Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Booknote: Integrating Information Literacy into the Higher Education Curriculum

Title: Integrating Information Literacy into the Higher Education Curriculum: Practical Models for Transformation.
Author: Ilene F. Rockman and Associates
Publication Information: San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass, 2004.
ISBN: 0-7879-6527-8
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Library Science, higher education, instruction, information literacy.

I started reading this shortly after I returned from Immersion. The book provides a collection of essays on information literacy and higher education. After the book's introduction, readers can read the essays in order or pick and choose based on interests. I found myself bending little corners of pages with the intention of revisiting passages, which for me is a sign of a book that invites further thinking and reflection. I only wish that more administrators in my campus would read it and maybe heed some of its ideas. Let's just say that when it comes to Information Literacy (IL) in my campus that I have many miles to walk. Overall, there is a need to take IL outside of the library; it has to become a campus-wide effort, not just something the library does. To do this, collaboration with faculty is needed as well as buy-in and support from the administrators. In her foreword to the book, Patricia Senn Breivik discusses this, adding that librarians are often reluctant to give up control, but I will say that classroom faculty can be just as territorial. For IL to take hold, it will take serious dialogue and cooperation between faculty and librarians. We already share a common interest in seeing our students succeed. We could build from that in order to assure that our students learn skills that will serve them in and out of the university. Why is this an issue? Here is one reason:
"Individuals who are knowledgeable about finding, evaluating, analyzing, integrating, managing, and conveying information effectively and efficiently are held in high esteem as being information competent" (xv).

In the book's preface, Ilene Rockman provides a suggested list of people who should read this book. I certainly qualify under the "academic librarians involved in campus teaching. technology, curriculum, or assessment activities" (xvii). However, I would like it if some faculty members and their department chairs read it. Heck, I would be really curious if the new Active Learning Specialist the campus is hiring with such fanfare as part of the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) has read it, plans to read it, or at least has some thoughts on the topic. And, if he has read it, I would like to know what he found useful, what could be implemented and how. Overall, I think this is a book that various members of the campus community should be reading, yet I get the feeling it will sit on the shelf for a long time after I return it.

Ilene Rockman provides the Introduction for the book, which serves to make a case for the importance of IL. She looks at the definitions and reviews the evolution of the concept. As I often do, I will jot down some ideas and quotes from the book I would like to remember and add my comments and thoughts. If you came here to see if I recommend the book, the answer is yes, and you can stop reading now. Otherwise, feel free to keep reading these notes.

Let me start with this from the Introduction:
  • "Students may have picked up the skills to send electronic mail, chat, download music, but many have not learned how to effectively locate information; evaluate, synthesize, and integrate ideas; use information in original work or give proper credit for information used" (10).
Unfortunately, this illusion is alive and well in my campus, and it is something my colleagues and I strive to dispel. We do have some administrators who think that just because a student can use Google that the student can automatically use it to find information and use it effectively to complete an assignment or task. Skills like these take time and effort to teach and nurture. The fact that many faculty fall for the illusion is problematic. It is even more problematic when they compound the problem by assuming the students learn "about the library" in some other class. Yet teaching IL should be a cooperative effort. Faculty should coordinate their efforts more with their colleagues as well as librarians and other campus learning support units. The evidence points out that simply hoping students will somehow learn it is not enough.
  • "It is clear from the studies that students are not picking up information literacy skills on their own. Without a concerted instructional effort that gives students multiple opportunities to practice their information literacy skills, such skills will not be effectively developed. Just as an athlete needs sustained conditioning and practice before a big game and a musician needs to rehearse before a performance, a student needs multiple experiences to practice and hone information literacy skills before graduating and pursuing advanced study or entering the workplace" (from Introduction).
The above may also be food for thought for those faculty who think that a quickie library tour with no focus or tailoring to the class is the cure-all for their students' research needs. Change is a constant companion, so why would a faculty member think that a quickie BI session will be relevant, let alone remembered, in later semester and for other subjects that may be more specialized? I sometimes tell faculty that they can always bring a class to the library a second time. I do it if I get the impression that the task at hand for the students may require complex searching or different strategies beyond what might be covered in a single session. More often than not they look at me funny, as if asking, "now, why would I do that?" If you have to ask, you still have work ahead of you. I do have a few supportive faculty, so in my case, there is some hope, infinitesimal as it may be. Yet, I wish I could reach so many more.

On a brief aside, I think some of this could be helpful with retention and graduation rate issues, but I don't see much interest from the powers that be in exploring this route.

Getting back to the book, the introduction provides various examples of ways that IL can be integrated into the campus curriculum. The message is simple, but implementing it will require work and commitment. According to Rockman, "it is the responsibility of the entire college or university to help our students to become information literate, an essential element for future success" (22).

