Library Literacy in Higher Education: A METRO Workshop

| March 30, 2012

On Tuesday, September 13, 2011, I attended a workshop at the headquarters of the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) at 57 East 11th Street.  The event, subtitled “Novel Approaches to Assessment and Collaborative Instruction,” presented the experience and findings of librarians at two New York City institutions, Hunter College and the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC).  In both cases the projects were centered around librarians’ involvement in  library research instruction, either by means of collaboration with faculty members or through their sole stewardship of an information literacy course.  The METRO offerings were repeats of papers presented at the 2011 annual meeting of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), which took place in Philadelphia from March 30th through April 2nd.

Of the two presentations, I expected the one by a librarian, Robin Brown, and an English professor, Zhanna Yablokova, at BMCC, to be of greater interest to me. I’ve enjoyed co-presenting library research sessions at TC with faculty members here, and I always welcome the opportunity to present information resources to students by means of discussion and interchange between myself and the course instructor. Robin and Zhanna’s paper, titled “Learning Together:  A Cross-Disciplinary Partnership,” can be found at http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/events/national/2011/papers/learning_together.pdf, and it describes a research study designed to measure whether more frequent library instruction in the course of a semester better prepares students to complete their end-of-semester research papers and whether they help students to complete research assignments in other classes.  The results of the study were mixed, with fairly clear indications that “a lot of additional work” needed to be done beyond in-class instruction, i.e., that students needed supplementary individualized consultation to attain the degree of “fluency” the presenters had hoped to observe as an outcome of multiple library resource presentations during class sessions.  The findings of the study seemed to indicate that, in their case, “the resources available to librarians are simply inadequate to the task of providing information literacy training at the the level that is needed,” that “teaching faculty should be encouraged to teach informational literacy to their students,” and that “information literacy training should be offered to all interested faculty.”  What was clear from the presentation and the paper was how much Robin and Zhanna had enjoyed working together, and how much they felt they’d learned from the experience and from looking closely at the measurable effects of library instruction.

The presentation by a Hunter College librarian, Brian Lym (his colleague and co-author, Lauren Yannotta, was unable to attend the workshop) was titled “Put the Pencil Down:  Using Student Podcasts to Assess Learning in a For-Credit Research Course.” The paper can be found at http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/events/national/2011/papers/put_the_pencil_down.pdf.  Though I don’t consider myself a podcast aficionado, I was impressed with the study and very interested in its findings.  In brief, the Hunter College Library offers a one-credit information literacy course, LIBR 100:  Information Research.  A fixed-choice, pre- and post-assessment had been used to assess student learning since the course’s inception in 2006, but Lauren and Brian decided to experiment with “a set of more performative pre- and post-assessments that would more accurately capture a student’s research process:  podcast narrations of student’s research strategy on a specific subject.”  The course assignment was to write a paper on global warming, and students were asked, without having prepared in advance (in order to try to get to students’ “indigenous knowledge”), to speak briefly in the second week of the class about how they would begin and proceed with their research. Then in the 13th week, they were asked to report at greater length on how they’d gone about investigating the topic, what resources they’d used, what search strategies they’d tried, etc.  Study results indicated a deepening of knowledge over the course of the semester, specifically in students’ understanding of the need for background information, their awareness of the variety of resources available to them, and their ability to evaluate sources.  A survey of students’ reactions suggested that they felt that the use of podcasts had helped them think about what they knew about doing research, i.e., had contributed to developing and promoting metacognition in the students.

For me, an unexpected takeaway from Brian’s presentation was his mention of a LibGuide that had been created by Hunter College librarians, called the Information Literacy Commons.  This website is “a collection of Digital Learning Objects (DLO) built by academic librarians for the teaching and assessment of information literacy standards set by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE),” intended to be “an interactive learning community designed to promote collaborative resource sharing, teaching and assessment across the curriculum with an emphasis on ‘best practices’ and effective uses of educational media.”    This resource is a phenomenal gathering of open-source DLOs, including videos, podcasts, interactive online exercises, and quizzes, grouped under five major categories of content:  Framing the Research Question, Accessing Sources, Evaluating Sources, Using Information Effectively, and Using Information Responsibly.  The Information Literacy Commons is a real gold mine for librarians, and well worth consulting as well by students and faculty looking for useful pedagogical tools to support and promote information literacy and, better, information fluency.

All in all, I found the METRO offering to be a very valuable learning opportunity, and I find that many ideas put forth in the two presentations have resonated with me in connection with library information sessions I subsequently presented to classes and with several courses, actual and virtual, in which I’ve participated since September and about which I’ll be reporting in future posts.