Andrew Eynon’s Library Blog

A blog about librarianship in Further Education

Archive for January, 2009

Delivering information literacy in FE

Posted by andrewey on January 29, 2009

Sharon Markless, Kings College London, delivered a thought provoking session on developing a strategic approach to delivering information literacy at a North Wales Libraries Training Group event (at Coleg Llandrillo on 28 January).

Sharon started her session by defining what we mean by Information Literacy (IL) and discussing ways of selling this concept to senior managers or academics. This included what we in FE would normally describe as information literacy ie finding, evaluating and comparing information sources. Sharon also defined IL as critical thinking and metacognition (enabling independent study).

Sharon hghlighted some important common failings of IL delivery in FE and HE:

  • Emphasis on searching (rather than evaluation)
  • About promoting library resources rather than meeting the user’s needs
  • About  ‘how to do’ rather than engaging in critical thinking

Sharon dispelled some common notions of IL delivery such as the idea of generic or transferable IL skills. Sharon highlighted research which has shown that IL mush be contextualised in order for students to learn the skills and to see their relevance/application. In order to achieve this it was  argued that IL resources and sessions should not be sequential but rather should allow users to select elements that were relevant to them.

In terms of practical delivery it was suggested that demonstrations (of software) should be given after the student has had hands-on experience or undertaken an activity, as that is a better method of reinforcing learning, rather than at the start of the session. In order to produce ‘constructive learning’ IL sessions the following techniques were suggested:

  • Encourage discussion to share ideas
  • Set ‘real world’ tasks
  • Provide support material in a variety of formats (including videos and podcasts)
  • Enable ‘focused feedback’ 
  • Encourage reflective practice

Sharon also made some suggestions as to how Web 2.0 tools can be used in delivering IL:

  • Wiki subject guides
  • Student created podcasts to guide others
  • Genre based social networks
  • Tagging to personalise searching
  • Virtual Tutorials (using Second Life)
  • Use of video/photo sharing

Finally the importance of collecting evidence to demonstrate the success of IL delivery was discussed. These were divided into quantitative outputs and qualitative impacts. Both of which avoided the ‘busyness’ (ie usage) type statistics usually favoured by libraries:

  • Evidence from student work/assignments
  • Focus groups with tutors and students identifying qualitative benefits (we have used the MLA’s ILFA framework to good effect in this context)
  • Activities/tests undertaken as a result of the IL sessions to gauge competency
  • Evidence of engagement with the curriculum eg take-up
  • Change in nature of student enquiries

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‘E-Libraries and Green Libraries’

Posted by andrewey on January 23, 2009

‘E-libraries and Green Libraries: exploring accessibility and sustainability’ is the theme of  the 2009 CoFHE Conference, details of which are now available on the CoFHE Website. The conference is being held from 17 to 19 June 2009 at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.

I will be running a workshop or two at the conference on Web 2.0/Library 2.0 in FE – based on our experiences of utilising Web 2.0 tools  in FE as part of a CyMAL funded Inspiring Learning project.

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How FE libraries can help develop critical thinking skills and support independent study

Posted by andrewey on January 8, 2009

Developing critical thinking skills and creating a culture of independent study is seen as central to higher education studies – and it could be argued that it is the development of these abilities which distinguishes study at HE level from that at further education level.

There is an article in the current issue of Journal of Information Literacy: C. Gunasekra ‘Fostering independent learning and critical thinking in management higher education using an information literacy framework’  Vol 2 (2) Dec 2008, which looks specifically at developing critical thinking skills amongst HE level management students. I would argue that some of the skills identified in the article, which are central to critical thinking and independent study, also have relevance to FE students  – so what can be be done by FE libraries to develop these skills?

The article refers to the Australian information literacy standards, which seem very similar to the SCONUL 7 pillars model, but makes particular  reference to collecting and using primary sources of information – which unfortunately is uncommon in FE but the information literacy standards themselves are still relevant.

Firstly students need to know what information they need to find. This can be very difficult for library staff to support if a student is unclear (or not specific enough) about what it is they are required to find information on. However standard library enquiry/interview techniques should produce some search terms/parameters. An excellent guide to library enquiry techniques for frontline staff is Tim Buckley Owens’ Success at the enquiry desk, 5th ed, London: Facet 2006. Interview techniques are also covered on the Applications of ICT in Libraries course.

Secondly, finding the information. This may simply require instruction on the use of the catalogue and it pays to have links on your catalogue to e-books, electronic subscriptions and other useful e-resources.

The weakness with information seeking could be that we rely on promoting the resources we’d prefer the students to use (particularly those we’ve paid subscriptions for) and offering instruction only on those. However the reality is that most students are probably heavily reliant on using Google to find information. Studies (such as those carried out by Ofcom) have shown that young people are very confident using the web but are not necessarily very competent,  so do require instruction on how to search for and evaluate online resources.

Personally, I have always found that information searching sessions work best where the students have something specific to search for, rather than trying to use generic examples. It’s also worth waiting until the students need to search for that information rather than putting on sessions at the very start of a course before they have had time to ‘find their feet’ and may be suffering from ‘information overload’. When delivering sessions the inclusion of subject specific resources is obviously better than relying solely on generic resources such as Infotrac etc but just getting students to follow the relevant Virtual Training Suite tutorial will give the session a more ‘tailor-made’ feel.  

Thirdly, how are students taught to evaluate websites? On the ICTL course for library staff most units involve evaluating online resources in terms of their authority, bias, currency, relevance, level, sufficiency etc. So although library staff may be well versed in evaluating resources how do we encourage students to do so? A simple method is to encourage students to use a checklist, like the one produced by Cardiff University. Cardiff have also produced a very useful flow chart for students to use when searching for information.

Fourthly, collecting and managing the information. This is important to avoid students being overloaded with information and to make sure that sources are correctly cited (and can be located again). Libraries can support this through the use of citation/referencing tools (some of which are free like Citeulike and Connotea) – although this may be too formal for many FE students simply wishing to reference web based sources.

Fifthly, applying the information and comparing/contrasting different viewpoints. This is probably the most challenging skill to teach – HE students at Coleg Llandrillo are encouraged to use Alastair Bonnett’s How to argue, 2nd ed, Harlow: Pearson, 2008 which offers clear advice on presenting an argument and dealing with conflicting viewpoints. 

Finally the students need to be able to understand the context of the information, particularly in terms of issues such as culture, law, ethics, economics and social mores. This is probably best left to teaching staff in order for them to provide the correct contextual information to the students.

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