Sunday, July 5, 2020

Information Literacy as a Product of Self Reflection

Information literacy is the ability to thoughtfully consider new information to make knowledgable decisions. It is a foundation for a self awareness that evolves as we continually explore new ideas. An information literate individual is one who continually seeks new information that clarifies multi-faceted ideas to help one develop new understanding. Information literacy is the backbone for lifelong learning and it is the role of every information professional to nurture it in those who examine their collections, seek their advice, or listen to their teaching. 

Information literacy does not just inform our understanding; Our understanding (or sense of self) also effects our information literacy. One must be open-minded to be information literate, willing to accept that new information may alter our understanding of complex issues. If one is not open to change, one will not be affected by any new information that comes our way. If one is not willing to be affected by new information, one is not willing to seek it. So, it is a further goal of the information professional to enhance the self awareness of a student or patron, encouraging them to reflect on their personal history, beliefs, and relationship with knowledge. Our goal is to help individuals seek new ideas that enhance understanding of self and the surrounding world; our goal is not to change opinions, but to help individuals leave room for that possibility.

One of the prime components of a lesson on information literacy must be self reflection. Students must examine what they learned and how it adds to the knowledge base they already possess. Neglecting an opportunity for reflection is a lost chance to make sure the foundation of information literacy that we are building is strong. Powering through research to reach an end-product must be followed by a chance to slow down and reflect on how the process itself built greater understanding of not just the subject, but of how we as individuals think about the world around us.

Lonnie Bunch of the Smithsonian Museum was interviewed by the New York Times this week and presents some thoughtful ideas about the role of museums in reflection. "History often teaches us to embrace ambiguity, to understand there aren't simple answers to complex questions, and Americans tend to like simple answers to complex questions. So the challenge is to use history to help the public feel comfortable with nuance and complexity." Within a school setting, the role of information literacy is the same. Thoughtful people should examine all information -- whether it is historical, scientific, or literary -- with a goal of understanding the intricacies of human ideas. 

person, man, boy, sunset, twilight, nature, water, water pool, mirror, reflection, mirroring
Photo from Pikist

In a year end reflection on a major biology research project, one student at my school wrote a very thoughtful response. He said, at first, he thought the methods we used to teach research skills were "overdoing it." Later the student realized that thinking through information using keywords and questioning was extremely beneficial. The biology student used his new found skills in other projects in other classes and said that he was "proud" to have the ability to convey thoughts based on facts and to come to a conversation through a place of understanding and not emotion. This student said what he learned enabled him to focus on main ideas with better comprehension of what is important to him and with more confidence in his knowledge about it based on thorough research. The reflection allowed the student to define his information proficiency in a way that will encourage him to use those information skills again. This  is what every information professional should hope to develop in our students, patrons, and visitors.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Playing Telephone to Teach Information Literacy

Teachers of information literacy must impart a holistic sense of information to students. While, traditionally, school librarians have taught steps to effectively locate and evaluate information, our prime goal as educators must be to enable students to see the context in which information operates. Thinking about how information is created, shared, and ethically used is vital for information literacy. Students must also learn to recognize that variant points of view about a subject can exist, but information can sometimes be manipulated to try to provide "evidence" for unsubstantiated claims. (Facts are not a point of view.) 

There are many strategies for creating some understanding of information science. One main challenge is overcoming a student belief that they can find any information they need at the touch of a keyboard or click of a mouse. Typing a question or keywords into Google does not demonstrate an ability to efficiently and intelligently fill an information need. We need to break students of bad habits when it comes to information searching and we need to develop better strategies for doing so.

With a holistic approach in mind, the following are some teaching guidelines  when creating a curriculum for information literacy. Students must:
  • understand that information is communicated in many forms. 
  • realize that not all information is readily available. 
  • search for different perspectives that analyze evidence.
  • seek the viewpoints of those who are less visible. 
  • recognize that the loudest voices are not always the correct ones. 
  • realize that not all information is documented. 
  • look for the origination of ideas and see primary sources as best evidence.*
Ask a class full of teenagers how many use one of the first five hits they find through Google to answer a question; it is likely that every hand in the room will go up. Ask them who wrote the information on those web pages, if they haven't been taught to evaluate authority and seek authorship, they will look at you with blank stares. Students may have never thought about from where information comes. Google might as well be magic.

