This guest post from Sara Mannheimer and Ryer Banta is about introducing undergraduates to the foundations of research data management through something everyone can relate to—organizing personal digital files. You can read more about their experience in The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving which features their co-authored chapter, “Personal Digital Archiving as a Bridge to Research Data Management”
In 2016, we were both working at Montana State University Library, but working in totally different divisions. Sara was the Data Management Librarian with a focus on research data management and data management planning for faculty and graduate students. Ryer was the Undergraduate Experience Librarian, focusing on information literacy instruction and support for undergraduate students. In many ways it would seem that we were living in very different parts of the library.
Although our jobs were quite different, we connected over our shared conviction that undergraduates would benefit from learning fundamental research data management skills. Undergraduates are entering a data-driven job market, where skills related to data management are in high demand. In industry, data scientists are working in a wide variety of sectors, and in academia, researchers are increasingly required to publish research data. Tailoring research data management lessons to undergraduates also served a key student population at MSU. Montana State University is a mid-sized university with about 16,500 total students, about 14,000 of whom are undergraduates. So we knew that there could be a big potential impact if we could figure out a meaningful way to help undergraduates build research data management skills.
As we began to think about creating a useful and meaningful research data management related lesson for undergraduates, our immediate challenge was figuring out how to get over the hurdle of making research data management relevant. Most undergraduates do not encounter research data on a regular basis, and we wanted to connect research data management to their daily life, their current schoolwork, or ideally both. The instructional principle of making lessons relevant may seem to be fairly common sense, but it is also supported by constructivist learning theory. We dipped our toes into this rich area of scholarship while developing our lesson, focusing on a couple of aspects of constructivist learning theory. For anyone developing learning experiences, we highly recommend dipping your toes, and even diving headlong, into constructivist learning theory and related theories.
Constructivist learning theory encompasses several principles, but we focused on the principles related to active, student-focused discovery. Two core tenets of constructivist learning theory specify that:
- New learning builds on prior knowledge. By tapping into students’ past experiences, educators can create a learning sequence that extends from prior knowledge to the current lesson to a lifelong pattern of curiosity and learning.
- Meaningful learning develops through “authentic” tasks. Activities conducted in class should simulate activities that students will use in their class assignments and in their real lives. This strategy ensures that the skills students learn in the classroom have direct relevance to their lives outside of the classroom.
Applying these tenets provided us with new insights about how to make research data management relevant for undergraduates. Given that new learning builds on prior knowledge, we aimed to understand students’ prior knowledge regarding data, tap into students’ past learning experiences, and then build upon that knowledge in the classroom. Given that meaningful learning develops through “authentic” tasks, we aimed to teach concrete, relatable skills that could be practiced both during instruction and afterwards. We wanted to position research data management skills in the context of students’ current lives, rather than promising a theoretical applicability to an abstract future career.
Taking a cue from constructivist learning theories, we realized that we could start with data that students already use and manage on a daily basis, specifically their digital files on their computers. At the same time, we also realized that many of the basic principles of research data management are also found in personal digital archiving practice. These dual realizations helped us focus our lesson on principles and practices that could be immediately applied to students’ digital files. In fact, in our lesson, we designed activities that got students started on reorganizing their files following personal digital archiving best practices. We organized our lesson into four key sections:
- Set the stage. Students describe the use, importance, and challenges of data within their discipline or other personally relevant contexts. This step helps prepare students to apply the lesson to their own lives.
- Basics of personal digital archiving. Students discover basic personal digital archiving strategies and principles that are also used to manage research data. This step provides a foundation of knowledge that informs in-class activities.
- Apply learning with activities. Students apply personal digital archiving strategies and principles to organize and document their own files and data. This step provides students with hands-on experience with personal digital archiving strategies.
- Debrief to connect personal digital archiving to research data management. Students reflect upon the value of the personal digital archiving principles and practices for their own personal data and discover the connection and similarities between personal digital archiving and research data management. This step allows students to process the lesson and consider future applications of the skills they learned.
