Monday, December 04, 2006

Article Note: On Information Literacy for Lifelong Meaning

Citation for the article:

Ward, Dane. "Revisioning Information Literacy for Lifelong Meaning." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 32.4 (July 2006): 396-402.

I read it via ScienceDirect.

This is probably one of the best articles on information literacy I have read this year. I found myself making a lot of little notes and underlining various passages. The author states that "information literacy consists of a broader array of competencies than our instructional practices and competency standards would suggest" (396). The author argues for looking at information literacy in broader terms, and in the process discusses ways to revision learning. As I often do, I will make some notes from the article I found interesting or that invited reflection. I will add some thoughts here and there.

  • "Critical thinking is not always sufficient in itself as a strategy for navigating through the information universe" (396). Ward argues that information literacy is not just about critical thinking. We need to know how to manage and make meaning of the information we find. This also includes having opportunities to engage in reflection.
  • "This conceptualization would dictate that as librarians and faculty, we devote as much attention to helping students make a personal connection to a topic as we do to the analytical aspects of conducting research and generating a paper or presentation" (396-397).
  • "Teaching students to think critically about information is a fundamental goal of information literacy instruction, as it should be. Without a well-developed capacity to evaluate and use information from books, library databases, or the Internet, students make questionable decisions, and sometimes about very important matters. The lack of adequately developed information skills among a nation's citizens hinders the successful functioning of democracy and decision-making for the common good" (397).
For openers, that statement on teaching to think critically reminded me of the Carlson article on undergrad citation behavior that I recently read mostly because it looked at choices in citations made by students. However, why they made those choices was still an open question. Next, I wondered because there may be some librarians out there who would only look at information literacy as a mere tool to find the information. Teaching about critical thinking and making good decisions when it comes to information and its use should be a part of what we do, part of promoting good citizenship. It carries a political element in the sense of promoting that successful functioning of democracy that Ward mentions. I am thinking about this in light of things I learned during JCLC and Immersion, but that may be a future post. On a final thought on this, the idea of teaching students to think critically should be a collaborative effort. Faculty and academic librarians, and I would include in this staff of support units like writing centers, should work on this as a common goal.

  • "Personal, interior experiences of information are fundamental to a vital information literacy that can make a difference in our lives and in the world" (397). This sounded a bit idealistic to me, but it's something to strive for nonetheless.
  • A couple of challenging questions: "Can we be information literate if we possess the technical ability to find and evaluate information, but not the human capacity to experience and value it? Can we be committed to an issue if it fails to resonate with anything within us?" (397).

On those two questions, personally, I would answer probably not to the first question. Information literacy is more than just the technical prowess. Unfortunately, I have heard people on my campus assuming that if students can use Google, then they are information literate. It makes my blood boil when some administrator embraces that limited line of thinking. As for the second question, that's a question I would have asked some of my students back in my days of teaching composition. I still ask that question at times during some research consultations. Maybe it's more proof that faculty and librarians share common goals regarding students' education if we are asking the same questions.

  • "Relevant information skills are those that permit us to navigate the Web and to understand more fully how our lives are shaped by the information and information choices we are given" (398).
  • "It is not enough for students to learn how to think critically about information for a research paper. They must learn how to be engaged and why to care" (398).
  • Ward ventures a prediction: "I predict that the future of information literacy instruction will increasingly emphasize other ways of understanding information, and that this will include teaching students about personal engagement and self-knowledge" (398). It should make for an interesting time in information literacy if we could work towards it.
  • Ward considers the problem of student engagement during library sessions. He has a different take: "I would argue that it is a problem of information literacy, a failure on our part to address a fundamental information issue--the necessity of addressing both sides of our interaction with a complex information universe" (398).

Ward tells us that we get information from the outside and the inside. As I think about it, I recall that in teaching writing, you would ask students to first write from the inside, from what they know, and then to go outwards, do research, so on. But we used to talk about being engaged with the topic and making it meaningful to the writer. Maybe some things don't change. Maybe librarianship is starting to discover (or rediscover) some of these things. Or maybe I am seeing this as a teacher would. Not many librarians have pedagogical training, though programs like Immersion work to fill that gap. It's not something in an LIS curriculum, other than the occasional BI class. I think if instruction is your path in librarianship, either a degree in teaching or extensive training in teaching help a lot in my humble opinion. I was fortunate. I came to librarianship with a teaching degree and experience. But I can ponder on that some other time.

  • "To teach students about personally meaningful information and non-analytic information processes means first and foremost to create a space where the inner life can be nurtured, where creativity can emerge, where students can love the questions. Librarians and teachers must design information literacy instruction that permits this possibility" (398-399).
  • "Being information literate means having the capacity to apply different systems of evaluation for different information needs" (400).
  • "This broad view forces us to recognize once and for all that information literacy is not a synonym for library instruction" (401).
  • A question: "Do libraries have anything to offer to the process of teaching the other side of information?" (401).
That question refers to the internal side of learning. We should be able to give an affirmative answer followed by descriptions of how we do it. If we can't give that positive answer, it's time to take a serious look at our information literacy programs.