Talking on the telephone
A game of telephone 
can boost understanding
about information use
So, to introduce the idea of information as a science, I incorporate a game of telephone into introductory freshmen lessons. This exercise gets students thinking about the creation and distribution of information. In case you have never played:

1. Have a student think of a sentence or two and write it down. 
2. In the in-person/pre-pandemic version, that person will whisper their sentence in the ear of another student.
3. Student 2 whispers what student one said, into student three's ear.
4. Continue the passing of information through whispering until all students have heard the information.
5. Have the last person say the passed on information out loud and confirm against the written version that it was passed on correctly.

It will not be.

Explain that this is how information works. The primary evidence, the original, is the best source of information in terms of accuracy. When others write or otherwise pass on the evidence, it gets changed. Sometimes the meaning changes slightly with paraphrasing. Sometimes people purposefully (perhaps unethically) change the information to deceive. Sometimes the information was not properly conveyed or received and we just do the best we can with what we've got and pass it on. In other words, the farther removed you are from a source, the more likely it is to be incorrect.

Now, in my modified remote learning version of the game, we have the opportunity to do more than just whisper in a classmate's ear. I hope to try this version next year. Students can distribute their information in alternate ways. Have student one write some information to share with others. I think a short scenario might work well when we are talking about recorded information - something not too long, but not too short. Students can choose how they wish to share the information with one other person, but they must re-write it rather than forwarding or cutting and pasting. They can Snapchat, text, or post to Instagram. They can Email the information or snail mail it. They can tweet it or DM through Facebook. They can even call another student or use video chat to relay information verbally. I can see this exercise taking a few days, demonstrating how information travels through various channels and over time.

Weaving information literacy into lessons throughout the year, continually remind students about the lessons learned in telephone. Remind them that it is their challenge to find the best information, to seek the source, and to not assume that the original answer they find is accurate. Through one lesson at a time, convey concepts that demonstrate how the concepts of information science allow one to confidently find the right information, not just the easiest to find information.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Secret History

Everything has a secret history. There is always more to know. We can know the facts. We can know alternate interpretations of events. We can question motivation related to actions. We can learn about circumstances surrounding experiences.  To be information literate, one must know that we can always dig deeper to learn the secret histories -- that which currently remains unknown -- of everything. Last week, I finished reading The Secret History of Wonder Woman by historian Jill Lepore and thought about how we often accept what we (me, you, and my students) see or think, without this deeper questioning. 

The Secret History of Wonder Woman,' by Jill Lepore - The New York ...
The highly recommended 
true-story of  the
Wonder Woman origin
I have always admired the Wonder Woman character for her strength, but having grown up on Lynda Carter's 70s version of the superhero, I thought she was a bit...well...corny.  Diving into my favorite "secret" places, Lepore explores in her book both formal archival collections and family papers, to dig up what has remained unknown to most comic readers. What is the true origin of Wonder Woman? (I don't mean Paradise Island!) What were the family and societal circumstances surrounding her creation? 

The mid-twentieth century creation of William Moulton Marston (who invented the lie detector, lived with two women as the father of both their children, and jumped from interesting job to interesting job), Wonder Woman embodies the morals and dreams of the famed psychologist. This book provides Marston's distorted sense of Women's Rights and his own personal sexual revolution (decades before its time) as a backdrop to the story of the Superhero. The characters in her life were based on those in Marston's, and Jill Lepore does a remarkable job of entwining their stories in the first three quarters of the book .

Lepore continues evaluating the Wonder Woman story after Marston's death. Based on deep archival research, Lepore examines how WW was relegated to a more traditional female role in the 1950s and later in the 60s and 70s found her own again as a symbol of women's fight for equality. -Mannon on Goodreads

Powerpuff Girls from the Cartoon Network
If you haven't already listened, I highly recommend Lepore's podcast called The Last Archive. This is where I first was told to start questioning the surface of my now favorite superhero. (I once favored the PowerPuff Girls whose origin story is not nearly as interesting!) From the podcast, learn how a historian thinks about the world and questions. "The Last Archive is a show about how we know what we know and why it seems, lately, as if we don’t know anything at all."

Why does everything lately seem so unknowable? I am fairly certain, based on my teaching experiences of both adults and young adults, it is because we have forgotten how to effectively question. We flip from web site to website and from social media post to social media post, looking to be passively entertained. Or, we do a quick search, expecting a quick answer. We often don't think about the answers we are given. We don't question motivation or circumstance or alternative views. We don't dig for information. 

