All posts by Meghan

Meghan Sitar has been the Instruction and Outreach Librarian in Library Instruction Services since 2005. In addition to coordinating outreach to undergraduates through the development of events, programs, and social media efforts, Meghan works with faculty to design assignments, exercises, and instruction sessions to integrate information literacy into first-year undergraduate programs on campus.

Discussion: Cathedrals and Bazaars: Discussing Scholarly Publishing and Open Access with Undergraduates

Elise’s RIOT post led to a rich discussion of the limitations of the one-shot instruction session, how to discuss the economics of information in that limited time period, and how we can work with faculty across disciplines to help students understand and evaluate different models of scholarly publishing.

Elise mentioned the Library Class that she and Shiela Winchester developed to discuss scholarly publishing practices.  The session was developed with graduate students in mind, but Elise wondered what it would look like to redevelop the session for an undergraduate audience and what changes would be necessary to make in an effective discussion of topics like open access for that audience.

As Elise mentioned in her post, the authors suggest that when we spend so much time teaching about how to find information and use tools, we don’t have time to talk about all the nuances of the scholarly conversation.  Time is a barrier to explaining such a complicated issue.

A few threads of the conversation that followed:

  • How can we address the journal pricing crisis in a way that resonates with undergraduates?
  • When we tell students that they should use our great resources because they won’t have access to them after they graduate, how does that make the tools and information meaningful to students who won’t continue as scholars?
  • Elise mentioned using the Peer Review in 5 Minutes video from NCSU on research guides to embed this information in the support she provides courses.
  • The publishing model of Wikipedia can be an entry point into this discussion with undergraduates.
  • Discussion of authority lead to deeper discussion of publishing models and why information is being published in a certain place.
  • Kristen mentioned getting students to try out different searches in different tools and evaluate the results without making distinctions between whether it was being provided by the library or another information services.
  • April talks a lot about evaluating business government resources that are often free and open.  Students crave a checklist and don’t necessarily want to deal with the nuances of critical evaluation.
  • Kristen likes to see the discussion in assignments of seeking the “authoritative source” rather than an emphasis on a “peer-reviewed source.”
  • Brittany talked about how her work with public relations students requires discussions of corporate responsibility and communications.  For example, when evaluating PR literature, it’s important to understand the relationships between brands and corporations. Dove’s empowerment messages for women become even more problematic when you recognize the same company owns Axe Body Spray.  Evaluation becomes an endless series of asking “Why?” and/or “So what?”
  • The discussion ended with some consideration of how students struggle to recognize formats and how this is complicated even more with new publishing models, like open access journals and repositories.  As formats for scholarly publishing change, how are they impacting citation practices? Students already struggle to follow style guidelines for websites versus newspapers published online, for example.


RIOT: Threshold concepts and information literacy

Hofer, Amy R., Lori Townsend, and Korey Brunetti. 2012. “Troublesome Concepts and Information Literacy: Investigating Threshold Concepts for IL Instruction.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 12 (4): 387–405.

Townsend, Lori, Korey Brunetti, and Amy R. Hofer. 2011. “Threshold Concepts and Information Literacy.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 11 (3): 853–869. doi:10.1353/pla.2011.0030.

We’ve been discussing threshold concepts for information literacy in LIS recently and we wanted to expand our discussion to include the disciplinary perspectives of our colleagues.

Threshold concepts were first introduced into the literature by two researchers in the UK, Jan Meyer and Ray Land, in the early 2000s while considering how to transform undergraduate education in the UK.  They presented threshold concepts as one framework for considering how we think and practice within disciplines. Meyer and Land write, “A threshold concept can be considered as akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something.”

They defined 5 criteria for threshold concepts:

Transformative: Once the concept is learned, it changes the way the learner thinks about the discipline and causes a shift in perspective.
Integrative: It brings together multiple learning objectives into one whole concept.
Irreversible: Once understood, it’s a lasting understanding.
Troublesome: It’s the place where learners usually get stuck.
Bounded: It may be a concept that’s unique to the discipline or that defines the boundaries of the discipline.

With these criteria in mind, Hofer, Townsend, and Brunetti have been exploring how defining threshold concepts for information literacy might help structure instruction that gets students past the troublesome knowledge associated with finding, evaluating, and using information.  In the 2012 portal article, they write, “As a theoretical frame, threshold concepts can help librarians devise targeted curricula by prioritizing trouble spots in a way that professional standards documents do not.”  The researchers surveyed information literacy instructors to compile a list of common stumbling blocks for students and then attempted to organize those things into seven broader areas that could be potential threshold concepts for information literacy.

