Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Notes and my poster content from the 2014 Distance Library Services Conference

If interested, here are links to my conference notes, and the poster and associated brief handout from my poster at the DLS Conference:
Here's the summary of my poster:

With a staff of four librarians serving a population of 20,000 adult distance and blended learners, providing scalable
and accessible information literacy learning opportunities is a challenge for this medium-sized state university. In addition to live online workshops and a self-paced, text-based course, we strive to empower our instructional designers and faculty with easy-to-embed learning objects that can be used to teach or reinforce, through self-paced active learning where appropriate, necessary information and research skills at the point of need. These learning objects are designed to be modular and customizable to fit within the context of any curriculum, course or assignment.
Online scavenger hunts, information skills self-assessments, ask-a-librarian chat boxes, and video tutorials, some with interactive elements, all play a part in this low-cost endeavor. Objects are primarily created with free online tools (the exception is Adobe Captivate for videos). Each is heavily promoted to faculty, student support staff, and instructional designers as a plug-and-play service that can impact student assignment quality and preemptively relieve them from having to repeatedly answer basic, non-course content questions.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Can Students Tell the Difference


(update: the site this link goes to from 2010 is going away, so I'm reproducing it here)
I posted a brief article on my workplace blog that I figured I'd link to here:
Can Students Tell the Difference?

It discusses the problems students face in identifying the types and usefulness of information they find in online library databases.


Screenshot from Academic Search Complete
What you’re looking at above is a screenshot of three search results from one of the library databases, Academic Search Complete. To be upfront, I doctored the search to get this screenshot in order to illustrate a point: many of our students cannot discern, especially in the online environment, the source of the information they are using, nor understand the potential differences in perspective and bias that are the result of this. As the image illustrates, the problem we all know exists when students ‘Google’ something (i.e., the very wide variety and quality of results; evaluating quality), also presents complications for students when using a library research database, even one called “Academic Search Complete!”

The problem isn’t necessarily one of students’ lack of attention to the details in front of them (journal title, year, etc.) or not knowing what a scholarly resource is supposed to look like. Those can certainly be contributing factors, but a larger problem is caused by the unifying and democratizing nature of the online medium itself. In most of the larger research databases these days, peer-reviewed journal articles sit alongside trade and popular magazine articles, as well as newspaper articles, conference reports, dissertations and theses, encyclopedia entries, and even e-books. On the surface, as the image above shows, there is little that distinguishes these different kinds of information sources to the untrained eye.

As experienced scholars and expert researchers we know all the little things that might (or might not) help us determine the source of a piece of information, even through the homogenizing ‘skin’ of an online database. We know how to read critically. We know the basic elements of presenting research results and where to look for author affiliations. The problem is that students are neither comfortable yet with the issues, knowledge or even language of their field of study, nor experienced in using scholarly materials and search tools in general.

When you don’t know what questions to ask, you tend not to ask any questions at all.
As a result, students often take (and then quote in their papers) whatever results show up in a search, regardless of who wrote them, when or why they were published, or even if they don’t directly support their argument. Again, this is not the fault, in most cases, of the students themselves. The sad truth is that most students entering higher education (everywhere and of all ages, not just our own learners) have not yet encountered the need or been motivated to acquire the skills needed to critically read, evaluate, synthesize, and most importantly create new information. This is becoming especially true when a majority of that information is in a wide variety of electronic and multimedia formats.

I don’t have any easy solutions to this issue. The library has taken some initial steps in this battle with our Information Skills Tutorial and our @Home Library Workshops. But these limited and voluntary learning opportunities can only go so far. Successfully and sustainably tackling the urgent need for better information, research, and critical thinking skills in our new and graduating students will probably need a college- and even SUNY-wide collaborative effort; an effort that will require input and effort from faculty, administrators, instructional designers, student support staff, librarians and more.