We have had success with this lesson, and we have found that teaching personal digital archiving practices can act as a bridge that connects key practices of research data management to students’ everyday lives. Personal digital archiving builds on students’ prior knowledge of their digital belongings, and allows students to learn through authentic tasks that have immediate relevance to their daily lives. We hope that other librarians and educators can adapt and reuse the basic instructional strategies that we developed in their own learning contexts. Critical thinking about managing digital materials—whether personal files or research data—is a foundational skill that will benefit students during their undergraduate education and in their future careers.
Ryer Banta is the information literacy and technology librarian at Centralia College (WA), where he manages digital resources and services, and helps learners develop information literacy and lifelong learning skills. His research interests include open education, instructional design, educational technology, information literacy, and user experience.
You can follow Ryer on Twitter @RyerBanta
Sara Mannheimer is the data librarian at Montana State University in Bozeman, where she facilitates research data management and sharing, and promotes digital scholarship using library collections and “big data” sources. Her research focuses on data management practices, data discovery, digital preservation, and the social, ethical, and technical issues surrounding data-driven research.
You can follow Sara on Twitter @saramannheimer
The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving helps information professionals break down archival concepts and best practices into teachable solutions. Whether it’s an academic needing help preserving their scholarly records, a student developing their data literacy skills or someone backing up family photos and videos to protect against hard-drive failure, this book will show information professionals how to offer assistance.
Find out more about the book and read a sample chapter here.
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Facet Publishing have announced the release of The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving, edited by Brianna H Marshall
Academics and the general public alike need help managing the digital information they create and save every day. But how can librarians and archivists translate their professional knowledge into practical skills that novices can apply to their own projects? The Complete Guide to Personal Digital Archiving helps information professionals break down archival concepts and best practices into teachable solutions. Whether it’s an academic needing help preserving their scholarly records, a student developing their data literacy skills or someone backing up family photos and videos to protect against hard-drive failure, this book will show information professionals how to offer assistance.
Featuring contributions from experts working in a variety of contexts this practical resource will help librarians, digital curators and archivists empower people from all walks of life to take charge of their personal digital materials. Key coverage includes explanations of common terms in plain language, quick, non-technical solutions to the most frequent user requests and guidance on how to archive social media posts, digital photographs and web content.
Marshall said, “From the outset, my intention has been for this book to be used as a primer for information professionals who haven’t been quite sure how to approach personal digital archiving (PDA) yet. My hope is that they become not just informed but also excited to pass along critical skills that will help equip members of their communities to have a less painful and more fruitful PDA journey. I am convinced that sharing even simple principles for how to store, share, and preserve digital objects will benefit our users in both their personal and professional lives. The chapters are intentionally practitioner-focused so that after finishing this book, readers will feel ready to start conversations and make amazing things happen within their communities.”
Brianna H Marshall is director of research services at the University of California, Riverside. Previously, she was digital curation coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She holds master of library science and master of information science degrees from the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing.
With a growing requirement to produce reports and briefing documents based on the information you retrieve, library and information professionals in all sectors can learn from techniques used by journalists.
Spotlight is a movie that tells the true story of how journalists at the Boston Globe lifted the lid on a major cover-up in the Catholic Church. During their investigations, the team did everything you would expect investigative journalists to do: they door-stepped people; they confronted leading figures; they waited for hours in outer offices trying to grab interviews.
But the backbone of their research was a simple spreadsheet onto which they made entries from back issues of the Massachusetts Catholic Directory. It was this that enabled them to spot the suspicious patterns of behaviour that underpinned their revelations.
This kind of activity is increasing dramatically in importance. At the rocket science end of the spectrum it’s manifesting itself as big data, where analysts develop and employ applications to trawl vast quantities of data, looking for patterns that can be turned into e-commerce or other opportunities.
But the principle of applying critical analysis to retrieved data operates across the board – including to the human brain power that we bring to bear in carrying out literature searches. Of course, we mere mortals do face limitations, mainly in the tiny amount of content we are capable of evaluating within a sensible timescale compared with what computers can achieve – but that doesn’t mean we’re incapable of doing it.
Ploughing has had its day
Turning your raw search results into a narrative report – one that enables your enquirer to reach a decision, make a recommendation or take action – is becoming the stock in trade of information professionals in a growing number of fields, including government, health services and law.
Information professionals who carry out desk research on their users’ behalf are the obvious and immediate beneficiaries of techniques such as these. But the skills are no less valuable for academic librarians, charged with fostering information literacy and encouraging good research practice in students doing assignments.
