The Connecticut information literacy conference took place on Friday, June 14, at the University of Hartford and had the theme “What's Grit Got to Do With It? New Approaches for IL Instruction”.
In his very interactive keynote address, “Coming Clean About Grit: Challenging Dominant Narratives in Information Literacy,” Eamon Tewell. Head of Research Support and Outreach for Columbia University's Science, Engineering, & Social Science Libraries, discussed the idea of deficit thinking. This refers to a mindset that sees teaching as solely a way to fill students with knowledge; in this scenario, students are “blank slates,” ready to absorb information from a teacher. There is no conception of the student already having knowledge that they bring to the table and no idea of knowledge also flowing from student to teacher. Prompted by questions from Tewell, attendees explored ways in which they could challenge deficit thinking in their own classrooms. Slides from the keynote are available at tinyurl.com/CTinfolitGrit.
If You Build It and They Still Don’t Come
In this breakout sessions, Jessica Kiebler, Library Director, and Amanda Piekart, Information Literacy Instructional Designer, both at Berkeley College, NJ, discussed “getting gritty” when plans don’t go as expected. They first defined grit in academic libraries as having to do with passion and perseverance. Grit can be personal or part of a team culture, they said, and involves not giving up when things go wrong; it is best fostered where librarians are allowed to fail.
At Berkeley, explained Kieber and Piekart, IL is built into the curriculum across 11 courses. Instruction is mainly done through one-shot sessions, though there is also extra support for honors students. A project-based internship is available to online classes and this has been a particular focus of IL instruction, and was the focus of this session. The course requires students to select a company and research it. Librarians collaborate with the relevant professors all semester. The support began with one librarian building a LibGuide for the internship course and has built from there, but there have been hiccups.
Some factors are outside the library’s control. The assignment is confusing, for example, and this has meant that the LibGuide is hard to organize. Faculty doesn’t push the LibGuide, either, so the librarians set up a discussion board in addition to the guide, but it didn’t provide enough student support. The questions were too open ended.
A task force was set up to update the discussion board, concentrating on the phases of the project one at a time. One helpful fix was that the faculty were asked to make the discussion areas available for longer so students would have plenty of time to talk. The LibGuide was also still available and the library asked the LMS administrators to make it available in every project class. The librarians also began to support students using Skype calls. Students found this valuable, and it helped librarians too to hear where the students were struggling. Next semester they will use a standard form to assess how the discussion board is going, so that each librarian will then assess its efficacy in the same way.
Because the library still wasn’t satisfied with faculty usage of library services for internship-project students, the librarians built a short—11 question--faculty survey to find out what kind of support would work best. The survey was sent to faculty via email and in the faculty newsletter, but it had a low response rate. The librarians responded by going to faculty day and using iPads to survey professors on the spot, but still some professors still asked to answer later. The librarians realized that though they couldn’t make sweeping changes based on a low number of responses, they could still do something. Faculty said they wanted more than one-shot IL sessions, and the library implemented that change. Professors also said that they wanted more individual outreach. The library started a spreadsheet that showed which librarians knew which professors, and now they make individual contact accordingly.
The Berkeley College library recently underwent another project that required grit: moving from using Blackboard as its LMS to Canvas. A librarian chaired the Canvas conversion committee but librarians were largely left out of the conversation. Worst of all, faculty ported some information from Blackboard to Canvas that was no longer relevant and offered librarian services—but didn’t inform the librarians. Faculty were upset at the library for not following through on support even though the library wasn’t aware of the support offer. The problem created an opportunity as they had the deans send faculty a “request a librarian” form. They gained a lot of connections that way.
Keibler and Piekart concluded with one overall piece of advice: When anything large is happening in your institution, contact all stakeholders. Turn your failure into an opportunity to reintroduce your services.