You will not see this everyday: Forbes Magazine and School Library Magazine agreeing on something. Fake news is “a sign that we have failed as a society to teach our citizens how to think critically about data and information” (Forbes) and by extension, “I have two thoughts. One, I have to teach this better. And two, as information literacy experts, we school librarians are more important than ever.” (School Library Magazine)
A new study from Stanford University (.pdf) prompted both articles. It revealed that “overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak. . . When it comes to evaluating information that comes through social media channels, they are easily duped.” This study was based on more than 7,000 student survey responses from 12 states –and it’s not a far stretch from those conclusions to the daily experience of my faculty colleagues at this University (and probably all others, including Stanford).
Too often in the past “information literacy” has been conflated with “library skills.” The second is really subset of the first. If a student does not know how to reason about information that comes through any channel, a library will not be much help –and quite possibly be intimidating.
One problem is that “information literacy” can be a vague academic phrase that then means different things to different people. It has definitions –especially two (2000 and 2016) from the Association of College and Research Libraries. Too often information literacy has been reduced to asking a librarian to “show my class how to search a database,” when in fact what is more important is what to do with the search results –and by extension, any search on Google, or obvious clickbait. Who wrote and produced a search result, and why?
A framework for information literacy can teach how to think about information all the time. A classic example is to search Google for “Martin Luther King, Jr.” In the first six or eight results, you will probably find links to Wikipedia, the King Center, and Stanford’s King Institute. You will also find “Martin Luther King Jr. – A True Historical Examination” which appears to be a legitimate site until reading it becomes strange –and in small print at the bottom of the landing page, “Hosted by Stormfront,” a white supremacist and neo-Nazi internet forum, arguably the web’s first major racial hate site. You have to read with critical awareness, because Stormfront’s site is reasonably well presented as “ordinary” media. Students are “easily duped” by this kind of site (in Stanford’s words).
Are we in the “post-truth” era? As one colleague told me, “Not in my classroom.” Literate, faculty users of information of all types will still know: the truth is out there, and it still matters. How do you include such literacy in your teaching?
Video and Image Library Resources You Should Know About
Teachers and students love video, love images –whether or not they say a thousand words all by themselves. Good images and examples help to enliven a classroom, and the right image at the right time can spur genuine student engagement.
The Library has developed resources to help teaching, both video and still images. This month a new library colleague, Urszula Lechtenberg, will begin her work as Instructional Design Librarian with the specific charge to reach out to faculty to support teaching in varying formats, including the visual. She will be using a host of resources that the library already has –but faculty know about all-to-rarely. There’s so much more available than YouTube and Google Images.
Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, by James M. Laing. San Francisco: Jossey-Boss, 2016. Available at SHU Library, but currently in process.
“Small ball” is a style of baseball that prioritizes putting the ball in play by incremental tactics: base hits, solid defense -- unglamorous but effective means. Laing has written about “small teaching” or “small but powerful modifications to our course design and teaching practices” to spark positive outcomes in sustainable and workable frameworks. Laing advocates for brief classroom or online learning activities, one-time interventions in a course (small portion of a ccourse, perhaps an entire class session, but only once), and small positive changes to course design and communications.
Nothing in Laing’s emphases is particularly new. He situates such practices in solid discussions of cognitive sciences, learning models, strategies for developing course designs or re-designs, and practical ideas for implementation –and his interweaving of these elements makes the book very worthwhile. His ideas could spur a one-time change to a specific course session, learning objective, or unit plan, or an entirely new approach to your teaching.
Laing is situated close up to teaching practice; he is Professor of English and Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College in Worcester, MA. His students are very similar to SHU students. His blog (since 2010) has offered numerous insights and ideas about many kinds of teaching (currently Teaching Like Aristotle, Part 1), and he also wrote On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester (Harvard University Press, 2008). His books are a helpful supplement to Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do (Harvard University Press, 2004), a book now twelve years old but still well worth reading. (Both On Course and What the Best College Teachers Do are available through library both in print and online, as is Bain’s What The Best College Students Do [Harvard University Press, 2012].)
Technology In the Library --and How Students Can Use It Better
The Library has added information about Technology In the Library, including printing services and instructions for sending documents from your Mac or laptop to the library’s printers, in cooperation with Information Technology. In addition, you can see a full listing of software available on PCs and Macs in the library, and links to information about campus-wide labs, classroom, and a directory of specialized software on campus, and where to find it.
Since students have reported difficulties with printing in the library, pointing out these resources in your classes will help them to have a better experience with preparing printed papers to be graded. Library staff, Academic Computing staff, and the Office of Digital Learning also are ready to help you if you wish to begin grading papers online only, using commenting, noting, and highlighting functions in applications such as Google Docs and Microsoft Word.