• Metadata=findability
• Good searches use database structure
• Format is a process
• Authority is constructed and contextual
• “Primary source” is an exact and conditional category
• Information as a commodity
• Research solves problems

My initial reaction to the list, perhaps because so much of my work is with first-year students, is that it seems to represent the stumbling blocks for librarians in learning their discipline and not necessarily where we expect students to get stuck, often because we don’t expect them to reach these points in their thinking and learning. Similarly, the authors state, “While ‘information literacy’ may not be a discipline per se, the common way of thinking and practicing shared by information professionals constitutes a body of knowledge for which there are learning thresholds.”  But in the same way that an instructor in a biology class is trying to get students to think like a biologist, librarians are trying to get students to think like an information professional when approaching their research problems. Identifying the troublesome knowledge embedded in that process could help us reconsider our pedagogical approaches to those concepts.

A few questions for discussion when we meet:

-What are the pieces of troublesome knowledge associated with research in the disciplines you support or the population you work with on campus?

-How does the threshold concepts framework complement or complicate the use of the ACRL standards for information literacy?

-How might the library build instruction support and services to help learners move past the threshold in their disciplines and/or the thresholds for information literacy?

-I feel like the greatest advantage of the threshold concepts framework is that they provide a statement of difficult knowledge that can be used to represent the perspective of the novice learner when working with practitioners/faculty. How can we use threshold concepts in collaborating with faculty around assignment design and instruction?

Resources for reading and evaluating scholarly articles

A recent post to the ILI-L email list requesting useful resources for evaluating articles yielded a nice list of suggested resources.  Thanks to Jodi Hillesheim for compiling the results of the discussion.

Resources for Reading & Evaluating Articles


Anatomy of a Scholarly Article:

How to Read and Review a Scientific Journal Article:  Writing Summaries and Critiques

How to Read and Understand a Scientific Paper: a Guide for Non Scientists:

Peer Review Process Storyboard

Quality Appraisal Checklist – Qualitative Studies:

The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Foundation for Critical Thinking.  Template is from Paul, Richard and Linda Elder (2009).


Bookman, S., & Warburton, C. S. (2007). Basic college research skills / Steven Bookman, Christopher Warburton. Lanham, MD : University Press of America, 2007.

Pyrczak, Fred.  Evaluating research in academic journals : a practical guide to realistic evaluation.  (Chapter 2 deals with Reading different academic texts)

Macmillan, Vicki.  Writing Papers in the Biological Sciences.


Fujimoto, Y., Hagel, P., Turner, P., Kattiyapornpong, U., & Zutshi, A. (2011). Helping university students to ‘read’ scholarly journal articles: the benefits of a structured and collaborative approach. Journal Of University Teaching & Learning Practice8(3), 1-12.

How College Graduates Solve Information Problems Once They Join the Workplace

Project Information Literacy Research Report: “Learning Curve: How College Graduates Solve Information Problems Once They Join the Workplace” by Alison Head, October 2012

This report includes data from UT graduates who participated in focus groups back in April (Thanks to Michele for doing all the coordination around this!).

An exploratory study discussing post-college information-seeking behaviors by 33 graduates of 4 different programs, this report provides some interesting insights into what employers hope their staff will be able to do and how the information literacy instruction provided in college might align with those expectations.  Rather than attempting to paraphrase the findings, here they are as found in the report:

“The major findings from our interviews and focus groups are as follows:

1. When it was hiring time, the employers in our sample said they sought similar information
proficiencies from the college graduates they recruited. They placed a high premium on
graduates’ abilities for searching online, finding information with tools other than search
engines, and identifying the best solution from all the information they had gathered.
2. Once they joined the workplace, many college hires demonstrated computer know-how that
exceeded both the expectations and abilities of many of their employers. Yet we found these
proficiencies also obscured the research techniques needed for solving information problems,
according to our employer interviews.
3. Most college hires were prone to deliver the quickest answer they could find using a search
engine, entering a few keywords, and scanning the first couple of pages of results, employers
said, even though they needed newcomers to apply patience and persistence when solving
information problems in the workplace.
4. A majority of employers said they were surprised that new hires rarely used any of the more
traditional forms of research, such as picking up the phone or thumbing through an annual
report for informational nuggets. Instead, they found many college hires—though not all—
relied heavily on they found online and many rarely looked beyond their screens.
5. At the same time, graduates in our focus groups said they leveraged essential information
competencies from college to help them gain an edge and save time at work when solving
workplace information problems. Many of them applied techniques for evaluating the quality of
content, close reading of texts, and synthesizing large quantities of content, usually found
6. To compensate for the gaps in their skills sets, graduates said they developed adaptive
strategies for solving information problems in the workplace, often on a trial-and-error basis.
Most of these strategies involved cultivating relationships with a trusted co-worker who could
help them find quick answers, save time, and learn work processes”

Let’s focus tomorrow’s discussion on the implications of these findings on our instruction programs.  How might these findings inform our teaching practices and our collaborations with faculty and programs?  What opportunities might exist for addressing these issues through new initiatives?  Other reactions to the findings?