Simply ploughing through a linear list of unstructured search results, hoping that the most useful ones will pop out at you, isn’t an efficient way of going about the task. Taking our cue from those Boston Globe journalists, we can get far more out of our results by turning them into a flexible dataset.
To do this, you might be able to make use of your chosen reference management package. This should at least save you time by automating the presentation of each document’s bibliographic characteristics, and you may then be able to add extra customised fields for the further ways in which you want to arrange your search results.
You may also find that you have to add ‘grey’ literature – short reports, articles from non-mainstream sources, website content, ephemera – manually. Obviously making these manual additions could be time-consuming, but it will probably be time well invested because, once entered, the reference management software will treat these non-standard documents just the same as the others, ensuring a uniform format for every document and allowing you to create bibliographies automatically.
So if you can use a reference management package to automate at least part of the process, that should save you a great deal of time at the next stage. But if you can’t, you could use any application that will support this kind of matrix structure – a spreadsheet or database package, the table function in a word processed document, or any proprietary software that can be used for project management purposes.
You may also be able to automate some of the process by making use of the text-to-table conversion function that comes with your word processing package – although the resulting table may need so much repair that you may be no better off than if you had done the whole thing manually in the first place.
Letting you change your mind
Obviously the more you can automate the better – but whatever means you decide to use to restructure your search results, you will need to satisfy yourself that your chosen approach will enable you to:
• work with documents taken from any source you choose, not just mainstream ones
• describe those documents using whatever headings you want
• sort and re-sort the documents using multiple criteria determined by you.
What sort of criteria? Well, subject topics clearly – but you (or your student) will also need to be able to sort the documents according to how useful they’re likely to be in answering the enquiry. There’s a really good principle for ranking documents in this way: Must Know; Should Know; Could Know.
Must know documents are the handful of retrieved results that are so comprehensive and so authoritative that you’re going to use them as the basis for your report (or your student as the basis of their assignment).
Should know documents might provide evidence supporting the main findings, or include case studies demonstrating how the techniques outlined in the Must Know documents would work in practice.
Could know documents include the rest of your viable results. They’re potentially useful in terms of detail, but they’re not going to add a great deal more to your enquirer’s overall understanding of the subject.
Crucially, organising your documents in this way enables you to change your mind whenever you need to. If you find you’re now not so keen on the documents that have come to the top as Must Knows, it’s the work of minutes to rethink, re-categorise and sort again.
Get this far, and it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that your report can practically draft itself. But to complete the job, you do need to be able to deploy another key skill: strategic reading. We’ll look at that in a follow-up blog.
You can also check out Tim Buckley Owen’s blog article on what library and information professionals learn from the ‘Dodgy Dossier’.
Find out more about Tim Buckley Owen’s Successful Enquiry Answering Every Time 7th edition from Facet Publishing
Tim Buckley Owen BA DipLib MCLIP is an independent writer and trainer with over 40 years’ experience of information work – at Westminster Central Reference Library, the City Business Library, and as Principal Information Officer at the London Research Centre. He has also held strategic media and communications posts at CILIP, the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council and the Library & Information Commission.
This blog post originally appeared on the CILIP blog in April 2017. You can view the original post here: https://www.cilip.org.uk/blog/6-suggestions-teaching-information-literacy
Most college students have been exposed to more technology than students of previous generations. This does not make them technology experts. Students do a lot of searching online for information. This does not make them expert, or even good, searchers. Thanks to Google, students can always find information on any topic. This does not mean that they have found true, accurate, useful information and does not make them expert finders of information. Students need instruction and guidance in learning how to find, evaluate, select and use information, just as they need instruction and guidance in learning anything else. They are not born “information literate” and frequent, uninstructed Googling will not make them so.
The Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education
The Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (the Association of College and Research Libraries’ new “guide” to Information Literacy) is meant to explain the theory behind information literacy and the threshold concepts that students must incorporate into their thinking to become information literate.
The Framework document says:
“The Framework offered here is called a framework intentionally because it is based on a cluster of interconnected core concepts with flexible options for implementation, rather than on a set of standards or learning outcomes, or any prescriptive enumeration of skills…..Neither knowledge practices nor the dispositions that support each concept are intended to prescribe what local institutions should do in using the Framework; each library and its partners on campus will need to deploy these frames to best fit their own situation, including designing learning outcomes.”
