Skip to main content

NDL301: Information Fluency: Syllabus



Tuesdays, 2:30 – 4:20 Lib 201
Instructor: Barbara Fister, x7553, office is on the lower level of the library
Website, including schedule and links to readings:
Course email alias:

I hope that by the end of this course you will...

  • have a deeper understanding of how libraries and their resources are organized

  • be able to search for information effectively online and in print

  • develop your ability to evaluate and select high quality sources

  • be familiar with tools for saving and organizing sources and be able to write a literature review

  • understand where sources come from and how economic and social factors are changing publishing and the web

  • develop a network of knowledge about the people, institutions, publications, and websites actively involved in your chosen research area

  • understand the research values of your major field(s) and how they compare to those in other disciplines

  • be informed about issues of ethics and social justice related to information access and use

  • be better prepared to engage in civic life by being skilled at finding and using evidence to inform real-world issues


In a nutshell, these are the components of the grade.

  • Participation (25%)

  • Blog posts (20%)

  • Interview of a researcher (20%)

  • Literature review (35%)

The most basic expectation is that you will come to class prepared and willing to participate in discussion and hands-on activities. Not only does your grade depend on active involvement, so does having fun, and fun is an important part of learning. (I'm serious.) Please bring a written question or comment about at least one reading for every class that has assigned readings. In addition, you should spend some time reading your class colleagues' blog posts and commenting on them. On weeks without assigned readings, I will ask for volunteers to bring something they discovered to class so we can learn from each other.

Course Blog Contributions
The purpose of this assignment is twofold: to think about how you want to present yourself digitally to the world as a scholar and to gain some experience with composing for the web. Your weekly blog contributions will be short essays (250-500 words) that either respond to prompts I will give you (for example, I will ask you to write about how a Nobel Conference lecturer approached research) or to class readings or discussions - or to issues that have some bearing on the nature of information and the research process. This kind of thoughtful but relatively informal sharing of ideas is a genre of academic writing that is growing in influence and worth practicing. By contributing to a website you will also gain a bit of experience with the web beyond commercial platforms such as Facebook and Google.

Interview of a researcher and comparison of research traditions
For this assignment, you will arrange to interview someone who does research in your major area. Tell me who you plan to interview by class time on September 26. Complete the interview before fall break. During your interview, take notes so that you can share what you learned with the class on October 31. After hearing reports of your classmates’ interviews and comparing notes, write a blog post that includes an analysis of how research processes in your discipline compare to traditions of different disciplines and what values are important in your field.

Literature review
Your literature review is an essay (~5-8 pages) that should survey some of the most important sources available on the issue you have chosen, arranged according to some sort of organizational principle that groups sources together, including a brief description of each source that provides a sense of what each source contributes to the whole. We’ll look at several examples so you can get a sense of what your project should look like. Though the number of sources you include will vary depending on your focus, you should plan to examine many sources and select at least 8 of the most significant ones to analyze in your review. What “counts” as a quality source will also depend on your topic and your field. You are welcome to work on a project for another course, but be sure it’s okay with your other instructor. Complete draft due in class December 12; final revised version due via email to me by December 18.


  • Students are expected to adhere to the Gustavus honor code. We’ll talk about how and why to cite sources and how to share ideas ethically.

  • Students with disabilities are important members of the class community; please let me know so we can make appropriate accommodations that work.

  • Though I’m happy to consult on any writing-related questions you may have, students are encouraged to visit the Writing Center and/or to consult with Carly Overfelt whose specialty is writing assistance for multilingual students. There are drop-in hours or you can set up an appointment online.

  • You can seek help from librarians at the reference desk between 10:30 and 4:30 Monday-Thursday and 10:30-2:30 on Fridays. I'll be at the reference desk on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, 2:30-4:30; we can also meet by appointment whenever as needed.


Your grade will be based on your investment in course activities. You must be involved in all four of these activities to pass the course; you can’t skip one and count on adding up the points of the other three to get by. You also will need to meet basic expectations of each of the four activities to accrue points. Here’s how the points add up.

Participation (25%)
attend and participate in class (14 possible points)*
read and respond to others’ blog posts (6 possible points)
share something interesting with the class for discussion (5 possible points)

15 - 25 A
14 - 15 B
13 - 14 C
11 - 12 - D
0 - 10 - F

*Attending class is important, particularly for a discussion-and-doing-stuff course like this, so you must have at least 12 of these points to pass the course. Things happens and people get sick. If you are sick or for some compelling reason miss class, you can recover up to two attendance points by discussing a make-up plan with me. (I get to define “compelling.) A reminder: just being physically in the room isn’t worth a point; you have to be prepared and willing to participate actively.

Blog posts (20%)
compose content for ten weekly blog posts* – 20 possible points

20 points - A
14 - 18 points - B
8 - 12 points - C
4 - 6 points - D
0 - 2 points – F
*one blog post must be about a Nobel lecture; one must compare research traditions based on interview reports; others may respond to prompts, readings, or some other subject related to the course.

Interview of a researcher (20%)
interview a researcher – 10 points
report on what you learned to the class – 10 points
20 points A
10 points C
0 points F

Literature review (35%)
Find and scan as many relevant sources as you can and choose the most significant ones to include in your review (minimum of 8 sources) – 10 points
Organize your sources into a narrative that helps your reader see the big picture – 10 points
Briefly describe each chosen source accurately, providing its main point – 5 points
Provide clear and complete citations using a style appropriate for your topic – 5 points

30 - A
25 - B
20 - C
15 - D
0 - 10 - F


schedule & reading assignments

The schedule and readings are subject to change.

