RIOT: On Instruction, Technology and Not Being Evil

This RIOT post will examine the integration of and critical engagement with technology in library instruction:

Magnuson, Marta L. “Web 2.0 and Information Literacy Instruction: Aligning Technology with ACRL Standards.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 39, no. 3 (May 2013): 244-251.

Once when I was on chat reference duty, I received a chat from a graduate student who was in a full-blown panic. For the past six years, she had been saving citations in an EBSCO account, and while intending to delete only one page of those citations, she accidentally clicked “select all” and deleted them all. What could I do to get them back? Well, not much. But I called EBSCO customer service and spoke to a nice fellow who said he would file a service request with IT to try to recover the student’s saved citations from one of their backed up cron jobs. He warned me that it might take several days and that it wasn’t always 100% successful. While I was chatting with the student, who was slowly coming to grips with the fact that she might not get her articles back that evening (or indeed ever), I suggested that she start using Zotero to organize her research. Zotero has the advantage of storing data locally on the user’s computer, as well as in the cloud, and when the user tries to delete something, it reiterates the request and asks for confirmation. I told her she could take a library course to learn to use the software, if she wished.  But as is usual with chat interactions, I have no idea what the patron ultimately did. I forwarded an e-mail from the EBSCO guy communicating that the service request was still in process, but I don’t know if EBSCO ever succeeded in recovering this student’s information.

This story left me wondering about how we use and teach technology in library instruction sessions. I don’t actually have much experience teaching it, and I was curious to see how the literature in our field treats the subject. My question has two parts: [1] how are librarians integrating technology into their instruction, and [2] with such a diverse marketplace of tools, do we also teach a critical awareness of technology?

Magnuson’s article relates more to the first of my questions. She asks: “How do attributes of Web 2.0 foster the information literacy skills outlined in the Association of College & Research Libraries’ Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education?” She notes that Web 2.0 technologies mesh well with aspects of constructivist educational theory, particularly those that emphasize active learning and collaboration. Her article is a qualitative case study of an online graduate information literacy instruction course taught at UW-Milwaukee’s School of Information Studies. If anyone is curious, she expands upon this topic in her dissertation.

Magnuson’s interest is in demonstrating the helpfulness of Web 2.0 technologies in supporting the ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Since the focus of her study is on the integration of concepts, and less on structure, she bypasses the need to evaluate the technologies themselves by preselecting the tools: Glogster, PBworks, Diigo and Prezi. Each tool gets matched with learning objective(s) and a class assignment. Magnuson’s methodology section describes a data collection process that involved “observations, field notes, pre- and post-surveys… course assignments and e-mails.” I found myself wanting some of this detail in her paper. For instance, select quotes describing the learning curve involved in these teaching technologies, their effectiveness for a given assignment, their shortcomings, etc., would have helped the reader to understand how class time was spent, and what, if any, critical engagement was taking place with the technologies themselves.

Magnuson instead structured her findings in relation to the ACRL standards and identified five themes that supported the enhanced learning possibilities of Web 2.0 technologies:

  1. Sharing and collaboration
  2. Information organization
  3. Creativity and enjoyment
  4. Catalyst for discussion
  5. Learning about educational technology

The reader’s eyes might cross at the mapping of standards, indicators, outcomes, and Web 2.0 technologies. That aside, I particularly enjoyed her discussion relating to numbers 2 and 3 from the list above. As an example of information organization, students were asked to create electronic posters using Glogster. The space constraints, as well as the multimedia possibilities of the tool (Glogster integrates text, images and video) forced students to think carefully, and differently, about the information they included, and how they chose to display it. Under the theme of creativity and enjoyment, Magnuson talks about how students enjoyed the visual nature of Glogster and Prezi, and that despite the learning curve involved with Prezi specifically, students found them to be fun and creatively stimulating tools. I think this might get at part of the reason we integrate teaching technologies in the first place. We want to make learning fun and stimulating so that students retain more of what they learn, and are inspired to continue learning outside of the classroom.

As for number 5 on her list – learning about educational technology – this relates to my initial question about the evaluation of technologies, and here Magnuson’s description is a little thin. She says that the students learned about the specific Web 2.0 features of the selected tools, and how to use them in support of instruction. But what of other tools that do similar things? Why do we choose one tool over another? I wonder if the evaluation of technologies might support ACRL standards 3 and 6, namely:

  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally

Is it important for students to know the differences between a corporate tool and a tool created by a consortium of non-profit institutions? What values are at stake when we choose one over the other? Is it important for us to teach the hallmarks of Web 2.0 design, which is to say technologies that take as often as they give back? We all have time constraints in our information literacy sessions, in which we need to address content, concepts, and technology. The evaluation of competing technologies might be a shade too far for us, especially in the standard one-time instruction session. But I’m very curious to hear your impressions.

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