How Do Students Develop Mastery?

Ambrose, Susan A. Bridges, Michael W. DiPietro, Michele Lovett, Marsha C. Norman, Marie K. Mayer, Richard E. (2010). How Learning Works Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. The Jossey-Bass higher and adult education series (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Chapter 4: How Do Students Develop Mastery?

We recently met with Michael Sweet from the CTL and he recommended this book as a tool to use with faculty when discussing best teaching practices.  Beyond the course transformation work that we’ve discussed previously, CTL is taking active steps to build community around teaching on campus, including the formation of a faculty mentoring initiative with learning communities structured around teaching topics. 

I wanted to take a look at one of the chapters from the book to help everyone around the table gain some familiarity with how the chapters are structured and what faculty might gain from reading it in pieces.  Plus, I figured I’d learn something to improve my teaching in the process.

Each chapter begins by presenting a few teaching scenarios that include problems with student learning problem, followed by a summary of the possible problems.  Then a discussion of the principle of learning that’s at work in these scenario is presented followed by a summary of the research on that principle.  The chapter that outlines teaching strategies suggested by the research, turning the research into practical help with examples.

The book contains a number of appendices that are referenced in the teaching strategies section and that are intended to guide broader teaching strategies, like building effective assessments into a course and using rubrics.

I think I learned more from these 30 pages than I have from almost anything I’ve read in the last year.  The authors do an amazing job of presenting a classroom problem and proposing solutions based on research in clear and convincing language aided by multiple examples.  The chapter is a quick read, but is full of ideas that I’d like to discuss during the RIOT rather than write about here.  I’ll outline a some basic ideas here, but I’d like us to talk about how some of these strategies apply to the one-shot and assignment design consultations.

-Faculty often become frustrated when student performance is disappointing and the faculty member feels like the students should have the skills and knowledge needed to perform well.  The problem is usually that students either lack key component skills, lack experience integrating the use of key component skills that they’ve learned individually, and/or are unable to transfer the key component skills to a new context.

-All of this points to a failure to develop mastery.  The principle of learning for this chapter is stated as:

“To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned.”

Research is highlighted in four areas:

Expertise  –
moving along a continuum from
unconscious competence (not knowing what you don’t know)
conscious incompetence (knowing you don’t know and what you need to learn)
conscious competence (knowing a lot, but still having to think about integrating your knowledge — think about driver’s ed)
unconscious competence (knowledge and skills become instinctive and you no longer consciously consider what you know or do)

Component Skills


and Application

I’ll outline more of this research and the related strategies when we meet, but please begin thinking about our role in helping students develop mastery in information literacy and research skills.  Are we effectively teaching students to integrate key component skills?  What are those key component skills? How often are we functioning at the unconscious competence level of expertise and failing to really identify the key component skills that our non-expert students need to learn to complete an assignment?  And perhaps the problem most unique to our teaching situations:  when those necessary skills fall both in our domain and the faculty member’s, how do we build stronger bridges for collaborating on the integration of those skills in assignments and activities?


Meszaros, M. (2010). Who’s in Charge Here? Authority, Authoritativeness, and the Undergraduate Researcher. Communications In Information Literacy, 4(1). Retrieved October 13, 2011, from

Before we discuss the article, a relevant interlude:

  • I don’t have facts to back this up, but I happen to believe that these demonstrations are planned and orchestrated to distract from the failed policies of the Obama administration.” Herman Cain, as presented by the Daily Show
  • “Racism only exists in the eyes of the ignorant.  Don’t people realize that Ghandi Mohandas put an end to rascism in America in the early part of the 18th century?  Obviously not since professors keep qouting him.  I don’t mean to sound holier than thou, but sometimes i think I have a better handle on the cultural constructions of the modern world.” Sh*t My Students Write

Ok, so, I think it’s difficult to argue with the premise that this entire country is suffering from a crisis of authority.  As Meszaros states, “In short, authoritativeness has become conflated with authoritarianism.  The word crisis may at first seem hyperbolic, but when one considers what is at stake — the ability of a citizenry to render reflective judgments, to weigh knowledge claims, to generate evaluations based on something more substantive than mere taste and feeling, the designation is apt.” (9)  If everyone is an expert and everyone’s opinion is valid, then we’re all right, right?  And if we’re all right, then why is this librarian standing in front of me, asking me to figure out who the author of this dumb website is and then badgering me about whether or not the author is credible?

