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Resources for Faculty: Information Literacy

Defining Information Literacy

Information literacy means understanding how information in its many forms is produced and circulated, how to interrogate it critically, and how to enter into conversation with other people's ideas ethically when creating information. 

Our students encounter a vast, diverse and ever-changing information landscape daily. We want students to think critically about this information landscape and consider all the questions that it raises, including how is authority generated in various contexts? What does it mean for scholarship to be conversation? Whose voices are oversized, whose are ignored and how do we responsibly respond to those inequities? What are the relationships between information literacy and active participation in democracy?

The Library's understanding of information literacy comes from the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, which outlines six overarching frames:

  • Authority is Constructed and Contextual
  • Information Creation as a Process
  • Information Has Value
  • Research as Inquiry
  • Scholarship as Conversation
  • Searching as Strategic Exploration

We also recommend taking a look at the research being done by Project Information Literacy, which studies the information behavior of young adults. (And Gustavus Professor Emerita Barbara Fister is a member of the PIL team!)

Three Modes

Three Modes of Information Literacy
This document is inspired by our new curriculum. It proposes ways the library faculty feels information literacy should be addressed throughout the curriculum with three distinct aims:
  • to help all new students feel they are welcome in a new and often intimidating academic environment,
  • to help majors think about how information works in their disciplines and how they can enter disciplinary conversations, and
  • to prepare students to interact with information in the world.
What first-year students need
Students deserve some introduction to the library as a symbolic common ground for academic inquiry. We want them to:  
  • feel at home in the library and feel they are part of the intellectual culture of the college
  • feel comfortable asking for help from library employees (students, staff, reference librarians)
  • recognize they have a voice and can contribute to intellectual conversations
Ideas for assignments or activities
  • You Are Here: Ask students to spend half an hour exploring the library, then write a short reflection on how it compares to libraries they’ve encountered in the past.
  • Goldilocks goes to the library: try out three different places in the library to sit and work on homework. What does each feel like? What suits you best? Why?
  • Secrets of the library: in pairs, have students examine something unusual in the library and report back to the class: for example, the SCRIB, old issues of Ladies Home Journal or Life Magazine, the zine collection, the relaxation room, old college yearbooks, etc. This will involve seeking directions from student staff at the information desk or asking reference librarians clarifying questions.
  • Ask around: have students ask an upper class student about their experiences doing research at Gustavus and report back to the class.
  • Your Voice Matters: in the context of the course, ask students to express their own take on something under discussion. Have a discussion in which they compare their ideas to those of other students. The practice reading laterally by searching for sources that address the issue. Discuss the various ways people communicate with other people on a common issue - and how students have a role to play in creating understanding of that issue.
​​What majors need
  • To a large extent, the deepest dive our students have into information literacy is through their major. It is in the major that their knowledge base and exposure to methods is deep enough for them to engage in creating new knowledge within the context of a discipline. We hope students in their major will:
  • understand how people in the field communicate ideas
  • have some strategies for reading the literature of the field
  • gain confidence in forming and expressing their own ideas
  • be able to formulate an effective search for publications in the field and organize what they find meaningfully
  • be able to trace a disciplinary conversation backward and forward through citations
  • know how and why to use sources to frame and/or support their original ideas
​​Ideas for promoting disciplinary information literacy  
  • Strategies for reading the literature: have a department/program discussion about how and when students learn how to parse scholarly texts. Include how to skim, how to recognize the disciplinary standards for presenting research (how the discipline typically organizes a published text), and how to express the main point. Perhaps consider using or another annotation tool to demonstrate and engage students in these processes with a text
  • Bibliographic trace: it is not obvious to students that references reveal networks of thought and map disciplinary conversations. Have students track down sources cited in a course reading or example text. Then have students see who has cited that reading since using Google Scholar. Ask them to report on or write a quick analysis of how the course reading used its sources and how other sources have used it since.
  • Analyze a literature review: disciplines show how research fits into disciplinary networks in different ways. Choose a course reading and have students draw a concept map or create an outline of the main ideas presented in the literature review and how it is organized to prepare readers for the new findings. For disciplines that do not typically have literature reviews as a distinct section of scholarly texts, choose a text and analyze together how the author uses sources as either a foundation for new ideas, as material being refuted, or as evidence supporting an argument. If it seems useful, apply or adapt Bizup’s BEAM method to discuss the different function of sources.
  • Scaffold major research projects: give students time to survey the landscape in which they may discover a question worth asking and write or present what they found; ask for an informal preliminary bibliography stating why three sources would be good for their project and why three would be less useful/rejected (basically, show your thinking process); discuss and ask for a revised list; write a reflective free-writing piece about their question and how they are approaching it; give students opportunities to workshop and revise their final assignment.
What all graduates need
As free human beings living in a complex and conflicted world, students need to have some basic understanding of how information works beyond the academy, whether it’s what news sources to trust, what challenges new media channels present to social cohesion, or how to continue to learn independently and participate in civic life. We want to prepare students to:
  • be able to distinguish in very general terms types of information sources, e.g. news reporting, opinion, satire, advertising, research, etc.
  • be able to distinguish claims of fact from statements of opinion and quickly assess validity
  • be able to analyze arguments and the evidence they use
  • value evidence-based reasoning in all forms of argument
  • be disposed to inquire ethically and honestly
Ideas for assignments or activities
  • Web literacy on the fly: Introduce Mike Caulfield’s “four moves and a habit” heuristic for quickly assessing sources encountered in daily life: see chapters 1 and 2 of Clickbait, Bias, and Propaganda in Information Networks.
  • Research a source (a news organization, a website, an advocacy group): this can be a simple a task as reading a Wikipedia entry about the source (be sure to take a look at the Talk tab), or it could be a deeper investigation into its stated mission, business model, and masthead or board.  
  • Research a social platform: Seek out articles in major news publications (e.g. facebook; twitter, clicking on tools to limit to recent month or year) and discuss what has been in the news. Discuss the implications for public knowledge and civic engagement.
  • Collaboratively map responses to a news event: By reading laterally, construct a map or chart of various ways news organizations and/or popular responses to news interpret the event. Discuss how the language used in headlines, ledes, and associated imagery shape readers’ experiences.
  • Analyze a meme: A 2018 study of college students’ news-reading habits found over 80 percent encountered political memes and considered them part of understanding the news. Have students choose a political or social meme and write an interpretation that contextualizes, interprets, and analyzes the rhetorical aspects of the meme.
  • Complicating beliefs: Agree on a common topic for the class to investigate, have students in groups state a claim about that topic, and ask them to quickly find evidence to back it up. As they search have a group member jot down the moves they make as they search, then discuss. Did they filter for sources that would affirm their belief, discarding ones that didn’t? Discuss how to avoid a premature conclusion and why it’s important to approach issues with integrity and an open mind rather than cherry-picking supportive evidence. Then repeat the process asking students to include in their search sources that contradict or complicate their claim.
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