Friday, July 25, 2014

My First Keynote

“The library is a summons to scholarship.”
This Wednesday, I experienced a professional milestone: I co-presented a keynote presentation at the second annual PA Forward Information Literacy Summit, at Penn State, University Park, in State College, PA. 

My co-presenter was Ellysa Stern Cahoy, Education and Behavioral Sciences Librarian and Assistant Director Pennsylvania Center for the Book, at Penn State University Libraries. She and I both served on the planning committee for this one-day conference of about 100 attendees focusing on information literacy in Pennsylvania libraries and beyond. In fact, she was the one invited to deliver the keynote which would focus on the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. Ellysa then reached out and invited me to co-present this keynote with her. She said the breakout session I delivered at last year’s Summit had an impact on her thinking re: how we frame information literacy with teaching faculty, and invited me to collaborate on the keynote presentation the Summit planning committee hoped to offer on the ACRL Framework. Needless to say, I enthusiastically accepted Ellysa’s invitation, marking this the first time in my professional life I have delivered a presentation contextualized and offered as a “keynote.” 

I am very proud of what Ellysa and I presented, and I wanted to share some of it here. Our presentation was titled, ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: Implications for Practice, and the goal of the presentation was to interpret the latest draft of the Framework (June 2014) through the lens of our information literacy instructional practice. This meant of course providing an overview of the Framework: the process through which it is being developed as well as its structure and content. We then identified four implications for practice we identified in the Framework, where we each covered two. Finally, we offered brief remarks containing strategies for implementing the Framework in our libraries.

I want to share several things here from the presentation, both for posterity and because I like sharing my work so others may benefit (if any benefit is to be had). First, I’ll share a high and a low from my first experience of giving a keynote. Next, I’ll share some tweets from attendees who live tweeted the presentation. Then, I’ll embed the slide deck from the presentation. And finally, I will share the remarks I read for my portions of the presentation, which were to address two of the four implications for practice (“Collaboration with faculty across disciplines” and “Information literacy as a metaliteracy”) and the strategies for implementation we offered at the conclusion of the presentation. I was told the presentation was video recorded: if the video is posted and made publicly available, I will update this post to include it as well. 

UPDATE: Here is the link to the video of us delivering this keynote. The video contains both keynotes for the day, and ours was second, so skip to 1:11 for our presentation.

High: At one point while I was speaking, as I made a point related to collaboration with teaching faculty leading to a decreased reliance on the one-shot information literacy session, a librarian about my age near the front row of the auditorium broke into applause accompanied by an enthusiastic cheer. A few others caught her enthusiasm and applauded along for a brief moment. It was pretty rad, and definitely a first for me!

Low: Being asked for my business card during the break after the presentation, and having to respond that I didn’t have any (and in fact, have never carried business cards in my six years since beginning my professional career #professionalfail). I did, however, immediately email the librarian who asked, using my phone, from my work email address and containing my email signature, with an embarrassed apology for not carrying business cards, so I still made sure she got my contact information. This is something I’ll need to fix before my next major conference, which will hopefully be next spring (if one of my proposals is accepted for it…)

The presentation in tweets:

Conference hashtag: #PAFILS14

Presentation slide deck:

ACRL's Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: Implications for Practice from Donna Witek

My remarks on “Collaboration with faculty across disciplines”:

The second implication for practice we’d like to explore with you today is how the Framework enables collaboration with faculty across disciplines.

As a flexible Framework for teaching and learning information literacy, this document invites collaboration between librarians and teaching faculty in ways that the Information Literacy Standards did not. The Framework emphasizes the “vital role of collaboration and its potential for increasing student understanding of the processes of knowledge creation and scholarship" (Draft 2, June 2014, p.30). In fact, in the June 2014 draft of the Framework, collaboration is mentioned twenty-nine times in around as many pages, illustrating the extent to which it is prioritized.

One way the Framework enables collaboration is through the use of a threshold concept approach to information literacy. This approach not only encourages, but demands conversations with faculty around threshold concepts in order for these concepts to be effectively taught.

Threshold concepts by their very nature must be developed and mastered over time, since a student can approach the threshold for an important IL concept without actually crossing over. This approach toward understanding will occur in many courses, through many learning activities, and in multiple learning contexts, both inside and outside the academic classroom.

In order to successfully facilitate students’ approach toward, arrival at, and crossing over the threshold toward understanding and mastery of these important IL concepts, we librarians must reach out to teaching faculty and begin a conversation about what these concepts are, how they work in practice, and ways both librarians and traditional course instructors can design instruction to develop in students an understanding of these concepts.

