Information Literacy Roundtable: Active Learning and Interdisciplinary Exchange

January 11th was Trexler Library’s annual Information Literacy Roundtable.  Nine faculty members joined librarians Kelly Cannon, Rachel Hamelers, Susan Falciani, and myself to discuss ways to integrate information literacy into disciplinary curriculum. Each librarian proposed activities for active instruction to engage students in evaluation of information and information structures.  These activities resulted in engaging conversations around disciplinary values, curriculum design, and student experience.

History professor Lynda Yankaskas joined Kelly Cannon in sharing a source evaluation activity that has helped students make informed decisions around resource selection.  In addition to giving her students source requirements for her annotated bibliography assignment, Yankaskas is transparent about the reasons behind these requirements.  Cannon begins a conversation around sources by asking students to evaluate seven sources  (see bottom of guide) that he specifically chose to challenge student’s evaluation skills.  For example, one resource is old and, therefore, not representative of the current scholarly conversation.  Other resources are not scholarly or not specifically written by historians, which are both requirements Yankaskas set for her students’ development as historians.  Perhaps the most challenging source within this activity is a book that discusses historiography, or the writing of history, but not history itself.  Through a class discussion of these resources students begin to recognize that there is a critical element to selecting the best resources for their projects; not all library resources are the same.

Following Cannon and Yankaskas, Susan Falciani brought out some letters from the Muhlenberg archive.  In classes with faculty from a variety of disciplines, Falciani utilizes these primary resources to excite students and inspire them to ask questions.  The Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education emphasizes that the process of research depends upon an increasingly complex line of inquiry.

In interaction with these manuscripts, students are asked to describe and evaluate the text and then identify missing information.  Students identify an information need based on the questions they have about the resource, and are then inspired to dig deeper.  Falciani connected with various faculty that had not previously considered use of Muhlenberg’s archive.  She mentioned that the archive is “not particularly deep, but wide” and that there are many disciplinary connections that can be made to the primary source material.

I suggested a constructivist approach to teaching students about the strategy required for searching databases.  Through student’s knowledge of social media, particularly Twitter, I proposed that students are posed to understand searching strategies required for efficient database navigation.  In my activity, I ask students to describe to a partner how to navigate to a Twitter post.  I draw direct comparisons to library database searching.  For example, searching for a Twitter handle is compared to Author searching and hashtags are compared to searching or controlled language.  Students quickly identify multiple search strategies that can be used within Twitter, but commonly use only one within databases.  This activity encourages use of multiple strategies and persistent searching, which is in line with the “Searching as Strategic Exploration” frame within the Framework.  Faculty questioned student’s knowledge of Twitter, but seemed to appreciate the comparisons, which can be used to connect student’s prior knowledge of databases with educational research.

Rachel Hamelers completed the day by leading a discussion around disciplinary values.  She asked participants to consider what barriers to creation, access, and use of information exist within their disciplines.  Then, she asked what disciplines values in information and how we can make these values transparent to students within their coursework.  Faculty in history shared the challenges that result from language barriers and how international multilingual conferences are breaking down barriers and resulting in greater exchange of information.  In psychology, the traditional value of quantitative methodologies and large sample sizes is being tempered by research within smaller, local contexts.  Interdisciplinary conversation around these challenges and values showed the variation in information literacy instruction across disciplines.

Faculty and librarians parted with knowledge applicable to classroom instruction and assignment development.  Keep an eye out for an additional conversation around information literacy later this spring over wine and cheese.

This post was initially published on 1/12/18 for the Muhlenberg College community on the Trexler Library blog.  I’m sharing it here because I think it’s valuable to the larger librarian community!

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