My hope is that a growing discussion on these issues here at Empire State College is a good place to start. There are certainly short-term, as well as long-term things we can do to begin.
 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Library Instruction Articles I'm Reading 13(12)

Thought it might be a good exercise to share some of the articles I'm currently reading (mostly to get me reflecting on them more effectively) and then follow the post up with discussions of them (if they turn out to be discussion-worthy). Here's my current reading list (in the order I intend to read them - note the last 2 are subscription-only materials):
  • Sarah Anne Murphy, Elizabeth L. Black, Embedding Guides Where Students Learn: Do Design Choices and Librarian Behavior Make a Difference?, The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Volume 39, Issue 6, Nov 2013, 528-534, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2013.06.007
Anyone want to read some of these as well and share your thoughts? My plan is to write up some brief thoughts of my own next week on at least 1 or 2 of them.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Place of Confirmation Bias in Information Literacy Instruction

I've been thinking a lot about the concept of confirmation bias lately. This is the well-researched and pretty much universal psychological phenomenon wherein when we search for and interact with information, we tend to focus on those pieces of information that confirm our existing beliefs and ignore or downplay those that contradict those beliefs. We all view life and interpret the world around us through our own particular lenses, which are tinted/focused/aimed according to our existing beliefs. This isn't a bad thing. But, it does mean we all have blind spots, especially when a particular information need or research assignment touches on a topic that bumps up against strongly held beliefs. Is see this all the time on the reference desk: in the way students frame their research topic, in the way they ask their questions; and in the sources they end up using. As we know, unfortunately, many freshmen research papers task students with writing essays on a controversial or current social or policy topic, often requiring the standard "three information sources." This plays right into the wheelhouse of our confirmation biases.

I've started introducing this concept to students in my Research Skills online workshops. Not as a central piece of any lesson plan, but more as an icebreaker activity to get these mostly working adult students to reflect on their own thinking processes and beliefs. I start by asking them what they think confirmation bias is and then go on to a brief discussion about how such biases might blind us when we seek and interact with the topics and information sources needed for succeeding at the academic level. I try to make the point that we should attempt to overcome these biases so that we can make the strongest arguments to back up our ideas in our writing. In other words, it can mean better grades.

"Behind the Lens" via Flickr CC, by tj.blackwell
To me, this overall self-reflection, including trying to understand our own biases, is an overlooked aspect of academic library instruction, even in the chronically short-on-time one shots so many of us are relegated to doing. My workshops, even though I do have the "luxury" of 90 minute sessions, are still one shots. I still struggle to pare down what I cover. But unless students are aware of and able to reflect on their own biases, how can they make effective decisions during the information seeking, synthesizing and writing processes? How can we help them develop the skills to become critical thinkers if they never turn that critical lens on themselves? This doesn't mean we should (or for that matter, can) just ignore our own beliefs or filter out our biases simply by being more aware of them. In fact, some research (1) indicates that being aware of our own biases is not enough to overcome them.

Still, the first bullet point in my institution's College Mission states that we are committed to "critical reflective inquiry." This starts with students and teachers alike reflecting on ourselves and how that shapes how we learn and create new knowledge....
1. For example, from a series of studies in the 1970's by Mynatt, et. al., which are mentioned in this context in an article by Louise Rasmussen here: http://www.globalcognition.org/head-smart/confirmation-bias-3-cures/


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Some "Best Of" Institution-Independent Information Literacy Tutorials

Any list like this, of course, is subjective and will become out of date quickly. They only represent a few select resources I know about. They are intended as a snapshot of available "best in class" information literacy learning objects. Criteria I tried hard to stick to in creating this list is that the selected tutorials are interactive, multimodal, and institution-independent; they are not, at least for the most part, text-heavy or dependent on access to resources specific to any institution, which means others might be able to use them.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Containers vs Conversations

I've been reading the new R. David Lankes book, The Atlas of New Librarianship, as part of a MOOC he's doing through Syracuse University's iSchool. I'm only about 60 pages in, but it's an excellent read so far and it's sent my brain careening down several new paths of ideas. One aspect of this book and his call for a "new librarianship" is a shift away from artifacts and towards conversations as the basis for knowledge creation. I'm not going to go into the whole thesis of the book, which covers a lot more ground, but this issue of our (and our community members') reliance on artifacts as knowledge containers struck me as a very important one for the instruction I do, especially with our undergrads. This thought was reinforced by a recent Inside Higher Ed post from Barbara Fister.

