True Confession II


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.


About tellthetruthruth

I'm a 12 Thinger.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to True Confession II

  1. Dear Ruth,

    Thanks for your excellent blog. I definitely concur that it seems as though some component or another in IL instruction seems to be missing. This is true for a myriad of complex reasons, but primarily because students today are in the habit of using the free Internet for research, as opposed to databases with quality and authority offered through the library. Also, I think it depends on the degree the liaison librarian is embedded in the course and how much IL instruction and help they are able to provide. In the best case scenario, even if the librarian is fully immersed in the course, some teachable moments might evade students at certain times — regardless of how many times you repeat or emphasize the IL component, among many other reasons.

    I completely agree with you when you state that: “Too often assignments lack specifics: specific requirements, specific necessary scaffolding and specific assessments.” I completely agree that how well the course is designed is in direct proportion to the student’s performance in the course. Additionally, as you mentioned, students often cherry-pick quotes just to support their topic that they already have their minds make up about.

    To cite an example, Gronemyer & Dollar (2011) describes many misguided notions students have that demonstrate the lack of IL instruction. As a “Copy-cat Confession,” I have to confess I fell into this category when I first went back to graduate school after graduating from UCLA several decades ago. Much to my chagrin, I realize I have many of the same misunderstandings other students had described in many articles — that means missing the critical thinking component of IL is not culturally-based.

    The next part is the big piece of the puzzle that I was missing: “They frequently do not understand where their own voice comes in, particularly when they are, as novices, writing for an expert audience, the professor” (p. 110).

    In hindsight, I realize I had no real knowledge about academic writing, so I started mimicking the language from scholarly papers. (Just like picking up an accent for an acting role). The main misguided notion I had is culturally based. At the beginning of my academic career I felt like, “What do I know?” — These people are experts! They know everything! My Japanese side said to myself, “I want to show deference and quote them to represent the facts. They deserve the credit for all their research. I know nothing compared to them. See… I didn’t realize my voice and my thoughts are what professors are looking for and that’s what makes it new to them! Before I understood, presenting my own opinion seemed presumptuous to me.

    The above notion is described eloquently in Gronemyer and Dollar (2010) article stating that: “Many students assume the purpose of a research paper is to report what is known about a particular topic or, perhaps, to make and support a particular argument decided in advance” (p. 110). I was shocked to read I was so misguided in my thinking.

    Ruth, I think you will understand the concept of “Enryo” working at The American School in Japan (ASIJ). Now that I understand that I have to bring my own original thoughts into the writing and that’s what makes it interesting for professors to read.

    My primary point is that I was missing the critical thinking part of information literacy. I liked the great example you provided stating: “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.”

    Having experienced it first-hand, I can vouch that I fell through the loopholes that you so astutely described in your blog. As a result, I am also a proponent for IL in course-specific integration — especially in courses with heavy research and writing. Since I don’t work in an academic setting, my own experiences are the only ones I can draw one, but I have a feeling it’s not so unusual.

    There is power in your statement as follows: “But pieces are missing for which our library should launch a major lobbying campaign”. I think acting proactively as you expressed, librarians can leave a positive and valuable impact once we can integrate IL instruction for first-year and transfer students. I realize a cookie-cutter model will not work since each academic institution is different. In any case, thank you for the fodder for thought based on your inspirational blog! Well said Ruthie!

    Warmest regards,

    To paraphrase Gronemyer & Dollar (2011) claims students don’t realize that

    • embendered says:

      Patty, your experience lives on in the lives of the students I work with too. And I believe that the mindset of the novice researcher should be taken into account in the design of assignments. We often disregard the very legitimate, thoughtful sentiments of the novice researcher that you described so well.
      Student inquiry assignments often set an impossibly brisk pace to choose a topic, craft a line of inquiry, amass evidence, synthesize and draw original conclusions. Why are we surprised when the final outcome is just a summarily paraphrased listing of what the sources say? We worry about students being engaged and passionate about their topics of study….but, if research is a conversation (a lovely, useful metaphor, don’t you think?) then we need to give young people time to immerse themselves in what they find and, as you say, find their unique voice and contribution to the conversation.

  2. mgfarkas says:

    I, too, am in love with Barbara Fister. She is one of the most insightful people in our profession and has awakened in me much new thinking about information literacy and teaching over the years. Anne-Marie Deitering is also a pleasure to know and learn from. She has helped me think a lot more deeply about teaching dispositions (like curiosity) and threshold concepts (like scholarship as conversation).

    Both of them actually have blogs, which you may already be aware of:

    Your example, Ruth, about the student wanting to inject sources into his already written paper is a perfect example of why I think we should focus more on teaching students to find “evidence” than “sources.” When they think of things as sources, they think of it in a quota fashion. “I need x-# of x-type of sources, and the goal is finding them rather than using them. When students think about evidence, they need to think about what will make their case or answer their research question, not about finding certain numbers and types of sources.

    • embendered says:

      Well, I guess I can try to share Barbara Fister! 🙂 I’ll start to follow Anne-Marie Deitering too, at your suggestion.

      Thanks for that suggestion to emphasize “evidence” over “sources”. Sometimes we spell things out so clearly for students that it almost becomes a rather easy checklist for completion. Eg., a certain # of sources from each category + a certain # of citations in the Bibliography = Done! Encouragement to gather evidence, rather than sources, implies that the goal is to build an argument, constructing something beyond checking off the boxes on the assignment rubric.

  3. Joanne Rumig says:

    I found your post this week very interesting! Students all too often are looking for sources rather than evidence. Recently I had a conversation with a faculty member, who had returned to teach course from retirement, and he was frustrated by a group of masters students and their research skills. He expressed that years ago students were able to defend their research much more and I started thinking about this. I think years ago before technology faculty were more comfortable explaining the collections and what was required in research, however with so many resources available today this has become a challenge for faculty. Students now view research as their bibliography and number of citations rather than supporting their argument.

    Rather than be discouraged entering this professional field at this time, I am hopeful that we will see a shift in the near future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s