Caring Connections: Metaliteracy, Affect, and Learning

by Katie Greer

Katie Greer, Associate Professor and the Fine and Performing Arts Librarian at Oakland University in Rochester, MI

I begin a recent article published in the Journal of Academic Librarianship, “A pedagogy of care for information literacy and metaliteracy asynchronous online instruction” with a question asked by Nel Noddings a generation ago: “What would schools be like under an ethic of caring?” (Noddings, 1984). While Noddings was referring to the K-12 environment, I strongly believe that we could and should be asking the same thing of the higher education environment.

While it may seem counterintuitive to prioritize care in the post-secondary environment–our students in higher education are technically adults and responsible for their lives and decisions, some might say–think back to the last time you had a family emergency, or an illness, or an argument with your partner. How productive were you then? Traditional-age college students tend to be on their own for the first time, navigating new responsibilities and new relationships, which can be and feel very overwhelming. As demographics shift and more of our students fit into the “non-traditional” category, we will see more veterans, more adults who are balancing caregiving and full-time jobs with advancing their education, more who are returning to school after many years and may be overwhelmed by all of the technological changes that have taken place. I know I have seen every one of these scenarios and more in my students.

Metaliteracy is a natural fit within an ethic or a pedagogy of care; the model’s incorporation of the affective domain of learning both acknowledges and prioritizes affect’s important role in teaching and learning.

Four Domains of Learning (Jacobson & Mackey, 2022)

Our information environment is saturated with the affective. Social media’s algorithmic deep learning front loads content for users that triggers our moral outrage–over, and over, and over (Fisher, 2022). Users are constantly subjected to extremes and overreactions. The result, as we are all painfully aware, is a society that grows ever more divided and radicalized.

It is in this chaotic information landscape that learners must be able to rationally find, evaluate, create, share, and ethically use information. To be effective at these tasks requires an acknowledgement of the affective information environment–which may be extremely difficult for learners who have never before critically queried their own internal biases, cognitive authorities, or epistemic bubbles. In my article, I argue that metaliteracy can provide the key to effectively function in our socially networked spaces, while a pedagogy of care provides the support needed for learners to be comfortable taking those deep critical dives into the affective and other metaliteracy learning objectives.

Affect and care get trickier in the asynchronous online environment. As I mention in my article, I don’t see my students, aside from one required meeting at the beginning of the semester (and even then we may just be on the phone). Online activity logs in the learning management system do not allow me to gauge if my students are struggling, or suffering, in the same way that I would be able to visually assess or pull them aside to check on them in a physical classroom. I can reach out virtually, but oftentimes due to the nature of this instruction the burden lies with the student to communicate if they are in distress and need extra help. That can be a heavy ask for those who are already struggling. As the article details, by prioritizing care in my course design and my interactions with students I create a space for learners that anticipates their needs, prioritizes learning and a growth mindset, and builds relationships instead of focusing on ranked assessments. My students’ metaliteracy learning is better for it, and their mental health is better for it.

I chuckled this year when a student commented in a course evaluation that “the professor is a sweetheart and does care about her students and their well being!” Professional blushing aside–that student was not the only one who mentioned caring in the evaluations, which confirms for me that I’m on the right path. I hope you will join me.

Fisher, M. (2022). The chaos machine. Back Bay Books.

Noddings, N. (1984). A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. University of California Press.

Katie Greer is an Associate Professor and the Fine and Performing Arts Librarian at Oakland University in Rochester, MI. She is pursuing a PhD in Higher Education Leadership and is grateful to have had Dr. Thomas Mackey as a mentor for all things metaliteracy and higher education over the past two years.

Editor’s note: We thank Katie Greer for this wonderful guest post about her latest article for JAL! Tom has very much appreciated the chance to serve as Katie’s metaliteracy mentor as part of her doctoral program.- Tom and Trudi