As I’ve mentioned before here, I am lucky enough to get to teach a semester long 2 credit hour course on information literacy. Unlike some librarians who have to figure out how to convey the complexities of evaluating a wide range of potential sources in one-shot instruction sessions in other people’s courses, I get to meet the same group(s) of students 29 times over the course of a single semester (twice a week for 14 weeks, and then a 2.5 hour final exam period). This semester, I am teaching two sections of the course, with 24 students per section. The down side to that is the time spent grading, but I even enjoy that a lot of the time!
In the past, one of my weak points was not doing enough to clearly articulate the purpose of various assignments. They are all designed to address a specific learning outcome, but some students see them as busywork. Part of the problem is that I have not always been good at making the explicit connection between the assignment and the learning outcome. But part of the problem, I think, has also been that students don’t always have the framework needed to see how that learning outcome relates to the learning outcomes for the course as a whole.
This semester, I’m trying to address both of those issues. To help put the more granular learning objectives in each lesson into a larger context, I am assigning readings from the revised draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. Instead of reading the whole thing in one go, I’m breaking it up to address each threshold concept on its own. I’m trying this because of the way this draft is written, with a paragraph or two describing the concept, followed by lists of practices and dispositions. The old IL Standards were not written in a way that was as easy to turn into assigned readings!
There are a million ways one could organize a course like mine, since many of the concepts relate back to the others. I start out by spending some time on evaluating information, including discussing evaluation criteria and identifying logical fallacies used as rhetorical devices. From there, we move into a discussion of plagiarism (with a dose of how plagiarism is different from copyright violation). Up next, we talk about developing appropriate research questions and they start to develop their own research questions to work on through the rest of the semester. And then, we start to talk about different types of sources and explore options for finding those sources. Those discussions include types of sources (book, journal article, mag article, etc.), what types of information you’re likely to find in those different types (overview & background info, research findings, details about current news, etc.), scholarly vs. popular and the grey area in between, the cycle of information, and so on. Yeah, we spend time talking about how to access and search databases, but always with an emphasis on function over form – EBSCO looks like this now, but ProQuest databases have most of the same functions, they just look different, and what are they all really doing when you click this filter and how can that help you? From there, I move toward more discussion about copyright, open access, and Creative Commons, and then some social media literacy issues.
So, this semester, on the second day of the first week of classes, I assigned a reading that introduced the new IL Framework and then included the “Authority is constructed and contextual” concept. In one section, we spent probably 20 minutes of the next class period discussing the concept before talking about evaluating information and developing a list of evaluation criteria to use. In the other section, when I asked who had done the reading, only 3 (of 24) raised their hands. So I tabled it to discuss later. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I ever got back to discussing it explicitly in that class.
Next, I assigned them to read “Scholarship is a conversation” in time to discuss it on the Thursday before plagiarism week. This time, though, I added a google form they had to fill out, which will count toward class participation scores (15% of their final grades). In addition to asking them to summarize the readings, I asked them to select one bullet pointed item (either a knowledge practice or a disposition) that they want to discuss in class. I tallied those up right before class and we discussed them in order of how many votes each got (most to least popular). That discussion seemed to go really well in both sections, though we didn’t “cover” the same ground in the same depth in both sections, since I was adjusting to what each group wanted to discuss and had questions about.
This week, they will read “Format as process”. Tomorrow will be the kind of boring class period during which they teach each other some tricks for searching the library catalog and then do a citation exercise. On Thursday, we’ll discuss the concepts in “format as process,” and then next week start identifying some different categories of types of sources. Right now, I have “Searching as exploration” on the schedule in a couple of weeks (week 8 of the semester) – after discussing types of sources but before doing too much in databases. The minor complication in that is that I will be presenting at a conference in Denver on the day that discussion is planned. Luckily, my colleague Jessica Critten has offered to sub for me that day. We haven’t discussed it yet, but I suspect that discussion will be right up her alley! A week later, I’ll assign “Research as inquiry”, and then “Information has value” a week after that – timed so that the last one leads us into a discussion about open access and Creative Commons licensing!
At this point, I feel like this is going really well… But, since we’ve only discussed 2 of the 6 threshold concepts so far, we’ve got a ways to go! Unfortunately, discussing the concept doesn’t equal internalizing that concept. I feel like they’re mostly getting it. I’m often the weird one among friends – when I sit down to grade, I’ve been getting excited at how well most of them are doing instead of complaining about grading being a tedious and/or disappointing chore. But we’re not even half way through the semester, so it remains to be seen how well they will apply this stuff in an actual research project.