it as an example when explaining how curriculum mapping worked.
One of the features of curriculum mapping is that it can be adapted to any level of instruction, whether it’s an individual workshop, a semester-long course, or an academic program, and the micro components can roll into the macro. You can start the process from scratch, or you can adapt existing learning outcomes and assessment models into the curriculum mapping format. It’s flexible.
Nicole Branch put together the backbone of our presentation. She adapted the materials distributed at the ACRL workshop, and also incorporated the approach developed at University of Hawaii, Manoa’s office of assessment. Our scaffolded series of workshops became this chart, showing which ACRL standards and university learning outcomes each of our workshops addressed. We didn’t input every detail of our workshop into this form; those existed in our detailed lesson plans, and didn’t need replication.
As the cherry on top, I adapted that chart into a mind map, which makes for a splashy visual presentation that faculty really responded to — the map in “curriculum mapping.”
For us, the completed curriculum map was transformative: we could see the big picture of how our program worked and the pedagogy we employed; it forced us to ask tough questions about our own assessment techniques; it allowed us to communicate our goals better with faculty; and we could identify which information literacy standards were inadequately addressed. It encouraged us to be reflective and we revised a number of our workshops as a result, a process that is still continuing as we strive to improve our program.
An Atlas for Higher Ed
The next chapter is unfolding right now. As a follow-up to the Dean’s Conference presentation, the administration has asked the library to work with various academic programs on their own curriculum mapping efforts. Nicole and I have developed a new presentation we’ve been delivering to different departments to assist them in their process. I am curious how each department will approach this differently, and what we will learn from them as a result. Together, we can produce a series of maps that intersect across university learning outcomes, academic majors, and general education requirements: an atlas for our model of higher education.
I recently posted an anecdote on tumblr about the impact library instruction can have on a student. The post was well-received, but there was one commenter who made this very relevant point, that I wanted to address in full:
I get requests from teachers pretty frequently to talk about “databases and research options” without their students having anything specific and looming in mind to research. Maybe, *maybe*, those are students that will remember, weeks months years down the line, that the library offers something they need. That’s what I question the worth of.
That is the essential challenge of “one-shot” information literacy instruction. What is the best approach to this scenario? Remember that when you get a vague request like “databases and research options,” you have a lot of leeway: there’s a lot to information literacy outside database demonstrations, and “research options” gives you some freedom. It’s your responsibility as an instructional librarian to turn this vague premise into something meaningful for the students. Going through the motions of demonstrating a couple different scholarly article databases isn’t going to be enough (or even the right track at all).
The Information Need
I interned in the reference and instruction department at the University of San Francisco five years ago. Gleeson Library’s coordinator of instruction, the wonderful Joe Garity, made the point to me that a research workshop that’s not grounded in an information need — an assignment the students are working on — will rarely have a meaningful impact.
One of the workshops he brought me in to co-teach with him was a freshman year composition & rhetoric course. This was an archetypal example of a class where we were asked to present “databases and research options,” despite the fact that the students were not going to be writing research papers.
The year was 2008, a presidential election year (Obama vs. McCain) as well as the year California’s Prop 8 was on the ballot. Joe talked to the instructor and discovered that the students’ next assignment was to make persuasive, debate-style speeches on electoral ballot issues. We focused on that. No student — especially a freshman — was going to trawl Academic Search Premier for research studies in order to make a political argument (even our actual politicians don’t do that level of research!).
So what were the students likely to actually do instead? Turn to the internet. Searching the internet for political information is risky: is there a topic more rife with heavily biased, unsourced websites and faux-journalism than American politics? We started where the students were likely to start: Wikipedia and its strengths, weaknesses, and edit wars. Then we moved on to navigating California’s state electoral webpage, and then searching for reliable fact-checking political websites. Sometimes information literacy instruction isn’t about driving traffic to the library’s licensed content; if those resources aren’t the right tool to solve a student’s real-life information need, then the workshop won’t be productive.
Of course, sometimes the library’s licensed content is the right tool, and those resources are rightfully the focus. But the lesson plan should always be centered around solving a student need (represented in the form of an assessable learning outcome) that relates to a student’s academic assignments. Figuring out which classes call for which approach starts with working with your faculty. Hopefully, you have a constructive relationship with the teacher or professor. Start a dialogue with the instructor about their student’s information need. If the instructor isn’t forthcoming (remember, they are busy, just like you), you can ask for a syllabus, or look at the course description to get a better sense.
