Promoting information and digital literacy

A few months ago I had the opportunity to interview for an educational technology director position at a highly selective liberal arts college in the Southeast. The position was unusual for me at the time in that it would be housed completely in the library and would be in charge of library staff, in addition to instructional technology staff. An essential part of the job talk would be to articulate how I would promote information and digital literacy in this position. Up to this point all my experience in the digital humanities and instructional technology had been at the intersection of information technology and the library, but never fully in the library. I also had a background in instructional technology and not library science, which I thought could potentially be seen as a weakness by the hiring committee.

Digging deeper into the topic of information and digital literacy, however, I was surprised to find out that much of my training in instructional technology complemented what libraries are seeking to accomplish by promoting information and digital literacy. In fact, coming to the problem as an outsider, so to speak, allowed me to see it in ways that a person with a degree in library science may not. Although I was eventually offered the position, I decided not to accept it in order to pursue other options that had opened up to me in the meanwhile. Nevertheless, the whole interview process was a fantastic learning experience for me and allowed me to explore points of connection that I had not previously seen between instructional technology and the library.

Below are the notes I prepared for the job talk and a slideshow of my presentation slides.

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Slide 1

Today I would like to talk about how I envision information and digital literacy can be promoted through blended and problem-based learning.

Slide 2

There are a lot of different ideas about what information and digital literacy is. In this presentation I would like to:

  • Explore some core definitions to define the task at hand
  • Look at some challenges and areas of growth
  • Present a blueprint for moving forward at your institution
  • Present two brief examples that use blended learning to insert information and digital literacy into the curriculum
  • Present an in-depth example of a course capstone experience that inserts information and digital literacy into the curriculum
  • Tie the thoughts together with a summary

Slide 3

The main idea I would like you to take away from my presentation is the complementary nature of learning and technology. In other words: “Learning to use technology, using technology to learn.”

Slide 4

Let’s get down to figuring out the task at hand. The quote you see on the screen is standard definition of information literacy found on the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) website. I added the term “digital literacy” as it was included in the 2016 New Media Consortium Horizon Report.

Slide 5

But how do we take this definition and make something we can act upon and evaluate? From an instructional design perspective I see some intellectual skills (recognize and evaluate information) and some psychomotor skills (locating and using information). Information itself can assume many different forms (e.g., OER, data sets, digital repositories).

Slide 6

It is also important to note that information technology skills play a central role in promoting information and digital literacy.

Slide 7

These skills assume many different forms: Coding expertise, software proficiency, and familiarity with hardware.

Slide 8

And this brings us to the task at hand: (1) to design instruction that teaches students, faculty, and staff to critically evaluate information in all its forms; (2) to use tools and machine languages to access that information; and (3) to use tools and machine languages to configure that information in new ways.

Slide 9

If that was not hard enough, there are some challenges: (1) instruction will differ from field to field (e.g., French and Biology); (2) needed instruction will change over time (e.g., changing jobs); (3) technology will change over time, too; (4) limited staff, a lot of students and faculty; (5) the type of credit awarded for instruction; and (6) access to instruction.

Slide 10

These challenges go to the heart of many debates about higher education today. If we want to create life-long learners, should we also support them as well once they leave the institution? How will we do this? If we create open educational resources to do so, should we make them available to other people and institutions? Will working together with other institutions help us realize our objectives faster?

Slide 11

If we create instruction, how will we get students to use it? Do we need certificate programs? What about alumni who have graduated and need to “tool up”? Will their employers recognize a nanodegree from an institution? What would the registrar have to say about this?

Slide 12

So how do we tackle this problem? How do we create an institutional structure to address these issues and promote information and digital literacy? There is a lot of information and digital technology out there. The risk is either to go too deep in one area, and not have important bases covered, or to attempt to do everything, and lack the depth to do any meaningful work.

Slide 13

I suggest that members of the library and information technology teams strive to be proficient in three areas: training, design, and teaching.

  • Training: a primary emphasis on a tool and learning theory; cross-training in other areas.
  • Design: being embedded in one course and involved in one project.
  • Teaching: involved in a workshop and a working group.

What I would like to stress is the importance of connecting learning theory with tools as a way to establish instructional design best practices.

Slide 14

In the end, these three areas – training, design, and teaching – merge together to create a synergy for promoting information and digital literacy. Training influences teaching, teaching is supported by design, and design opens up evaluation and best practices, which feeds back into training. This synergy does not stagnate at one level, but is constantly moving forward and growing as new topics are explored and instructional materials are developed.

