The college I work at has a 1 unit Information Literacy class that is a Gen Ed requirement, and I’ve taught it online over the years. I’ve always struggled with getting students interested in the class. The common attitude students have is this: “I already know how to do research. Why must I suffer through this library class?”
I’ve tried to engage students by having them introduce themselves in the week 1 Discussion Forum. I’ve tried assignments prompting students to share their research experiences based on what they learned about the different formats of information introduced in the week 1 readings. Discussion Forums, facilitated effectively, can build community in the online environment. And assignments that prompt students to draw on and then build on their previous knowledge are both examples of constructivist pedagogy touted in online teaching and learning (OTL) literature.
This semester I managed to stumble upon an activity that has resulted in more engaged and interested students. A blogger I follow, the Librarian in Black, has this as her blog’s tagline: “Amazingly informed & therefore properly opinionated”. I started thinking about this tagline in the context of Information Literacy Instruction. Sometimes the focus seems to be more on the ability to locate sources and less on integrating those sources into the creation of new knowledge. Much of my own instruction has focused on the information we take in (retrieval, evaluation, citation) and not so much on the information we put out—the dialogue we enter into as informed citizens of the world.
So, what I did was create a Journal Assignment for week 1 in which students reflected on this question: “Do you consider yourself an amazingly informed member of society? Are you ‘properly opinionated’? If so, where do you get your information and how do you ensure it is factual and unbiased?” Students first had to read about the different formats of information and then view “The Information Cycle”, a video that does a great job of showing how information is disseminated after an event.
I was impressed by the level of engagement with this assignment. I found that it encouraged students to reflect deeply about their level of engagement with information—both in terms of what they take in and what they put out. I was surprised by how many students wrote that they did NOT feel they were “amazingly informed” and that they understood that it is an important civic duty to become better informed.
Maybe this assignment was successful because of the right blend of content. Maybe it was successful because it was a “journal” and students felt free to do some personal reflection. Maybe I’ll do it again next semester and it will be a big flop!