Tagged Information Literacy

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Born-Digital Archives in the Undergraduate Classroom

Abstract

This case study describes a first-year seminar titled “Born Digital,” taught by a university library faculty member within a digital humanities curricular initiative at a small liberal arts college. This course explored the concept of “born-digital archives” and asked the following questions: How will future scholars understand the twenty-first century world of fragmented and fragile knowledge production and storage? What can creators do to ensure their content will continue to serve as record of their community? How do archivists adjust to a new paradigm where collecting decisions must be made in an instant?

The course embedded significant training in digital competencies and information literacy skills within a seminar on digital memory and archival theory. We examined issues related to the ethics of appraisal, privacy, digital obsolescence, underrepresented communities, media studies, and collective memory. A series of hands-on lab sessions gave students the technical skills to create their own web archives on the Archive-It platform. For undergraduates, a course on born-digital archives can provide a critical window into understanding modern archival practices and concerns, as well as our personal and collective responsibilities as media producers and consumers. This article addresses the lessons learned when adapting professional practices for an undergraduate audience.

Introduction

“The average lifespan of a webpage is 100 days.” This striking statistic has made its way into several popular magazine articles in the last few years. These articles, published in places like The Atlantic (LaFrance 2015) and The New Yorker (Lepore 2015) are alarmist in tone, but they do dispel the notion that the web is a place of permanence. The mourning period for Geocities may be over, but the recent shuttering of Storify, and Photobucket’s “breaking of the Internet” by blocking image links for thousands of users following a subscription restructuring (Notopoulos 2017) remind us that our content will not be available in perpetuity. Even the source of this statistic was hard to track down due to link rot.[1]

It was experiences similar to this one—the troublesome journey through dead links to verify a citation—that inspired the creation of a first-year undergraduate seminar on the topic of born-digital archives, as a way to engage students in the realities of accessing and constructing a historical record. One of the exciting outcomes of the popularity of digital humanities projects in the undergraduate classroom is the increased engagement with the material and staff of local archives and special collections. For college students born in the twenty-first century, these DH projects create a tangible connection with a past where letters, ledgers, and newspapers were the primary modes of mass communication and record keeping. But what about the artifacts of our time? We produce millions of records on a daily basis in the form of email, social media, and the detritus of a 24-hour news cycle. Will these records even survive 100 days? How will future scholars understand the twenty-first century world of fragmented, fragile, and ephemeral knowledge production and storage? What can creators do to ensure their content will survive as a record of their community? How do archivists adjust to a new paradigm where collecting decisions must be made in an instant? Digital archivists are starting to figure out how to handle the vast volumes of data at risk. Just as importantly, they are working to establish best practices for ethical collecting. Is anything on the web fair game for capture? Is it right to ignore robots.txt? For undergraduates, a course on born-digital archives can provide a critical window into understanding modern archival practices, as well as their own responsibilities as media producers and consumers.

This View from the Field will describe a first-year seminar titled “Born Digital,” taught by a university library faculty member within a digital humanities curricular initiative at Washington and Lee University.[2] Since this course was taught at the introductory level in a multi-disciplinary environment, its methods and assignments could be adapted to a variety of classes. The course embedded significant training in digital competencies and information literacy skills within a seminar on digital memory and archival theory. We began with reflective conversations on the experience of being a “digital native,” and then moved on to exploring the concepts and skills necessary to create a born-digital archive using the Archive-It platform.[3] This case study will share the lessons learned while adapting professional archival practices for an undergraduate audience.

Course Design and Framing

How do born-digital objects and records change the way we approach teaching? There is an abundance of literature on teaching with archival material and digital technologies. A search for model courses returns digital history courses similar to Shawn Graham’s “Crafting Digital History”[4] and graduate-level courses on digital preservation from library and information programs. Creating a seminar on born-digital archives required adapting these graduate-level models to an undergraduate audience unfamiliar with the professional and methodological practices of archivists and historians.

