Monday, April 03, 2006

Thoughts on teaching Information Literacy, prompted by a CIL report

Meredith Farkas, of Information Wants to be Free, reported on a Computers in Libraries 2006 (CIL) session on Information Literacy and Instruction. The session was given by Kathleen Stacy. Readers should keep in mind that I am basing my reply on Ms. Farkas' notes on the session.

The session discussed techniques for one-shot BI sessions. While there are some good ideas, there are a few elements that I would question or disagree with. The first three--objectives, task orientation, and results--are basics I can certainly agree with. However, while basing a session on a class task is ideal, this is not always an option given either a poorly prepared professor or just a clueless professor (I have dealt with both varieties, and then some). In such cases, a little creativity on the part of the librarian helps. A good instruction librarian who has regular contact with students and does a regular reference desk rotation should have a sense of what students may find useful. When the professor gives no plan, I try for an educated guess based on my reference experience. Yes, I said a guess; however, once I leap, I do have a plan and some objectives.

On the reference to classroom control software in the notes, you'll get no argument from me. I am very in favor of tools to keep students on task. As far as I am concerned, every professor in their electronic classrooms should have this; it should not be just a library thing. Now, this does not mean you lock out students for the whole session while you lecture. Use common sense combined with a lesson plan that allows for practice and application of any material demonstrated.

Ms. Farkas notes that Ms. Stacy pointed out things to include in presentations and things to leave out. Here are some thoughts on the items on the list:
  • "Lots of 'how', some 'what,' minimal 'why.'" Yes, you do give lots of "how," but I would not discard the "why" so readily. Ms. Stacy makes the "why" into a minimal component. By explaining some of the "why" in teaching about searching and how searches work or not, you are not only letting the students in on the workings of the process, but you get them to think as well.
  • I would not leave out the advanced features. In fact, most of our databases by default go to advanced screens. Just because Google has a single box, it does not mean students cannot learn a few tricks to get better search results. You should be selective on what advanced features to emphasize in a short one-shot session, but you should not leave the advanced features out. Just one example: Lexis-Nexis Academic would not be as powerful if you don't show the students how to use the Guided News Search (an advanced feature) and instead settled for the basic search. Sure, it takes some extra steps, but the effort is worth it.
  • Ms. Stacy apparently suggested leaving out personal information. I am not sure what this refers to, and Ms. Farkas does not clarify it on her notes. If it means the librarian leaves personal information about him/herself out, I will say this is common sense. In my sessions, I always introduce myself and provide full contact information (office number, phone, e-mail, IM). I don't give anything home related, but any teacher worth their salt knows this. As for some information, for instance, about having a blog to illustrate having a website or an anecdote to add some humor, I certainly use those. So, this suggestions seems puzzling because I am not sure what it means, and if it is what I interpret, it seems common sense, and thus makes no sense to state it.
  • On evaluation sources and results, Ms. Stacy advocates leaving that out as well. I say put some of it in. You don't need a big lecture on this, but now and then highlighting poor results or even showing a "bad" search can be very illustrative. The book review example is good. I often point out that a book review is useful to find another source of information (i.e. the book) but not as useful as a source itself. Besides, you can't nurture critical thinking if you don't at least address evaluation and results.
  • Sure, some stuff can go on a handout, but the handout should reinforce the presentation. It seems Ms. Stacy suggests putting details of advanced searching in the handout while not mentioning them in the presentation. If you give a handout, make sure it goes with the lesson. It does not mean you follow the document word for word in the presentation. Ms. Farkas asks if such stuff can go on a website. I say absolutely. To my readers and her I say, to answer her other questions, that some students may throw the handout away, but a lot of them don't. I know because very often students will come to the reference desk with a handout from the library in their hands.
  • "She usually leaves the stuff about being critical of information resources out of the session because it means that she can spend less time on the library resources. She tells the professors not to allow students to use stuff from outside of the databases. Hmmm… not sure if that’s the best way to do things. Should we be telling our students that Google is bad? I can see requiring some articles from databases, but suggesting that students not use Google at all is just as silly as saying that students should only use Google. Google has many things databases do not — esepcially government info — and it’s a bad idea to give students the impression that everything worthwhile is in the databases." The text in italics is Ms. Farkas' response to the remarks by Ms. Stacy. There are a few points here worth looking at. I have professors who tell their students not to use Google (or the Web), but as a librarian, I would never tell students to completely ignore Google (or other search tools). It is true that Google is not the universal search solution, but it does some good things. Which reminds me that I need to "play" a bit more with some of Google's other options; I could also use some time to "play" with other search tools, like the new If Ms. Stacy's excuse is that she would spend less time on library resources, I would tell her that it's time to get selective. Pick one or two good library resources for your purposes and show them well. This is preferable to a shotgun approach of trying to cover too many library resources. And if need be, show them some tricks to make better use of Google, or show them other online resources. Very often I will show Librarian's Internet Index to my students as an alternative. Best little resource for good information I have come across.
Well, at any rate, these are some thoughts. Maybe one of these days I should turn this into a presentation.

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