Friday, April 10, 2009

Info Lit on the Rise at MPOW!

Fact: the level of student information literacy skills at MPOW is scarily low, in just about every measurable facet. Don't get me wrong, there are many very smart and very talented and very motivated students here, they just aren't directed (i.e., forced) towards learning opportunities in this area. This is to be expected, I suppose, when talking about working adult, distance learners, many of whom haven't been near a library or a research paper beyond the high school level in decades, if ever. They are juggling work, family and school responsibilities, so participation in strictly-voluntary online info lit instruction sessions can only have limited reach, even if we had a giant marketing budget and the active support of all our faculty (which we don't).

There is no requirement for students to get any sort of information literacy or library instruction; not even a library orientation (granted, we don't have a physical library, so it would be a virtual orientation). There is an optional Info Lit course, but it is not taught by a librarian and the content, from what I can tell, is not tied into our resources or current learning theory much at all. Since all classes (there are hundreds) are either entirely online, or blended at our regional locations, and there are only 3 FT librarians on staff (none at any of the regional locations), delivery of course-level instruction is virtually impossible. Instead, in theory, a watered-down and generalized Gen. Ed. "information management" requirement is "infused" into the curriculum. Whether these requirements, let alone a more rigorous set of skills as outlined in ACRL standards, are given much consideration in the instructional design process is up for debate.

A few months ago I participated in an assessment of our Information Management rubric using a sampling of papers provided to us from various classes. Of the 100 or so papers that I assessed, only about 2 or 3 (that's not a typo!) cited any sort of peer-reviewed source or even anything from any of our library databases. Many (far too many) cited only the textbook and or a couple of dubious-quality web pages. Even then many facts were not cited and the citations included often followed no formatting style. I was thoroughly disheartened/disillusioned/frightened after this experience and I made it clear (as the only librarian serving on that assessment team) that we needed to address this asap.

A little more background: the college was chartered without a physical library (we started out in the 70's as a correspondence college), and the online library is managed by the office of Ed Tech (which is itself viewed with disdain by some faculty). I think librarians here have always been viewed as 2nd class citizens by both the faculty and the administration, and the idea of faculty status is greeted mostly with silence. When I started 5 years ago, the library consisted of myself and the library manager. There was (and never had been) any direct library instruction offered to students (except what could be done via phone and email reference interactions). A limited amount of instruction was aimed at faculty, with the idea, I suppose, that faculty would then incorporate these skills into their instructional design and or pass it along to students in other ways. In addition, tutorials were placed on the website, and a flash-based orientation to the library was buried in a CD about technology at the college, and given to all new students.

Two years ago we did break through the barrier a little when I was tasked with designing and coordinating a pilot program of online, hands-on basic skills workshops for students who can drive into one of our regional centers, in cooperation with a cadre of newly hired, front-line academic support directors (who do have faculty status). Keep in mind also that instruction is not a primary part of my performance program and I had little teaching or instructional design experience at that point (and I still have a ton to learn!).

It appears the assessment outcomes, and the constant pleading from the librarians has had an impact. We have been doing the online workshops for students for more than a year (and now offer a version that students can participate in directly from home) and I got some hints from my boss that I should start investigating the possibility of designing a credit course of some kind.

So things are looking up in the information literacy biz here, thankfully. And hopefully after I come back from the Info Lit Immersion program this summer, I'll be brimming with great ideas and a solid theoretical foundation on which to build a more in-depth and innovative info lit program.

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