Sunday, October 09, 2016

Critical information literacy unconference #ecil2016

I'm in Prague for the European Conference on Informaation Literacy, and today there was an additional event: an unconference on critical information literacy. These notes are ones that I took at the time (for technical reasons I didn't liveblog them absolutely at once). Several people had pitched ideas for sessions and noone added to these ideas, so in the end there were five topics which had already been pitched.
Andrew Whitworth started by introducing the topic of xenophilia (love of difference) and information literacy. He had done a talk on this earlier in the year, which is here Whitworth was concerned about being open and welcoming and sensitive to different perspectives and contexts, in the workplace and everyday life, and he talked about a range of theories and communities.
Shelly Buchanan led a discussion on authentic co-enquiry in schools. She observed how there has been less and less emphasis on openness and creativity in education, and more and more on block by block learning, with a focus on marks and clear objectives. This makes it more challenging to introduce broader perspectives, with students becoming anxious when faced with diversity and lack of directive teaching.
There was discussion about the importance of dealing with both affective and cognitive aspects of the learning experience, the value of experimenting with teaching approaches, of challenging students. One participant talked about an exercise in which learners had to formulate a meaningful question in statistics – which ended up being “why do a larger proportion of minority students end up in the principal’s office”. This was powerful, as the process of finding the actual statistics revealed a problem that the school had not been aware of, and actual change came about.
Another example was students being allowed to chose any topic at all for a paper, which the students found exciting as well as challenging. I gave an example I had heard about at the IFLA conference, where there was a big whole-school theme (e.g. poverty), with an enquiry-based approach, and the librarian was an important part of the support for enquiry. However, these kinds of initiatives are hard to push through, because of the standards-based approach to school education. The conversation went on to talk about wider problems with the political and educational system – e.g. not taking account of the reality of the changing job market, not giving adequate training to teachers to help them deliver more innovative (values based) curricula, the social and power imbalances in education. There was also a reminder from one participant that Kuhlthau’s guided inquiry model included affective aspects. As part of this, there was the importance of developing a third space, where people feel comfortable and safe to exchange and develop ideas.
The next discussion leader was Bill Johnston, who talked about information literacy as anti-librarianship, as an opposition to “traditional” librarianship. Those espousing information literacy might also be against hierarchy, against a “right answer” approach to information work, against the idea that librarians “have” IL (and it just remains for others to “get it”), against a sense of neutrality as a library professional and towards a position of commitment. This seems to align with emerging narratives about diversity in IL discourse.
There was discussion around the issue of the requirements and expectations of employers, the challenges of enacting educational and activist roles in public libraries, and possibility for more intervention when the librarian has an educational role (and therefore the importance of education in pedagogy). One option is to make a policy statement setting out intentions and rights (for example public libraries making statements about their support for the homeless). There were also dangers in not playing to the standards-based educational system (e.g. The ACRL IL standards were useful in that they gave librarians status within a standards-focused environment).
Next up, Yanan Xie introduced the topic of how to implement critical information literacy in higher education. It could be challenging to take a student-centred approach when the main concern was academic information literacy. She asked for practical examples. One example given in response was when the librarian was asked to do introductions to the library; he sent students to different floors and they had to take pictures of things they found interesting or challenging, those were emailed to the tutor, the pictures were shown to the students and then the students could explain what they had found and also ask questions. Another librarian used a “jigsaw” approach, with different groups of students being asked to research different aspects or different topics, and then having to collaborate to build up the whole picture. Another idea was interviewing a professional in the discipline to discover how they approached the knowledge base and information literacy.
I talked about the exercises l have done with students teaching each other how to search and sharing tips in order to develop their understanding. Another participant mentioned the first year experience conferences and the material there which is relevant. A further suggestion was taking students to specialist libraries, which show the range and variety of information and knowledge. This led to an example of students being introduced to material in order to talk about the development and history of knowledge and what knowledge and information mean in disciplines. There were also suggestions about how librarians could help students understand more why they needed to cite and what citation means e.g. getting students to develop and justify their own citation scheme. The concept of “evidence” was important in developing understanding.
Finally, Bob Schroeder introduced the issue of how class played out in the library. He outlined categories of worker such as student workers, management, faculty, tenured and not tenured (this is in the North American context). Librarians could be seen as elitist because they asserted that they had certain roles, with consequent tensions with other workers. Some of the subsequent discussion was around differences between different countries (e.g. in some countries librarians were not able to interact with students except in the library, because they were not invited into classrooms) and some about the nature of class. There were some very different situations in different countries, with flatter, or more hierarchical, settings. There could be also tensions between different levels of staff when discussing changes.
Thanks to Lauren Smith and Denis Kos for organising the unconference, and the CILIP Information Literacy Group for supporting it.

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