“From the road less travelled to the information super highway: information literacy in the 21st Century” – 31/01/14

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Sarah Wolfenden, Subject Liaison Librarian at  Brunel University, has kindly provided a report on the free one-day conference held at the British Library Conference Centre on 31st January 2014.

On 31st January, I made my way to the British Library to attend the free conference, From the road less travelled to the information super highway: information literacy in the 21st Century, organised jointly by the M25  and the CILIP Information Literacy Group. The conference had sold out within two hours so I was feeling lucky to have received a place and was expecting good things. All the topics on the day, as you’d expect, focused on information literacy, and ranged from the broad and theoretical, e.g. Emma Coonan’s and Jane Secker’s impassioned lecture on ANCIL to the very specific and practical, e.g. games in libraries.

The conference opened with a look at the Research Information and Digital Literacies Coalition. I hadn’t heard of this before and it seemed that neither had many people in the room. We found out that it is a HEFCE funded project and is an informal network of librarians, pedagogists, career experts and similar whose aim is to take information literacy out of the higher education library and into the workplace. They do this by investigating the gap between higher education and employment by speaking to careers advisers, unions, organisations, etc.

Their remit for 2014 is to help staff formulate and develop courses and to discover how information literacy skills can increase students’ employability. Since the rise in tuition fees, I have found students to be increasingly nervous about finding employment after university and becoming much more vocal about the costs of their courses, so this seems like a sensible step to take. Part of their plans also involve increasing their international outreach; the US National Forum on Information Literacy was provided as a positive example of a group who have successfully put information literacy on the government agenda, leading to President Obama implementing an information literacy month.

A project I found interesting due to the impact it had at university as well as library level was Project DigitISE: Digital information skills for employability, which was undertaken at University of Westminster. This was a JISC funded exercise that studied the links between student attitudes towards digital literacy and employability. The team distributed surveys, held workshops and focus groups for both students and academic staff, and developed definitions, all of which culminated in a one day student conference entitled Get the Digital Edge. Promoted as a way of improving employability, students were encouraged to choose six topics covering areas such as using social media for job searching, researching companies for job interviews and social media and reputation, to name  a few. As a result of this project, the university is now reviewing its digital literacy strategy and more digital edge days are being planned.

Another session I particularly liked was one on games in information literacy sessions; this was led by Adam Edwards and Vanessa Hill from University of Middlesex. They explained how they had faced the usual problems library staff face in that information literacy wasn’t integrated into modules and that the sessions they held were far too general in their nature. In an effort to resolve this, library staff embarked on getting more qualifications, e.g. teaching fellowships, postgraduate certificates in Higher Education, etc. They felt this gave them the skills and confidence to feel they were on an equal footing with academic staff and able to implement more innovative teaching methods. While not everyone can do this due to time and money constraints, the gaming suggestions felt achievable, easy to implement, and affordable, i.e. no large grants needed.

Apart from a brief foray into Sonic the Hedgehog when I was much, much younger, games have never really been my thing (perhaps because my brother always had to be Sonic, which meant I had to be Tails). So, even though I have taken part in several workshops on games in information literacy teaching, I have yet to try them out. Adam and Vanessa encouraged us to play some of the games they use with students, which covered areas like thinking about resources, keywords, searching, and evaluating. These are all free, open educational resources and can be found at Jorum. They gave us a couple of rules to think about when including games:

  • Games should be no more than 10 minutes in length
  • Games should meet a specific need
  • They should have a clear objective
  • There shouldn’t be a need for any instruction

While these may seem fairly obvious rules, it does help to have these in mind so that games are not just being shoehorned into a workshop. One of my reservations about games was that students might find it patronising; however, more ‘grown-up’ options could be included like marking reference lists out of 10 to get them to think about the types of resources being used, and showing students the marking schedule to see how the lesson fits the criteria and to provide proof that the skills they are learning will improve their marks.

I generally find conferences quite motivating and this was no exception. It had a well thought out range of sessions and, because there weren’t any options to choose from, I didn’t feel like I was missing out! Not only has it helped to maintain enthusiasm in my teaching, it was a welcome reminder of the useful materials that are already available for library and information professionals to freely use, which, when you are short on time or ideas, can be a very beneficial resource.

Sarah Wolfenden
Subject Liaison Librarian, Brunel University
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