Learning Environment

The University at Albany graduate student working with the IITG metaliteracy project interviewed one of the information literacy librarians about his use of metaliteracy-related elements.

Metaliteracy in the Classroom:

Stephanie Dudek talks to information literacy instruction librarian Gregory Bobish

 At University at Albany, information literacy instruction librarian Gregory Bobish has been experimenting with different methods to bring metaliteracy learning objectives into practice in his classroom. Metaliteracy is an emerging concept of information literacy that characterizes learners as active participants in their information environment, capable of creating content as well as consuming it. Metaliteracy encourages critical thinking around information use and production, and encompasses multiple literacies as well as experimentation with emerging technologies to solve information needs. The role of the information literacy instructor within the framework of metaliteracy is to empower students to be self-aware of their own information needs and their ability to also be information producers.

Bobish teaches UNL 205, a one credit information literacy course designed to fulfill a general education requirement. It runs for roughly half a semester with seven total class meetings. Each class contains a mix of upper and lower classmen from a wide spectrum of majors. Because of this, the instruction must engage older students who already have experience doing research without going beyond what a freshman or sophomore is capable of. Keeping students engaged in a course that they may not have much interest in, but are required to take, is also a challenge. As a result, the class is not meant to make a “zero to sixty” change in students’ research skills nor create information specialists, but provide a foundation of basic skills and awareness of the current information environment.

Originally, Bobish taught UNL 205 as a lecture-based class, but in order to elicit more student involvement and discussion, he has changed the structure of the class to revolve less and less around lectures. The first change, and one that has proved to be the longest-lasting, was the adoption of a course blog. Bobish uses a PBWorks wiki, which is free for educational use. Previously, if the students were given an article to look at for homework, only a few students would actually read the article and participate in class discussion. Writing activities tended to have minimal effort put into them, reflecting what students seemed to think the teacher would want to hear. Frequently the students who produced the best arguments or interesting points of view in their writing remained silent in class. When Bobish started using a blog, students were required to look at the material he posted and comment on it before the start of class each week. This improved class discussions because it forced students to have already formulated an opinion. Bobish could pull up comments that he thought the whole class might benefit from hearing, and expose the students to the variations in their classmates’ points of view.

Bobish believes that students are more open to expressing themselves in a blog. Since blog posts lack the formality of a paper assignment, students may feel less pressure about expressing individual observations and ideas. The quality of students’ writing seemed to improve on the blog as well. This improvement is likely due to peer pressure. A paper that lacks originality may still receive an acceptable grade, but since the purpose of posting blog comments is to share an original opinion, the students think more about how their post will contribute to the blog conversation. If a student repurposes other’s opinions without adding anything new, they know their post will generate little interest from their peers.

Bobish values student collaboration in class as well as on the blog. Students are given time in class to discuss problems in groups, considering not only what they know about a topic but any additional information their classmates have, to arrive at an agreed-upon solution. In his experience, Bobish has found that the students absorb more from these discussions than if he gives them the same information in lecture format. For this reason he has tried to incorporate more team-based learning techniques into his class. The students complete most class activities in groups, including quizzes. Students complete quizzes first on their own and then again as a team. By discussing the questions, and debating the possible answers, the quiz becomes a learning opportunity as well as an assessment tool, and students will likely have a better understanding of the material after a quiz.

Students also create their final projects together. The final project is an annotated bibliography on a subject of their choice. Each week they are responsible for sharing different types of resources on this topic, such as a book, website, journal article, video or primary source document with the group. Together, they then pick the best resource to include in the final project. During the course, they are responsible for creating and maintaining a group Twitter account. Generally, students will follow people who are talking about their topic, and retweet, although some teams did create a few tweets of their own. They also create a tag cloud of topic keywords as part of a data visualization activity.  At the end of the course, they must give a multi-media presentation on their bibliography. Creativity is encouraged for the presentation, and students use a variety of formats including Prezi and web pages. Students are able to share their personal knowledge of different presentation methods with group members who may not have been exposed to them in other classes.  Final projects are posted on the wiki at the end of the class for easy reference and to encourage further discussion.

Because the class only runs for half a semester, Bobish must be judicious in choosing topics to cover. He tries to create a balance between traditional information literacy subjects, such as research topic development, database search skills, and plagiarism, with current social issues like data visualization, privacy, cognitive surplus, and social media. He usually sets aside one part of each class, as a follow-up to the blog assignments, to talk about a current trend. In his most recent class he discussed 3D printers, the way they are currently being used and their potential future impact. In past classes he has discussed food policies in libraries, and open access resources.

Bobish finds some topics, such as cognitive surplus and privacy, a challenge to teach. Today’s students have always had social media in their lives and, because they have not witnessed the rapid changes in information technology their parents have, do not realize the incredible ramifications it has had on their privacy. Many fail to see lack of privacy as a real issue. For this reason Bobish has stopped devoting a class to privacy and instead encourages students to consider privacy issues indirectly while creating their blog posts and their twitter accounts. It seems to work. He has overheard students advising each other to do things like create a false email address when signing up for Twitter in order to protect their own information.

A practical approach rather than theoretical instruction works best in other situations as well. Bobish tries not to over-prepare demonstrations.  When teaching how to use databases, he doesn’t come up with search terms ahead of time, preferring a more spontaneous approach in class. When his first attempt to find articles on a topic fails, he enlists the class to help him come up with better keywords. Engaging students in the critical thinking process is of more value than showing them what product they should come up with. Likewise, when discussing what resources are best in various situations, Bobish focuses on having students work in teams to consider and converse about where books come from, where web resources come from and why some are better or more appropriate for creating at a solution depending on their information need.

Bobish believes that students will use the tools he has exposed them to. Assessing the long-term effectiveness of the class is difficult, because students move on to other classes, and their progress can’t be followed. But many students respond very positively to his instruction and tell him how helpful the course was to them. In addition, students often seek him out later for research help based on something he taught. For future classes, Bobish is looking for ways to incorporate more new technology and digital literacy aspects. He is currently considering how he might incorporate more mobile technology use into the class and is keeping an eye out for new developments in the information world that he can integrate into the course.

Stephanie Dudek

May, 2013

One thought on “Learning Environment

  1. Pingback: Metaliteracy – Informationskompetenz im Wandel | Informationskompetenz

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