How to teach students information literacy
While the “framework” provides a description of what a person who is information literate looks like and does with regard to information, the framework does not provide the answer we all want–How do we get our students to that goal? The bad news is that the Framework is not going to help answer that question. The good news is that everything we have created up to this point is still relevant. While some lessons may need to be updated and/or broadened to incorporate new types of information delivery or new groups from whom we can get information, the core of what students need to know to become information literate remains the same. Students need to know how to find information, how to evaluate information, how to select information, how to apply information to a problem, and how to use information ethically and legally.
Here are 6 suggestions about how to offer students the concepts and skills that will set them on the road to information literacy.
1. Take them from the familiar to the less familiar to the unfamiliar.
Everyone I know uses Google on a regular basis. The single search box is convenient, doesn’t require anything in the way of search strategy or specific language. Most people have no idea that Google has an advanced search, much less how to use it. In fact, Google no longer offers a link to its advanced search page from the basic search page. Instead one must click on “settings” and select the advanced search.
Have students do a Google search for global warming in the single search box. They will get links to millions of pages returned to them. Show them how to get to the advanced Google search page and have them use some of the search options to transform a giant search into something with a meaningful result. From there, you might transition to a subject specific database, where students will find much more targeted information, making more of the information they find applicable to their information need.
2. Make students mentally stretch to make a lesson more memorable
If you want students to evaluate the information they find, ask them to determine what qualities make information credible, accurate, and reliable. You can then ask them to evaluate information you supply against their list of criteria. The supplied information may provoke changes in the list of evaluation criteria. For example:
- The hoax website Dihydrogen Monoxide should make students consider evaluation of the content
- The website offering a scientific study on feline reactions to bearded men should make students consider evaluation of the bibliographic references.
- The website of Dr. David Duke, a white supremacist, should make students consider the author and author’s credentials.
3. Selection and application of information is critical
There are thousands of webpages devoted to the recent Brexit from the European Union, many of them able to pass the evaluation test. But every website does not provide information relevant to the same information need. So a student seeking to answer a question about the effect of Brexit on Poland will need to select information targeting that effect and not information about how the term Brexit was created.
I have found it useful to put students into teams to role play a “real life” situation. Students become researchers who must provide information to the CEO of the company they work for. The CEO will base a decision about the future of the company on the information supplied. Big money is at stake, as well as job security for the researchers. The information must be on the CEO’s desk within the hour. A class presentation allows for discussion and critique of sources selected, sources discarded, sources undiscovered, and so on.
4. Get students to think about the consequences of plagiarism
Ethical concerns for students about the use of information usually center on the issues of citation of sources and plagiarism. Students I have spoken to know they need to cite sources. They know there are penalties for plagiarism, sometimes very harsh penalties. They simply don’t know when to do it. Is a citation required for paraphrasing? Is a citation required for a quote? How does one cite a quote from one person in a document from another person? Providing students with a little practice in thinking through what a citation is for and what it accomplishes will go a long way to providing them with the answers to their questions. As to the format for citations, there is software that will do that—much of it free. Direct students to those tools and they will be forever grateful.
Get students to think about the ethical, economic and social consequences of plagiarism. Have them look into the specifics of incidents of plagiarism that have had serious consequences (George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord vs. the Chiffons’ He’s So Fine, for example). Discuss the nature of intellectual property and fair use.
5. The role of the individual in the information world is expanding
Students are both consumers and producers of information. Students should be made aware that they can create and disseminate of information and discuss what that means for them in terms of both opportunity and responsibility. For some audiences the student can be an authority. Students can add perspective and new ideas to groups working on projects or problems by participating in blogs, listservs and other interactive discussion groups. Students can create their own publications for issues of importance to them and make those publications available to the world.
Have students subscribe to and follow a blog that covers an academic topic over a specified time period. Ask them to write about or discuss their experience, considering the positive and negative aspects of this form of communication, the quality of the information, the variety of people who participate, and whether or not the blog helps move the world forward in terms of the subject under discussion.
