One formidable task for teachers promoting information literacy is to answer the question, how do I get my students to “buy in?” How can teachers get their students to believe that scholarly sources are worth their investment, especially when these sources are more cumbersome to locate and more difficult to read than a quick Google search page? When asked to use a library to find information it must seem to our students that we are asking them to travel by horse and buggy to class. They must feel that we teachers are merely being nostalgic, reminiscing about the days before smart-phones and Google, and that we require a library visit solely to have them share in our childhood revelry.
To dispell such notions and to set up a classroom environment which encourages buy-in, or “student ownership,” George Hillocks, Jr., in his work Teaching Writing as a Reflective Practice, says that our materials and assignments must "engage students in real-world problems" and "engage students in complex tasks with support from materials, teachers, and/or peers before they proceed to independent work on such tasks" (58). In other words, if teachers want students to buy-in to the value of information literacy, our tasks must be both relevant and attainable.
A Mini-Lesson to Encourage Information Literacy Buy-In
The following lesson promotes relevance by focusing on local issues students care about. To bring library research within the reach of students, instructor guidance and support from the Library Guide help to simplify the complexities of scholarly research.
The lesson is basically a rhetorical comparison of different search tools, one funded by an academic institution (UAA) and another by a private corporation (Google). I would suggest searching on a topic that is locally recognizable but has also garnered national attention. This broad-based familiarity is a natural criterion as the localized aspect encourages student engagement while the broader context will increase the likelihood that the library databases will have journals on the topic. This criteria also models the kind of topics that students examine in their local advocacy research projects. Such a demonstration will reveal the disparity in scholarly as compared to popular sources.
To start the lesson, I draw the below spectrum on a white-board and ask: Where does our knowledge come from?
Personal Experience<-------------------------------------------------------------------------------->Outside Sources
As students shout out answers, I mark their location on the spectrum. Some students claim that it is 50/50, that our knowledge is equal parts personal experience and outside information. Others are more confident and claim that 90% of their knowledge comes from experience. However, when I ask students how many foreign countries they have personally visited (out of the nearly two-hundred known to exist), most students admit that they have only been to a handful. This leads to the realization that perhaps we rely primarily on outside information (sources) to construct our world view.
Next, I tell students: I don't know about you, but if I rely on outside sources to help me construct the world, I want those sources to be reliable. The same goes for our sources we construct arguments in our papers.
This leads to the question: Where do we get reliable sources, and how do we know they are reliable?
I help students answer this question with the below demonstration on search engines.
I decided, based on the interests of this semester’s students, to compare and contrast the Consortium Library’s website search to that of a Google search on “pebble mine.” To preface, I tell my students a story explaining that when I first moved to Anchorage everyone was talking about Pebble Mine, so I decided to Google it to see what the humbug was about.
Here are the first few results of a Google search:
These results offer the perfect opportunity for students to practice their rhetorical skills. As students navigate through The Pebble Partnership and Save Bristol Bay sites I remind them to ask the familiar rhetorical questions: what audiences are targeted by these sites, and what are their purposes or motivations for writing? While exploring Google's search results, I give my students the hint to "follow the money" (always a sound rhetorical move).
What students find interesting about these search results is that 2 out of the top 3 hits are sites sponsored by polarized political organizations, while the remaining hit is a publicly authored source where "almost anyone who can access the site can edit almost any of its articles" (Wikipedia).
These results, paired with student's prior knowledge of Google, leads the class to conclude that Google's results are based on a hidden algorithm having to do with a combination of both popularity and revenue potentiality.
Next, we use the Consortium Library's search bar:
While these results might not make sense to the student at first, as the very first hit is a dissertation written about the Pebble Mine controversy, after I explain the peer-review process required to publish in academic journals, they start to understand what they are reading: an article where they are not being asked to "buy" anything more than ideas. For some students, a relief, for some, uncharted territory.
This lesson demystifies some of what teachers mean when they use the word "credible" by stripping down research tools into their primal economic elements. While Google makes billions off of advertisements, UAA spends, according to UAA librarian Jodee Kuden, $1.5 million per year, the "majority of the library's budget," to grant students access to commercial-free journals that answer to the authority of expert peers rather than profit masters.
I found that my students were quite attentive to this mini-lesson, and when we turned to explore the other features of the Library Guide, were completely engaged.
Upon exploring the guide, they recognized many authors they were familar with, including Knoblauch, Scribner, and Anyon. After this lesson, however, students realize that the articles we assign do not magically appear on Blackboard but come from an accessible and credible location.
Some of what the Library Guide does is give students a place to start while their teacher is not present to help them interpret the Consortium Library's search results. To accomplish this, the guide makes the most common and user friendly data bases visible and also provides tools, such as Credo, which can aid a student in preliminary research via very visual and interactive features such as the mind map.
Next week, now that our students have "bought in" to information literacy, I will discuss some of the tools the library guide has to offer in greater depth.