the amazing, spectacular side of information literacy collaborations

We all read and talk about the difficulties of faculty collaborations.

I was talking to someone just the other day about how heartbreaking I find it to hear brand-new librarians, just out of library school talk in their job talks about all of the tricks and tools they’ll use to urge recalcitrant faculty to consider the possibility that information literacy might be important.  I mean, it’s one thing to listen to someone talking from years of experience working with faculty that forging collaboration is hard.  Those people have earned their cynicism, and are probably stronger for it.

It’s entirely another to hear from a brand-newly minted librarian who should be idealistic and confident about the significance of what we do that they don’t expect faculty will care at all.  Undue optimism, I can overlook.  Unearned pessimism – that breaks my heart.  And makes me a little annoyed at all of the library school faculty out there who start their students off with the premise that faculty won’t want to work with them.

So, for all of you out there who think getting faculty to teach information literacy in a meaningful way is a hopeless goal, that those of us who hold out for that are just tilting at windmills, I’d like you to meet Julie.  Julie and I have worked together on our FYC (first-year composition) class for the last two years.  Julie is  a master’s candidate, working on her own thesis while she teaches her own FYC course, and acts as a program-level teaching assistant as well.  And Julie is well on her way to making me redundant in her class.

And not in a bad way.  This is the kind of redundancy I dream about.  We have one required first year composition course at OSU.  Information literacy assignments represent 10% of a student’s grade in that course.  Generally speaking, instruction librarians like me grade 3 assignments that introduce information literacy concepts to FYC students and also do an hour-long face to face session with them building on the concepts introduced by the assignments.

Because of the extreme pressure put on this one required course, most students do the information literacy assignments during a week where they don’t meet in-class; instead, they meet with their instructor in individual conferences.  In those conferences, students focus on a different paper that the research-based argument paper. So they are truly doing these assignments in a vacuum, without a focus either from their librarian or their writing instructor.

Julie is trying something else.  She’s taking her students through the information literacy assignments, as a writing instructor.  She’s talking to them about research skills in a rhetorical sense.  And it’s awesome.  Seriously – she’s talking about concepts we can only introduce briefly, in the abstract, in depth.  And she’s blogging about it, so you can see it as well.

Here’s the thing – she’s barely started the process and there’s one area where things are different from the norm in an obvious, tangible way.  Her students have come up with awesome, interesting topics.  I have graded approximately one gajillion IL assignments in WR 121, our FYC course, and I know what kinds of topics FYC students usually argue.  Julie’s students are *starting off* from a more interesting place.  They’re writing about topics that are unique and rhetorically interesting.  We have no idea where they’ll end up after this experiment – it might be the same place that all of the other WR 121 students end up in, but I doubt it.  And I doubt it because they’re starting out in a more interesting place.   Seriously, isn’t interesting half the battle?

I am so excited about the face-to-face sessions for her classes.  She’s even bringing them to the library herself before they come over to meet me – they will have thought about questions that seem simple.  Questions like “how do i find a book source for my topic which happened last week.”  Let’s not pretend otherwise – this is what we mean, what we care about when it comes to information literacy.  The ability to think about different sources differently, to think about their topics holistically and in context – that ‘s what I want for my students and I believe that their chances of getting there are better in Julie’s hands than they are in mine.

Which means I can think about that face to face session in terms of how can I build on what she’s already given them?  That gives me the chance to talk about some seriously interesting stuff.  And, honestly, I can’t think of anything more exciting than being that kind of redundant.

5 thoughts on “the amazing, spectacular side of information literacy collaborations

  1. It is so heartening to read about the work that Julie is doing in her class. The ILP is a decent set of online assignments that work when students really engage with the questions, but when students and their instructor use it together to guide their initial research, it is an awesome set of of assignments.
    What are the the key components of assignments for online delivery that get students engaged and started on their research in a meaningful and thoughtful way?
    I sure wish I were in Oregon working on this stuff and talking about these things.

  2. Hey, thanks!

    I hope it all works out. It seems to be a good start. I’ve been looking at their ILPs and for the most part they look pretty good. I’m really excited about the possibility that my students will enter the research process asking questions rather than making claims.

  3. Yay, Julie!

    And yes, interesting IS half the battle. Yes yes! :)

    I’m excited to be following Julie’s lead. My classes are two class-periods behind Julie’s, so I’m in a good position to take advantage of her experiences / insights.

    I’m not working through the ILP with my students (the did it the “usual” way — this past week while I was holding individual conferences). But I do hope I have helped them go with more interesting-to-them topics. We’ll see. At one of my conferences, I was talking to a student about getting started on the ILP and picking a topic, and she said, “Really? We can research anything? Dragons!?” She said it as if to test the “everything” concept, not so much that she really wanted to do dragons. Anyway, I said, “Yes!” and gave her a few examples of how someone could research dragons (say, how they’re used in pop culture, in children’s literature… maybe how they are or are not an archetype… maybe what they do or do not symbolize… soemthing like that). She seemed to get that “ooh, then I’ll have to put more thought into this assignment” look on her face.

    Fun stuff. :)

    Laura

  4. What I love about what Julie is doing is that she is bridging a crucial gap for the students. She’s showing them that they don’t have to regard research as something separate from the things they care about, think about and want to know more about. Bravo!

  5. Julie’s work is really exciting as a model for other TA’s (and instructors) for what they can do. She’s going to be documenting this for her project as one of the Comp Assistants so that we may be able to move some of this into the standard WR 121. It will be a great resource for all of us. For first term TA’s, though, I think it’s probably more than they can handle. But maybe not. Maybe I’m underestimating the overwhelmedness of the first term of teaching. I’m so thankful that she is willing to experiment and do the extra work – extra thinking, less time for conferences, etc.

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