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I was fortunate to get to attend ALA in Orlando.  When I’m at ALA, I make sure to always attend the ACRL Instruction Section panel.  This year, I was especially interested because the panel took on Authority is Constructed and Contextual, a very rich concept in the Framework that we’ve had many conversations about as we’ve worked on the first module of the test: Evaluating Process and Authority.

The panelists described how they have engaged with the concept of authority in their own teaching and how the Framework has inspired them to think about this concept in new ways.  Though the panel itself raised many interesting questions, a comment from the audience particularly piqued my interest.  Jessica Critten, from West Georgia University, highlighted the gap in librarians’ discourse about what constitutes evidence and how students are taught to understand what they’re doing with the information sources we’re asking them to evaluate.  She clearly identified the implication of the Authority is Constructed and Contextual Frame, which is that we evaluate authority for a purpose and librarians need to engage in more meaningful discussion about those purposes if we are going to do more than leave students with the sense that everything is relative. Jessica has been thinking about these issues for a while.  She co-authored a chapter called “Logical Fallacies and Sleight of Mind: Rhetorical Analysis as a Tool for Teaching Critical Thinking” in Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think about Information.

Jessica’s remarks showed me a connection that we need to continue to strengthen between our work in libraries and our colleagues’ work in composition studies and rhetoric.  Especially at a time of increasing polarization in public discourse, the meaning of concepts like authority, facts, and evidence cannot be taken for granted as neutral constructions that we all define the same way.  When I got back from Orlando, I sat down with our Rhetoric and Composition consultant, Richard Hannon, to ask him to elaborate on the connection between the Framework and how he gets students to think critically about facts, evidence, and information sources.
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We are now ready to start cognitive interviews to get students' feedback about Module 3: Research & Scholarship.  We are also starting to write items for our final module, Module 4: The Value of Information.  That means we're more than half way through with test development.  And we just keep getting more intrigued with the depth of the Framework the more we work with it.

One of the exciting things about the Framework is the way the writers identified the “dispositions” that constitute the affective facets of information literacy. From the beginning of brainstorming about a new IL test way back in spring 2014, we’ve known that we wanted to address dispositions, as well as knowledge, in any new instrument we created. We found a way to do that with scenario-based problem solving items. And we’ve continued to deepen our understanding of dispositions by searching the education literature.
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Today our guest is Caroline Reed, Director of Research, Instruction and Outreach Services in the Jane Bancroft Cook Library at New College of Florida in Sarasota. I met Caroline at ACRL 2015 and when she told me about her innovative use of the Project SAILS test, I asked her to tell the story here.

Question: Would you briefly describe the information literacy program at New College of Florida?

Caroline: We are in the early stages of developing our information literacy program. Currently we do the traditional one-shots requested by faculty. We also encourage students to make consultation appointments with librarians. We have recently developed a liaison program with faculty where each of our instruction librarians is responsible to one of our three divisions--Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences.

Library instruction is a part of all Seminars in Critical Thinking, which are research and writing intensive classes originally set up as part of our QEP, as well as our WEC (Writing Enhanced Classes).

We have a librarian who is a Wikipedia Ambassador. She has been able to work with faculty and students to edit and create Wikipedia entries as replacements for the traditional research paper assignments.

Librarians work with students on annotated bibliography projects as part of the January Independent Study Project (ISP) that 1st - 3rd years have to complete. This year one of our librarians actually sponsored the ISP so that she was the faculty member of record on those projects.

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This past April we had the opportunity to attend ACRL 2013 and speak with librarians who led workshops and sessions. We wanted to learn more about the topics they covered.

One librarian we met, Melanie Sellar, spoke about using creative narratives to teach information literacy. Melanie is the Education Services Librarian at Marymount College in Los Angeles and shared with us an in-depth look at using creative narratives, also called research narratives, within IL instruction programs.

Why Research Narratives?

Research narratives offer a unique set of benefits, including providing “a window into student thinking, giving faculty and librarians insight into the critical thinking skills of students.” This unique perspective is possible when students detail their research process, including their struggles, their reasoning behind decisions, and other important perspectives of their research journey. Though these insights are not available through a standardized information literacy assessment like Project SAILS, we still see much value in using the two in collaboration.

The Power of Two

Research narratives and the SAILS information literacy assessment can be used together in a number of ways, including:

  • Using the SAILS cohort assessment to test a large number of students, then using research narratives with a small sample to gain a better understanding of trends related to questions answered incorrectly.
  • Giving students both an individual skills test and an assignment tied to a research narrative to understand where students are getting lost in the research process, even though they know the correct answer or where they need to end up.
  • Instead of applying a research narrative to a research paper, librarians could utilize research narratives while students are taking a SAILS assessment in order to understand how each student arrived at the answer they selected. This would highlight which experiences students are pulling from and misconceptions they may have related to elements of the research process.
  • Utilizing the individual skills test to compare scores of graduating seniors that have had a class that used research narratives versus those students that did not have a course that utilized research narratives. This provides direction into the overall value of this instruction practice, allowing librarians to have data to back their suggestion of research narratives to instructors.

Both information literacy tools have been designed to “better understand where the students are on the information literacy skill development continuum” but using both together will provide further insight into the skills and thinking of each student.

We hope you consider using research narratives at your institution and be sure to read our full post from our interview with Melanie Sellar

A new report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project tells us that digital technologies are encouraging teenage students to write more creatively and to write more often. The study of middle and high school teachers focuses on the teachers’ perceptions of how student writing is affected by the Internet, search engines, social media, cell phones, and texting (what they call “digital technologies”).

The researchers found that teachers see these technologies as:

“generally facilitating teens’ personal expression and creativity, broadening the audience for their written material, and encouraging teens to write more often in more formats than may have been the case in prior generations.  At the same time, they describe the unique challenges of teaching writing in the digital age, including the “creep” of informal style into formal writing assignments and the need to better educate students about issues such as plagiarism and fair use.”

This report is the third in a series of three studies on middle and high school teachers:

How Teens Do Research in the Digital World (November 2012)

How Teachers Are Using Technology at Home and in Their Classrooms (February 2013)

The Impact of Digital Tools on Student Writing and How Writing is Taught in Schools (July 2013)

I find these reports fascinating and informative. They fascinate me because they offer glimpses into a world (secondary education) I know little about but that directly affects my work as an information literacy librarian at a university. The reports are informative about both my future students and, I suspect, my current students, assuming that the ways that high school students and college students use digital technologies are more similar than different. The reports generate a fistful of ideas for follow-up: How would professors at my university answer the questions posed to teachers in the most current study? Are the students at my school similar in key demographics to the study sample? Do the people running the Writing Center on my campus read these reports? Do the findings resonate with them? Should we collaborate to build on the positives and address the concerns from the findings?