Month: January 2012

Information Literacy, Learning and Fun

Last semester I took SI 641: Information Literacy in Teaching and Learning. It was an excellent class which wrestled with what can be a pretty difficult subject. The term “Information Literacy” can mean different things to different people, and it’s a term that’s not even necessarily understood outside (or for that matter, within) library-land, so there’s definitely some question about its usefulness as a term.

In many ways, the conversations that we had  throughout the term about trying to wrap our heads, words and practices around just what could be considered information literacy echoed the parallel conversations we were having in my Information Architecture course about the round-and-round process of “DTDT” aka “Defining the D*mn Thing.”

Still, we have to work through the difficulties with exact definitions in order to make sure we are talking about and teaching skills that are critical to helping students and citizens engage effectively with information. I was pleased that the article “Is an online learning module an effective way to  develop information literacy skills?” delineated the specific info-lit skills that were the focus of an online-module based intervention for students at James Cook University in Australia. In the case of this particular initiative and study, the focus was on helping students better understand effective ways to develop a search strategy, access information using various databases and the open web, assess the quality of the information that they found, and also use a specific citation style.  The intervention used an online module to walk students through tasks such as database searching and then surveyed the students to get their take on just how helpful they felt this module was for them.

What was interesting for me was that although most students found the self-paced research skills tutorial helpful, there were some students who also felt that some type of face-to-face lesson would have been helpful, too. The author of the paper suggests that “the option of face-to-face” may need to be available “to those students who ask for it.”  This could be helpful, but having to ask for such instruction might also not be that helpful, since students who need such assistance might feel awkward requesting it, or might feel cultural barriers to asking for additional help or training.

Still, the potential of online modules or new and interesting formats for teaching and learning about skills related to information literacy seem valuable.

This week, we uncovered journal articles and case studies on various approaches to teaching/sharing information literacy in a library environment. Although I’m not positive what exact library environment I will eventually be working in, I’m most interested in ways that libraries can reach and empower people who might not necessarily already be library-lovers or folks who think of something called “information literacy” as super-useful and relevant to their academic or personal day-to-day lives.

The articles that I found most intriguing involved some element of fantasy or gaming. I like some games, but I’m not a big-time gamer and also a little wary of “gamification” as a trend. I think that it has value, but also needs to be used carefully, thoughtfully and not in an exploitive way. “Learning Through Quests and Contests: Games in Information Literacy Instruction,” an article from The Journal of Library Innovation was a solid read, particularly because it addressed some of the main criticisms of using games in an educational fashion early on. I was pleased to see the paper directly address the fact that the “work” of research or learning wasn’t some opposite of “play” or fun. The paper traces attributes of games that actually make them fairly well-suited as educational tools (for Information Lit. or other topics): scaffolding of learning/experience, the encouragement of taking risks, the ability of games to let players “try on” different identities, and the ability to “learn by doing.”

After walking us through some scholarship on gaming-and-learning that sets up a foundation, “Learning through Quests and Contests” gets down to talking about specific games used on various college campuses. The games themselves had students doing everything from playing completing paper-based activities like word jumbles to working on a real-life scavenger hunt to playing an Alternate Reality Game.

As a general overview of the state of games-for-learning in college libraries “Learning through Quests,” is really helpful. As well as bringing together information on a variety of different approaches and programs, the article also situated these current initiatives within a larger context of gaming-in-education. I found this really valuable. A few of the other articles that I found early on, such as  “The Library is Undead: Information Seeking During the Zombie Apocalypse” and “Muckrakers: Engaging students in the re-search process through an online game” were more helpful in explaining individual games, but as somewhat of a newb to the world of libraries and games, I found that the overview from “Learning through Quests” was a great starting point — because it both gathered individual stories together as well as providing a larger history and context for this current approach to teaching all sorts of technical and information-related skills in libraries.


Experts & Novices, Frustrations with Academia, and SO MANY Screencasts

We began last week’s class by continuing our conversation about the ways people learn — and revisiting the ideas of ways experts learn vs. the ways that novices do. Experts are able to chunk information in a way that novices usually cannot. Because of their familiarity with a specific topic, experts are able to “notice more” — both possibly taking more in but also possibly being more attuned to the nuances of what is deserving of their attention and what might fade into the background.