The Framework describes this need for conversations around threshold concepts in the following way:

A vital benefit in using threshold concepts as one of the underpinnings for the new Framework is the potential for collaboration among disciplinary faculty, librarians, teaching and learning center staff, and others. Creating a community of conversations about this enlarged understanding should create conditions for more collaboration, more innovative course designs, more action research focused on information literacy, and a more inclusive consideration of learning within and beyond the classroom. (Draft 2, June 2014, p.26)

Once we initiate these conversations, the next goal we should be aiming for is the integration of information literacy throughout the curriculum.

For students to successfully develop understandings of these ‘big picture’ concepts for IL,  they need to engage in learning activities designed to develop these understandings in multiple learning contexts, throughout the curriculum and even outside it. A threshold concept approach to IL challenges our professional reliance on the ‘one-shot’ model of information literacy instructional programming. The Framework creates a need for deeper integration of information literacy into students’ courses and programs, such that students will be able to transfer information literacy knowledge, skills, and behaviors between contexts. This transfer of knowledge, skills, and behaviors is more likely to occur when students are instructed in them in a scaffolded manner throughout the curriculum, and our role as librarians is to facilitate this scaffolding. 

Dr. Troy Swanson, Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College and member of the Revision Task Force, connects threshold concepts to the integration of IL into the curriculum in the following way:

. . . these concepts open a point of conversation between faculty members and librarians. Since the new framework does not outline skills to teach, but, instead, thresholds of understanding and dispositions for action, librarians and faculty can explore how students develop as information literate learners within the curriculum. This is a move past the one-shot session toward more meaningful pedagogical exchange. (, 20 Feb 2014)

If threshold concepts for information literacy are so complex that they must be integrated into the curriculum in order to be taught, an important but controversial question arises: In what ways can we share responsibility for information literacy instruction with our colleagues in other disciplines?

I am an advocate for embedding information literacy so deeply within courses that it is possible the librarian will no longer need to offer targeted instruction to those courses. This can occur through collaborative assignment and even course design at the level of student learning outcomes. It can also occur through an embedded library instruction model designed to, over time, ‘teach the teacher’ in how to teach the things historically allotted to the librarian alone. This model is not a good fit for all courses, particularly those with complex material in the content area of the course, but inviting course instructors to participate in your information literacy instruction as co-teacher can go a long way in decreasing the reliance of that course on you, the librarian, so you can then target other courses in which to do the same.

When deep collaboration occurs between librarians and teaching faculty, information literacy will be present in the course even when the librarian is not. The Framework provides for us the mindset, language, and rhetorical position from which to make the case to both teaching faculty and administrators that this kind of integration benefits students, both in their learning and in their formation into critically informed citizens and persons in society.

My remarks on “Information literacy as a metaliteracy”:

The final implication for practice we are offering today is the understanding within the Framework of information literacy as a metaliteracy.

The term metaliteracy was first introduced to the profession in 2011, when Tom Mackey and Trudi Jacobson published an article in College and Research Libraries called “Reframing Information Literacy as a Metaliteracy.” They have since expanded and developed further their definition of metaliteracy, and understand it as
a comprehensive framework for information literacy that unifies related literacies to advance critical thinking and metacognitive learning. . . . [that] expands the scope of traditional information literate skills . . . to include the collaborative production and sharing of information in participatory digital environments . . . (Mackey and Jacobson, 2014, p.1)
It is worth taking a moment to unpack this definition of metaliteracy and relate it to our IL instructional practice. For our purposes today, the vital elements of metaliteracy that have been integrated into the Framework can be summarized as follows:
The environment and context in which learners engage with information has drastically changed since the Information Literacy Standards were developed in the year 2000,
which means learners are now information creators, curators, and sharers, in addition to the more traditional roles the Standards articulated.
This in turn now requires that learners develop greater and deeper metacognition related to their own information attitudes, behaviors and practices,
in order to constantly improve and strengthen their ability to thrive in this new environment.
By so doing, they develop into information literate learners.

The most recent draft of the Framework ties these ideas together when it says metaliteracy

“offers a renewed vision of information literacy as an overarching set of abilities in which students are both consumers and creators of information in multiple formats,”
“demands behavioral, affective, cognitive, and metacognitive engagement with the information ecosystem,”
and requires “critical self-reflection, as crucial to becoming more self-directed in that rapidly changing ecosystem” (Draft 2, June 2014, p.2).

So if the Framework conceives of information literacy as a metaliteracy, the question for our IL instructional practice is, What are the pedagogical opportunities that arise as a result?