Because our course explored new territory, it was essential to find readings that exposed students to the rich scholarly conversation around archival principles without weighing them down with jargon. Several texts met these criteria and were instrumental in shaping the course. Abbey Smith Rumsey’s When We Are No More (2016) provides a high-level view of our relationship with information. From the ancient Greeks to the development of modern science, Rumsey contextualizes the modern information revolution for students who were born after the invention of Google and reminds us that “we have a lot of information from the past about how people have made these choices before” (Rumsey 2016, 7). For the nuts and bolts of digital preservation, we relied on Trevor Owens’s Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation (2017), available as a pre-print at the time of the course. Not only is Owens well respected in the digital preservation world, his writing is engaging and approachable for undergraduates. Owens’s purpose for the text, offering “a path for getting beyond the hyperbole and the anxiety of ‘the digital’ and establish[ing] a baseline of practice” (Owens 2017, 6) fit well with the goals of the course. Our final course text, The Web as History: Using Web Archives to Understand the Past and Present (Brügger and Schroeder 2017), was essential for modeling the way scholars make meaning from born-digital archives. Ian Milligan’s chapter, “Welcome to the web: The online community of Geocities during the early years of the World Wide Web,” contextualizes Geocities in its time and provides examples of computational approaches to web archives (Brügger and Schroeder 2017).

The learning objectives for the course, listed below, drew from overlapping frameworks.

  • Students will learn and be able to apply the principles of archival theory and practice.
  • Students will think critically about the use and creation of digital records in their own lives and communities.
  • Students will analyze “born digital” archives through the lens of their chosen discipline(s).
  • Students will practice methods for collecting and preserving born-digital archives by conducting their own digital preservation project.

These objectives gesture toward the established digital humanities learning outcomes from A Short Guide to the Digital_Humanities[5] (Burdick et al. 2012), adopted by our curricular initiative. These outcomes emphasize the ability to assess information technologies and practice design thinking. The Association of College and Research Libraries’ Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education served as this course’s backbone (Association of College and Research Libraries 2015).[6] Students were asked to think critically about information in every assignment. From writing an annotated bibliography to creating metadata for their web archive, students moved from savvy information consumers to thoughtful information producers. The lab exercises drew from Bryn Mawr’s Digital Competencies initiative and framework. Students developed “digital survival skills” like file structure navigation, troubleshooting, and digital writing and publishing skills like HTML and CSS (Bryn Mawr College n.d.).

Structure and Assignments

This course[7] took place during a twelve-week term in the winter of 2018. We met for ninety minutes twice a week and divided the week into discussion and lab days. Thematically, the course began with three weeks of introductions to the major concepts of the course: the idea of the “digital native,” collective memory, record keeping, and archives as institutions. The first assignment was a personal essay on these concepts and provided an initial indication of students’ comprehension and writing ability. Starting with this framing gave students an opportunity to share personal information and ultimately created a strong sense of community within the class.

In week four, we transitioned out of the personal sphere with a visit to the university library’s Special Collections and Archives department. After an introduction to the unit and its operations, students formed small groups and selected from a small pool of manuscript collections. For the second assignment, students unpacked each collection to learn about its creator, context, and provenance. The hands-on experience with archival sources readied them to consider individual archival principles like original order and respect des fonds (the idea that archival records should be grouped by creator). We even discussed the role and resources of the Special Collections and Archives department within our institutional context.

After week seven, we devoted each week to discussing one aspect of the records management lifecycle—appraisal, acquisition, arrangement and description, access, and outreach. Students worked toward their final project through a series of assignments: an annotated bibliography of existing born-digital collections and scholarly articles on a potential topic, a proposal for their born-digital collection, a process log, a short presentation, and a final reflection. Their final project was conducted through an educational partnership with Archive-It, a web archiving service. For a fee, we received 15GB of space in an Archive-It account and a live training session from an Archive-It staff member. Students selected ten websites on a topic of their choosing, from NFL protests to cryptocurrency.[8] They crawled each of their URLs to create a snapshot that would be preserved by the Internet Archive. The process log was the primary graded product to ensure that platform difficulties did not unevenly affect students.

Labs and Technical Skills

Throughout the course, we held a series of lab days to learn the technical skills necessary for the web archiving project. Lab days were relaxed and instructions were available on the course website so students could work at their own pace. Grouping students by operating system helped with peer-to-peer problem solving when technical errors occurred. On the first day, we built simple websites with HTML and CSS—essential languages for troubleshooting captured websites in Archive-It. Another lab session focused on the command line, using existing tutorials like “The Command Line Crash Course (Shaw n.d.).[9] This skill came in useful when a guest speaker led a workshop on Twarc, a command line tool for capturing social media data (specifically Twitter), created by Documenting the Now.[10] One of the most engaging lab days was spent making glitch art to complement our discussion of file fixity in digital objects. We modified images and audio by opening the files in a text editor and scrambling the content to demonstrate the fragility of digital files.

