Teaching Information Literacy without a Computer Lab

Posted: December 18, 2018 by Virginia Feher

In January 2016, the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) adopted the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, which states in its introduction that it "grows out of a belief that information literacy as an educational reform movement will realize its potential only through a richer, more complex set of core ideas." The Frames replaced the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, which defined information literacy as a "set of abilities," with standards, performance indicators, and outcomes. The Competency Standards were straightforward—the information literate student can do this and that. But information literacy is not that simple, and the idea-oriented nature of the new Framework—the "more complex set of core ideas"—recognizes the challenges inherent in teaching information literacy and provides core concepts as a guide.

The ACRL Framework also encourages more extensive collaboration between librarians and teaching faculty, and one way to collaborate is with a library instruction class, where the teaching faculty invite a librarian into their classroom to demonstrate to students how to use library resources and services, usually geared to a specific assignment.

At the Oconee Campus, the classrooms I teach in rarely have computers for students; as a result, students cannot follow along with me as I demonstrate how to use library resources, nor can I ask them to try information search strategies in a database as part of my lesson plans. I have, however, found that this can be a positive rather than a negative. To explain, I find that without computers, students can focus on information literacy concepts rather than getting distracted by the mechanics of searching, and I would argue that teaching concepts is the more important. Not that mechanics are irrelevant since they can alleviate interface frustration. For example, for many research assignments, showing how to limit to (mostly) scholarly peer-reviewed articles can give the student the ability to weed out numerous irrelevant results. And thus I also demonstrate the mechanics on the instructor computer station/projector, hoping that the students will remember enough to find these features later on their own, or ask for help. But in the classroom at a one hour or less library instruction session, students can get lost in the mechanics while following along and miss the underlying concepts, not seeing the forest for the trees.

To teach concepts discussed in the ACRL Frames, there are numerous group activities for students that do not require computers, and that librarians and teaching faculty can share and modify to fit the needs of their own campus curriculum. The group activities I've used in instruction sessions are related to the frames: "Authority is Constructed and Contextual," and "Searching as Strategic Exploration." In a group activity about authority, we've looked at different types of publications, not on the computer but the actual paper version, noting the differences between scholarly and popular sources as well as discussing how to evaluate their appropriateness for a given assignment. In a keyword brainstorming group activity, we've discussed search strategies and how to refine results with keyword choice, including the language of the discipline. With these activities, I hope to provide the students a basic foundation for understanding information literacy concepts so that they will either learn more on their own while searching in GALILEO or come back for more in-depth assistance with a Research Consultation, which is an appointment with a librarian outside of the classroom, and with a computer, where a librarian guides the student in the research process, often in GALILEO.

Whether or not computers are available, librarians are available to teach library instruction sessions, providing a valuable service to their fellow professors. When we visit classrooms to teach students about library resources and services, our goal is not just to cover the mechanics of searching but also to teach concepts that can promote a healthy curiosity and skepticism. This approach assists students in finding and evaluating information, guiding them to further their education and perhaps join a new generation of scholars that is not merely accustomed to technology but that is also information literate, irrespective of the type of information they seek or encounter.

To schedule a library instruction class with a librarian, faculty can submit requests via the Instruction Inquiry Form.

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