Skills that Transfer (ACRL/NY 2011)

 

This past week-end I had the honor of presenting to the Greater New York Metropolitan Chapter of the ACRL at their annual ACRL/NY Symposium.  This year’s theme was “the global librarian” and, as you’ve probably guessed, I presented on transliteracy. My slides are posted below, but, unfortunately, at 80 megabytes, the original PowerPoint file was too large for the free version of SlideShare to handle. So, the slides are in PDF format which does not allow for speaker notes. Granted, even with speaker notes attached, slides shows are not meant to stand on their own. Still, I can at least give a quick rundown of the presentation…

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Transliteracy as pedagogy (LOEX 2011)

Image courtesy of longhorndave on Flickr (CC BY-2.0)

I’d like to thank the organizers of LOEX 2011 for a great conference in Fort Worth this past week-end; my head is still swimming with great ideas for tweaking our instruction program. I would also like to thank the attendees, who provided overwhelmingly positive feedback on my presentation, “Bridging the Gaps: Transliteracy as Informed Pedagogy”.

In a nutshell, my presentation was an examination of what the concept of transliteracy has to offer library instruction. Specifically, what does the ability to read, write, and interact across a range of platforms, tools, and media mean for library curriculum design? Moreover, doesn’t information literacy already cover everything relevant to library instruction? This last question is unfortunately common, so I’ll answer it first…

No. Information literacy is primarily an evaluative concept that only barely touches on the operational skills needed for effectively navigating the web. Though ACRL Standard Two comes close to covering information media (“The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently”), the desired outcomes involve the sort of linear, syntax-driven search behaviors that librarians love, while ignoring the more discovery-based, refinement-driven search behaviors students learn outside of our databases (cf. Holman 2011). As I’ve argued elsewhere, transliteracy is tied to the descriptive, medium-specific, literal “literacies” that are distinct from the evaluative literacies covered by information literacy (See Slide 27). This is pretty much just a rehashing of the original Transliteracies Project research and subsequent PART discussions, but it is important because it shows that transliteracy is not a replacement for information literacy, it is a complement to information literacy and the two are conceptually and logically distinct. So, library instructors out there, put down your pitchforks! Transliteracy is not a replacement for information literacy, it is just an incredibly useful concept to add to your instructional toolbox.

So, anyway, here are the slides. If you don’t want to go through the whole presentation, the moral of the story can be found in three keys for library instruction that I think logically follow from the concept of transliteracy:

  1. Effective information use requires several information sources. (Slides 30-34)
  2. Information resources do not stand alone, they interact (Slides 35-39)
  3. Navigating this interaction requires transferable skills (Slides 40-50)
Putting them together, we find that transliteracy encourages instructors to take students’ pre-existing skills seriously and harness them for academic research, rather than try to replace them with something else.
Anyway, here are the slides. (Make sure you view it on Slideshare if you want to see the speaker notes.)

Transliteracy and Millennial Students’ Mental Models of Search

 

"Concept Mapping" (2009). CC image courtesy of yish on Flickr

One of the common criticisms of transliteracy is that “we can’t describe what a transliterate person looks like.” As far as I’m concerned, this is criticism is rooted in a simple category mistake: people aren’t transliterate, transliteracy is a cognitive function. That is, transliteracy is best understood as a cognitive skill or ability, one that can and should be emphasized in our information literacy curriculum. This is why I think that Lucy Holman’s recent article1 in The Journal of Academic Librarianship is especially important for those interested in transliteracy.

In the latest issue of the JAL, Holman has provided valuable, empirical research into the nature and content of the mental models used by student researchers. The concept of mental models has a long history in information literacy. For example, Holman references Brandt’s (1997) constructivist approach2 of “connecting students’ existing mental models (for example, use of a telephone directory) to that of an online index” (p. 20). Appealing to mental models is a core aspect of successful information literacy. Yet, as Holman’s research suggests, the most common approaches to information literacy instruction are rooted in a print-based mental model of online searching that is at odds with “millennials’ own mental models of Internet-based information retrieval with engines that more accurately and effectively parse a simpler, more natural language query” (pp. 25-26). Holman concludes by advocating that information literacy instruction shift focus from search strategies to evaluation, which is nothing new, but in rooting this shift in mental models she has provided an excellent proving ground for transliteracy-based instruction.