All of the labs contributed to improving computer and web literacies. Despite their reputation as digital natives, most of the first-year students did not know much about how the web worked. Working with HTML or the command line was an exciting look behind the curtain. Not only did the labs improve specific skills, they helped students become comfortable learning and troubleshooting digital tools.

Results

Students successfully achieved the goals of this course. The primary challenge from the instructor’s point of view was translating professional concepts to a first-year audience. The projects and lab activities were essential in bringing archival principles to life. The opportunity to work with manuscript collections was a highlight for many students and let them experience the realities of archival work. By using the Archive-It platform, students created something that would live beyond them and the bounds of the course. Working with their own topic was both exciting and challenging. It created a strong level of investment, but required explicit training in generating an appropriate research agenda.

Overall, most students easily met the first two learning objectives of learning archival principles and thinking critically about their own digital footprint. Student performance was uneven regarding the more analytical objectives, such as analyzing existing born-digital archives and creating their own collection. Project-based assignments were new to these first-year students, as was the emphasis on process over product. Student evaluations were positive, with most citing the value of learning about an underrepresented field and gaining a new perspective. However, from the instructor perspective, the best method of assessment would be to track the information literacy practices of the students throughout their college career. As the digital humanities curriculum initiative transitions into a digital culture and information minor, hopefully this type of assessment will be possible.

Conclusion

A course centered on archival research, whatever form it may take, is an ideal vehicle for teaching a range of scholarly practices and content areas. It is important for current students to be able to assess and understand the digital content they consume and produce every day. A course on born-digital archives opens the possibilities beyond specific manuscript collections or institutional records to anything on the web. Students held a range of opinions on the trustworthiness of the government and private institutions as preservers of the cultural record, but they all recognized the value in taking ownership of your data and preventing gaps and biases in collections. Their reflections consistently mentioned the importance of community-created and -controlled archives. Hopefully this case study inspires other instructors to make use of born-digital archives in their teaching.

Notes

[1] “The Signal,” the Library of Congress’s blog on digital stewardship, cites a Washington Post article (Ashenfelder 2011) as the source for this statistic, but their embedded link results in a 404 for an individual’s blog. Tracking down the Washington Post article in a subscription-based newspaper database indicates that the quote was attributed to Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, though no context or evidence is given.

[2] More information is available at https://digitalhumanities.wlu.edu/.

[3] Archive-It is a subscription-based web archiving service offered by the Internet Archive. The university library sponsored an “Educational Partnership” account for this course. Archive-It works with a variety of partners, including K-12 schools. They can be found at http://archive-it.org/.

[4] Available at http://site.craftingdigitalhistory.ca/.

[5] Available at http://jeffreyschnapp.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/D_H_ShortGuide.pdf.

[6] Available at http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework.

[7] The course website is hosted on the GitBook platform and synced with the instructor’s GitHub account: https://mackenziekbrooks.gitbooks.io/dh-180-born-digital/content/.

[8] The final projects can be accessed here: https://archive-it.org/organizations/1374.

[9] Available at https://learnpythonthehardway.org/book/appendixa.html.

[10] Documenting the Now is a collaborative effort to build community and tools around social media preservation. It can be accessed at https://www.docnow.io/.

Bibliography

Ashenfelder, Mike. 2011. “The Average Lifespan of a Webpage” The Signal. November 8, 2011. http://blogs.loc.gov/thesignal/2011/11/the-average-lifespan-of-a-webpage/.

Association of College and Research Libraries. 2015. “Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.” February 9, 2015. http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework.

Brügger, Niels, and Ralph Schroeder, eds. 2017. The Web as History: Using Web Archives to Understand the Past and the Present. London: UCL Press. http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1542998/1/The-Web-as-History.pdf.

Bryn Mawr College. n.d. “Digital Competencies” Accessed June 29, 2018. https://www.brynmawr.edu/digitalcompetencies.

Burdick, Anne, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp, eds. 2012. Digital Humanities. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

LaFrance, Adrienne. 2015. “Raiders of the Lost Web.” The Atlantic, October 14, 2015. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/10/raiders-of-the-lost-web/409210/.

Lepore, Jill. 2015. “What the Web Said Yesterday.” The New Yorker, January 19, 2015. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/01/26/cobweb.

