Thursday, October 18, 2012

Takeaways from the Newest PIL Report

Project Information Literacy (PIL) seems like a wonderland of awesomely interesting and important research work and very intelligent and well-spoken (and written) folks doing that research.

They have put out a plethora of very informative publications and data sets over the last few years. They just put out another that may be their best one yet

Go read it NOW! How College Graduates Solve Information Problems Once They Join the Workplace. While you're at it (or if you're short of time right now), also read this great discussion of the report by Barbara Fister, from Inside Higher Ed.  I'll wait...

The report contains tons of ammunition for librarians and other champions of information literacy (and especially transliteracy). After all, equipping students with the skills they'll need after they graduate is one of the major reasons for higher education in the first place.

Here are a couple of quotes from the report that stood out to me (i.e., that I intend to use for ammunition at my own place of work to bring more instructional/curricular focus onto these skills).

On the employer needs side:
"information work has become an identifiable and fundamental component of most jobs, no matter where someone is on the organizational chart." [pg. 7]
"employers said they needed college hires who would take on information problems with "patience" and "persistence" and who possessed "a high tolerance for ambiguity" about both questions being asked and the answers being found."" [pg. 11]
"They told us that college hires needed to "move off the script," "be resourceful and look in every place," and "fact-check across multiple sources." [pg. 13]
 On the recent graduate experience side:
"this generation of workers for whom research often begins by plugging keywords into a search box, also discussed how they learned that the traditional forms of research, like tapping the expertise of a trusted and knowledgeable teammate, could be more fruitful--and efficient--than they had ever imagined" [pg. 19]
via CC license, by Fanboy30
"Graduates soon discovered that the workplace pace moved more quickly and less predictably than the academic calendar...Second, focus groups members said they received little guidance from employers about research expectations in the workplace." [pg. 24]
"many graduates in our sessions appeared to assume that any question could be answered as soon as with the "right" source of information. Still, however, employers in our interviews needed and expected newcomers to make "reflective judgments"--to construct knowledge and new interpretations from all the different answers they had found." [pg. 25]

A word that is used a lot in the report is transition; from college to workplace, between varied traditional and digital information sources, and from structured to ambiguous work structures. Which, of course, feeds directly into the importance of the concept of transliteracy (or view my own take on this concept); having an ability, being agile, at moving between information platforms and locating and becoming part of the relevant conversation, to accomplish an information task.

Barbara Fister's article above sums things up nicely from the librarian/faculty/higher ed "what might we do with this data?" perspective:
"In practical terms, I think perhaps what we really need to do is help students understand not just how the library works and how the university works, but rather how all knowledge is social, how knowledge seeking isn’t a linear process of finding answers but rather is tapping into ongoing conversations in which they may play a role."
That plays into not only taking a holistic view of the information cycle, but also plays into the idea of motivation; involving the undergraduate in the process of actual knowledge creation rather than just regurgitating what they find.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Importance of Informal Assessment

Image via CC license, by jrhode

Ever since I took a library conference workshop years ago by the always engaging Stephan Macaluso, my awareness of and use of informal assessment methods has continued to grow. This kind of non-quantitative assessment is especially invaluable when teaching live, online workshops.

What exactly is informal assessment? A more exact term, at least as I use it, might be observational assessment. As that name implies, it consists of observing your students as they interact with the learning, with you, and with each other. What are they asking or saying or typing? What aren't they asking? What does their voice and body language convey? How are they reacting to/interacting with a given activity or piece of information? What do these and any other observations (and even intuitions) you have tell you about the effectiveness of the teaching/learning? What adjustments need to be made given this?

The tough part isn't the observations - every teacher does that instinctively. The tough part is recognizing what to do with that constant stream of often very subtle and sometimes even contradictory information. Also, when to do it.

Of course, this is even more complicated when it comes to teaching online. Missing are the most commonly used observational tools of facial expression and body language. It can be very nerve-wracking when you teach those first few live online sessions, or give a webinar presentation. You're flying blind, with what at first seems like little to no way of gauging how things are going. There are, however, ways around this.

The key, in my opinion, is building your lesson plans (or your presentations, etc.) so that non-visual observations come to the fore. In my own environment, using the Blackboard Collaborate webinar software, there are actually lots of ways to do this beyond the more formal active learning activities. Almost all of it, of course, involves building in constant interaction and encouraging student input. I go out of my way to encourage (even beg!) students to engage me and each other and the content through asking open questions and posting observations and answers to questions throughout my workshops in the text chat area (most of my students don't have a headset, but when they do I also encourage that). I also give students access to the whiteboard drawing tools and use Collaborate's breakout rooms feature to build small group activities and make sure I go in and observe the activity of each group.

These simple steps help me in overcoming the loss of visual observation. They help me constantly tweak and improve my lesson plans and teaching methods both during the sessions themselves, and afterwards (a perk of webinar software is it's all recorded) so that learning objectives are met as effectively as possible. Whether face to face or online, it takes time to juggle these things with the formal teaching and assessment processes, but once you get used to it, it becomes another invaluable skill to add to your teaching tool belt.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Initial Workshop Assessment Thoughts

My pre-workshop (for the "Introduction to Searching one-shot) survey takes the form of 2 questions:
  1. Provide a topic of your choosing or choose one of the examples I provide
  2. Given the topic, type in what you might put in a search box to find articles on the topic
Overwhelmingly, in the 53 responses I've gotten to date in it's current iteration, students show a distinct "Googlization" in their search strategies. Full-sentence questions and long lists of keywords make up ALL of the responses to question two. A couple of responses use and or double quotes, but all are used incompletely or incorrectly.

