Journal of Southern Academic and Special Librarianship (2001)
Teaching Information Literacy in 50 Minutes a Week:
California State University, Hayward
The development of information literacy is central to the academic success of undergraduates, yet few universities require formal, credit-bearing courses taught by librarians to ensure that students develop these lifelong learning skills and abilities. Where such courses do exist, they are often isolated in the curriculum and rarely linked to the General Education experience. This article describes a General Education program begun in 1998-1999 at California State University, Hayward (CSUH), in which a cohort of students and faculty spend the year exploring a common theme in a series of linked courses, which include an information literacy class. Librarians teach a credit-bearing information literacy course to most incoming first-year students as part of this campus learning community. This article will share experiences related to curricular planning and development, course implementation, and assessment and evaluation of the course, in order to offer librarians suggestions and strategies for mounting a similar experience on their campuses.
Though the term "information literacy" has been around since the 1970’s, information literacy has recently become something of a cause célèbre for librarians (McCrank, 1992). The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) sponsors an annual Institute for Information Literacy Immersion (http://www.ala.org/acrl/nili/immersion01.html), the American Library Association (ALA) defined information literacy in its report by the Presidential Committee on Information Literacy (http://www.ala.org/acrl/nili/ilit1st.html), and ACRL and various state libraries and state library associations have issued guidelines for information competence (http://www.ala.org/acrl/ilcomstan.html, http://cemacolorado.org/l_infolitc.htm, http://www.wlma.org/literacy/eslintro.htm).1 Librarians at CSUH are fortunate enough to be able to speak about information literacy with two full years of experience teaching a credit-bearing Fundamentals of Information Literacy course which has, since 1998, fulfilled a General Education requirement for all matriculating CSUH first-year students. The credit-bearing course was the result of two coinciding processes: a California State University system-wide information literacy initiative, and local efforts to improve the General Education program. Two years of teaching this course have given us some insights regarding curricular planning and development, implementation, and assessment and evaluation. Even those librarians who are not - at least not yet - teaching a for-credit information literacy course can benefit from what CSUH learned about (1) getting such a course off the ground, (2) doing curricular planning for information literacy, (3) implementing information literacy instruction, and (4) assessing and evaluating such instruction.
Instruction in information literacy can be accomplished in various ways in higher education. It can be via information literacy courses, online tutorials, workbooks or course-integrated instruction - any of which can be either elective or required (Germain, Jacobsen, & Kaczor, 2000; Rice, 1986) . Whatever the vehicle, "information literacy efforts need to be … embraced not only by the staff of academic libraries, but also by the faculty and administration of the academic institution. In recognition of the importance of information literacy, [some] state-wide university systems …[undertake] strategic planning to determine information competencies …." (Spitzer, 1998, p.190)
In 1994, the Council of Library Directors (COLD) of the California State University system identified information competence as an area needing action. An Information Competence Work Group was formed to address the issue of information competence in the California State University system and produce a plan of action. By January 1997, the group, chaired by CSU Northridge University Librarian Susan Curzon, had formulated a set of seven core information competencies that all CSU graduates should demonstrate (http://library.csun.edu/susan.curzon/corecomp.html). Briefly, these competencies included the following abilities:
By this time, it was Spring quarter, 1998, and we needed to be ready to teach LIBY 1010 in the Fall quarter! Eight out of ten library faculty had taught a two-unit elective, Information Skills in the Electronic Age (LIBY 1551), in the past. Like most college and university faculty, many of the librarians had never had formal pedagogic instruction or training, but all had taught numerous "one-shot" research classes to students in discipline-based departments. (Cf. Beaubien, Hogan, & George, 1982). For the comfort of the two who had never taught a quarter-long class and in an attempt to standardize the new course’s form, the Library’s three-person Instruction Team created a syllabus, a course outline, and sample class sessions for LIBY 1010. The instruction team also chose a textbook, Carla List’s Introduction to Information Research, (published by Kendall/Hunt, 1998).