Sept. 5 – introduction to the course; book publishing; Lab: exploring professional websites and blogs; getting started with the class blog.

Sept. 12 - how libraries organize books. Read for today Toobin and Demko. Read Digital Books and Your Rights: A Checklist (EFF). Lab: using a citation management system. To learn about Zotero, check out the video on this page.

Sept. 19 – newspapers, magazines, and journals; how they are published, how to find them in libraries using databases and indexes; using printed indexes to track down pre-1980 magazine articles; using microfilm. Read for today the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics. Read 6 Quick Ways to Spot Fake News from Snopes and The Breaking News Consumers Handbook from On the Media and watch the video, Open Access Explained.

Sept. 26 – Using the internet for research. For today, read “What World are We Building?” by danah boyd, "The Internet With a Human Face" by Maciej CegÅ‚owski (or watch it - thank you, Gretchen). Be prepared to tell me who you have arranged to interview.

Maciej Ceglowski – The Internet With a Human Face – beyond tellerrand Düsseldorf 2014 from beyond tellerrand on Vimeo.

Oct.  3 -  Nobel Conference; we won't meet but I encourage you to attend the conference! You will need to write a blog post about at least one of the lectures.

Oct. 10 – Field trip to the College & Church Archives to get some hands-on experience with archival research. For today, read Keepers of the Secrets.

Oct. 17 –  Maps and government documents. For today, read “Information Overload: The Early Years.” and “Is the Internet Good or Bad? Yes” by Zeynep Tufekci. Watch this clip from an old television show, The West Wing. Also, be sure you have conducted your interview of a researcher before fall break.

Oct. 24 – Fall break; no class.

Oct. 31 – reports on your interviews; comparison of disciplinary research traditions. Lab: understanding literature reviews; tapping into the citation network; discussion of your chosen literature review topic.

Nov. 7 - Lab: how primary sources are represented in secondary sources.

Nov. 14 - Lab: tracing the evolving history of an issue through press and journal reports.

Nov. 21 – Lab; social statistics case study. Read for today Joel Best (via Moodle) and "How Racial Data Gets 'Cleaned' in the US Census" by Robyn Autry.

Nov. 28 - Lab: developing a social map of your research area. For today read “Anatomy of an Idea” by Steve Johnson and bring to class at least two of the sources you plan to use in your literature review.

Dec. 5 - the peer review process; the collaborative nature of research. Lab: organizing your literature review.

Dec. 12 – bring a complete draft of your literature review for review by your peers and by me. We will also complete a course evaluation.

No final exam.

interesting stuff found online


about this course

This course will give students interested in going to graduate or professional school—or who simply want to know more about research—an immersion in the structure of the literature of their chosen field and exposure to research tools and collections. Students will conduct a literature review on a topic of their choice and will analyze aspects of their discipline’s traditions, compare them to traditions in other fields, and explore the social and ethical dimensions of research.

This is an open course. Feel free to use the material here.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ideas for blog posts

Your blog posts can be whatever length you like, but will probably come in at 250-500 words. You can illustrate them by including pictures or videos. If you use pictures that aren't yours, seek ones that are licensed for reuse and include a credit and link to the source.

You're expected to write ten weekly blog posts. Two are required. 1) After the Nobel Conference, devote one post to exploring how one of the speakers discussed their research methods and findings and 2) After everyone reports on their researcher interviews right after fall break, write a post that compare the research experiences of our interview subjects. Otherwise, you are free to choose a subject for your posts.

Here are some ideas. 

  • Write a response to something we read for class. (This would be good preparation for class discussion.)
  • Write about a news story or something you've read or discussed in another course that has an information angle
  • Brainstorm about a topic for your literature review.
  • Write about something that has frustrated you when doing research.
  • Write about one of the issues that comes up in class: privacy, censorship, open access to research, how algorithms are being used in ways that reproduce bias . . .
  • Write about some research you've done in the past.
  • Write about research you would like to do some day.
  • Write about something that you've learned in class that surprised you.

Academic Blogs to Explore

  • Apophenia - danah boyd's blog/website about technology and society
  • The Conversation - scholarly research for a general audience using "academic rigor, journalistic flair"
  • Crooked Timber – a group blog about economics, philosophy, politics and other stuff
  • Food Politics – a blog by Marion Nestle who follows public policy and law related to food.
  • The Chronicle Flask - a chemist writes about chemistry in everday life.
  • LSE Impact Blog – from the London School of Economics and Political Science
  • The Message – this is a little hard to describe. Mostly about the intersection of technology and society
  • NPR: Religion - news stories from National Public Radio related to religion.
  • Poetry Foundation - a website that includes news and a poem of the day.
  • Savage Minds – a group blog by anthropologists
  • Tressie McMillan Cottom - website of a sociologist/public intellectual


Barbara Fister's picture
Barbara Fister
I'm happy to meet to discuss your research in my office, over coffee, or wherever it's convenient for you.

Office: Library Lower Level (facing Beck Hall)
phone: x7553
Website / Blog Page
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License