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.