Though all readily accepted the team’s course description and objectives (http://www.library.csuhayward.edu/staff/Faust/info_lit/liby1010.htm), we found pleasing everyone with sample class sessions somewhat like herding cats. The ten librarians eventually evolved into clusters of our own: one group of three members, one group of four members, and three "lone rangers," with a resulting total of five somewhat different approaches to teaching the class. Some preferred a more traditional, library-research-oriented class, while others chose to follow the LIBY 1551 class outline, with its increased emphasis on electronic resources, rather closely, but the majority explored new paths to achieve the goals set out by the course objectives, giving more emphasis to evaluation of sources and information ethics. Choosing which librarian would teach which cluster also proved interesting, since there were essentially three science-oriented clusters and only one librarian with a science background. Similarly, there were two heavily humanities-oriented clusters and three librarians who felt entitled by their subject specialties to claim them. Since, however, the clusters were at the first-year level, we concluded that our own subject specialties generally were not so important that any of us could not teach almost any of the classes, and worked out cluster choices amicably.
In addition to planning for their own classes, all members of a cluster’s teaching faculty were required to meet for a total of thirty hours over the summer to 1) develop linkages between the disciplinary courses; 2) plan activities for the activity/support module for all three quarters; and 3) coordinate with the cluster the Composition, Communication, and Critical Thinking classes. The LIBY 1010 classes were not officially linked because there were two other classes which satisfied the information literacy requirement. Because of the lack of official linkage, librarians were generally not thought of in planning these summer meetings; they therefore had to make special efforts to ensure their inclusion.4
After initial contact with other cluster members, a librarian usually tried to remain in contact by phone calls, e-mails, group meetings, or one-on-one meetings. Some library faculty members began the year in contact, but lost contact as the cluster itself did not officially continue to meet. In my own case, the Composition and Critical Thinking instructors and I seemed to make more efforts at keeping meetings and communication going in our cluster than did the faculty teaching the discipline-based science courses. Within a few months of beginning the Fall quarter, we were often the only ones meeting. We eventually ceased meeting regularly.
Some librarians were never able to develop a collaborative relationship with their clusters. Other librarians maintained close contact with cluster faculty all year long, giving them further chances to promote information literacy, and to provide strategies whereby faculty could incorporate it in their other classes (Young & Harmony, 1999). Judy Clarence, the instructor of the LIBY 1010 class that coordinated with "Introduction to Asian Thought," for example, worked very closely with the other members of her cluster for the entire year . Because the discipline-based classes in her cluster required research papers each quarter, she was able to influence several of the assignments given to the students by continuing regular consultations with cluster members, and giving them feedback as to the difficulties students encountered in library research.
Our one-unit classes were fifty minutes long and met only once a week for ten weeks over the quarter, so we were pressed for time to teach the material we thought we should teach. Most library faculty tried to link class examples, in-class activities, and assignments to their cluster’s subject matter. Many library faculty required a final project on a topic of the student’s choice. (Cf. Joyce & Tallman, 1997.) The final project consisted of an annotated, evaluative bibliography and either 1) a "diary" of, or short essay about, the entire process of topic selection, researching a topic, and then choosing, locating, evaluating and presenting information sources, or 2) a short essay about why each of the items in the bibliography was judged useful for the student’s topic. After the first week or two, when assignments were frequently directed toward library orientation and the general organization of information, most instructors created assignments that required the students to find sources on their topics using a different type of information tool each week. These sources were evaluated and cited, and could then be plugged directly into the final project. This worked well for teachers who preferred open rather than closed assignments. That is, the student could work on his or her own research topic ("Find a scholarly article on your topic question"), rather than answer a series of questions that all students would have to answer in the same way (true/false, fill in the blank). Because open assignments allow students more freedom of choice in fulfilling assignments, they are ideally more relevant to individual students’ interests. On the other hand, they are harder and more time-intensive to grade, and some students felt that researching citations for homework assignments and then putting them into the final project was repetitive and pointless.
