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.