The key to discovering secret histories, to finding facts, and to knowing, is inquiry. 

Bitmoji Image

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Librarian in a Remote Learning Environment

High School Information Center Bitmoji Classroom

One of the best things about being a school librarian is that the job is constantly changing. One day I may be ordering books, or receiving book shipments (which makes me feel like I'm getting presents on Christmas). The next day I might be in the classroom telling students about my experiences as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. Or, I may be sitting with teachers, reworking lessons to incorporate more opportunities for inquiry-based learning.  The job is rarely dull and certainly this spring was no exception. Not only did I crash teach myself about Google Classroom to support my teacher colleagues who were new to this style of learning, I also found new ways to reach out to tell my school community what their library has to offer.

Covid 19 is a lot of terrible things, but it has also been an opportunity. It has given a chance for information professionals to re-examine what they do and to find new ways to deliver. This spring I made a library Google Classroom where I started an online book club and made a quote wall using Padlet for us to share favorite books. I recorded myself reading favorite passages for my students to access. I also created a library Google Slide bitmoji to better engage my students. I designed online tools for my library users to better understand information literacy. I became more adept at creating teaching videos. While I missed my students and colleagues, I was productive with a new found purpose and new sense of direction. I became a school Google guru, filling a need for locating best practice information quickly to get classrooms humming in a new setting. I became knowledgable about accessibility issues so I could teach them to the teachers. This summer, I look forward to sharing with you some of what I learned this spring.

My archivist adventures have also continued and it has been awhile since I've written about them. I had great fun this past fall and winter consulting for a private school in Massachusetts. I used some old techniques for surveying collections on this project and had new adventures in using spreadsheets for collection note taking. It is fascinating to think about how my role as a consulting archivist has morphed. I look forward to sharing my new insights with you.

Finally, in this turbulent time and in my middle age, I am thinking about my now two decade long career. What does it mean to be a librarian and an archivist? What do I want to tell librarians and archivists coming behind me? What do I want teachers to know about librarians? What should be the future of librarianship.

It feels nice to be writing again and I hope my followers are still following. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Value of Museums for Inquiry and Information Literacy

 Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Shofuso House in Philadelphia. The house was a gift to the United States from Japan in the 1950s. As I listened to the docent speak, I was very conscious about the wide range of information I was receiving and questions that I had about it. I thought about the context of the gift, the considerations the architect made during the design process, the current status of the facility, and numerous other factors about the institution. A museum experience, such as this one, provides a perfect opportunity for us to consider our thinking process, to reflect on how we build knowledge, and to challenge our inquiry skills.

As I explore and teach information literacy, I find myself wondering how others take in information. One can choose to look at the pretty Japanese garden and just enjoy the beauty, for example, but that only scratches the surface -- How big do Koi get? How do they survive the winter? How do they keep that tree pruned? Is a big pruned tree like that called a "Bonsai" tree or is that just little trees? From where did all these visitors here today come? How many gardens in the United States were gifted to us by Japan? How about other nations? Do the United States ever gift gardens to other countries? How do these gardens help us cross cultural boundaries? What does a natural paradise such as this one mean to the citizens of this area?

Objects are underutilized in the classroom to encourage inquiry and I would like that to change. I have written before about the value of objects for education. I have encouraged my museum colleagues to partner with others to introduce their objects to teachers and students, but some of the burden needs to be placed with educators too. Cultural heritage institutions exist, in part, to help you with your mission to educate. Think about the following:
  • What kinds of objects will make your students more curious? 
  • What kinds of questions do you want your kids to ask? 
  • What connections between curriculum and "real world" should your kids be making? 
  • What information links should they be forming to better understand contexts and develop information literacy skills?  
  • What museums are in your area that can help?
School librarians, consider how you can use objects and museums to enhance your information literacy curriculum. How can you use object as a launching point into larger contexts? How can you relate objects to the written word? How can objects enhance the critical thinking skills you teach as an information specialist?

Information literacy involves layers of knowing and inquiry. It is our challenge as educators and keepers of objects to consider these layers, and to get our students/patrons to consider them too.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Curiosity Did Not Kill the Cat. We Are Killing Curiosity.

Have you ever traveled on public transportation with your head buried in your phone the whole time? I like to sit and look around for awhile. I'm aware of the people with whom I am traveling. I note things about my surroundings. What colors are around me? Is it hot or cold on this bus? Does this train sound like my beloved Boston (subway) T or Amtrak? I look at the ads. I decipher what I'm seeing. Then, I may bury my head in my phone or a book for awhile.