We strove to provide frequent in-class, active-learning exercises or hands-on computer exercises, but with our restricted class time, this was sometimes difficult. (Cf. Drueke, 1992, Bren, Hilleman & Topp, 1998.) One of the active-learning exercises originally created by Judy Clarence for LIBY 1551 involved handing out reference books with slips of paper in each book. On the slips were questions that were not matched to the book but were answerable by another reference book in the room. The students were given 5 minutes to examine their own books and told to pay attention to such features as subject, format, index, table of contents, scope, prefaces and forewords, etc. Then each student read his or her question slip out loud, the students together determined whose book could answer the question, and the student who had that book had to describe the reference book and find the answer (http://www.library.csuhayward.edu/staff/Faust/info_lit/ref_activity.htm).
In my own class, in addition to creating a handout to help students distinguish popular magazines from scholarly journals, I also gave them hints on how to use clues from the citation (http://www.library.csuhayward.edu/staff/Faust/info_lit/clues.htm) - like length of article, number of authors, title of article, title of journal - to make educated "guesses" as to whether a periodical article was scholarly or popular. Students were then given a list where they labeled citations "P" for popular or "S" for scholarly, and then explained their choices in class.
One of Kate Manuel’s exercises in 1999-2000 involved handing out colored cards with different web site URLs and asking students with similar colored cards (and URLs) to form groups to evaluate the web sites at these URLs. After approximately 10 minutes, the students were asked their opinions as to the validity of the web sites. Since all the sites were fakes, this proved a challenging and amusing exercise. Some of the sites were: California’s Velcro Crop Under Challenge, http://members.unlimited.net/~kumbach/velcro.html, The Taxonomy of Barney, http://www.improbable.com/airchives/paperair/barney.htm and the Mankato, Minnesota "home page," http://www.lme.mankato.msus.edu/mankato/mankato.html.
Since many of the students worked on homework in groups, we also gave quizzes as a way of evaluating each student's individual work. Some instructors gave final exams, as well.
Library faculty working together
The Instruction Team put an electronic folder for LIBY 1010 on our internal computer network so that we could share ideas. Each librarian had his or her own folder within the LIBY 1010 folder for class materials, and all other librarians could get access to these materials through the network. We are, in general, a very collegial group and enjoy sharing ideas, so this was an ideal setup for us. There were two librarians who did not put their folders on the network during the first year, but they were generally "solo types" and preferred not to do so. Most librarians, however, used the folders to share with, borrow from, and improve upon others’ ideas, assignments, etc. By the end of the first year, with myriad adaptations and embellishments made to assignments, it was sometimes hard to remember whose idea had come first. An additional benefit to offering the class was that some of our class handouts were so useful that they were turned into regular library handouts. As each quarter opens, a new set of network folders is created, so we still have a record of the first classes taught as long as the faculty members choose to keep their folders there.
By the end of the first year, two library faculty members had also mounted most class materials (syllabi, handouts, assignments) on the Web so that students could access materials from home in case they missed a class, were sick, or simply lost their homework assignments.5 In the following academic year, 1999-2000, all but one faculty member mounted at least a syllabus on the Web.
During 1998-1999, we primarily used two classrooms. One was our new library teaching lab with an instructor station, a ceiling projector, and sixteen student terminals (Feinman, 1994). We purchased computer control software so that we could project controlled examples of searching to individual students’ screens, but in fact, the software never worked to our satisfaction.6 We found it just as easy to do brief demonstrations via the ceiling-mounted projector and let students do their own hands-on searches at their own terminals. Our other classroom was a more standard classroom with an instructor’s workstation and projector. We had used it for several years and still pressed it into service for LIBY 1010, particularly at the beginning of each quarter. Some library faculty used this classroom almost the entire quarter, since they felt that there was not enough class time to teach, engage in active learning exercises, and also allow the students to do their own searches. The final weapon in our first-year classroom arsenal was a laptop and projector on a cart which we used to move to classes in other library venues (another classroom and a large conference room) when both classroom and lab were in use.
Our class size maximum was thirty students (several faculty accepted even more), and some of our in-class and active-learning exercises worked better with smaller class sizes, so adaptation was necessary. With the teaching lab, we doubled students up at the sixteen computers, which made a virtue of necessity, in that they could help each other with problems. Our other classroom was somewhat of a problem for the larger classes, in that thirty students did not fit well into our small room. So before the 1999-2000 school year, a third and larger classroom in the Library was furnished with an instructor’s workstation and a projector, allowing the larger classes to use this room more comfortably when hands-on access to computers was not necessary.