  • On talking to the faculty: "When we talk to faculty about the library's curricular participation, we must emphasize the possibilities inherent in this broad information domain, and the repertoire of learning that far exceeds critical thinking alone. We must talk to faculty about supporting student engagement by bringing additional information into the classroom that elicits a personally meaningful response, and that permits students to understand themselves better through the content of the course" (401).
When I was starting out as a teacher, I had to write one of those philosophy of teaching documents. I had to revisit the idea when I was in the job market to become a librarian because at least one place asked for it. If you are hiring for an instruction/information literacy librarian, you should be asking the candidates about their philosophy of teaching. If the candidates have no clue, hire someone else. Anyways, when I rewrite my philosophy of teaching, and by the way, that is a document that should change and grow as you grow in your teaching, I want the following statement in it somehow:

  • "In order to help students become lifelong learners, we must not only help them understand themselves better. We must understand them as well, understand that their lives are more complicated than we can often appreciate. They do not turn off their lives when they step into our library session or class. We need to open the doors of communication, to be co-learners with them, to grow with them. We must live the reality that life is a relationship, not about separation by goal or department" (401).

I am reminded constantly of how complex some student lives can be. A lot of the work I do is getting to know the students; it is a never-ending task, but if I did not believe in its importance nor enjoyed relating to them, I would be doing something else entirely. Maybe some of the L2 movement is grasping at this when librarians open MySpace accounts and implement IM for reference. But as long as the tone and attitude is formal and distant, L2 will remain clueless. You have to blend yourself with the masses. You learn with them and from them. It's another part of life. Good educators have known this long before L2 or any other movements came around. I have come to learn it along the way.

  • "Librarians with a broad understanding of the two sides of information literacy will become partnered with classroom faculty, technologists, student affairs personnel, and students in a seamlessly integrated curriculum" (402).
That is exactly what the role of an instruction librarian should be: actively engaged in the academic community. This is what I try to work for, even if there are days when the limitations seem overwhelming. Sometimes you have to do it a step at a time, an idea that I often have to remind myself when I wish things would move faster.

  • And finally: "I believe that such a revisioning of information literacy would give birth to the future academic library--a place thoroughly integrated into the flow of campus learning where librarians, possessing diverse knowledge and expertise, would assist patrons in a multiplicity of information-related processes. These would include finding quality information, exploring the personal significance of a topic, framing an aesthetic experience of music, and facilitating personal awareness. Our area of expertise would be the entire field of information process, now taught in piecemeal fashion on our campuses" (402).

As I wrapped up my reading of the article, I wondered about that last statement above. I wanted to ask how does this challenge our "basic" notions of what we can and can't do in reference? I am talking about what we often learn in library school regarding borders of answers, interpreting, so on. And then there are the challenges to instruction. Overall, this is more than just showing students how to find the stuff. But this is a challenging proposition. How many librarians out there would be willing or able to embrace this?

Update note (12/4/06, 6:11p): With apologies to readers as I forgot to put the citation information as I usually do at the top. It has been posted now.


CW said...

Angel, could you post the bibliographic details of this article? Sounds like it's definitely worth a read!

Angel, librarian and educator said...

CW: Oops, big time. I usually post it on the top, and it is clear I just plain forgot this time. Please see the post again (updated) to include the citation.

Mark said...

Thanks CW (and Angel), now I don't have to ask. I had my suspicions; borne out, too.

"Personal, interior experiences of information..." Any idea what the heck is this supposed to mean Angel? I think it's not only idealistic, but (out of context anyway) pretty much incoherent.

Maybe he means a deeply, personally moving experience primarily due to a personal engagement with a "piece" of information at some point. [I have no doubt it could be said purtier.] OK. But that is NOT an experience of information. It is an experience that arose due to the presence of some information in a complex situation.... Can one ever speak coherently of "an experience of information?" Anyway, any clue what Dane was trying to say?

I want you to take your positive lessons anywhere you can, but possibly ask yourself how the instruction program at the author's institution is?

I am *not* intending to disparage it; but, it is not all those things in the article. Sorry Angel, I'm starting to get cranky.

It is is a nice sounding vision, based on what you described.


Seriously. Sorry for the crankiness. I didn't leave this tab open all day to come back and gripe. Some day we will discuss this sort of thing over some beverages.

Time and distance is said to help; but these wounds were darn near fatal.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Mark: Hmm, you are asking me to explain something that, to an extent, is sort of something I know as a teacher by intuition. Yea, I know, that is not exactly very scientific, and probably it is not the answer you seek right away. I went a bit less deeper and thought about it in terms of my experiences as a composition teacher where you teach your students to first write from what they know. Before you send them out to do research and "experience" the outside world, you have them learn about the writing craft, and about themselves in the process (not as sure how intentional this part is, even those in comp and rhet debate some of it), by writing about what they already know. You ask them to write drawing from their own experiences rather than drawing from something exterior to them. Idealistic? You bet. Incoherent? I am not quite ready to go that far, but it is food for thought.

