ACRL 2015, Part 2: The Framework

It was impossible to avoid the new Framework for Information Literacy (hereafter, the Framework) at the recent ACRL conference. For those of us that teach, it was a great chance to see how other are engaging with, using, and teaching the Framework. I attended several sessions that focused on teaching or assessment, so naturally the Framework was part of those discussions. I noticed some trends in the ways people were using the Framework to inform their practice.

1. The frame, “Research as inquiry” was one of the most commonly mentioned frames, along with “Scholarship as conversation” and “Searching as strategic exploration.” I didn’t do any type of real analysis of how many times each frame was mentioned, but I remember those three coming up fairly often. I found this interesting, because I think those three really get at the things we, as teachers, already want to do with our classes: show students that research comes early in the writing/thinking process and that different depths of research are appropriate for different tasks/goals, that information sources go through different processes and how those sources can be seen as in “conversation” with each other, and that searching involves more than the first thing you type in a search box. The other frames also came up, but I didn’t notice them to be as prominent as these three, with the exception of…

2. The frame, “Information has value” almost never got a mention. Why? Because I think we’re still stuck in the mindset that this involves simply teaching the importance of citing one’s sources. And truthfully, when librarians are given 50 minutes to teach a whole lot of things, I think we feel that the lesson for “how to cite” and “why to cite” can be passed back to the regular instructor. Moving forward with the Framework, I think it will be important for librarians to reconsider our traditional approach to this, and think about how much more complex the idea that “information has value” is than simply knowing how to create a citation.

3. There are still a lot of mixed feelings about the Framework. Most of the sessions where it was being explicitly discussed were standing-room-only full. In discussions with my own colleagues, I get the sense that many of us are still trying to make sense of what exactly we are supposed to do with this new format. Broadly speaking, though, I think it holds a lot of promise for one reason: It represents a critical shift in focus from teaching a hard set of specific skills, to trying to foster a greater understanding of what information is, how it is created and for what purpose, and how it can be used, among so many other things. I hope to spend some time, both in my work and hopefully on this blog, further unpacking each of the frames and spending some quality time just mulling over what they might mean for our always-changing practice.

This was my first ACRL conference, and it was a great experience. I reconnected with friends from graduate school, made some new acquaintances, and was challenged professionally to always be looking for new ideas and practices. I am looking forward to ACRL 2017, and all the conferences and gathering in between.

See Part 1 of my ACRL experiences: ACRL 2015, Part 1: Reading in Information Literacy Instruction.

ACRL 2015, Part 1: Reading in Information Literacy Instruction

I have recently returned from my first ACRL conference, and after spending yesterday and this morning catching up on emails, projects, etc., I have finally settled down to spend some time thinking about the sessions I attended, people I met, and new ideas that have been simmering as a result. So, I present:

Part 1: Reading in Information Literacy Instruction

I attended a contributed papers session by Margy MacMillan and Stephenie Rosenblatt titled, “They’ve Found It. Can They Read It?” that focused on the librarian’s role in teaching students to read and engage with scholarly sources. The topic of freshmen students and scholarly articles has been on my mind a lot lately. A colleague and I are working on a project to investigate why faculty often require first-years students to use scholarly articles to the exclusion of other types of sources. On the surface, the answers seems apparent: They’re in college. They need to use these types of sources. But in many classes, students are told to find scholarly articles and incorporate them into their own writing or presentation (or in the case of many introductory science courses, into their lab assignments), and they are not really taught to how to use them or even, more elementary, what their purpose is. What is the value of a scholarly article over a trade publication? What is the difference between a scholarly article and a blog post by the same author on the same topic? What is the difference between a scholarly article, a trade article, and a newspaper article, written by the same author and on the same topic?

Naturally, I can answer those questions. But I deal with information sources every single day. And I have been working in higher education for 6 years. I should be able to explain this. If pressed, first-year students would probably be able to come up with some basic differences: some are written for a general audience, some for a specialized audience; some are longer; this one has a bibliography. But what can they really assess about the difference between the two when they’re asked to support an argument in a paper? If conversations I have had with faculty or other librarians are any indication, the main difference for students is this: they can actually read and understand the popular articles, some of the trade publications, and almost nothing of the scholarly articles.

Let’s be blunt: first-year students are unprepared to deal with scholarly articles. That’s just a fact. At the presentation, they cited a very important statistic: About 49% of incoming college students cannot read at a college level. Forty-nine percent. Half. Half of our incoming students are unprepared to read their textbooks. (Suppose that explains the continual refrain from professors that students don’t do the reading. They don’t know how.)

I taught a credit-bearing IL course for the first time this past fall semester. Looking back on their major assignment–an annotated bibliography which required at least 2 of the 7 or 8 sources be scholarly–I made a critical mistake in judgement. Eighty percent of my students were first-year students. About half of that 80% had not yet declared a major. Many of them had been put in my class by their advisors who recognized they may need additional support in adapting to reading, writing, and researching for college. And I required those students–the ones who hadn’t even decided on a major–to engage with texts that are incredibly discipline-specific and jargon heavy. Did I spend any time teaching them how to identify, read, and use those articles? Yes. But certainly not enough of it, because there were still bibliographies that were lacking at least one scholarly source, and many annotations that reflected a lack of understanding of the article as a whole.

This presentation was a real eye-opener for me, for the work that I do with my liaison groups, such as Freshmen Composition and First-Year Focus, for the one-shots that I teach, and for the credit course I helped design. I need to do better. We need to do better. And the women from this presentation have offered some great ideas to get started, meet challenges, and find further research. See their website: Adding Reading Strategies to Your IL Toolkit

Stay tuned for more reflections and reactions to a really great, thoughtful, engaging conference that has challenged me to continue to push my own boundaries of what libraries and librarians “can” and “should” do.