We wanted to have some measure of our students’ progress beyond formative assessment by instructors in class and summative assessment in graded activities, so our Coordinator of Instruction, Kris Ramsdell, developed a Pre-/Post-Test adapted from one used at Mankato State University for our students to take on the first and last days of the class to measure increasing information competence. We were pleased to note marked increases of correct responses to most questions from the pre-test to the post-test (http://www.library.csuhayward.edu/staff/Faust/info_lit/test.htm).
The following should be taken into account:
To abide by University regulations, and also to get confidential feedback from students as to how they felt we were doing, we also needed evaluation. We had a prior evaluation instrument from LIBY 1551, and we adapted this for use in LIBY 1010 for the Fall and Winter 1998-1999 quarters. It included twenty-eight questions which required numbered ratings and three questions which asked for written comments. By Spring quarter 1999 the sheer numbers of evaluation forms that needed to be read and tabulated made it clear we needed to convert to a Scantron answer form (http://www.library.csuhayward.edu/staff/Faust/info_lit/course_eval.htm) so that machine grading would reduce the time required for feedback to the instructors.
Sample written comments from various teachers’ evaluations, arranged by topic:
From our experience we have learned the following overall lessons which are relevant to teaching information literacy, whether or not one has a credit-bearing course.
1 Recently, even higher education accreditation bodies are emphasizing information literacy. (Curzon, 2000; Rockman, 2000)
2 California State University, Hayward is a public university, part of the California State University system, located in the San Francisco Bay Area. It has an enrollment of 12,855 students - 36% male and 64% female; 34% White, Non-Hispanic, 26% Asian American, 12 African American, 11% Hispanic, 1% Native American, and 12% Other. Only 500-700 students enter as first-year students; the majority are transfer students.
3 The latter class was a hangover of the prior general education system, and it was fairly apparent from the start that this class was not truly fulfilling the information literacy requirement since there was far too little time devoted to the topic. The time that was devoted to information literacy was taught by the library faculty (one or two classes out of the 10 in the summer quarter), so we were in a position to know just how much time was given to information literacy. Similarly, even though the Computer Science class was a 4-unit class, the librarian who is the liaison to computer sciences was only asked to teach one class session to provide core information literacy skills to the students. True to its department it focused most heavily on computer skills, so that at the end of two years of assessment, it is fairly clear that the computer class does not truly satisfy the information literacy requirement. It is less clear what will be done about it. (Update: The week of 4/23/01 it was announced that two of our library faculty had jointly gotten an information literacy grant with the Computer Science faculty to make their class, Computer Science 1020, more truly fulfill the information literacy requirement.)
4 The fact that the General Education coordinator did not have us on her distribution list or on any official G. E. mailing lists for several months into the Winter quarter may have contributed to "amnesia" regarding the library faculty. As well, several librarians felt that LIBY 1010 alone was a huge addition to their already heavy workload and saw little reason to involve themselves deeply in cluster activities. Our own busy schedules, and sometimes our diffidence, contributed to our disconnection from other cluster faculty.
5 We thought perhaps this would obviate the usual "dog ate my homework" kinds of excuses, and some students did appreciate not having to come in to the instructor’s office to pick up copies of homework.
6 Some librarians, however, use the control system just to lock the student terminals temporarily while the library faculty member is giving a demonstration to insure that students will not "play" and miss important teaching points.
7 This attitude was not so evident in the second year, largely because the incoming students already knew about the cluster system. But in the first year, this was enough of a problem to engage a year-end assessment meeting for over an hour. As well, many discipline-based cluster faculty were teaching first-year students for the first time in many years, were unprepared for the "raw material" of first-year students, and had difficulties dealing with students’ resentment of the cluster system.
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The Author wishes to acknowledge the support of her colleagues at California State University, Hayward Library, especially Jennifer Laherty, Judy Clarence, Elizabeth Ginno, and Kris Ramsdell, all of whom worked with her on presentations about the Library 1010 experience. She is particularly indebted to Kate Manuel for her support, suggestions, and encouragement in preparing this article.