After reading through RHE 306 research summaries and acknowledging the fact that students were, as whole, unable to speak clearly to the credibility of authors, I was interested in finding some additional discussion of undergraduate source evaluation and this issue of authority.  Meszaros references Rebecca Jackson’s work on cognitive development throughout her article and draws upon many of the ideas that we’ve discussed about the dualistic nature of undergraduate critical thinking, with some students moving on to a more multiplistic view where everyone has a right an opinion and “all opinions are equally valid.  Evidence is not necessary; a fervently held opinion is not only enough, it is positively sacred.” (7).  But Meszaros then looks at how undergraduates do and do not regard faculty and librarians as authorities and the implications of these views.

Meszaros introduces the distinction between administrative authority and cognitive authority, drawing on the work of Patrick Wilson. Undergraduates usually attribute administrative authority to faculty as those powerful entities who control their grade, ascribing authority based on position. While administrative authority leads to students following directions and completing assignments, it doesn’t mean that the student, a novice to the course material, recognizes the faculty member as an authority based on expertise in their discipline.  She quotes Susan Ostrov-Weisser: “My intellectual authority as [the student’s] professor is equivalent to a useful fiction, a semi-ironic game she agrees to for a short time for pragmatic reasons, with the understanding that we both know it is faintly ridiculous.” (6-7)  If students don’t regard faculty as experts and lack content knowledge that would aid in evaluation, then how do they approach the issue of determining the authority of a source based on credibility?   Meszaros argues that much of the evaluation takes place through an examination of “surface credibility” based on visual cues (“This website is designed well.”) or through a “sense of fit” based on whether or not what they’re reading makes sense and resonates with their novice knowledge base — hardly the critical examination of sources we hope they’ll engage in and that prompts us to recommend peer-reviewed sources representing disciplinary expertise.  Meszaros writes, “The A word that matters most to the undergraduate research is accessibility, not authoritativeness.” (8)

So what do we do?  Meszaros points to an article by Holschuh Simmons that crosses over with Anna’s recent RIOT on genre theory and suggests that academic librarians are in a unique position to negotiate the space between novice researchers and the expectations faculty have of source choice based on their immense disciplinary expertise.  We can use this crisis as an opportunity to market our services to faculty, invoking the crisis in authority as a reason for restructuring assignments to prompt source evaluation and promote examinations of expertise.  Meszaros suggests that if neither faculty nor librarian is deemed a cognitive authority, than “the crucial question is how all of us can validate the notion of disciplinary cognitive authority so as to help students move beyond the unsophisticated epistemological positions of dualism or multiplicity.  Librarians can best join forces with faculty by focusing less on issues of access and retrieval and more on student attitudes and beliefs about knowledge, especially beliefs about expertise and cognitive authority.” (9)

So as a group, what strategies do we have for embedding this in our teaching?  How do we push students past the idea that everyone’s opinion matters in the environment of the one-shot?  What opportunities do we have to prevent this crisis from getting worse?

This I Believe…All Libraries Should Be Teaching Libraries

Catherine Palmer. (2011). This I Believe…All Libraries Should Be Teaching Libraries. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 11(1), 575-582.
If we expect not to just survive but to thrive in the near and long-term future, the decision to become a teaching library is not “Will we?” but “How will we?” (582)
Reading this article after being immersed in libraryland for four days at ACRL was the perfect capstone to that experience. The themes of changing service models, changing philosophies, and re-envisioning modes of access to content in the academic library ran strong throughout the conference.


Palmer discusses her experience touring Elmhurst College’s library outside of Chicago, which had recently transformed its services around the idea that teaching students was the central mission of the library.  The reference desk and other physical elements of the library had been reconfigured to reflect that mission.  Palmer envied the ability of this library to take its small staff and get everyone on board this new idea.  She recognized that a similar transformation at a larger research university library was unlikely to be as simple and required gaining buy-in from many reluctant parties who were more focused on pursuits outside of instruction.


