I’m in love with Barbara Fister.
She is a deep thinking, straight-talking, feisty but sensible prodder of the profession.
This week’s reading by Fister is a perfect example of how she decants issues. Take faculty-librarian collaboration. In her article Fostering Information Literacy Through Faculty Development, she emphasizes the commonalities in library and faculty goals. She assumes good intent and a unique learning curve for each participant……whether faculty member or librarian. From that presumption of common purpose, she and her colleagues at Gustavus Adolphus operated from a set of empathic principles about what faculty believe and need. What a great posture for fostering collaboration around information literacy!
The first of those principles is that, across the disciplines, “faculty believe student inquiry is essential…….and take full ownership of it as a pedagogical challenge.”
Student inquiry is indeed a pedagogical challenge and information literacy just one of complexities running through it. The Oregon State University first year composition class model, described by Deitering and Jameson in their article Step by Step Through the Scholarly Conversation, really highlights this beautifully. They do an excellent job of explaining how critical thinking, information literacy, and writing are all intertwined in the grand quest for learning and living.
Fister, Deitering and Jameson are saying that this “pedagogical challenge” takes a village to solve. Faculty and librarians are in this IL Thing together. This is why librarians need to be involved in course and assignment design. Librarians have eyes on the information literacy skills and aptitudes that cross all disciplines and all grades. Because of this, librarians have a view into the student experience that faculty do not have, especially in institutions where interdisciplinary discussion and/or instructional arrangements are not the norm.
So, that said, what should librarians inject into the course and assignment design process? Librarians need to bring their information literacy know-how and a critical eye to assignments. Their radar needs to be totally switched on to detect assignments that do not engage students’ critical thinking nor exercise their IL muscles in new or meaningfully reinforcing ways. Too often assignments lack specifics: specific requirements, specific necessary scaffolding and specific assessments. Without these, assignments often challenge students to do no more than think of a new way to apply the skills they possessed at the start.
Clocking these sorts of loopholes in an assignment is not easy. We just finished our 9th grade I-Search research project which has so many good things going for it. It is a student inquiry assignment that we are proud of…one that truly challenges students, meaningfully embeds information literacy components and represents a solid library-faculty collaboration. But pieces are missing for which our library should launch a major lobbying campaign. We are not involved in the assessment of the final outcomes nor, even more importantly I feel, in meaningful formative assessments that would help us keep kids on track and advancing along their inquiry learning curve, wherever that might be.
Why this matters__Exhibit A:
On the deadline date of this year’s I-Search paper, one 9th grader asked me for help. He wanted two database articles on his topic to ram (my word choice here) into his working bibliography, thereby meeting the assignment’s source distribution requirement. I said I would help him only if he had time to indeed read the sources and verbally summarize them briefly with me, otherwise those two sources had no business on his working bibliography.
This is classic. Here is a student displaying a lot of understanding about the requirements of the assignment but missing an essential at the heart of it. This cries out for a library-injected fix! The addition on the assignment timeline of a good formative assessment piece, such as a review of annotated bibliographies, or a one-on-one oral defense of sources, by the librarian/teacher team would go a long way assuring that the assignment was more about exercising new muscles and less about “working the system.”
There is a Fister-ism for this: Teach how information works, not how to work information.
Like I said, I love her.