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Avoiding Certain Doom: Integrating Information Literacy Through Collaboration

October 22, 2009

Avoiding Certain Doom: Integrating Information Literacy Through Collaboration
Alison Gregory, Assistant Professor, Snowden Library, Lycoming College

I had the good fortune to be the moderator for this session of the 2009 PaLA Conference on Monday, October 19. This topic was of particular interest to me since I recently became the Information Literacy Coordinator at The University of Scranton. To begin, Alison highlighted several of the articles on the extensive list of recommended readings in her handout that address why librarians should collaborate with faculty and how they should do it.

Before she shared how she collaborated with faculty at Lycoming College, Alison asked attendees to write down an assignment from their institutions that they considered to be “doomed” and then had us share this assignment with a neighbor.

Alison’s first example of collaboration was from an entry level political science course. The professor’s goal was for the students to increase their critical thinking skills. Alison collaborated with this professor to develop a problem-based learning assignment in each of three content areas for a total of six classes that met in the library. The majority of this class time was spent doing research. When students asked a question, Alison often answered them with another question. Rather than providing the students with the name or the call number of a specific book in which information could be found, she would suggest types or categories of resources that might be useful. Instead of a one-shot, “sage on the stage,” Alison said, “It became very Socratic,” and as a result one-third of the course was devoted to library research.

The second collaborative endeavor that Alison shared involved a faculty member in the History Department who had previously “banned” Wikipedia as a source. She worked with this professor on an assignment that required students to contribute to Wikipedia. They selected topics that were either missing or were stubs (a term used by Wikipedia for incomplete articles). Students were required to use primary and secondary sources to write their entries, and the professor had to approve the entries before they could be posted. Students came to the realization that others might cite the information from one of their entries. Their classmates were not “experts” on these topics, yet their entries might be treated as authoritative by someone. As a result of this assignment, the students in this class had a better appreciation of why not to use Wikipedia as source material for a paper.

After sharing her experiences, Alison then suggested ways for those of us in the audience to collaborate with faculty at our institutions:

1. Be reasonably familiar with a variety of pedagogies so that you can knowledgeably discuss them.
2. Let faculty know that your priority lies in improving student skills.
3. Be willing to be a sounding board and be willing to put in your 2 cents, for example, “I heard about an assignment that might meet your goals for this project…”

Then she came back to those “doomed” assignments that we had shared. She gave us the task to think about some potential alternatives, not for the assignment that we had written down, but for our neighbor’s “doomed” assignment. Some of us then shared these alternative ways to improve a specific assignment. This active learning assignment gave us all something concrete that we could take back to our own libraries. I know I did!

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