Thursday, August 14, 2014

Studying students to advance information literacy #IFLALimerick

I'm blogging from the IFLA Information Literacy Satellite conference held in Limerick, Ireland 14-15 August 2014. It is hosted by Limerick Institute of Technology but takes place at the Absolute Hotel.
The first keynote speaker was Nancy Fried Foster (Senior Anthropologist at Ithaka S+R: the latter is "a research and consulting service that helps academic, cultural, and publishing communities in making the transition to the digital environment.") Her talk was Studying students to advance information literacy.
She started by mentioning the ACRL standards (the existing ones, not the proposed revision). She idetified that it was straightforward and understandable, but very oriented to behaviours. She identified that there was growing feeling that such a framework should take account of attitudes, students as creator etc. and she mentioned the proposed revised version (since I've blogged about these numerous times I won't say any more about them). Dr Foster said she thought that this document definitely represented progress and felt that it assumed more of an understanding of research. Whereas the standards seemed to represent a "student who does well", whereas the the revised version seems more to match with a real, good researcher.
She argued that if someone is doing good scholarship or research, then de facto they are information literate, and then gave some examples of her research.
The first example was research into how people were using Extensible Catalog, with the research undertaken across four US universities. Dr Foster and her colleagues aimed to get insights into people's research processes through observation, interviews and so forth. They discovered that people's most useful information leads were discovered through personal networks and, for example, their own readings and collections. The participants' offices were often "messy" but things only had to be findable by the person, so the messiness was working for them (I'm reminded of a Sheffield iSchool PhD for which I was recently internal examiner for (the viva of now-Dr Mashael Al-Omar), which looked at how researchers organised their research material - "files and piles" featured strongly!). Dr Foster said that the researchers also mentioned the value of serendipity, and she quoted an undergraduate who talked about the need for him/her to get plugged into conversations which would help his/her research (e.g. conferences, meetings).
Dr Foster highlighted that this behaviour (by people who had demonstrably do good research) did not particularly fit with the old ACRL standards (e.g. they might not be using information "efficiently"). "So if THEY are not up to standard, then the standard has to change". She felt that their behaviour did match better with the proposed new ACRL standards.

Dr Foster then talked about a study of study of faculty members and use of institutional repositories. The article about this is here
After this the speaker showed this Google map of libraries doing ethnographic research and she then talks about a few specific research tequniques
- The first was using map diaries, so participants put where they went e.g. on a campus map.
- The second was using photo elicitation interviews, where you get participants to take photos relating to whatever you are interested in, and then the photos form the focus of interviews
- The third was retrospective interviews, which are a bit like critical incident, but using a comic strip as a focus for unfolding the story
- The fourth was running a design workshop

After this, the speaker moved on to talk about a project based at the University of Chicago, studying 3rd year medical students at 6 medical schools in the USA. They got the students to log/diary their day, noting whenever they had a need for information. This is an ongoing study, so there are just emerging results. Because their days are so packed they make a lot of quick decisions about the cost (time)/benefit of using different sources of information: they are strategic and practical. Again Dr Foster felt that this behaviour fitted more comfortably with the revision to ACRL rather than the old standards.

The final example was "Ripped from the headlines". She referenced a Buzzfeed story (about George Bush socks) that got copied, and the plagiarised reporter then filed an article complaining about the plagiarism. However, the Buzzfeed reporter himself was then taken to task for plagiarising material. Dr Foster asked one of the people about how he/she had managed to investigate this. This had been done by searching for phrases, including in earlier versions of wikipedia. The dialogue about this took place via channels such as Twitter (as it was seen as the best way of getting to many people, particularly media people, all at once), but also got news coverage. Foster asked why the (anonymous) commentators why they did this, and it was because they cared what went on in the world, hold conversations about important things and wanted to encourage good journalism. Foster identified this as example of information literacy. She finished by repeating her message of researching people to discover about their information literacy and what it meant in their context.
Photo by me, taken in the Butlers Chocolate Cafe in Galway, Ireland; a Butlers hot chocolate is chocolate nirvanah.

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