Notopoulos, Katie. 2017. “Photobucket Is Holding People’s Photos For ‘Ransom.’” BuzzFeed. July 7, 2017. https://www.buzzfeed.com/katienotopoulos/photobucket-just-killed-a-chunk-of-internet-history.

Owens, Trevor. 2017. The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. https://osf.io/preprints/lissa/5cpjt.

Rumsey, Abby Smith. 2016. When We Are No More: How Digital Memory Is Shaping Our Future. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

Shaw, Zed A. n.d. “Appendix A: Command Line Crash Course.” Learn Python the Hard Way. Accessed November 25, 2018. https://learnpythonthehardway.org/book/appendixa.html.

About the Author

Mackenzie Brooks is Assistant Professor and Digital Humanities Librarian at Washington and Lee University. There, she teaches in the Digital Culture and Information minor and coordinates Digital Humanities initiatives. Her research focuses on digital pedagogy, scholarly text encoding, and metadata.

Sample concept map of ‘junk food’ and its related issues, complete with details and examples of each.
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Advancing Information Literacy in a Semester-Long Library Instruction Course: A Case Study

Abstract

The following case study investigated the efficacy of Information Literacy (IL) pedagogy on undergraduate research in a credit-bearing library instruction class. More specifically, the study analyzed student success and sought to determine whether written reflection and practice strengthen IL skills, including the fundamental ability to develop a research question and thesis statement. Developing research questions and formulating thesis statements are among the most challenging duties of a young researcher. From high school through undergraduate, students often have minimal experience conducting research. They may not know where to begin the research process and what steps are necessary. Student frustration is exacerbated by the fact that typically IL instruction is one-shot guidance, given only once in a semester, making it difficult for a librarian to cover all that is needed. Can a semester long, credit-bearing course aid student success in research and improve IL skills? The instructors introduced several techniques to improve IL skills, and instructors evaluated three class assignments based on their college’s core competencies. Additionally, instructors collected and analyzed students’ written reflections of their progress and an end of semester survey as both qualitative and quantitative data.

Introduction

Information Literacy (IL) is one of the defining concepts of academic librarianship. It influences core functions including reference, collection development and especially library instruction. However, the definition of IL is malleable and influenced by the proliferation of online resources, developments in information technology, and trends in academic publishing, all of which have dramatically altered research methods. In January 2016, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), adopted the Framework for Information Literacy (Framework) for Higher Education. Its six core concepts afford librarians maximum flexibility when teaching IL (American Library Association 2015). This adoption was shortly followed by ACRL rescinding the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (American Library Association 2000), which had served as the defining IL document for professional librarianship since 2000. The ACRL Framework defines IL as, “the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.” Moreover, the framework is based on interconnected core concepts with flexible options for implementation, rather than a set of prescriptive standards or learning outcomes.

The Library Media Resources Center (hereafter Library) at LaGuardia Community College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY) founded in 1971, maintains an active and evolving IL program that impacts reference services, library instruction, and credit-bearing courses. The latter is exemplified by LRC103: Internet Research Strategies, a one-credit, liberal arts elective offered by the Library; it has been offered since 2004, and IL is central to the course’s syllabus (Keyes and Namei 2010, 29). The course teaches students “analytical thinking, problem-solving, and information literacy skills necessary for academic research and digital citizenship” (LaGuardia Community College Catalog 2017-2018). Students receive one hour of face-to-face instruction each week, covering concepts (concept mapping, research question development, citation) and resources (subscription databases, digital images, digitized primary sources) central to developing IL. While LaGuardia is not unique in offering a credit-bearing IL course, a 2016 study concluded that only 19% of higher education institutions surveyed offer such courses (Cohen et al. 2016, 566). Due to this small percentage, credit-bearing IL courses present a relatively unique opportunity to teach IL to students. This is particularly true when compared to traditional library instruction sessions, which are typically one hour long and offered once each semester for select courses (e.g. English 101).