We also talked a little about a point that I think we all murmur (gripe?) about but don’t always talk about enough openly — the fact that expert thinkers and researchers are not necessarily the same folks who are expert teachers. There are some people for whom both of these descriptors fit. When this happens, it can be pretty exciting for their students. I’m always geeked when I can tell that within the first session of a class. However, one of my biggest beefs with academia (yep, I just wrote that phrase and I’m going with it!) is exactly this problem. Sometimes professors are obviously brilliant, also have the skill sets that make them excellent researchers, but just don’t have the knack for teaching.

Kristin mentioned that there was some chatter now and then about perhaps separating teaching roles from research roles a bit more within universities. This idea is interesting to me for several reasons. My immediate thought about this was that it could potentially provide a more comprehensive/full way to address alternative academic (#altac) careers and fairly value/compensate those who excel in teaching and projects other than the old-school metric of getting research published in high-impact-factor journals.

This lecture material and discussion led nicely into the next segment of class, which focused on developing screencasts. Although we did go through some ideas behind creating a strong screencast, Kristin also touched on “issues bigger than screencasts” which included some broader questions that I think are important to consider. Honestly, I could probably write a whole blog entry on each of these questions at some point, but I’ll spare you that for now. I think they are worth re-stating here just as questions to keep in the back of one’s mind when thinking about screencasts:

  • Does online learning work?
  • Are online modules effective enough to replace face-to-face?
  • Online learning is being adopted at an unprecedented rate. Is it really effective?
  • Does that matter? Or do we just go where the students go? (Political jockeying.)
  • At what point are screencasts PR as much as they are about learning?

Before being sent off into the internet wilderness to create our own screencast, we did an exercise in class where we paired up and examined several screencasts that were how-tos for Google Reader. The first thought I had while doing this was “Oh god. Why are there so many TERRIBLE screencasts? Why do people bother to make and post things that don’t seem at all thought-out are, frankly, confusing?”

After momentarily getting down on myself for being so dang judgmental of these other (after all, learning in public ain’t easy, and we all need space to make mistakes and grow), I realized that the primary motive of a lot of these screencasts was actually not really to teach the reader about Google Reader. Yes, the sceencasts were sort of about Google Reader. However, the main objectives seemed to actually be about just “creating content” to either bump up one’s YouTube/search stats, promote oneself, or to do some not-so-subtle “Oh! By the way!” promotion of businesses or organizations. In one case, a gentleman seemed to be using this tutorial mainly as a way to mention blogs/websites associated with his church!

It was interesting to see which screencasts multiple groups identified as the best. It was clear, too, that simply showing someone screenshots and having them follow along was not always enough or even the best way of relaying the information. In fact, simple animation and storytelling (so… why would I use Google Reader?) seemed key.

This was a critical realization, but it also left me feeling a little bit of extra trepidation about trying to produce my own screencast. Let’s hope I don’t just add to the clutter of frustrating screencasts clogging the tubes of the interwebs… I guess you readers will be able to weigh in on that soon enough!

Photo credit: Hockeyholic,

Instructional Design and the ADDIE Method

The main focus of our readings this week was instruction — specifically thinking about one-shot instruction that librarians might be doing either in and outside the library. The primary reading focused on the ADDIE method of approaching one-shot instruction.

Other students in the class don’t necessarily need a summary of what ADDIE stands for, but for the uninitiated, ADDIE means:

  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Development
  • Implementation
  • Evaluation

Some of these seem a bit self-explanatory, but in my own notes, there were a few things that seemed particularly important to remember when using this model:

Analysis involved not only considering and researching the “needs, situation and abilities of the expected learners” in the workshop itself, but also involved a sort of research that stuck me as setting up a proper context for the instructional session. Author J. Veldorf stresses that those designing instruction sessions also need to investigate and research “the needs of the person or agenda who is either contracting the session or who might encourage or require learners to attend.”

In thinking about the design phase, I thought that there was a useful graphic of the “instructional design cycle” which highlighted the iterative nature of instructional design.

In thinking about the whole process of instructional design as well, Veldorf gave a sequence of stages that an instructional planning team might go through:

  • forming: pulling the team together
  • storming: a stage where there may be more conflict, confidence and engagement may waver
  • norming: phase at which group members have finally adjusted to working together/each other
  • performing: the phase were actual, significant progress is made

These phases struck me as most useful in terms of normalizing some level of conflict and in fact pointing out how it might help the instructional design overall. It also seemed that they could easily apply to the dynamics of teams working on almost any project, not just instructional design!





