How do we put a spotlight on literacy?

As the secondary librarian on this research team, I am conscious that information literacy features at many library-centric conferences, which illustrates the point Lisa makes in this blog post about preaching to the choir. My focus, since becoming involved with this TLRI, is to extend the conversation into wider education groups, to begin some of the conversations that need to happen, and shine a light on the examples that provide evidence for the success on student outcomes when teachers and librarians work together to make IL skills visible in the classroom.

Information Literacy Spaces

mum-photo.jpgIt’s a month now since I returned from the (very) sunny Northern Hemisphere, and the tan lines have all but faded away. The trip certainly included plenty of fun (and shopping!), but most of all it was an opportunity to present our research findings at two significant conferences on higher education.

Both conferences looked very relevant to the work we’re doing in the Information Literacy Spaces project. The first conference was the European First Year Higher Education Conference, held in beautiful Utrecht. I had high hopes for this conference, as I have a long-held interest in student transition to higher education, both from a research perspective, but also in my role as a Director of Teaching and Learning at Massey University. And, indeed, there were some interesting papers. But the whole focus of the conference seemed to be about testing students at point of entry and ensuring students’ skills/knowledge matched…

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Information Literacy in the Era of Lies

IL as Meta-skill

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education from University of Iowa lecturer David Gooblar about how to teach information literacy in an era of lies has really got me thinking.

It is truly becoming a murky minefield to navigate, deciphering the purpose of online information. Just this week, one of our New Zealand politicians stomped into this minefield wearing big, oversized boots.

It seems on the surface, that distinguishing lies from truth should be a relatively straightforward process, but it is actually becoming increasingly difficult to make the differentiation. Those of us wearing our librarian hats will be nodding sagely at this, thinking to ourselves, yes, this we know, this we teach, this we have conversations about on an almost daily basis.  We think in this Trumpist-media-worldview era that we are the panacea to the problem.  And, yes I think we have a huge part to play in this arena.

Whitehouse Pants on Fire Cartoon

CRAAP_infographic
UC San Diego Library Libguide

But as I read further into David Gooblar’s article, I realised the approach I have been using with senior students and teachers, using the CRAAP Test to get them to think critically about the selection of information, really wasn’t going far enough, specifically in the “Purpose” part of the evaluation.

There are two pieces I’ve been missing.

The first:   Focus on evaluating the claim being made, not just the source it’s published in.  Gooblar refers to statements made by Michael Caufield, director of blended learning at Washington State University, in a 2017 blog post, where he describes the process of “lateral reading” – consulting a variety of sources to verify a claim.  He urges us to teach our students to:

  1. Look for previous fact-checking work on a particular issue.
  2. Follow a claim “upstream”, which involves following the trail of citations.
"It's more important for students to be able to evaluate claims than sources.
To assess the veracity of a given source's claims, students often have to
consult other sources."

The second:   Danah Boyd, a social media researcher states, “That the next step is for students to go beyond assessing sources and claims.  They need to be able to assess themselves.”

We need to get our students to identify their own personal “filter-bubble” (and think about our own as well!).  This is no longer about acknowledging “good” vs “bad” websites, “true” or “false” information, it is more about really digging into the bias, not just of what we’re reading and where we’re reading it, but how we’re receiving it.

True False Fooled

I want to finish with David Gooblar’s final sentence:

“How can students succeed in any intellectual pursuit if they cannot tell what’s true from what’s false?”

How, indeed!?

Research and the Internet – Are we getting smarter?

Human – business evolution

Reused from Flickr with Creative Commons License

I have just finished reading a thought-provoking article from the American Psychological Association regarding research into whether internet searching makes us feel smarter than we truly are.

It would seem that it does!  Apparently the research would suggest that we gain an inflated sense of our own knowledge, even when we don’t find the answer to what we’re looking for, after the physical act of searching the internet. However, it appears this is not the case when researchers provided the link to a website to enable subjects to answer specific questions.  It is the act of searching that makes us feel all-knowing.

Lead researcher Matthew Fisher suggests that as a result of the act of reading a book or talking with an expert we are more engaged in the research process than when we are searching the internet and so it becomes apparent to us when we have gaps in our knowledge.  This then leads us to investigate further to find the answer. “With the Internet, the lines become blurry between what you know and what you think you know.”

So what are the implications of this on education and our future generations? And will it become more obvious as our current crop of young people who seem surgically connected to their smart phones become adults?

My initial thoughts are that we need to be designing lessons that require a level of critical thinking that demands our students to engage with the material they find, and that we should not be too quick to physically or mentally throw out our non-fiction collections.

We also need to continue to engage in learning conversations with our students as well as encourage those conversations to take place between peers, and demand not only reasoned and cited answers to questions but that further questions need to be asked in the quest for new knowledge.

It could become a dangerous world indeed when decisions are being made by people who think they know everything, but in fact know very little at all.

Scaffolding Research and Guided Inquiry

Yesterday was a big day for me!  About a month ago I had been invited to speak to student teachers studying at Otago University in Dunedin about the process of scaffolding research and guided inquiry as part of their Literacy Across the Curriculum paper. I was a little nostalgic and it felt even more surreal walking into a lecture theatre I had sat in during my year at teachers college back in the early 1980’s, only this time I was the one standing at the front talking to students, some of whom had already completed degrees and were now training to go into classrooms as teachers.