She draws a comparison between what she imagines needing to happen in academic libraries and the steps the FDIC took to transform failing banks, chronicled in a recent This American Life episode:
The FDIC agents came in at 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon; and, by Monday morning, XYZ Bank had become ABC Bank, with the same customers, assets intact, and a new financial future. Of course, many of the details did not match up, but it made me wonder, “What would our library look like if we closed on Friday with our traditional services and structures for providing them in place and opened on Monday, having been transformed into a true teaching library?” (576)
As we move through this strategic planning process, I think many of us find ourselves wishing we could just start from scratch and that there weren’t existing structures to undo and adapt to a new vision for the Libraries.  Palmer embraces the idea of instruction as marketing, but moves this idea beyond the concept of making users aware of services.  Instead, she makes a statement that so perfectly aligns with what we see happening here in Texas, as different political groups make their arguments about the purpose and value of a university education (I couldn’t help but think about the Rick O’Donnell situation).  She describes the idea that most see the work of the faculty as being the most important to a research institution and concedes that in term of scholarly output, that remains true.  But in terms of assigning value to a university education, the education of undergraduates, most of whom will not go to grad school, should be the most important concern of the research university if it hopes to remain relevant to the larger community of taxpayers.  It’s the undergraduates that leave the university in the highest numbers, entering the workforce and contributing to the community.  It’s those undergraduates who are going to allow the university to have the widest influence outside of the university as they join the communities that need to support the university for its continued growth.
If we expect our society outside the academy to understand what it is that its tax dollars allow research institutions to do and to make informed decisions on how to support those institutions, then it is undergraduates who are most in need of understanding how universities “make knowledge.” (578)
Palmer provides a vision of what the teaching library might look like within the larger research university — the bullet points include ideas like employing purchase-on-demand models, curriculum mapping for information literacy integration, and transforming the library website from a collection of links into a more educational experience.  My favorite bullet point reads, “We would spend less time trying to anticipate how to make it easy for patrons to use our resources and more time learning how people learn, and then we would learn how that works in our environment.” (580)


Palmer then continues with a plan for transforming the library into a teaching library by employing a localized Immersion-like experience among professional staff.  She considers what it might look like to have an instructional services department of 2 or 3 permanent staff who were solely focused on teaching.  Other staff in the library would retain traditional subject specialist roles of collection development, reference and instruction, but would rotate as members of the instructional team, essentially committing to a 1 or 2-year residency to gain the pedagogical expertise necessary to transform their approach to their other subject responsibilities.  The central idea is that a culture of instruction is created amongst all staff and that culture then informs all decision-making, moving librarians out of the traditional framework of the library and positioning the library within the culture of teaching and instruction throughout campus.


While all of this is easier said or proposed then done, I believe in Palmer’s belief that this has to be accomplished for the library to remain relevant on campus.  I wonder what it would look like within our own organization if we learned from the transformations that have happened on smaller campuses and examine our larger, more bureaucratic structures to figure out how we can move a similar mission to the forefront of our planning efforts while positioning our other activities related to collecting and preservation around this idea.

The Timing of the Research Question: First-Year Writing Faculty and Instruction Librarians’ Differing Perspectives

Jennifer E. Nutefall, & Phyllis Mentzell Ryder. (2010). The Timing of the Research Question: First-Year Writing Faculty and Instruction Librarians’ Differing Perspectives. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 10(4), 437-449.

[In case this sounds familiar, this article draws on the same research that the authors published in an article Michele discussed in an earlier RIOT, but from a different perspective.]

The study reported in this article used an extremely small and focused sample, but I’m hoping we can use it as a jumping off point for discussing librarian and faculty expectations across our different disciplines as well as our own expectations regarding the timing of the research question.

The authors interviewed four faculty members who taught within the first-year writing program at George Washington University and three instruction librarians who supported the program in 2005.  The faculty/librarian collaboration in this program is written into the program description:  “Each semester, faculty and librarians are partnered according to interest and research expertise, and ongoing partnerships are supported. Faculty and librarians are encouraged to collaborate on all stages of the course including choosing course texts, devising effective research assignments, and planning and teaching information literacy sessions.”  The transcripts of these interviews were then coded to facilitate discovery of common themes in the discussions between the two populations.

Participants agreed on some basic tenets of a good research question:

1) It should be complex and not have an immediately obvious answer.

2) It should be worth answering with consideration of its meaning and value to the intended audience.

3) It should be interesting to the student.

The point of disagreement arose when the timing of the research question was discussed, with varying opinions about whether the research question should actually be a question and when that question should be formulated.  The authors write, “Faculty members talked about the process of narrowing down a topic to a question and how this can occur over the better part of the semester. On the other hand, the librarians stated that a student’s topic needs to be narrowed down as one of the initial steps.”

