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Information Literacy: It’s Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

August 28, 2015

As fall terms are kicking off we are all faced with a new round of faces to bring into the fold of the informed. While our eyes may glaze over a bit while we share, for the umpteenth time, the nuances of APA formatting…major database exploration…where to find the “cite” button to guarantee that they’ll never quite remember that format next term (thanks EBSCO)…you know, the usual check marks on the Information Literacy competency sheet. It is important for us to remember that this information is both new and COMPLETELY overwhelming for many of those new faces (and plenty of the familiar ones as well), and as such, to be aware that our presentation of the material heavily informs how they’ll recognize and respect those resources and practices which we highlight. If we are bored, they are bored. If we get excited…well, some of them will still be bored, but some will pick up on that enthusiasm and carry it forward.

Melissa Meggitt’s 2010 submission to the ALA New Members Roundtable entitled 10 Tips for Teaching Your First Information Literacy Course  is a solid collection of best practices which helped me refine my own approach, and I encourage even the most seasoned information services professional to give it a read, as I believe she touches on key facets of a successful approach such as varying your instructional models and obtaining feedback both during and after instruction. In addition, I believe that the following points also warrant consideration:

  • If you’re bored, they’re bored – It’s worth repeating…the navigational steps, procedural best practices, and tips & tricks which have become rote to you can truly be huge time-saving aids for your students. If it’s something you’d like them to be excited about…get excited yourself (or feign your best excited persona). Your energy will be contagious!
  • Motion Creates Emotion – Similar to the point above, a great way to keep your audience engaged, your energy levels high and increase the chances of information retention is to be an interesting presenter. Move around the room…engage them…vary your volume and pitch…repeat key resource names or procedural steps. Energy unused is useless energy when it comes to information literacy instruction.
  • Give ‘em what they want – We all know that most of those we present to are applying the Charlie Brown Teacher filter just waiting for us to get to the shortcuts or pre-fab elements…*wah wah wah wah wah Cite This Button wah wah wah Resource Toolkits wah wah wah Google isn’t omnipotent”. So, create simple to follow webtools or handouts that you show at the beginning of the session, with a promise to share with those who remain engaged throughout. Now, of course everyone gets one at the end, but the fear of missing out (combined with the approaches we’re talking about today) should add up to an engaged audience.
  • Deputize – In every session there are going to be leaders and laggers in terms of how readily they are picking up the information. Note the leaders and encourage them to follow-up with additional one-on-one instruction with you to empower them to help others in your absence. Common issues have common solutions, and sharing these with a power user can save you time when the lab is full of procrastinating authors and due dates looming.
  • Be the expert they expect –OR — Be the expert you wish you had been taught by- Information Literacy competencies are about as static as the state of information itself. That is to say, they aren’t. Every day there are new Open Source resources…database enhancements…new tools for understanding the breadth of the information landscape and new ways to package these resources for public consumption. Regardless of your experience level or enthusiasm on the topics covered, it is your responsibility to be the solid source for truth for your students. ALA, ProjectInfoLit and others do a great job of summarizing and highlighting the good, bad and ugly of current information literacy practices, so be sure to carve out some time to check your approach and resources so that your presentation of the information is accurate and relevant.

Hang in there…only 8 months until summer break :)

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