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,
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:

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...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Change is Everywhere

  • Ambiguity
  • Motivation
  • Exploration
  • Flexibility
  • Creativity
via CC license:
What do these all have in common? Beyond the fact that I've written or talked about all of them in the context of library instruction, they might also be seen as central aspects of everyday life, and more to the point, in being a successful lifelong learner.

It's really all about recognizing and dealing with change. Change of tool sets. Change of environment. Change of focus. Change of perspective. Change of culture. Culminating in a change in how we react to or even instigate change. Several recent readings have brought home to me the centrality and importance of this in my own work with library instruction and information literacy:
  • Pegasus Librarian: Focal Flexibility "It hadn’t occurred to me before that moment how important focal flexibility is — the ability to see a given work in all its richness and unpackable complexity, and also see it as one of a constellation of other works — to be able to plot it dispassionately amongst its peers, and also gaze at its internal universes."
  • Wired: Tim O’Reilly’s Key to Creating the Next Big Thing "Yes, founder Jen Pahlka figured that instead of talking about how government should change, you have to demonstrate how to do it. The key output of Code for America is not apps, it’s culture change."
  • Attempting Elegance: Plant your Flag "You need to know where you stand so you can plant your feet and lean into the change rather than be knocked over by it."
  • Lifehacker: Ask Naive Questions to Spark Creativity "When you're stuck on a big problem, it's easy to pound your head against the wall trying to solve it. However, it might be best to step away for a little while and look at the problem from a different perspective."
All of the above discuss, albeit in very different contexts, the importance of recognizing and dealing effectively with change. 

I've written about change literacy before. I've written about dealing with ambiguity. I've talked about motivation. I've talked about fostering a sense of creativity and exploration in our students. I've written about transliteracy. And I certainly try in practice to (subtly) stress that being agile as you engage in the research process (your topic may change as you read the literature; searching is an evolutionary process of trial and error; every search tool has different features and labels, but look for the commonalities; become familiar with all the different information types; style guides can't cover every eventuality, so you may need to adapt what is in hand to available examples).

Now I wonder if we can tackle the idea of change and recognizing and teaching our students (and ourselves) how to effectively deal with it, more directly...