In both cases, it's observed that there is an over reliance on artifacts/containers (books. articles, etc. - things that attempt to express someone else's knowledge) as sources of knowledge, rather than on creating knowledge by conversing with those sources (i.e., internal dialogues we all have when we interact with any new piece of data).

via Flickr CC, by giso6150

To paraphrase Lankes (from pp. 40-41): Artifacts do not contain knowledge. Knowledge exists in your head. Knowledge is dynamic and personal.

The result, as Fister succinctly summarizes, is "When sources are viewed as containers, it potentially diverts attention away from the content of the sources themselves."

As a result of all this internal dialogue on my part, I've been trying to come up with a better way of stressing this to students who attend my instructional sessions (many of whom, as you are probably aware, just want to know how to satisfy the requirements of whatever assignment they have - they want the "How" rather than the "What" or the "Why." Trying to change this focus, I believe, could have a positive impact on students critical thinking, transliteracy and basic research agility when it comes to handling the wide variety of information sources (and assignments) they will come into contact with during their academic career and beyond.

This is what I have so far, as a draft starting point (and obviously, heavily influenced by Lankes and Fister); as an argument. How I make it so that it appeals/impacts students, I haven't yet worked out:

First a couple of questions: 
  1. Is a journal article or a book considered knowledge?
  2. How many of you have come here thinking I'm just going to show you how to find stuff; pieces of knowledge? 
Library resources, in fact, any pieces of information you encounter (books, articles, web pages, lectures, conversations with your peers, what I'm saying right now) ARE NOT knowledge. They are only containers of information. Knowledge is only created when someone - YOU - reads/interacts with that information. That is when you learn. Then, what you know about that topic (your knowledge) is either changed/created, or not. 
When you read a journal article, or, for example, as you are listening to/reading this now, each of you is having an internal dialogue with yourself. Right now you may be thinking something like this: "Dana is talking nonsense" or "ok, that makes sense!" The bottom line is that, for example, a peer-reviewed journal article is not the word of law. It is not knowledge. YOU create knowledge by interacting with/conversing about (with yourself, with your classmates, with your professor) that piece of information.

My challenge to you, as you embark on your academic career, is to learn and talk about and add to your chosen discipline, rather than simply finding sources of information and copy and pasting that information into your papers. Create rather than regurgitate!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Site Design and the Negative Ninny

A sad truth in any service industry is that you'll hear mostly (and most loudly) from people who are unhappy with what you're doing. This is just something we have to deal with. People who have no problems with our services; who find what they need from our libraries, rarely tell us about it, even when we go out of our way to solicit that kind of feedback. This imbalance is probably why there is so much burnout in the service industries. 

via Flickr CC, by Shtikl
A real problem with this is when it comes to making changes or improvements in your services or processes. The biggest example many librarians have probably encountered is when redesigning the library web site. I believe this negative feedback then often has a very real chilling effect on the redesign process. It probably prevents lots of innovation. It makes us timid in our decision-making. It's perhaps why so many library homepages try to shoehorn everything but the kitchen sink right on the front page. Why is "About the Library" so prominent on so many sites? Who the hell reads that stuff?

The result is all too often a redesign process rooted in fear of pissing off those overly loud negative voices. Most libraries have these kinds of often power-user "negative ninnies." I'm not saying we should ignore the feedback from these important users. What I am saying is that we need to recognize and counter our sometimes unconscious deference to those voices. Have you encountered this kind of redesign process? How do you fight this, especially when dealing with multiple stakeholders and a large design team? I wish I knew...