The time allocated just wasn’t long enough! There was so much to tell them, share with them and discuss with them.  I easily had enough content to spread across two sessions, but we were constrained to one and so I made the best of it.  My hope is that our short 50 minutes has only just opened up potential discussions as they all contemplate graduation and beginning in their own classes next year.  To that end I have invited them to join me in the new Scaffolding Research and Guided Inquiry Group on the Virtual Learning Network.  I hope we can continue to discuss what guided research and inquiry can look like in classrooms, as these skills are relevant to all subject disciplines in all schools across every year level.

Q.U.I.C.K method for Evaluating Websites

Weighing it up

Dr Susan Sandretto from Otago University gave a stunning keynote address at the recent SLANZA Conference in Wellington on Planning for Critical Literacy. She is an engaging speaker and able to communicate well the need for us as teachers and librarians to create opportunities for teaching students about critical literacy and have them explore what it means to analyse text critically.  I have been fortunate enough to hear Susan speak on two previous occasions and she has been pivotal in giving me the necessary skills to design these two lessons, which help students grasp this concept in a digital environment.

This is the poster I developed using information Susan gave in hand-out form at her workshop I attended about two years ago.   I had several teaching colleagues also attend this workshop, and these posters were ultimately displayed in classrooms throughout the school.  I even saw it on the wall of my friend’s home office when I was visited her recently – she also happens to a former teaching colleague!

Critical Literacy Poster

Lesson 1: How to Evaluate a Website – Q.U.I.C.K

Searching the NetThrough observing typical 12 and 13 year old students’ behaviour in using computers to research, I realised they needed a lot of guidance to achieve effective results.

As part of developing an embedded programme towards achieving this aim, I designed this lesson to get Y8 students thinking about how to decide whether a website they are looking at is a good choice for their research needs.

I would typically teach this lesson after having already taught the class about keyword searching and selecting websites from their results.

The Quality Information Checklist is a great resource to engage students with how to evaluate websites and promote discussion in small groups about why it’s important to do this.

 

Lesson 2: Evaluating Websites

I have designed another lesson activity that I typically teach in either Year 9 or 10 where I remind them of the Q.U.I.C.K steps and get them to use as many as necessary to evaluate an assigned website. Here’s the lesson plan and a link to the Livebinder resource:

Evaluating Websites - Hoax lesson

It really brings home the message to students that just because a website looks slick and has lots of bells and whistles, doesn’t make it appropriate, relevant, correct or even true.

Black holes, space stations, holy grail and urban legends – a cache of critical collaborations

Traditionally Term 4 is not a time when teachers will seek you out, wanting your input into designing research units.  Normally the focus is on exams, reports and end of year procedures.  So it was with pleasant surprise I’ve welcomed two opportunities to work with two different teachers on planning and designing research units in the past two weeks.

Opportunity No 1 involves the Holy Grail and Urban Legends.  One of my Year 8 teaching colleagues approached me to work with her on the research area of a unit on legends.  Her lovely bunch have already been looking at a range of different types of legends such as Robin Hood and vampires and she wanted them to do more in-depth research on the legend chosen from a list she had previously compiled.

As most of their research will be done online, I suggested that she might like to encourage her students to focus on critical thinking by looking at what Wikipedia (come on, they’re going to use it anyway!!) has to say about their legend and then compare it to another online source.  Does the information from both sources agree? Does one source have more information than the others. If there are differences, how can they find out which version is the correct one? Emma Marshall, the wonderful Y8 teacher, was already prepared by having  researched the legends she had chosen to make sure there was plenty of information for her students to discover on their own.

This approach will lead into a passionate discussion by the students (I know this from many previous experiences!) about why or why not to use Wikipedia.  It’s always fascinating to hear what arguments they come up with in their ensuing impromptu class debate.  And of course as a wrap up, Emma will be able to summarise and highlight the salient points from their observations.

Note taking is also an area she was keen to begin developing with her class and so I customised a Dot Jot Note page that would work for them to keep them on track and on task.

I am looking forward to discussing with Emma her evaluation of this approach and my hope is together we can work on a template unit that can be used by any Year 8 class in 2012 as a result.

So, onto opportunity No 2 – Black Holes and Space Stations.  Within days of working with Emma, Year 9 Science teacher and school teacher-mentor Kaye Hercus also approached me, wanting to design a research unit based on the current information literacy unit all our Year 9 students complete during Terms 1 and 2 through their English class.

Astronomy is the topic this time and Kaye had given her class the opportunity to brainstorm some areas of astronomy they were interested in.  From this, eight topics were selected and the students, either in pairs or individually, will choose the one that captures their interest the most.

My input has included developing one initial research question for each topic. The students will then go on to decide on their own second question after researching around the first one.  I have also created a Livebinder for this unit where websites already selected by Kaye will be loaded for students to use as a starting point.

Together Kaye and I decided that critically evaluating websites would be the main information literacy focus for this unit, using the Quality Information Checklist as a starting point.

I will collaboratively teach this unit with Kaye and will blog about our reflections of this collaboration at the end of the unit, so watch this space (like the pun? …. astronomy, space ….. )

Both units have the literacy focus of getting students to think about what they’re finding, reading, using.  Critical literacy is not something I see much evidence of with the many classes I work with and observe. The opportunity to have students research online with this as the focus is going to be an interesting and valuable trial.  One I hope will show some shift in thought from students in these classes.  I shall look forward to reading the student’s evaluation page of what worked well, what didn’t and what they will do differently or the same next time.  Also, it should provide another level of evidence in the continuing development of information literacy skills teaching at Hargest.