Moving along, I was interested in reading Susan Carol Curzon's chapter on faculty-librarian relationships. For one, it is something I struggle with at work given that a large number of faculty can be resistant or indifferent to anything the library says or does. Yet I was also interested because back when I was in the job market, one of the places I interviewed at asked me to do a presentation on the topic. Since then, I keep a running bibliography of items on the topic, so I will be adding this in. Curzon emphasizes that this needs to be a partnership, and this means sharing in an endeavor. She writes that "the parties must have a mutual interest in the endeavor and see a mutual benefit emerging from it. Both parties must give similar weight to the goods and make a similar commitment" (29). Herein lies the challenge for us since a lot of my work is simply attracting faculty's attention and creating awareness. Curzon provides the following steps to help the process:
  • Identify partners. Determine who to target and address. Start small. For instance, find the library committee from the faculty senate and start there. Find other venues such as learning centers.
  • Create awareness. Curzon writes, "support can only come when faculty are aware of what information literacy is, why it is important, and what problem it is solving" (32). Remember that information literacy supports critical thinking, that it is a lifelong skill, and it helps with current academic endeavors. Having a lot of data for evidence helps too given faculty respect data.
  • Avoid partnership pitfalls. A lot of this boils down to diplomacy with the faculty. Faculty, according to Curzon, can be very territorial, so avoid igniting this tendency. Curzon thus suggests that librarians should send messages of inclusiveness (36). On the one hand, I can agree with some of this. On the other hand, this can place librarians in a supplicant mode, which I despise. As a trained professional, I expect respect just as faculty do. It has to be on an equal footing with common goals.
Curzon then describes various models for teaching information literacy along with faculty such as the General Education model (incorporating IL into GE goals) and the on-demand model that we commonly know. I found these descriptions to make a nice overview of what is out there. A note that Rockman looks at success strategies as well in chapter 2. Curzon concludes her chapter:
  • Here is the bottom line: if students are not information literate, they cannot use information effectively. If students cannot use information effectively, they cannot function effectively in their studies" (44).
In chapter four, Baker and Curry provide a plan and a set of competency checklists I found useful. I may have to go back and make some further notes, maybe to help me create some checklists to meet our needs locally.

In chapter 5, Trudi E. Jacobson discusses IL for research settings. Even though the chapter is geared to large research institutions, I found some interesting things that are applicable to any setting. I found particularly useful the section on "Lessons from Other Institutions." I think these lessons are important, so I am jotting them down. Italics are from the original text.
  • "Make information literacy a campus concern" (161). According to Jacobson, the idea is that it can't be just a librarian issue. The campus as a whole has to take responsibility.
  • "Involve all constituencies during implementation of the program" (161).
  • "Have a small committee to provide oversight" (162).
  • "Do not leave out librarians." Jacobson reminds us that librarians have done a great deal of work and research in this area. "They will also be able to bolster information literacy initiatives by providing assistance both directly in the classroom and through support materials" (162).
  • "Support instructors who are teaching information literacy" (162). This includes space, resources, and professional development.
  • "Support librarians who are supporting other faculty members" (162). Here, I am including Jacobson's explanation, then my comments. She writes:
"The amount of time needed to support full-fledged information literacy programs can be phenomenal. It is unrealistic to expect librarians to add these responsibilities to an already full job description. New librarians may need to be hired or existing responsibilities may need to be reassigned or dropped entirely in order for librarians to be able to focus on campuswide information literacy initiatives" (162).

The reason I wanted to jot down that passage is that, when I got back from Immersion, it was something I clearly told my supervisors about. The answers I got were not exactly satisfactory, and I have been thinking about this in and out since then. Here, the instruction program is a very small operation, part of a small library operation overall. One of our problems is personnel shortage. We barely have enough to operate. Losing one or two librarians now would be chaos. No, I don't mean to sound dramatic. But, say take out the ILL Librarian and the Web Librarian, and it could be dire. In terms of instruction and IL, we are pretty much in a business as usual model. We can either stay that way, or we can strive to grow the program. Unfortunately, there is only one of me, and I have not quite figured out the mechanics of genetics to clone myself. Back to the serious note, I am the primary library instructor. If we are going to grow, I need the time to do things like meet with faculty, create some materials to raise awareness, maybe try out some outreach ideas such as working with the Supplemental Instruction (SI) leaders. Like the other librarians, I have a full plate in terms of reference and collection development. Instruction is my core job function, and I would not leave it for the world. I can't really give up reference for two reasons. One, it would burden the other librarians. Two, I need the reference experience to keep in touch with students. As for collection development, similar reasons I can't drop that. This all makes a tough balancing act to which the answer of "you may need to drop something" is not realistic nor constructive. When I ask for other librarians to pick up the occasional class, I don't think it should become like the hunt for Red October. At any rate, those are the cards I have been given. In my case, dropping something would mean someone else having to pick it up, or it just won't get done. I personally find that answer unacceptable. It's time we as a group decide IL is important, and if it is, then we should put our resources and commitment to it. As for the campus, IL is barely an afterthought, but I am working on that.
  • "Evaluate information literacy courses and instruction and assess student learning" (162). In other words, find out if the things that are supposed to be happening are happening. Running better assessment on what I do now is another activity I would like to do, but again, the support is lacking. I can only do so much.
While we are mentioning assessment, chapter 6 provides tables with various types of performance indicators, based on ACRL, for information literate students. These are definitely worth a look along with some of the example test questions and other items.

At the end of the day, perhaps this is why information literacy is significant. Here's an answer to the "so what" question, from the book's conclusion:

"Faculty want to see an improvement in the quality of student work, an increase in the effectiveness of student, students taking more responsibility for their own learning, and students eager to engage in content to continue learning. Students want to complete assignments with less difficulty and more satisfaction and apply this knowledge to any new situation. Employers want to hire graduates who can take responsibility, solve problems, absorb and synthesize key concepts, organize and present information, and produce ideas for the future. And colleges and universities want to graduate students who will reflect positively on their institutions and become learners for the rest of their lives" (239-240).

As I said at the beginning, I wish more faculty and administrators would read this book. I wish I could have more conversations about its content and about information literacy, especially conversations that will yield some action. But until that day comes, I will do my best to keep learning, practicing, and growing as an instruction librarian. In the meantime, I recommend the book highly to anyone with an interest in IL and higher education.

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