The First Class: Reflection, Teaching, Libraries in Flux…and a Podcast

The initial session of SI 643 was now almost two weeks ago. This seems a little crazy, but to be honest, I’m thankful for a bit of extra time and grace, thanks to the MLK holiday. The idea of grace is one that I’m reflecting a lot on these days.

The first class began with a to-do list that was very close to this classic:

icepops todo list

(Incidentally, this list is how my pal, bandmate and uber-talented artist Erin Norris got the name Icepops)

I had a hunch that I’d like this class, and was pleased to see some of the initial “operational assumptions” that Kristin reviewed with us, among which were the following:

  • Reflection has value: Now this is something that I’ve really come to appreciate and try to think about more deliberately over the last 1.5 years
  • Librarians are teachers, they just aren’t always trained to be: Ding ding! Coming from a family of teachers and thinking that was never my path, I was a little startled when this first dawned on me (or maybe I just started admitting it to myself) last year. We talked a little bit about why the idea of teaching (or educating or facilitating learning) is important, how librarians aren’t simply clerks (a no-duh for people in libraries, but not always for those outside Library-land), and how it’s a part of making and keeping librarians and libraries relevant. I’m eager to think, talk and blog more about this throughout the course.
  • Libraries are in flux — BIG TIME: Sure, it’s a little scary (if you let yourself be scared by it), but it’s also REALLY EXCITING. And it’s a big reason why I find the world of libraries, and potential future work in the world of libraries so dang interesting. Throughout my life, I’ve found the cracks in things and the questions to ask. I feel like I somehow was given this gift of some built-in-detector for change and opportunity, and often there is the most room for innovation both on the edges of disciplines and within disciplines that are in a state of flux. 

There were other valuable points that will help frame and inform the class, but I’ve realized I get so excited/feel like I have so many things to bring-up-and-figure-out that I get a bit long-winded when blogging, so I’m going to try to keep this focused! (I’ve decided that being long-winded because your excited is like the blog equivalent of forgetting to raise your hand in class.)

We went on to review quite a few concepts familiar from last semester’s SI 647 (Information Literacy) course — acquisition, meaning and transfer; the importance of linking to prior knowledge; ideas about synthesis, metacognition, learner-centered teaching.  Then we concluded with a quick-but-fun podcasting exercise.

For our sample podcasts, we simply turned to the person next to us and asked them a few questions to suss out just what it was that got them all fired-up about libraries. I felt lucky, because I was sitting next a friend, but this short exercise gave me a way better understanding of how her interests fit into the world of libraries and the people they serve.

So, take a quick listen as Whitney  explains what she finds interesting about the wonderful world of libraries:
Disclaimer: I realize that my voice lilts upward in a bit California-girl-like manner. I swear, it’s just ’cause I was excited. I don’t normally sound like a Valley Girl! 

Practice, Practice, Practice

Theory may not be easy, but practice is hard. So often I think about the words “putting theory into practice” and so I simply think of practice and theory as a pair of things that inform each other. I often think of practice as a rough synonym for “putting words and ideas into action.” The start of a new semester, though, has made me think about the word practice in a slightly different way.

Shifting from one set of patterns-of-action to another has always been more difficult than it seems like it should be for me. Even when the change is positive, it’s change, and it’s not easy. I have this thought again at the beginning of each semester of graduate school, as my course and work schedules shift all around and my iCal starts to look like a wild explosion of colorful boxes, all overlapping. It’s getting into the habit of a new schedule and a new rhythm that always takes a bit of time.

Although this class is called Professional Practice, I had never previously considered the links that this sort of practice might have with practicing yoga, practicing a daily time for writing or reflection, or trying to get into the practice of eating X amount of fruits and veggies each day.

But, building new professional routines — ways of gathering information and reading to keep up on the field of librarianship and learning — and getting into the flow of regular writing and blogging are indeed ways of building regular routines (yes, practice) that will serve us well as we all make the transition from school back into full-time (paid) work.

Trying to figure out just when I might fit in my weekly blogging over the last week+ felt strangely close to trying to figure out the new patterns of when to do yoga or go to the gym. I know that once the rhythms are set, they will feel like second nature. But right now, things still feel a little messy. One reason is because it’s still early in the semester. Another is the schedule-crunch of helping out with Quasi-Con 2012 (hooray!).

