Information literacy at Staffordshire University (SUILCoP event)
Posted by gazjjohnson on 5 March, 2009
I went over to University of Staffordshire on Wednesday to take part in one of their information literacy scholarly community events SUILCoP. It was a really worthwhile session and I was deeply privileged to take part. After a spot of networking with the senior librarians at Stafford the day kicked off with an introduction by Alison Pope (Staffordshire University). This was then followed by myself speaking about the practicalities of making and using videos for information literacy, along with my now streamlined scriptwriting for beginners 101 course. It’s a development of my highly regarded workshops from last year’s CoFHE/UC&R Conference. It was quite a packed and enthusiastic room at the start of the event and thankfully still was at the end. Hopefully all the folks there will go onto televisual greatness and continue to develop their scripts to fruition.
After my workshop Chris Wakeman (Centre for Professional Development, University of Staffordshire) spoke about information and its implications for contemporary facilitation methods in HE. Chris asked us to think about our perspective of information literacy (something that immediately made my mind go blank), something that he was coming at from a practitioner’s point of view. He mentioned paper by Bruce Edwards & Larson on information literacy that defines the topic. Chris suggested that he was going to focus on information literacy as dialogue between two people – to consider modern facilitation methods in higher education and to ponder how information literacy skills may influence ultimate success of failure for students. He looked at dialectic (including Socratic dialogue) and teaching by asking/discussion (assuming students bring with them a knowledge base) teaching. There is also enquiry based learning that covers a whole range of other techniques including cognitive problem solving and Webquests (a technique now used in modern schools). People discussed what they thought information literacy was – a variety of concepts were aired and I was very impressed by the deep level of scholastic thought demonstrated by those present.
Chris described himself as a social constructivist in terms of IL, which wasn’t a term I was overly familiar with; which didn’t help with my following of his talk. Glancing at the faces in the rest of the room I sensed I wasn’t alone in this. Chris’ talk was at a very high level, considerably more academic than I’ve come to expect for a workshop session. Whilst it is good to be pushed sometimes, unfortunately there was just far too much to take in, and delivered at a pace and professional lexicon that didn’t help the audience to pick up the threads.
I did later have the opportunity to read a paper on constructivist learning (or at least skim through it while he talked) and discovered that it is the concept that “humans can understand only what they have themselves constructed” – and involves the learner learning through developing their own problem solving techniques and solutions. This helped a little in following the session, but obviously whilst reading it Chris had bounded onwards to talk about more exotic concepts and definitions of IL.
He provided various definitions of information literacy, including the Australia & New Zealand Literacy Framework ANZILF one which defines IL in terms of people whom are information literate and skills and aptitudes they display. The idea that an IL citizen “used information and knowledge for participative citizenship and social responsibility”; was at least an interesting concept. Even more important was the idea that IL is embedded within teaching and skills delivery rather than being taught as a separate skill. There was a nice juicy algebraic problem on Chris’ slides, which I ended up solving in a minute or two for personal satisfaction, though as he explained this would have been previously taught by showing the solutions, which means only about 20-40% of people would have learned it. For enquiry based learning the learner would experiment with solving it themselves, which should ensure their memory of the learning experience would be much stronger.
Next he talked more about Webquests and explained how students enjoy this sort of activity, though it is very much one that cannot be run in a single session; rather it is one that takes place over a period of time. They sound a very attractive approach, but I can see some significant practical difficulties with the way teaching sessions at UoL I’m involved in applying them. I think as he talked about how they could be used over a course stretching over a term, this rather illustrated just how little Chris understood about the environment and opportunists that librarians have to teach in. To have the luxury of more than a single hour on a module is rare and hard won treat, and much as I would welcome the opportunity myself to make use of this kind of training strategy, none of my current departments are set up to embrace it. There is clearly a long way to go for academics themselves in understanding the importance of information literacy and the vital importance of ensuring sessions from librarians are not seen simply as box ticking skills sessions.
Indeed the audience politely made the point that Chris’ POV of the traditional librarian was somewhat blinkered, and didn’t encompass the wealth of what modern librarians teach. Personally I think the truth lies somewhere between the two points of view.
Chris followed the session up with a somewhat bewildering workshop exercise matching training styles to statements. Frankly since he’d pitched the whole session at the wrong level for the audience the room was filled with baffled faces, I think if he’d cut his lecture down to about half the length, and tried not to go for information overload (as I’d warned against earlier in the day) and given us a good half an hour on the exercise, that the participants wouldn’t have been able to work through it using their own learning and problem solving styles. As it was in the time allotted there was little our group could establish in coherent form, or take from the work. This was a pity as correctly pitched Chris had a lot to say that was of interest.
So whilst this might have been a slightly odd counterpoint to my advocacy and communication session, it did give me plenty to mull over and consider on the long drive back home. If you get the chance to attend one of the future SUILCoP sessions, I can highly recommend them as they are pitched at a higher level than most EMALink sessions I’ve attended.