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.

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3 thoughts on “Information Literacy, Learning and Fun

  1. Yes, games and learning — I am glad I am not the only one both intrigued and a bit wary of “gameification” as a trend. I find it hard to explain why it makes me a bit wary, though. I guess part of my reticence has to do with the question of intrinsic or extrinsic motivation, and which of these (or which mix of these) games for learning inspire. I think it may be hard for me to understand the appeal of video and online games in general, though, because they don’t appeal to me that much personally, though I do love board games! I’d be interested to hear more about what you think about this issue at some point!

  2. I echo your thoughts on games and information literacy. One of our SI professors, Karen Markey, is actually researching in this area. Last semester I took a class with her, SI665 Online Searching and Databases, and we learned how to look for scholarly journals and manage citations by playing a game called “BiblioBouts.” It was fun and the stuff I learned from playing that game really sticks with me.

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