But let’s be honest — there will always be external forces making it hard to nurture any regular practice. That’s my challenge: to set those patterns and rhythms in a sustained enough way that I stay engaged — whether that’s being engaged in the word of libraries, being engaged in a regular yoga practice, or being engaged in writing or interpreting text or music.

So, here’s to practice. It doesn’t make perfect, and it doesn’t make permanent (despite what my 11th grade English teacher said), but it can make things more sustained, grounded and directed, even in he midst of a lot of other life changes. It’s not easy, and that’s why I’m thankful for a supportive group of classmates and colleagues to help me along, keep me honest, and keep me moving and learning.

Reflections on Learning, Knowing and Understanding

It’s a new semester! It feels strange that this will be my last semester at SI, but in a way I suppose it’s a very suitable time to be taking SI 643: Professional Practice.

This blog will serve as a place to reflect on weekly readings, but I’m sure that as it evolves (and as I shine it up a bit with a nice theme, etc.), it will also become a place for reflections on things beyond the scope of specific readings. I haven’t written so frequently in a public/online setting in a few years now, so I’m interested to see how my blog-writing muscles do/don’t rebound.

For our first set of 643 readings, we were assigned the first two chapters of How People Learn.

Chapter One walks us though some of the ways that converging research from cognitive science and other fields has started to guide and inform educational practice. I think it’s probably true that we can only say started to inform, since whether we are talking about education or medicine, there’s often a multi-year gap between research that points to best practices and those principles actually making it into ground-level real-life practice. Medical or educational practice are taking place within a host of institutional and cultural structures and patterns, and change isn’t easy.

One of the earlier main points of the chapter is this:

“Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are taught, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom…

“Teachers must draw out and work with the preexisting understandings that their students bring with them.”

Although I have limited experience in a classroom as an instructor, I have quite a lot of experience (in and outside a designated classroom) as a learner. This rings intuitively true, as my eyes tend to glaze over when I’m presented with a topic that I cannot seem to connect to my current life, interests, or anything else which creates more of a context within which for me to fit the new information. However, often once I start to learn and connect dots to things I already know, I have a sudden experience of feeling like positively everything is related. This often comes from either specific actual connections or analogies that I am now able to make between systems or concepts within fields that at first seemed disparate to me.

One of the problems here, though, seems to be how to really get at the ideas, prior experiences, and potential mis-conceptions that students/learners bring to the table with them when learning something new. We can do pre-tests to try to get a feel for a baseline of factual knowledge, but the things we’re asking about might not touch upon the misperception. And often, just by the nature of misperceptions, the person having them does not realize they are false! So… they wouldn’t know to ask for help or clarification. Is discussion a more effective route to uncovering a more full picture of background knowledge and experience?  What about for those learners who are not as comfortable speaking up in front of people?

The authors of How People Learn have this to say. I wouldn’t disagree with it, but I think that it only gets us part-way to solving this tricky dilemma:

 The roles for assessment must be expanded beyond the traditional concept of testing. The use of frequent formative assessment helps make students’  thinking visible to themselves, their peers, and their teacher. This provides feedback that can guide modification and refinement in thinking. Given the goal of learning with understanding, assessments must tap under- standing rather than merely the ability to repeat facts or perform isolated skills.

Making one’s thinking more visible can be very useful, but it can also feel really threatening. For example, I often write or sketch to work through ideas.  I often work through ideas via conversation. But in an era of easy replicability, there’s the risk that once my line of thinking becomes more visible, both I and others will recognize mis-steps. I’m not an insecure person, but it still doesn’t feel very good to think that if my thoughts (right-on or mis-guided) are visible to more than just myself and my instructor, they may open me up to criticism that I’m not ready for. This happens on blogs/online all the time.

I’m sure that many smart people have considered this question before, but I’m interested to know what others may have come up with as an answer.

In Chapter Two of How People Learn,  the authors talk about differences between experts and novices — although they use specific examples, like chess novices vs. masters, the concepts are applicable to various fields.

What I find particularly interesting is that the ability to recognize not just patterns but meaningful patterns (and surely, past experience helps someone distinguish which patterns might be significant), a person is able to chunk and organize information in a particular way.  This way of organizing actually seems to shift perception — if we understand structures and what is more or less important, it would seem that we could more effectively focus our attention onto what matters most.