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Metrolina 5th Annual Information Literacy Conference

17 June 2010, Charlotte, NC

This was the first Metrolina Information Literacy Conference I’ve attended, with a program that prompted some dithering over which sessions to choose-always a positive sign.

“Information Literacy Examined in Multicultural Context,” presented by keynote speaker Dr. Clara Chu of the Department of Library and Information Studies at UNCG, was the most thought-provoking of all the talks. Grounded at once in theory as well as in personal conviction and at times painful life experience, the lecture commenced by stressing the vast amount of information that inundates us every day, but adding that although we now have unprecedented access to diverse sources of information it is also difficult to distinguish information from noise and inaccuracy. Professor Chu defined a range of types of diversity: human diversity as broadly encompassing physical differences, life experiences, and personal preferences; cultural diversity as different beliefs, values, and personal characteristics; and systems diversity as variable organizational structure and management. She singled out the importance of critical literacy which fosters diverse ways of looking at information , questioning attitudes, values, and beliefs, and enabling one to uncover social inequality and injustice, as a means of being an agent of social change.

Multicultural literacy is the knowledge of culture and language. From feminist studies Chu singled out positionality, whereby one recognizes what one brings to the table in terms of social demographics, cultural characteristics, and language. She listed evaluation criteria for multicultural content or multimedia materials:

  1. Objectivity or bias such as racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, homophobia, or ageism; this is characterized by unrealistic representation, imbalance, omission, stereotyping, and fragmentation. For example, a library may have information about a community but not BY the community, inadvertently omitting their own voices. Counter-narratives tell the other story, affording perspectives that run counter to the presumed ones and alternatives to the dominant discourse.
  2. Language diversity, variance within languages, and language bias, once again bearing the potential for racism, sexism, homophobia, or ageism with loaded terminology, ridicule, exaggeration, mispronunciation, slander, or offensiveness. She raised the question of whether libraries are doing enough to provide multi-language access, and suggested using an approximate tool such as google translator.
  3. Subject, such as scope, authority, authenticity, and accuracy.
  4. Resources imbalance or selectivity, invisibility or omission, scope, diversity of format perspective and language.

Finally, she addressed cultural competency, which includes ethnic competence and an awareness of one’s own cultural limitations. By way of example, she listed characteristics of American culture: self-expression, equality, and informality, achievement, self control of destiny, individualism and authority in non-authoritarian relationships. By contrast, a Latino/a patron might be characterized by allocentrism (community orientation), simpatico, familialism, personal space issues, time orientation, gender roles, and respect for authority. Cultural competence also includes openness to cultural differences, utilizing cultural resources, and acknowledgement of cultural integrity. Multicultural literacy, she emphasized, is prominently one of the literacies of the twenty-first century.

“Classroom 2.0: Bringing Interactivity into Library Instruction,” presented by Jenny Dale, Amy Harris, and Lynda Kellam of UNCG, was an engaging and predictably interactive session. Prefacing the session with a nod to instructional design, which is intended to make the knowledge transfer happen in a deliberate, systematic, and appealing way, the group went on to advocate for interactivity as a means of engaging students and distributing power and responsibility. A few “Think-Pair-Share” sessions demonstrated the merit of interactivity as we variously pondered and proffered rationales for interactivity or the merits/demerits of our assorted libraries. Another exercise actually got us out of our seats as we wandered about the room in a modified reprise of the old “Sardines” childhood game, bearing slips of paper and searching for research statements and related keywords where we might all legitimately congregate together. It is always enormously helpful to get ideas for interactive strategies, so this was a particularly useful, pragmatic session.

“Teach Smarter Not Harder: Classroom Tips and Techniques,” with Sherry Bagwell, a retired educator from the Greenville County Schools, SC, was the one session that proved to be less than useful. The brief summary in the conference program had not indicated that the intended audience was in fact public school librarians and teachers, so although there were numerous tips and suggestions, they were not really germane to our higher education setting-and happily so, since many referred to problematic situations and behaviors, which we seem to be blissfully ignorant of and largely immune to, as far as I’m aware. She outlined core beliefs in the primacy of caring and the inevitability of conflict, and warned against attaching rewards to grades or to behavior. Behavior can be changed and good behavior must be taught, and good discipline is timely discipline. There was some discussion about different types of teachers: authoritative, permissive, and authoritarian, and the situations in which various approaches might tend to emerge.

Finally, I attended Mary Scanlon’s excellent session, “Increasing Intellectual Engagement in an Info-lit Class for Business Majors.” Her voice projecting valiantly through the ravages of persistent laryngitis, Mary described challenges in teaching an advanced business research course, as well as considerations in devising solutions. She cited numerous distractions for students: the numerous and diverse types of resources, databases and web sites, and the elusive critical thinking process that may or may not enable a student to connect a need with a germane resource. She sought approaches that would hold the students’ migratory attention spans and assignments that would reinforce knowledge and engage students with the research materials. She nonetheless had to bear in mind students’ frequently articulated expectations of the appropriate workload for a one-credit course(familiar, anyone?). Mary offered numerous tactics, including the following:

More graded, hands-on activities, including student presentations (e.g. students responsible in groups for teaching databases)

More of the course grade dependent on intellectual engagement with material (via the class blog and discussion), worksheets, and quizzes

In order to focus students’ attention, she consolidated the syllabus to four primary topics: company information, industry information, market research, and accounting information; and she covered fewer resources, two or three per topic with more time devoted to each and attention to drawing parallels among the resources.

She devised worksheets that were essentially guided note-taking, and were completed during class sessions. In these worksheets students were to describe contents and to list tools for refining a search and for managing results. Quizzes reinforced class content and applied tools learned in class, and written reports, 2-3 pages in length, required the use of certain resources, and were skill-based, involving critical thinking and integrating information from multiple sources.

Tactics to engage student attention included daily group presentations, weekly blog postings, and class discussion. Students had to teach databases, for which she provided initial orientation by way of jing videos.

In conclusion, course components that worked well included the worksheets, quizzes, written reports, database presentations, the final presentation, and the frequent feedback. Less successful were the information topics which did not seem to engage the students, who failed to think through all the issues. These topics were e-readers, Google Books, the decline of print newspapers, and Net neutrality, and the discussion that ensued offered suggestions for alternative topics or approaches. Outcomes for the course included higher grades, better coursework –especially the reports, and course evaluations.

This was a very useful, focused conference, and I hope to attend more in future years.