When I was in college, I remember constantly exploring. I'd walk through educational halls reading posters. I'd stop at professors doors and read quotes they liked to hang up. I actually put quotes on my own office door in my library as a professional, but I rarely see anyone reading my Calvin and Hobbes comics or my Teddy Roosevelt sayings about believing in yourself. If students wait outside my door, their heads are usually buried in their phones. How much are they missing about their surroundings?

According to the American Library Association, "Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information." For the school librarian, the process of cultivating curiosity is part of the teaching of information literacyThe goal of the school librarian should be to encourage students to slow down, look around, think, and ask questions.

When one passively absorbs information, one is not truly engaged with the building of knowledge. Passive absorption of information, such as when one reads though Twitter posts or snapchats, can discourage a holistic view of knowledge. Teachers must encourage students to absorb and decipher information. This involves helping students to be curious about everything that they encounter. This involves asking questions.

I recognize that I need information about the people and places around me so that I better understand my own place in the world. I submit that my students do not recognize this in themselves. Information literacy is endangered in this modern society because of multiple factors:
1. Too much information is overwhelming and tends to shut down one's desire to decipher what is really happening.
2. The ability to disseminate information is so easy that poor quality information abounds, making it more difficult to decipher good information from bad.
3. Modern technology encourages us to bury our heads in devices and to passively swipe left, burying our curiosity.
4. The fast pace of life, encouraged in part by almost instantaneous access to information, discourages people from listening attentively and slowing down to be fully present. 

Answers sometimes kill questions. When answers come to quickly, we forget to ask questions.

I want my students to ask as many questions as needed to ensure they fully understand the information in front of them. We should add our questions' answers to our store of knowledge. Shake them up inside of us and then thread a needle in and out of new knowledge to stitch the information to our sense of self. What do I know? What do I not know? What else can I learn? How can I make myself better through knowledge? How can my own knowledge, skills, and ability to learn help change the world?

Scientists don't fully understand curiosity, but curiosity is a rich subject for research. I do know that curiosity does not always come naturally, it can be killed, and it must be encouraged. Teach your students the 8 habits of curious people and help them cultivate them through continual inquiry. Curiosity won't kill you. It will only make you stronger. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Importance of Reflection

There are few things in life more important than reflection. Where did I start? How did I get through my journey? What will I do better next time? Reflection helps us grow as individuals and as communities. It demands time to consider actions and encourages us to think of ways to improve in similar circumstances. This is integral to learning.

At the end of each project I do with my students, I require reflection. It is built into the projects and serves as a pause that cements into the brain what has been learned. Without reflecting, people fall into habits. Whatever we have done comfortably in the past, we continue to do. In practical terms in a school research setting, students jump on Google, type in a question, and use the first five Google hits to write their term papers. It may not be the correct way to do things, but it is easy and is what they have always done. That is not learning.

Reflection does not need to take a long time. It can be just a five-ten minute exercise for some.  It just takes good open-ended questions and prompts, such as:

  • Name three things you learned in this project
  • Why is it important to vet your sources?
  • What was the hardest part of this project for you?
  • What will you do differently to improve your research next time?

At the end of each project, I too reflect on what went well and what did not. I share my reflections with my co-teachers and my boss. Furthermore, I keep this blog, in part, to aid my overall reflection of my work. Beyond work, I keep a diary to reflect on my life. Taking time to think deeply about my actions helps me improve my future decisions AND gives shape to my life. I have a strong sense of self and purpose, in large part because of my reflection skills.

I find that my more advanced and thoughtful students will take longer with reflections, but for many, reflecting does not come naturally. In this fast paced digital era, considering past successes and failures might not occur if teachers do not build it into projects. My students quickly move from one activity to another - Get out of class, text a friend, play an online game, take a selfie...reflection serves as a means to slow down modern day distractions. It is my hope that even just a little reflecting time will help people recognize its value and build a desire for more reflection.

I ended the school year with a reflection exhibit that asked kids the following:

  • What are the two best memories you have of this year?
  • In what areas do you feel you have improved the most?
  • What are three new things you have learned?
  • What subject have you enjoyed the most?
  • What have you learned about yourself this year?
  • What are you most proud of this year?
Reflection reminds us that we are constantly changing and that the world around us is changing too. Considering how and what we learn allows us to better understand how we fit in the world. It should not be an optional part of education.