6. Apply the same skills to the “real world”
Students often fail to understand that what they learn in one classroom can often be useful in the next classroom, and that concepts and skills they learn in an academic setting can translate to applications in the “real world”. The human brain works by analogy—comparing new information to information already in storage and looking for similarities. The use of analogies in the classroom can help students think about how one idea might apply in a completely different situation.
Get students to brainstorm steps to take when gathering information for a term paper. Write the ideas on a flip chart or white board. Ask students to then suggest non-academic scenarios where the same process could be helpful. (Buying a cell phone, planning a two-week vacation in an unfamiliar location, writing an annual report for work, finding a nursing home for an elderly relative, etc.)
To summarize, students need to learn basic concepts and skills in order to become information literate as students and as citizens of the world. Make students active participants in their own learning. Allow them to stretch their understanding through discussion and exploration. Get them to actively participate. Ask them to grapple with the big ethical and social questions. The instruction you have already developed is likely still relevant and useful so don’t start from the beginning, but build on what you have already created.
About Teaching Information Literacy Reframed
Teaching Information Literacy Reframed by Joanna M Burkhardt offers a starting point to understanding and teaching the six threshold concepts listed in the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, an altogether new way of looking at information literacy.
Joanna M. Burkhardt is a full professor at the University of Rhode Island (URI) and Director of its branch libraries in Providence and Narragansett. She coordinates the branches’ information literacy program.
This blog post originally appeared on the CILIP blog in August 2016. You can view the original post here: https://www.cilip.org.uk/blog/6-suggestions-teaching-information-literacy
Critical literacy is an approach to learning and teaching that has gathered momentum in recent years as it has become widely used in classrooms around the world. Critical literacy is not just important for formal education settings however. It is also relevant for libraries because it is an approach that can engage students (or other users) in more active forms of reading and more creative ways of critiquing texts, as well as equipping them with skills and strategies to challenge social and political systems.
What is critical literacy?
Critical literacy differs from most models of information literacy because it is not simply about the ability to evaluate information for features such as authenticity, quality, relevance, accuracy, currency, value, credibility and potential bias. Instead, it addresses more fundamental questions about the nature of knowledge.
One way of describing critical literacy is as a process that, ‘challenges the status quo in an effort to discover alternative paths for self and social development’ (Shor, 1999). This description highlights two key components of critical literacy. Firstly, it has a focus on practical action and community engagement. Secondly, critical literacy is concerned with the social and cultural contexts in which traditional, digital, multimedia and other types of texts are both created and read. Critical literacy is not about studying texts in isolation, but developing an understanding of the cultural, ideological and sociolinguistic contexts in which they are created and read. It involves an explicit commitment to equity, social justice and inclusion.
Authors and readers
A fundamental notion of critical literacy is that all texts are constructed(by one or more authors) and serve particular interests or purposes. As texts are written or created by people, who all have their own views of the world, no text is completely neutral and objective. For example, when they write, an author makes conscious and unconscious choices about what to include and exclude and how to represent the things or people they depict.
However, it is not just the author who has an important role. Just like authors, all readers have their own experiences and knowledge whichthey bring to a text. This means that each person interprets a text differently and multiple ways of reading a single text are not just possible, but inevitable. In contrast to more conventional approaches to resource evaluation, with critical literacy there is no single ‘correct’ way to read and respond to a text.
This means that critical literacy can allow students to move beyond merely retelling information to become actively engaged with texts as they start to exercise their power as readers to interrogate what is written and question the ideological standpoint of the author to form their own interpretations. Critical literacy also helps students to see connections between texts they read and the ‘real world’ as they come to realise how the experiences and opinions of both the author and reader are integral in shaping any text.
Some practical examples
Critical literacy is a theory that is highly relevant to the practical work of library and information workers across all sectors including academic, schools, public, workplace, prisons and health. In the case of public libraries, it can support social inclusion activities and offer alternative ways of framing reading promotion. In healthcare settings, critical literacy approaches can empower patients and challenge stigma. When working with young offenders, or at-risk young people, critical literacy can help to improve decision-making skills. In schools, it can have a role both within subjects such as Communication studies and in extra-curricular activities. It can also enhance the school librarian’s role within the school as they become engage in debates around the use of new media and academic honesty. When working with both undergraduate and post-graduate university students, critical literacy can move the librarian’s contribution to the learning process far beyond the simplistic database demonstration session to a more active, questioning approach that can profoundly impact on how students interact with information. Critical literacy can also support librarians’ work with particular user groups. For example, in the case of international students, disabled users; or adult learners, critical literacy can help to reframe difference as an asset rather than a deficit.