One opportunity comes from the fact that information literacy is now situated in participatory digital environments such as social media and networking sites. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are shaping the way students encounter, understand, interpret, and use information in their everyday lives. When they attempt to conduct research in traditionally academic environments like databases and OPACs, one way to help students successfully transfer between the two is to make connections between these academic information environments and the participatory ones they are accustomed to. In what ways are the environments similar? In what ways do they differ? Can you build learning activities through which students can experience these similarities and differences first-hand, and then discuss (metacognitively) what they experienced, in the community of your classroom? How else can we use participatory digital environments as a lens through which to illuminate and facilitate the research process for and with students?

Because of the proliferation of these participatory digital environments, students are now knowledge creators. This is of course in addition to the traditional roles they have always filled in relation to information. But the power to click “publish” across the web has eliminated the barriers to knowledge creation that existed before. How can we harness this power in our IL classrooms, perhaps by utilizing platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and blogs as tools for knowledge creation? Can we empower students to contribute their voices to the discourses and conversations that matter to them, while yet developing in them a disposition toward responsibility that comes with this power? Might we also help students make connections between the academic work they produce for their courses and their role as creators of knowledge?

Metacognitive reflection not only can, but should be featured as a learning activity. By learning activity I mean in-class activities and assignments: two things librarians can influence in relation to information literacy instruction. Metacognitive reflection as learning activity can take many forms: blogging, tweeting (yes, tweeting offers an opportunity to metacognitively reflect on one’s thoughts and ideas, and the thoughts and ideas of others), in-class discussion (which could be either synchronous in-person discussion or asynchronous discussion taking place in online learning environments), or good old fashioned pen and paper responses to reflective prompts developed by you, the librarian, and designed so students must reflect on their own learning and research processes in order to respond. Metacognitive reflections like these will go a long way toward assessing whether a student has achieved understanding of the threshold concepts for IL, making them a valuable tool in our collective toolkit as we embark on putting the Framework into practice at our institutions.

My remarks on “Strategies for implementation” of the Framework:

We’d like to conclude with brief remarks on strategies for implementing the Framework at your institutions and in your information literacy programs.

Throughout academic year 2013-2014, my library colleagues at The University of Scranton and I have been fortunate to attend professional development opportunities related to the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. At one such event -- the Connecticut Information Literacy Conference -- the theme for the day was “Our New Frontier: Metaliteracy, Threshold Concepts, New Standards, and Other Wild Ideas.” In the closing panel, librarians from Trinity College in Hartford, CT, each presented ways they have used the Framework in its draft form to identify intersections between the Framework and work they are already doing in their information literacy program. In this way, at Trinity College the Framework served as a lens through which to understand in a new way the things they are already offering by way of information literacy instruction. I was struck at how respectful and, frankly, intelligent this approach to implementing the Framework is, in the earliest stages of implementation. Rather than feel pressured to overhaul an entire instruction program overnight -- or at least, before the old Standards are sunsetted by ACRL -- I am inspired by Trinity College to instead use the Framework as a new way to understand the things I’m already doing on both the individual and programmatic level in my library, and I encourage you to do the same.

Related to this first strategy for implementation is the second I’d like to offer: approaching the Framework as providing new language and concepts to communicate what you do and how you do it. Listening to librarians at Trinity College present about their Spring 2014 information literacy projects in instruction, outreach, and assessment, using the language and vocabulary of the Framework, was very impressive as a conference attendee -- especially since the conference was in June of this year, mere months after the first draft of the Framework had been shared with the profession by the Revision Task Force. But as impressed as I was, I also observed that what they had done was not so difficult that I couldn’t do the same if I put in the work of mapping the student learning outcomes I’ve been teaching for years to the frames that form the backbone of the Framework. Once mapped, an entire new set of terms and concepts would be at my fingertips, with which I could then communicate my information literacy instructional outcomes in my annual reports, my assessment reporting, my personal narrative for the purposes of peer evaluation and performance review, and any number of other channels through which we share what we do with others.

And finally, once these first two strategies are applied, the third is likely to follow: understanding the Framework as a process through which to transform the goals you set for your information literacy instruction and programs. I truly believe this Framework’s greatest impact will be on our own professional thinking in relation to information literacy instruction, pedagogy, and design, collectively as a profession and individually as information literacy instruction practitioners. As our thinking shifts, so will our programs and instruction. And in this way the Framework is poised to transform both our thinking and practice of information literacy in our libraries and institutions.

Thank you.

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