Ultimately, no one 50-minute workshop can hope to cover all five ACRL standards for information literacy. If you are trying to build an information literacy program, you will want to look at your school’s curriculum and the way students progress (which it should be noted can vary dramatically by major or program). If you can map that curriculum to your information literacy learning outcomes, so that each librarian interaction with a student (whether that’s in a workshop, embedded in a class, or in a librarian-led credit course) builds on previous interactions and on student coursework, you can ensure your institution is covering the full spectrum of information literacy skills. More on curriculum mapping, a project we’re working on right now at my place of work, in my next post.
Earlier this month I orchestrated an information literacy workshop for our senior capstone Biology colloquium. The students in this course are conducting field research on a local urban freshwater stream, and their professor hopes that the students will submit the data they are collecting to a scholarly journal. She mentioned that ambition when we discussed having a library workshop for her students, and it planted an idea that sprouted into a unique (to me) lesson plan that I felt was very successful.
Since these students were seniors, they had already experienced at least some level of database interface instruction. I decided to skip that entirely. Instead, I wanted them to focus on journals, and the process a researcher might embark on individually if they were looking to publish in one.
After I launched the presentation with a short introduction, I broke the eleven students into three groups, and had each group research one (pre-selected) journal in freshwater biology (which, sadly, did not lead to a wave of hashtag enthusiasm. I was looking forward to #teamamericanmidlandnaturalist, #teamjournaloffreshwaterecology, and #teamfreshwaterbiology tweets). My institution subscribes to two of the three journals, and each of the journals is hosted on a different platform, published by a different organization, and they collectively span different levels of prestige — a perfect mix to show off the spectrum of published content.
The teams had worksheets that directed them to look up certain things on their assigned journal’s author submission page (they looked for citation format, directions regarding headings, whether the author should supply keywords, whether there was a standardized dictionary, etc.) Directing the students to the journal’s webpage led to some interesting questions that have never come up in other workshops I’ve led. One student asked what an “impact factor” was, which sparked an interesting discussion of citations, notability, and other related metrics (and quickly got one group bragging about how their assigned journal had the highest of the three); the need for authors to submit keywords led to a discussion about database-driven article retrieval. Both of these are hard points to make as an instructor talking about database interfaces, but once these students saw the author submission pages, it really seemed to click for them — they could see the raw materials from which article databases are built.
After a short discussion period, where the groups announced their findings to the other students, we went into the next segment. The teams had to determine if our institution subscribes to their assigned journal, and download one article of their choice (I knew the one journal we didn’t subscribe to made a sample issue available on their website). This exercise got our students to use the journal finder feature on our website, another tool that students don’t always understand (undergrads frequently confuse article titles for journal titles, and using the former doesn’t work in a journal finder).
Once each team had an article in hand, I had them outline their article’s section headings (to see to what degree they matched the posted author instructions, and hopefully give them some guidance for their proposed journal submission) and count the list of references (to give them a sense of the depth of research on published articles, and again, a better sense of the expectations for them). They also looked up their articles in Google Scholar to investigate the “cited by” feature — which circled back to our earlier conversation about impact factor and the notability of articles. The team whose journal had the lowest Impact Factor turned out to have the most cited article, which gave them a chance to brag in return (the camaraderie between the students was a lot of fun).
We finished off the workshop by using Google Scholar to import their articles into a RefWorks account (our library is an institutional subscriber) and a brief overview of RefWorks use.
Crossing the Threshold
What struck me about the workshop — and part of why I felt it was so successful — was the curiosity it generated in the students. Students asked unprompted questions about not only Impact Factors, but open access journals, pay-to-publish journals, journal subscription fees, author reimbursement (or lack thereof), and tenure in academia. These are subjects that have almost never come up in my experience as an instructional librarian (with undergrads); the fact that these were student questions driven by their own investigative experience felt like a breakthrough, as if we crossed a threshold point in their understanding of scholarly resources. I feel like the minutiae of database search will now come more naturally to them despite the lack of any direct discussion of the subject — a win-win if there ever was one.
Now, if this colloquium does indeed get published, I hope I get included in their acknowledgements — another subject that came up through student questions!