There is no doubt that adopting a critical literacy approach in a library setting can be highly challenging. Teaching students that there is no single ‘correct’ way to read a text and that evaluating a resource is not a process which can be reduce to a simple checklist requires considerable time, skill and confidence. However, the potential benefits can be immense.
These are just some brief examples of the ways in which critical literacy can be used within libraries and information services. Is your library using (or planning to use) critical literacy approaches in any way? If so, please let us know.
Critical Literacy for Information Professionals, edited by Sarah McNicol, provides a foundation of critical literacy theory, as applied to libraries, combines theory and practice to explore critical literacy in relation to different user groups, and offers practical ways to introduce critical literacy approaches in libraries.
Sarah McNicol is a research associate at the Education and Social Research Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK.
This blog post originally appeared on the CILIP blog in March 2016. You can view the original post here: https://www.cilip.org.uk/blog/why-should-critical-literacy-matter-information-professionals
In the past year, the term “fake news” first began to be used broadly, as part of the immediate media analysis and critique of the way false information easily circulated during the 2016 Presidential Election. Previously, fake news referred to made-up or distorted news, as evident in the kind of comedy routines we see on TV or read about in satirical publications, either in print or online. But soon thereafter, the term fake news itself was appropriated in a new and more cynical way to attack prominent news sources that countered in any way the narrative of “alternative facts” being presented. Welcome to the “post-truth era” and one of the many literacy challenges we face in today’s connected world. The term “Post-truth” was the topic of a book by Ralph Keyes in 2004, but took on new relevance in 2016 to describe the proliferation of misleading and untruthful information communicated by the famous and unknown through social media and other sources. The 2016 Oxford Dictionaries’ identified “Post-truth” as the international word of the year, and describes a situation “in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
This is the environment in which we celebrate and promote UNESCO’s Global Media and Information Literacy Week 2017, which runs from October 25 through November 1, 2017. A variety of terms are used for this crucial set of abilities and dispositions that help us to navigate through what are now particularly turbulent seas of information: Information literacy, media and information literacy, digital literacy, information fluency, and even Google literacy. Regardless of what it is called, having a command of literacies connected to information has taken on a critical importance for informed citizens in today’s complex and connected social media ecosystem. All of these approaches to literacy have value and advance critical thinking and learning in today’s world. We have contributed to this discussion by developing metaliteracy as a pedagogical framework for advancing critical and reflective thinking.
In 2016, we wrote an essay that addressed one of the significant concerns in a post-truth world and did so from an educational perspective. How can we learn to reject fake news in the digital world? focuses on the dangers of consuming, producing, and sharing false information. We argue that we need a reflective and participatory approach to address these challenges, given the unfortunate circumstances in which truth has been questioned in today’s political and social media environments. Because of metaliteracy’s emphasis on the active contribution of ideas in these spaces, we argued that, “Metaliteracy asks that individuals understand on a mental and emotional level the potential impact of one’s participation.” Doing so goes beyond effectively using the technology to seeing oneself as a responsible participant who carefully reflects on one’s own thinking and actions in these environments.
From our viewpoint, we are especially interested in exploring reflective learning as a way to empower individuals to continuously adapt to changing technologies while being responsible consumers and producers of digital information. Through this work, we are involved in expanding the roles of learners even further from consumer of information to participant, communicator, author, and researcher.
As an extension of these ideas, we focus specifically on several key components of metaliteracy in this blog post. Metaliteracy expands the understanding of UNESCO’s media and information literacy in our collaborative, social media-infused online environment with a focus on four learning domains. Yet metaliteracy and media and information literacy (MIL) have components in common, and strive toward informed, ethical, and engaged use and creation of information.
