Philosophy of Information Literacy Instruction

In order to support students in becoming critical thinkers and confident researchers, it is important to meet them where they are, rather than where anyone thinks they should be.  To this end, I tailor lesson plans to the needs of particular classes, and am always prepared to set the lesson plan aside and improvise when necessary.  I focus my presentations on essential information, which I reinforce with handouts designed to guide the students in applying their new knowledge to hands-on activities.  This approach allows me to spend less time presenting material and more time interacting one-on-one with individuals, getting them “unstuck” at their point of need in the research process.

Many students learn best by accessing information in multiple modalities and formats; listening is important, but they learn material much better if they also see it laid out visually in a way that organizes and clarifies it; looking at a computer screen or smart board is helpful, but they retain material much better if there is also a printed handout for them to study.  This is why I am careful to present key concepts both orally and visually, and why I believe that online research guides are no substitute for printed handouts.

Students today vary widely both in their prior knowledge of information literacy and in their ability to absorb large amounts of new information in a single session. For ESL and university preparation classes, I encourage the instructors to bring their students in for more than one session, which allows me to use the first session to introduce basic concepts that I can then return to and elaborate on in the second one.  With all classes, I work with the instructors to clarify their priorities and determine which concepts and tools will be most useful to the students at that point in their studies.  In the end, the measure of success is that the students come away from the session with useful information about the library that will make their lives easier in tangible ways.  This approach provides a solid foundation for all of us – librarians, instructors and students – to build upon.

Information literacy is a state of mind as much as a set of skills.   In the past, we taught students to stick to library resources and avoid the Web, but with the growth of open-access publishing and the emergence of new models of scholarly communication, this heuristic is no longer as useful as it once was.  Today, students need to develop both the ability and the inclination to critically evaluate information, regardless of its provenance.  For instance, I teach my students that a source can generally be assumed to be academic if it a) is written by an expert in the field b) has a bibliography, and c) has in-text citations, and that it is peer-reviewed if it has been formally reviewed by the authors’ expert peers.  Determining whether an author is an expert and whether his or her work has been peer-reviewed can amount to a minor research project in and of itself, but this allows students to avail themselves of resources from open access journals and institutional repositories.

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