I don't think the inner experience has to be something deeply moving, though often in those days I had students write about some very personal things (that could be a whole other post). And hey, what you are asking is the type of thing that many educators, and even some parents ask. I am not sure I gave you "the" answer, but I hope this works to give you "an" answer.

As always, best and keep on blogging.

Barbara said...

I would say you can experience information. You can feel it's something out there that someone else makes and all you can do is watch, or you can feel as if it's a conversation that you can be part of. There's a big difference when students begin to connect - not just with this or that idea or text, but with the larger sense that they can be part of it - that is a real shift in perspective, and it's empowering.

I'm not sure if that's the meaning in this article, exactly, but I see this happen and it's really neat to watch.

The idea of getting involved in interpretation and aesthetics and other considerations beyond finding and evaluating information does offer some challenges (not just because of our typical reluctance to make value judgments but also because there's usually another teacher involved, the one who gave the assignment) - but I would hate to do reference or instruction in a vacuum where I couldn't get excited about the ideas involved and the way they're presented. If you can't demonstrate that kind of engagement, what sort of message does it send? That it's all just stuff, and if you follow the instructions carefully you can put it together the correct way. That's a recipe for disengagement.

Thanks for the reference - I have some reading to do!

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Barbara: Thanks for stopping by, and you are welcome. It can be a fortunate thing for a teacher to see when one the students finally sees him/herself as being part of the experience rather than just the recipient. More to think about. Best, and keep on blogging.

CW said...

Thanks Angel! Mark's and Barbara's comments have given me a bit to ponder too - I'm definitely going to have to read the article now!

Mark said...

Hi all,

Sorry for my 1st posting Angel, and I sat on this one for a day [busy most of it]. Glad I did as I see more conversation. [Actually, I just re-read it and it isn't as bad as I thought, but my point wasn't real clear either.]

There's a lot I'd like to say to you Angel but this is neither the time nor the place.

I hope I didn't come across as disparaging instruction. I do not! My views are complicated by the fact that I think that if we have to teach them this stuff in college--to get them to recognize this experience of information that Barbara talks about--then I think we're lost as a civilization [assuming it continues]. I do think that individual students are still reachable and I am immensely grateful to the "teachers" out there [at all levels] who strive to do so. Hell, if I'm still teachable then a heck of a lot of those 18 year olds ought to be too.

Barbara, I think I do understand what you are trying to say. But I still would not use those words to say it. I think you were trying to describe being awash in, aware of, experiencing the "grand conversation," I believe it may have been called [I do *not* mean the "canon"]. And today, this includes much more "local" things of importance than have previously been excluded.

If I'm anywhere close, then I would say that this is an experience of being in a world in which this sort of "conversation" is going on--be it cutting edge advertising or hip hop references or Shakespeare--and having the skills to navigate and make sense of it. And that, as you both say, is a very powerful realization!

I certainly do not want to convince anyone of my use of words, but to *me* it is incoherent to speak the English words "Personal, interior experiences of information" in this sequence. Actually, drop personal because that's extraneous. Drop interior and I might well say that's what Barbara was talking about. Anyway, "experience" and "information" are not words I am going to define for anyone.

[You know what, what is that "interior" doing there anyway? Can you have an exterior experience? Oh, forget it. Way too much philosophy and cognitive science.]

Angel, I think I did confuse you because as I said, I was not clear. I was mixing a semantic critique, something personal, and trying to be vague. I failed at most. Maybe all.

Let me first state that I know nothing about the pedagogy of writing. Heck, I don't think I know much explicitly about writing.

But I do know that there is a vast difference between writing about something you have personally experienced and something you need to learn, research. I have repeatedly experienced this difference. Personally. Perhaps, interiorally. And exteriorally. I may even have some information on it by now. Hopefully a bit of knowledge and understanding. I'll quit before wisdom, don't worry. :) [Sorry, getting playful now.]

How one would teach how to do either, I don't know. But I respect the people who can.

My point, besides the personal, was that I don't get any meaning from the phrase,"Personal, interior experiences of information..." And I asked the question very poorly as it assumed (I did not, but I wrote it that way] that Angel agreed with me.

The quote was also so out of context (although, I can't imagine context helping much, at least not with "interior") that I shouldn't be trying to make meaning from it. But Angel found some meaning in it *so* I wanted to understand.

I can't make the claim that I'll read the article. But I will make the claim that I ought to. In some sense, I have a moral obligation now. "Duly noted."

But there are an awful lot of deeply interior experiences that I'm still trying to banish. And I fear it will be a while.

Thanks for the conversation, all.