Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Choosing the Winners

"To an extent, teaching users to use IP-restricted databases is to prepare them for rare experiences."
While it has been a couple of months since I read The Tower and the Cloud, I continue to think about a number of themes in the book and plan to write about them at some point. In Bryan Alexander's essay, "Social Networking in Higher Education," this one sentence (p. 200) continues to stick in my mind. I think about the typical instruction session or online tutorial, and we do tend to focus on mechanics--this button takes you to the full text, click this box for peer-reviewed articles, use this search interface when you know the title of the item, etc. These things are not unimportant, but in the end, when the student graduates and loses access to (and any sort of interest in) library databases and catalogs, what have we really left them with? What happens when they have a personal information need, such as buying a car or a home, dealing with a medical condition, making an important financial decision, or a more scholarly issue such as doing research at work for a presentation or for making mission-critical decision? Likely the proprietary databases they used in college will not be available to them, and likely the interfaces would have long since changed anyway.

Of course many instruction sessions and tutorials cover evaluating resources, but to what extent? Shouldn't that be the central message?

In the fall, as part of several new initiatives for first year students, we launched a new online tutorial in four parts. The fourth part, Choosing the Winners, focuses on evaluating resources, but it mostly serves to get students started. We realize that we need to do more, and one of our projects for the year is building more tutorial content.

In an ideal situation, we would weave information literacy skills throughout the curriculum (along with technology literacy, but that's another post). Here at the University of Kentucky, we are currently in the process of establishing a new general education curriculum. One of the key learning outcomes from the new curriculum will encompass information literacy skills:
Students will be able to identify multiple dimensions of a good question; determine when additional information is needed, find credible information efficiently using a variety of reference sources, and judge the quality of information as informed by rigorously developed evidence
It is wonderful to see such an emphasis on information literacy; in fact, the curricular team for each broad subject area includes a librarian (myself included).

So perhaps we will soon be fortunate have a curriculum that integrates information skills into the classroom to a greater extent than ever before. In the meantime, what other things can we be doing? What kinds of tutorials and other content can we create to help students be prepared for the common, everyday experience of finding and evaluating information?

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