Slide 15

I see the three areas mentioned in the previous slide – training, design, and teaching – being implemented in four tracks: (1) workshops and working groups; (2) certificate programs or the like; (3) layered curricula; and (4) flexible curricula. The left side leans more towards face-to-face teaching, the right side leans more towards instructional design a the course level. I think the idea of a working group or workshop should be fairly understandable. I will go into more detail about the remaining three tracks in the coming slides

Slide 16

A certificate program may be something that provides incentive for students and is flexible (and small) enough to provide various combinations. Something similar has been started at BYU in the College of Humanities (Humanities+ or +Humanities programs). A certificate program would be larger than a class, smaller than a minor. It would also require input and collaboration from various departments and units from around the university. Certificate programs would be interdisciplinary by nature and would need a physical location to promote the synergy that I mentioned in the earlier slide. Do we want to connect these programs with a makerspace or a Center for Creativity and Innovation in the library?

Slide 17

Blended learning allows for creative approaches to layering new material over existing curricula. I explored such an approach when creating the Business German Program at Elon University. The course layered online instructional materials over an existing second language curriculum and was complemented by biweekly face-to-face labs that used projects to focus student activity. Instructors interested in implementing a similar approach in their courses could tool up in joint library and information technology workshops to create online instructional materials (e.g., Introduction to Camtasia workshops) and collaborate with other instructors across campus in a Project-Based Learning working group to develop the labs.

Slide 18

Blended learning also allows for more flexible instructional approaches. Librarians and instructional designers could be embedded in course, for example: ENV 101, Introduction to Environmental Studies. They would work with students and instructors to create material that offloads some of the teaching to a web-based environment. The space that is opened up during the week by offloading the material could be used to create a problem-based learning capstone experience. Here: Using ArcGIS to map wildlife locations. To get this capstone experience off the ground, faculty could take workshops on how to map in ArcGIS and share ideas for the capstone experience with other instructors in the Problem-Based Learning Working Group. Maybe a student who enrolls in the course would like to do more with ArcGIS and learns to code in Python with the certificate program.

Slides 19-22

So what would a potential capstone experience look like? Let’s dig a bit deeper with a project I have been working on and see how we can apply something similar to a course that is taught at your institution in order to create a challenging course capstone experience. The Uncle Sam (Constancia) Plantation was built around 1829 and torn down in 1940 to make way for a levee. It was one of the most intact and architecturally-unified plantation complexes in the Southeastern United States.

Slide 23

Using the floor plans, elevations, and images, I was able to create a 3D model of the plantation in SketchUp, a 3D modeling computer program.

Slide 24

I then took the models that I developed in SketchUp and imported them into Unity, which is a cross-platform game engine and integrated development environment (IDE) that is used to develop video games for PC, consoles, mobile devices and websites. I also wrote some C# code that creates basic quest structures to structure user activity in the simulation. The image you see here is a 3D simulation of the building; a VR simulation could also be easily produced. The most important thing to emphasize here is the idea that every model is an argument that must be backed up with facts. A lot of research is required to ensure accuracy. What did the walls look like? Where did the materials and furniture come from? What were the rooms used for? A simulation is a system that mimics other systems (plantation economy and social classes). How do these systems function and interact? What happens if you change a variable? In a sense, this is a new form of research paper.

Slide 25

Another interesting thing to note is that the scope of this project – and others like it – could be expanded to include other departments and units around the university. The music department and its recording studio could be involved to handle the topic of African American spirituals: When were they sung? What was their sociocultural significance? Where can we find sound archives? How do we code this music and its meaning into the game? Or the topic of French immigrants in Louisiana: With whom did they have contact? Why did they come to the United States? What connections did they maintain with France? What letters did they write? How do these written texts get included in the digital narrative of the simulation? Hundreds of possible questions and new connections, facilitated by just one project.

Slide 26

So what is information and digital literacy? This quote, taken from the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education on the American Library Association website, says it best, I think: Knowledge in action.

Slide 27

Or, if I highlight some key phrases in the quote: Constructing new knowledge through experience, community, and activity.

Slide 28

In sum, information and digital literacy: (1) is a lens for focusing student and faculty activity; (2) empowers students and faculty; (3) gives students the tools for solving ill-structured problems; (4) can help to expand curricula and make them more flexible; (5) cultivates networks, partnerships, and communities of practice; (6) is a means of promoting deeper learning; (7) is a potential source of research and grant funding; and (7) can be a catalyst for program and institutional growth

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