My post-workshop results (that include the same question) show vast improvements on this (and I go to great lengths to show why common Google search strategies don't work in most library databases), but still highlight some gaps, especially in correctly using, or not using, double quotes.

It's a start...

Friday, August 17, 2012

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Time to get rid of the term "Information Literacy"?

  • Information Literacy
  • Information AND Literacy
  • Information OR Literacy
  • Information NOT Literacy
  • Information Skills?
  • Research Skills?
  • Lifelong Learning Skills?
Don't get me started with all the other, mostly specialized, "literacy" and "competency" and "skill" models out there. If this is how I feel about the what of library instruction, imagine how our faculty and students feel about that, as well as the more important why:

To me, the base of all of this is "information." This encompasses, at least to my understanding, anything and everything a student encounters (or a faculty or library teaches or facilitates access to) during the learning process. "Literacy" is far more problematic. It implies, to many, a far too basic connotation. In other words, in our society "illiterate" means not being able to read, which comes with a stigma. "Skills," set on a continuum from basic to expert, seems more appropriate to me, with "competencies" perhaps reserved for internal/assessment use.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Stats: Librarian-Student Ratio and Instruction Assessment

Have been working with some interesting statistics at my institution today (one set depressing, the other heartening), so I thought I'd share. I'll leave my own detailed commentary on this out, so draw your own conclusions as to what these numbers mean.

Librarian-Student Ratio:

Fall 2011 data:
Library hrs of operation/wk:  60
Student FTE:          9344  (total number of students in 2010-11 fiscal yr: 19,700)
# of librarians:                  4  
# of FTE students per librarian:  2336
# of other prof staff:                  0
# of other paid staff:                  0.25
# of student assts:                  0

Library Instruction Assessment 
(for a non-required, non-course-related, evening workshop for adult, distance learners):
My Introduction to Searching workshop in 2012 (90 min, evenings, live and online using Elluminate)
Number of students who registered online: 113
Number who participated: 65
Number who filled out the survey: 32  (view my post-workshop Google forms survey)

  1. Would you recommend this workshop to your friends or fellow students? 
    1. Yes: 100% (32)
    2. No: 0%
  2. Please rate the quality of the instruction: 
    1. relevance & clarity of subject matter:   
      • Poor: 0%
      • Fair:  0%
      • Good: 22% (7)
      • Excellent: 78% (25)
    2. librarian effectiveness in teaching the subject matter: 
      • Poor: 0%
      • Fair:  0%
      • Good: 16% (5)
      • Excellent: 84% (27)
  3. Note: there are other inputs on the form, but these are the easily quantifiable ones.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Laziness and Legalese? ToS Temperments

There's a trend growing in the video gaming and social media worlds for Terms of Service (ToS) to have increasingly complicated agreement language, and to increasingly take away legal options for end users/customers when a dispute arises. Most glaringly, Facebook, Sony (PS3) and Microsoft (Xbox 360) have implemented contentious new ToS that chip away the consumers' ability to manage their own information (i.e., protect their details and online habits from being shared with third parties) or join class-action lawsuits in any disputes (it's more nuanced than that, but that's a whole other story). 

In the world of library resources (esp. database and e-book vendors), I fear there is a parallel trend forming. As the person at my library who is responsible for renewing or acquiring electronic resources (among many other responsibilities), I've noticed an increased ramping up of complex and increasingly restrictive ToS agreements (and this is not just restricted to e-book vendors).  This is partially due to the increasingly complex nature of the networked systems that these vendors provide, and the continuing erosion of end-user fair use rights in online environments. From the corporate perspective (i.e., maximizing profits and minimizing risk) this makes perfect sense. What doesn't make sense, at least on the surface, is the end user perspective. Why do we as consumers, and as librarians, accept this state of affairs? Why haven't we risen up in arms to make these companies deal with us fairly and transparently? Many efforts have arisen, and some have even succeeded in making change, but few, if any, have been able to change the ground rules. And these ground rules put end users at a huge disadvantage.

I think there are a couple of factors at work here:
via Flickr CC, by Hubspot 

  • Laziness: none of us wants to have to read through the loads of legalese that make up most ToS and other such documents and contracts. But we do want to get at the content the ToS relates to. So we skip through the text without reading it and accept the terms since there doesn't appear to be any immediate, catastrophic consequences for us. 
  • Our users need these resources, period.  And because they don't usually have to directly pay for them, users (and those who write our paychecks) don't usually want to hear about these issues that could complicate the acquisition process.
  • Most libraries don't have a contract lawyer or even someone with the know-how or dedicated work time to dispute and negotiate legal terms. 
Resource vendors (as well as social media and gaming companies) know all this and promote and configure their services and contract language and promotional efforts to take advantage of it. One example: many library databases now contain a mechanism aimed at faculty and student end users to "request" that their library purchase specific content (guilt marketing?). They also actively create promotional "bargains" that lock subscribing institutions into multi-year contracts and that have very short time frames for libraries to take advantage of them. None of these practices are necessarily nefarious in and of themselves, nor are they restricted to the library world, but they do point out a need for two things:

  1. Contract literacy (ugh, not another literacy! :-) training for librarians: basic skills to navigate and negotiate these terms of service.
  2. Everyone (users and librarians alike) need to become more aware of the potential long-term, "slippery slope" effects these ToS can have on our lives, on the security of our personal information, and on the "ownership" and circulation of knowledge itself. And we need to use our pocketbooks to more effectively negotiate a level playing field in these areas. 
This may be an ideal place for librarians to take the lead. Indeed, many already are!