Put simply, students’ mental models of effective research practices are both poorly constructed and wildly divergent. Library instructors need to address this, and many do: the idea of connecting mental models (the telephone directory to online index example) is well-established in information literacy, but the increasing complexity (and the increasing number) of research avenues has lead to a need for a more nuanced approach that is independent of any particular mental model. If we could address how students construct and apply these models, it may make a world of difference in library instruction.

Elsewhere, I have argued that transliteracy is about linguistic competency, and one of the basic features of linguistic competency is the ability to construct mental models. Moreover, with each new information system or domain we encounter, we add to our available mental models. Google, Facebook, Twitter, smartphones, Quora, JSTOR, etc…each either creates a new mental model, or affects an existing mental model, of how an information system behaves. For example, my mental model of how Wikipedia works is playing a part in how I approach Quora. In turn, Quora itself might lead me to a new model of understanding information-seeking behavior. The ability to construct and evaluate effective mental models is key in transliteracy instruction, so it follows that transliteracy may yet prove itself as that more nuanced approach to addressing the problems Holman identifies.

Whether you like the term ‘transliteracy’ or not, Holman’s research provides substantive evidence that the underlying concepts are important.

1Holman, Lucy. “Millennial Students’ Mental Models of Search: Implications for Academic Librarians and Database Developers.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 37, no. 1 (2011): 19-27.

2Brandt, D. Scott. “Constructivism: Teaching for Understanding of the Internet.” Communications of the ACM 40, no. 10 (1997): 112-117.

Why transliteracy?

I think I’ll back off the technical writing from the previous post and go from the gut in response to a common concern that keeps on cropping up in the general discussion about transliteracy. David Rothman frames the issue this way:

I can’t find anything on Libraries and Transliteracy that makes a compelling case for why the word should matter to librarians or what it means to you all aside from the need for libraries to be active in working with patrons in the use of new technologies (which is right, good, and almost universally agreed-upon without the need for the word ‘transliteracy’).

I can’t speak for everyone at Libraries and Transliteracy, but I can at least give a justification for why I am interested in transliteracy and why I think it is an important concept for librarians.

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Slate Wants to Know – How Would You Modernize America’s Schoolrooms?

From the article (emphasis mine)

Very little about the American classroom has changed since Laura Ingalls sat in one more than a century ago. In her school, children sat in a rectangular room at rows of desks, a teacher up front. At most American schools, they still do.

Slate wants to change that, and we need your help. Today Slate launches a crowdsourcing project on the 21st-century classroom. In this “Hive,” we’re seeking to collect your best ideas for transforming the American school. We’re asking you to describe or even design the classroom for today, a fifth-grade classroom that takes advantage of all that we have learned since Laura Ingalls’ day about teaching, learning, and technology–and what you think we have yet to learn. We will publish all your ideas onSlate; your fellow readers will vote and comment on their favorites; expert judges will select the ideas they like best, and, in about a month, we will pick a winner. That top design may be built as a model classroom in a new charter school. We know from our previous Hive projects that Slate’s millions of readers—some of you architects or educators or designers, most of you amateurs—have amazing ideas, and we’re confident that you’ll come up with exciting new ways to reconceive the most important space for American children. Speaking of children: We encourage you to have them enter ideas too. See the bottom of the article for more details about how to submit your proposal. “

You can submit your ideas up until October 29th.

Your entries can be shovel-ready or fanciful. All entries must have a written description, and we strongly encourage submitting a sketch or a plan, so fellow readers can help visualize your ideas. Your proposal can emphasize the shape of the room, the furniture in it, the technology available, the materials—whatever you believe will make a real difference for students. You may submit actual designs you have proposed to school boards. (You may even submit an already built classroom you designed, though you must indicate in your submission that it has been built, so voters and judges can take that into account.) We ask that you send us the design for one room only, though that room may represent a comprehensive rethinking of school, which we encourage you to explain. You don’t have to consider budget; you should, however, consider how you think students should be taught and motivated. Effective school design, after all, “isn’t about making pretty,” says Ronald Bogle, the president of the American Architectural Foundation, although pretty is welcome. “It’s about the space performing very particular functions.”

Don’t have an idea? That’s ok, head over and vote on the ideas submitted by others.

You can vote and comment on the ideas below. In early November, our expert judges and readers will choose a dozen finalists, and we’ll select a winner in mid-November. Read our terms and conditions, then please enter your great idea below.

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