We have published several articles and two books about metaliteracy, including: Metaliteracy: Reinventing Information Literacy to Empower Learners (London: Facet and Chicago: ALA, 2014) and Metaliteracy in Practice (London: Facet and Chicago: ALA, 2016). As noted in the latter book:
Metaliteracy applies to all stages and facets of an individual’s life. It is not limited to the academic realm, nor is it something to be learned once and for all. Indeed, metaliteracy focuses on adaptability as information environments change and [on] the critical reflection necessary to recognize new and evolving needs in order to remain adept. (Jacobson and Mackey, 2016, xv-xvi)
Metaliteracy is more than a model to be applied in academic settings and is an approach to better understand our everyday experience with living and learning in today’s connected world. It is especially pertinent now that we have many opportunities to contribute and collaborate through social media while also being faced with so much misinformation and division.
What might we learn from metaliteracy to help us through these trying times? Let’s start by examining this central image:
By organizing the rings around the metaliterate learner, this graphic emphasizes the importance of an ongoing desire to learn. As illustrated in this image, the metaliterate learner is a complex, whole person who engages in four domains of learning: metacognitive, cognitive, behavioral, and affective. This circular diagram shows that metaliteracy places an emphasis on metacognition, as seen in the upper left quadrant of the middle ring. Metacognition involves thinking about one’s own thinking, and self-regulating what still needs to be learned. But the other three learning domains are also important: the cognitive domain (the knowledge that comes with learning), the affective (changes in attitudes that accompany learning, as well as the willingness to have an open attitude), and the behavioral (what one is able to do following learning). The outer ring on the diagram shows the roles that learners take on in our participatory information environment, roles that should be informed by the learning goals and objectives. We are all learning all the time—there is no set point at which one starts to assume these active roles.
As we move to the outer ring, we see all of the active roles the metaliterate learner plays, empowered by a reflective core that includes an intersection of knowledge gained, changes in attitude, and ongoing development of abilities or proficiencies. The metaliterate learner is an active participant in social spaces, either in person or online, an effective communicator, using and adapting to technologies as needed, and a translator of information, moving from one form or mode to another, adapting and repurposing information and ideas through this process. In this context, the empowered metaliterate learner is an effective author of documents in various forms and both learner and teacher, exchanging these roles as someone who seeks and shares knowledge with others. This involves the learner role as collaborator of new knowledge, demonstrating the abilities to be an active producer and publisher of information. Because this work requires seeking and verifying information in many contexts, while asking good questions, the role of research is central to this approach, continuously evolving with the other interrelated roles.
The metaliterate learner diagram is informed by the metaliteracy learning goals and objectives that underpin the four domains of learning and support the metaliterate learner in the active roles. We encourage you to review the four goals and their learning objectives to gain a sense of their reach. As you consider them, note both the elements that extend beyond media and information literacy, and the abbreviations, which refer to the center ring in the diagram.
Also ask yourself the following reflective questions: Based on your own experience with today’s connected world, which role(s) have you played? Which roles would be especially helpful to encourage lifelong learners to play in today’s information environment?
With this understanding of metaliteracy, consider how it might inform navigating the fraught information environment in which we find ourselves. Being metaliterate means that we:
- Consider the format that information takes and the way in which it is delivered or shared: text, video, photos, statistics and other formats require the same scrutiny
- Critically evaluate how information is packaged and shared online and the extent to which professional-looking materials impact our perception of content
- Question the validity of information, regardless of source
- Observe our feelings when we engage with information that we do or don’t agree with
- Determine whether information is research-based or editorial
- Determine the value added by user-generated content
- Share information ethically and responsibly
- Reflect on our own beliefs in these spaces and challenge oneself to consider other viewpoints
- Always challenge our own beliefs and ask critical questions of information and of ourselves
UNESCO’s Global Media and Information Literacy Week is the perfect time to explore metaliteracy and then share what you learn with others. This is a critical time of engagement to fulfill the early promise of the Web and social media as open and participatory environments for collaboration, dialogue, and discovery. Recently we have seen the negative and destructive aspects of how these technologies have been harnessed as well, from fake news and alternative facts to an overall post-truth reality. These developments have challenged our own optimism and assumptions about these spaces as creative environments for producing and sharing knowledge. In any context, however, metaliteracy provides a critical and reflective approach to learning that supports an everyday practice of asking good questions, being an active and ethical digital citizen, while being open to new environments, technologies, and perspectives.
