6 Tips on Information Literacy Instruction

January 16, 2012

As a newly hired, adjunct reference and instruction librarian (yay!), I wanted to quickly revisit what I and many librarians feel is an essential role in academe: information literacy (teaching students how to find and use information for their research).  The ALA has objectives for this; I wanted to just cover a couple of important things that I do when preparing for these sessions.

  1. Put yourself in your students’ shoes. We’ve all had a lot of schooling to get where we are; remember when you were looking for good information and resources?  I like to try to think about how I can make this as informative and PAINLESS as possible.  I explain how what I am going to show them will make their lives eaiser.  This usually gets their attention.
  2. SHOW and TELL.  If possible, get a computer lab with enough computers to support the majority of the class.  SHOW them how your catalog, databases, etc. work.  TELL them about the selected databases and materials, and then let them play with them.  TELL about the different types of information (newspapers vs. peer-reviewed vs. Wikipedia) and their appropriateness for the assignment.  SHOW them how to narrow their results to a reasonable amount (this is hard to do on Google sometimes, but easily done with full text databases.).  I also walk around after the initial presentation to ask questions and help them with their topics.  Students often choose a topic that is too broad for a 10 page paper.  Helping them to narrow their topic and make it more manageable usually takes away the panic about the assignment.  Then you are a hero!
  3. Don’t try to do too much at once.  I am, by nature, too wordy.  So, I try to consider the class and the level and pick out 3-4 things that I and the faculty think the students need to know the most.  Nothing is worse than bombarding them with so many options that their eyes glaze over and they start plotting your early demise.
  4. Students will inevitably go to Google or Bing or their SE of choice.  You can’t change this.  If time permits, show a few quick and dirty options to using search engines more effectively for research (Google Scholar, restricting the site to .edu, finding more by a prominent author).  Do this at the end of the session, though, as the proprietary sources available through your academic institution usually offer the most effective and efficient way to search and find good results.
  5. Talk about the importance of evaluating your resources.  I have no problem going to Wikipedia to find general information about a topic, particularly if I am completely unfamiliar with it.  Then, I go to the References section.  I back track from there to other books, databases and/or articles to make sure that I am getting a full, well-rounded picture of the topic.  I find that if I illustrate the importance of evaluation with some concrete examples it tends to stick in the students’ minds better (such as the time a student used a well-written reference in her college level paper, only to have the faculty discover it was written and posted by a sixth grader!)
  6. Offer a handout that is simple yet contains all the important information, including the librarian’s contact information.  Sometimes the librarian’s  in-class session, after all the other classes and things going on in the students’ lives, becomes a fuzzy blur of information.  Having the handout with the basics refreshes their minds and offers another point of reference when they get stuck.

I am excited about my new position and can’t wait to meet the new students.  I find that they are usually enlightened and grateful for the library, librarians, and information  that is offered by their institution.  Teaching students about information access and instilling in them the confidence to research effectively leads to the students’ successes and contributes to their information seeking behavior throughout their lives.

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One Response to “6 Tips on Information Literacy Instruction”

  1. wonderful post, very informative. I wonder why the other specialists of this sector don’t notice this. You should continue your writing. I’m confident, you’ve a great readers’ base already!

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