Examples from the transcript highlighting these differing opinions are shared, with both faculty and librarians describing their work with students to help them reach a research question.  Faculty reported that they tell students they probably won’t know their actual research question ’til the end of the semester, while several of the librarians insisted that students needed to narrow their focus at the beginning of the semester.  While faculty seemed to embrace the idea that students would be inundated with relevant information that would lead to a more nuanced understanding of their topic, the librarians were concerned with students reaching a level of focus that would allow them to examine a smaller set of sources.

If you only read one part of this article, jump to the Discussion, which includes two contrasting faculty and librarian quotes that really get to heart of the difference in approaches.

From my perspective, this is really about the faculty and the librarians wanting the students to approach research like either a faculty member or a librarian — and the authors reach the same conclusion.  The faculty members wanted to be immersed in information, taking the time to learn more and generate questions from that point of immersion, using prior knowledge to focus and narrow these questions.  This is the professional scholar’s job and an expectation of how they will spend their time.

The librarian wants the student to start from a clear point of inquiry where keywords can be brainstormed and information can be searched and synthesized into an answer to the research question for a particular audience.  Again, this is the professional librarian’s job — to take the question and find the relevant information, with a reference interview often helping to clarify the question to facilitate this approach.  And, to oversimplify matters, the librarians  support the faculty member’s research process, providing information to answer the questions that happen along the way, but librarians aren’t there during the immersive experience that generates those questions. It doesn’t surprise me that this becomes a point of conflict when both faculty and librarians are attempting to support the same students towards the same goal in a semester-long course.

But taking this conclusion out of the environment of a semester-long collaboration and translating it the administration of an instruction program built mostly on one-shots, you can see the same point of conflict causing frustrations.  It explains why a faculty member might not think it’s important for students to have their topics when they arrive at the beginning of the semester.  It explains why drafting an outline for a session to demonstrate a research process can feel so artificial for courses where students are given the freedom to develop a topic that interests them over the course of the semester.  And it explains why we sometimes run into research assignments where the faculty member hasn’t considered whether or not the information is going to exist for students to successfully answer the research questions they’re likely to generate based on the prompt — we expect people to look into the future and envision the information they need from the start.

The following questions come to mind:

1) Is this situation unique to writing faculty and courses or is it to be expected from across disciplines?

2) How can we provide better support for the exploratory stage of the research process being encouraged by faculty?

3) The conclusions states, “The authors’ recommendation is for faculty and librarians who teach collaboratively to meet and explicitly discuss their expectations for when students will arrive at their research question, what that question might look like, and what roles the faculty and librarian will play in guiding them to a research focus.” What would this conversation look like when translated to a one-shot collaboration?

Learning vs Producing, Process vs Product

Maehre, J. (2009). What It Means to Ban Wikipedia. College Teaching, 57(4), 229-236. doi:10.3200/CTCH.57.4.229-236

In “What It Means to Ban Wikipedia: An Exploration of the Pedagogical Principles at Stake,” Maehre builds a case against restricting the use of Wikipedia or any other source while rallying for a shift to teaching students how to critically evaluate information and how to effectively read content and choose information from a variety of courses.  Obviously, this is familiar territory for us all and I didn’t choose this article because it persuaded me to believe something I didn’t already believe.  Instead, I chose this article because as a librarian (who also taught Composition in the past) publishing in a non-library venue, Maehre is arguing for a change from the same vantage point as us and I think he did an effective job of building an argument using a strategy that may be useful for us to adopt in our conversations with faculty when preparing for library sessions.

Maehre begins by discussing the qualities of general encyclopedias vs subject encyclopedias vs Wikipedia, citing the research that finds inaccuracies across all venues, but aligning Wikipedia with the more rigorous subject treatments founds in subject encyclopedias.  Maehre looks at how students use research and how writing a research paper can be like directing and editing a film, with the student in the role of both editor and director of cinematography.  When they encounter encyclopedia articles in their research, they’re provided with a broad, sweeping shot of their topic that makes sense and doesn’t require a lot of examination or guessing to decipher its meaning.  When they’re restricted to using peer-reviewed information, they encounter many distinct close-up shots that may not provide much meaning without those broader shots.  When these pieces of information from peer-reviewed sources are woven together into a research paper by the student, they don’t paint the complete picture that they’re often being asked to provide of a topic in four to five pages.  The author comments, “Instructors haven’t written these four-to-five page papers in years and I perceive that they often devise their research requirements without careful consideration of what the students experiences as they search” (230).  Students need permission to consider information across a variety of sources to create a product that adheres to the instructor’s expectations.  Too often, they don’t have that permission and their final film edit is incomprehensible to both the student and the audience as a result.