We invite you to continue the conversation as you delve further into metaliteracy and explore some of the questions we’ve raised in this blog. You can find us on Twitter @Metaliteracy and be sure to follow us at our own blog via Metaliteracy.org. We welcome all of your questions and insights.
Thomas P. Mackey, Ph.D. and Trudi E. Jacobson, M.LS., M.A. originated the metaliteracy framework to emphasize the metacognitive learner as producer and participant in social information environments. They co-authored the first peer-reviewed article to define and introduce this model with Reframing Information Literacy as a Metaliteracy (2011) and followed that essay with the first book on this topic Metaliteracy: Reinventing Information Literacy to Empower Learners (2014). This team co-authored the essay Proposing a Metaliteracy Model to Redefine Information Literacy (2013) and co-edited their most recent book for ALA/Neal-Schuman entitled Metaliteracy in Practice (2016). They are currently working on a new book entitled Metaliterate Learning for the Post-Truth World.
Trudi Jacobson, M.L.S., M.A., is the Head of the Information Literacy Department at the University at Albany, and holds the rank of Distinguished Librarian. She has been deeply involved with information literacy throughout her career, and thrives on finding new and engaging ways to teach students, both within courses and through less formal means. She co-chaired the Association of College & Research Libraries Task Force that created the Information Literacy Framework for Higher Education. Trudi is a member of the Editorial Board of Communications in Information Literacy. She freelances as the acquisitions editor for Rowman & Littlefield’s Innovations in Information Literacy series. Trudi was the 2009 recipient of the Miriam Dudley Instruction Librarian Award.
Thomas P. Mackey, Ph.D. is Vice Provost for Academic Programs and Professor at SUNY Empire State College. He provides leadership for the undergraduate and graduate programs at the college, including the School for Undergraduate Studies, School for Graduate Studies, School of Nursing, The Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies, the Center for Mentoring Learning and Academic Innovation (CMLAI), and International Education. His research interests are focused on the collaborative development of metaliteracy as an empowering model for teaching and learning. Tom is a member of the editorial team for Open Praxis, the open access peer-reviewed academic journal about open, distance and flexible education that is published by the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE). He is also a member of the Advisory Board for Progressio: South African Journal for Open and Distance Learning Practice.
Guest post by Nicole E. Brown and Kaila Bussert, co-authors of Visual Literacy for Libraries: A Practical, Standards-Based Guide
Celebrate Global Media and Information Literacy Week by strengthening your visual literacy skill set. Try this step-by-step exercise, adapted from the “Begin to Interpret and Analyze an Image” “Coffee Break!” activity in our book, Visual Literacy for Libraries.
Begin by setting aside a few minutes at your desk. You’ll need: the device you’re reading this on, a writing implement, a piece of paper, and a cup of coffee (optional, but recommended).
Step 1: Choose a visual to analyze.
- Option A: Explore the World Digital Library (WDL) and select an image. This free multilingual source for primary materials is one of our top picks for finding images, so we encourage you to use it. If you’re pressed for time, you can use the coffee house image featured in this post.
- Option B: Explore The Guardian’s Data Blog and select a data visualisation from one of the topical articles. Visual literacy skills apply to the world of data, too! If you’re short on time, choose one of the visualisations in the “Caffeine compared: from coke and coffee to aspirin and chocolate” post.
Step 2: Take a few minutes to examine the image or visualisation closely and record your answers to the following questions: 1) What do I see? 2) What is going on? 3) Why do I think this image or visualisation was created?
Step 3: Reflect on your answers to the three questions and identify one thing you’d like to know more about.
Now, consider how you might incorporate an exercise like this into your information literacy teaching practice. Imagine leading a group of students through this process with an image related to course content. Can you see how observing an image and recording details about it can prime learners to ask questions? This type of work with images invites students into the question-driven research process. Our book walks you through activities like this, and many more. We share ready-to-go activities and strategies to deepen your visual literacy skills and make your instruction more engaging.
Thanks for taking a coffee break with us! Please use the comments to share how you’re using visual literacy to advance media and information literacy.
Nicole E. Brown is Head of Instruction Services at the University of California, Berkeley.
Kaila Bussert is Foundational Experiences Librarian at California Polytechnic State University.