With all of the emphasis on the source rather than the information itself, students are viewed as producers rather than learners.  If we want them using the “best sources” and credit isn’t given for engaging in the evaluation process itself, then the student is providing the author with a product rather than demonstrating learning.  The research paper should be structured in a way that helps students learn how to determine the best source.  The natural solution for this shift is a holistic approach to incorporating information literacy into the classroom, with instructors sharing the responsibility with librarians for introducing these skills.   Maehre advocates for “an open-door policy for a wide range of sources, with students being responsible for finding the best content within them, but that this approach, by removing barriers separating ‘good’ from ‘bad’ sources, is a particularly valuable tool for teaching the information literacy skills of evaluation and critical thinking, which are, of course, at the core of higher learning” (231).   (I think I might needlepoint this statement and hang it in my office.)

Maehre continues by discussing all the challenges encountered by librarians when they’re working with instructors and urging them towards these approaches.  His concerns mirror those we discuss regularly: “It seems to occupy the space for something that is too complicated to really teach, something a student either intuits or doesn’t, something someone else ‘should’ have already taught, or, probably most often, something for which no time remains after meeting the other curricular demands” (231).   He describes the experience students have of being brought into the library to find x number of sources, with the direction to evaluate the articles when they read them later, but with no guidance provided for that evaluation.  Research appears to be a finite action, not  a process, when this is the extent of guidance provided, and more time is spent telling the students what not to do rather than explaining how not to or why not to or providing criteria for decision-making.  Instead, “rules-based pedagogy” leads to a checklist approach to evaluation with students never taught how to read in across a wide range of sources to choose relevant and credible content (232).

Close reading strategies are discussed and then applied to an evaluation of information found on Wikipedia, with emphasis on having students engage with the discussion page to determine the credibility of information.  As Maehre notes, “While we don’t have any author’s name for a web search, Wikiepdia itself gives us, not an archive of mere mentions of the author of the work, but a vibrant and dynamic discussion of particular points in the entry” (234).   The discussion page highlights weaknesses and strengths of the entry, allowing students to understand how the information was created and whether or not it might be persuasive evidence to incorporate into their own.  Maehre then provides several classroom exercise examples that attempt to demystify Wikipedia rather than banning it.

With so much negativity around Wikipedia (and other encyclopedias) as sources and so much value placed on peer-reviewed sources filled with close-up shots of the topic that do not provide the same evidence of collaborative knowledge building, it’s easy to see how students continue to find themselves struggling to make sense of the rules and edicts put forth in assignment prompts and how that frustration often fails to foster learning.  And as students move beyond their college experience, they’re likely to find themselves participating in the process of collaborative information creation that is the backbone of Wikipedia.  By banning its use and not engaging students in critical evaluation of a variety of sources, old pedagogical models persist and students continue to be expected to produce research papers for an audience of 1 (their instructor).  Without shifting to a model where the process of learning is valued in the assignment, students do not develop into independent learners capable of closely reading and evaluating information.

While reading this article, I thought of how many times I’ve had instructors pipe up during a class when we’re talking about background information and encyclopedias to issue rules about not using Wikipedia.  When I hear this, I always hope that I’m hearing the conclusion reached in some previous conversation that dissected Wikipedia beyond “good” and “bad,” but I know I shouldn’t expect that.

So, some possible questions for discussion:

-I’ve appreciated those few times where I’ve felt like I’ve had enough time to talk about the Wikipedia Discussion and History pages in instruction sessions, but those opportunities have been rare.  Has anyone done anything substantial in a class where these features were used in an evaluation of an entry?  How did it go?

-What strategies can we use when consulting with faculty about assignments to encourage them to recognize the introductory level of students and their need to engage and evaluate information at the overview level?  What strategies have worked for moving faculty away from unnecessary or inappropriate requirements for the use of peer-reviewed journal articles in introductory classes?

-In 50 or 75 minute sessions, how can we move faculty away from a “results-oriented agenda” for the time spent in the library (find 2 or 3 sources, etc) and toward using the time to allow students to explore their topics?  When I observed Cindy recently, I thought it was great that she emphasized at the beginning of the session that they might not find anything in the brief time of the library session, but that they would have a strategy for continuing to find sources later when they had more time to engage in the process, highlighting that research isn’t about quickly harvesting sources.   I wonder how we might also emphasize evaluation in establishing realistic process-oriented goals for a session, knowing this is a shared responsibility with faculty.

Key Findings of the 2009 ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology

The ECAR (EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research) studies of undergraduate technology use began in 2004 and aim to “shed light on how information technology affects the college experience.”  The study reports on student ownership of technologies and asks students to rate their own technology skills while also asking them to reflect on the relationship between technology and their learning experience.

My comments reflect the contents of the shorter Key Findings document, though I did delve into certain sections of the full report.

The study presents findings from a Spring 2009 survey of over 30,000 freshmen and seniors at over 100 four-year institutions and 12 two-year institutions.  The study also includes the results of focus groups and literature reviews.  The focus of this year’s study was Internet-capable handheld devices, which is what drew me to the report.  With TIS working on a mobile version of the website and both EBSCO and Library Press Display releasing mobile websites this past week, I found myself thinking more and more about how to promote these resources to students and whether or not students are interested in accessing those library resources through mobile technology.

While looking for an article related to this topic, I happened across a 2009 Reference Services Review article by Jim Hahn reporting on what happened when three second-year undergraduate students at UIUC were given iPods loaded with Wikipedia.  Students were asked to report on their use of the device.  After 12 weeks, none of the three students reported that they had consulted the information while writing a paper.  One student reported using it to select a research topic and none of the students reported using the devices more than monthly.  While this was an experiment with a very limited scope and a somewhat artificial situation/technology, I wondered if students aren’t yet thinking about integrating their use of mobile devices into the research process.  Occasionally I’ll see students at the desk with call numbers saved on their phones, but I rarely see anyone accessing information through a device.  I was hoping the ECAR study might include some information that would provide a clearer picture of how current first-year undergraduates are utilizing mobile technology in the research process and its implications for our work.

In the findings on student ownership and use of computers, an interesting statistic pops up:

“The vast majority of respondents, 9 out of 10, use the college and university library website (94.6%), with a median frequency use of weekly…”

Immediately, I wondered where the study was pulling its sample from, but saw a wide range of universities and colleges listed in teh appendix.  Doesn’t that number seem high? This is pretty much equal to the percentage that uses social networking sites and texting, but with daily usage reported for those technologies.  The same high ranking for library website use shows up again when students are asked about the technologies they were actively using as a part of their courses at the time of the survey in spring 2009.  73.1% said they were using the college and university library website, a higher percentage than those using a CMS or LMS (70.4%) or Powerpoint (66.5%).

As one might expect, when students were asked to rank their own information literacy skills, they gave themselves high marks, with 80% saying they were “very confident in their ability to search the Internet effectively and efficiently.”  This number went down slightly, however, when students were asked to assess their skills at “evaluating the reliability and credibility of online sources of information” and their “understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of digital information.”  For example, while 34.9% claimed they were “expert” at searching, only 18.7% made the same claim about their evaluation skills and only15.2% understood the ethical issues at the expert level.

The most interesting and newsworthy finding, I think, related to the self-assessment of information literacy skills was the relationship between the self-assessment and the students’ views of themselves as innovators and early adopters.  91.5% of students who claimed to be early adopter/innovators saw themselves as very skilled or expert while just 59.1% of the late adopters or laggards rated their level at very skilled or expert.

The study dropped a question about simple cell phone ownership after 2007 responses showed “near ubiquitous” ownership, but it did ask about Internet capability on phones.  51.2% indiciates they own an Internet-capable handheld device, but more than a third (35.4%) said they never use the feature.  Those numbers reveal a smaller percentage of active users of mobile Internet devices than I have assumed.  More than a quarter of respondents who said they owned handheld devices used them to access the Internet weekly or more often, with fewer than 1 in 10 using them to access the Internet monthly or less frequently.  No one reported that they were using their cell phone to do research, though some mentioned using it to find directions, check the news, and check facts, all of which could be bundled under information-seeking behavior.  Almost 50% of people also said that they didn’t use their cell phone because there were other ways to access the Internet, but then 44,5% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that in the next three years they “expect to do many things on a cell phone or handheld Internet device that they currently do on a laptop or desktop computer.”

Still, when asked which of their institution’s IT services they would be most likely to use if they were on a mobile device, “library services” rated lowest at 14.8%.

So with that reality in mind, I have some questions that we might pursue:

1) If early adopters/innovators believe that their information literacy skills are at a very skilled or expert level and that these are the people who are “power users” when it comes to mobile technology, what are the implications for pushing out new mobile applications from the Libraries? Can buy-in from early adopters help elevate the popularity of these resources?

2) In the Road Map document accompanying the report, ECAR suggests that faculty should bring communication technologies into their instruction and that institutions should develop mobile applications for key campus services. Should we/how might we promote mobile search technologies through library instruction recognizing the current level of use?  When is the right time to invest resources in developing and promoting these technologies?