The following case study investigated the efficacy of IL pedagogy on undergraduate research in a section of LRC103 offered during the Spring 2017 semester at LaGuardia. More specifically, the study analyzed student success and sought to determine whether written reflection and practice strengthen IL skills, including the fundamental ability to develop a research question and thesis statement. In fact, the ACRL Framework recognizes the importance of research question advancement. As outlined in Research as Inquiry, research “depends upon asking increasingly complex or new questions whose answers in turn develop additional questions” (The Association of College and Research Libraries 2015). Developing research questions and formulating thesis statements are among the most challenging duties of a young researcher. From high school through undergraduate, students often have minimal experience conducting research. They may not know where to begin the research process and what steps are necessary (Fernando and Hulse-Killacky 2006, 103-104). Student frustration is exacerbated by the fact that typically IL instruction is one-shot guidance, given only once in a semester, making it difficult for a librarian to cover all that is needed. Can a semester long, credit-bearing course aid student success in research and improve IL skills? The instructors introduced several techniques to improve IL skills, and instructors evaluated three class assignments based on the college’s core competencies. Additionally, instructors collected and analyzed students’ written reflections of their progress and an end of semester survey as both qualitative and quantitative data. As a platform to post reflection, the authors implemented electronic portfolio (ePortfolio) practice for the course. Deeply embedded in LaGuardia’s academic culture, its current ePortfolio program utilizes Digication software in both pedagogy and assessment (LaGuardia Community College, “About ePortfolio”, 2017). All twelve enrolled students were eligible to participate, and eleven elected to take part in the study.

Literature Review

The following literature review reflects the goals of this study and is not intended to be comprehensive. Unlike conventional library instruction, the uniqueness of this study was that it examined students’ IL skills over the course of an entire semester. The research was empirical, using outcomes-based and affective analysis to study IL pedagogy. This case study expanded on the term project for LaGuardia’s LRC102, Information Strategies: Managing the Revolution, a credit-bearing course previously taught at LaGuardia, which called for an annotated bibliography, accompanied by a narrative of research where students describe the process used to find each item in the bibliography and explain its inclusion. In a study of LRC102, Fluk concluded that further research should be done into how research logs and journal writing affect student learning and how logs and journals should best be assigned (Fluk 2009, 50).

Colleges and universities have targeted the following learning objectives when creating or redesigning credit-bearing IL courses: developing research topics research questions, and thesis statements (Mulherrin, Kelley, Fishman, Orr 2004, 24; Frank and MacDonald 2016, 17). Broadly considered, the literature on measuring and assessing the impact of IL instruction on educational outcomes is varied, especially in the wake of the 2015 adoption of the ACRL Framework, which omitted specific standards, competencies, and learning outcomes. Examples from community colleges and/or credit bearing IL courses were sought for this literature review. Longitudinal studies of students at Hostos Community College, a CUNY school with comparable demographics to LaGuardia’s, and Western Georgia University demonstrated that students taking IL workshops and a credit-bearing IL course, respectively, resulted in higher graduation rates, higher pass rates on reading and writing tests, and higher cumulative grade point averages. The Hostos Community College study results determined that students taking IL workshops experienced a 35.3% graduation rate, compared with 9.8% for students who did not take the workshops. Additionally, students who completed the IL workshop passed the CUNY Proficiency Exams for Reading at a rate of 78.5% and for Writing at a rate of 73.5%; the students who did not take the workshops passed the exams at a rate of 57.6% and 47.2% (Laskin and Zoe 2017, 13-16; Cook 2014, 276-279). Similarly, University of Western Georgia concluded that overall graduation rates for students in the study who completed their credit-bearing IL course graduated within six years at significantly higher rates than those who did not, 56% versus 30% (Cook 2014, 277-278).

In their discussion of CUNY’s Critical Thinking Skills Initiative, Gashurov and Matsuuchi stressed the importance of IL for LaGuardia’s LRC103 course to ensure CUNY students are prepared for today’s competitive job market (Gashurov and Matsuuchi 2013, 70-71). The Critical Thinking Skills Initiative was in part a reaction to the financial crisis of 2007-2008, but LaGuardia’s commitment to IL can be traced back to 1991 when it began offering LRC102. As mentioned above, LRC103 was first offered in 2004 and is central to the Library’s IL program (Keyes and Namei 2013, 29). More recently, the Citation Project, a multi-institutional study on source usage in college writing, has concluded that students struggle with all aspects of citation and comprehending sources: summarizing, paraphrasing, and quotation, to name a few (Jamieson and Howard 2013, 125-126). Jamieson’s further research claims that IL pedagogy based on the ACRL Framework, more so than the older ACRL IL competencies, may help students better understand their sources (Jamieson 2017, 128-129), which matches the goals of the present study.

At the postsecondary level, ePortfolio use has matured from a tool to document professional development to a web portal for accessing work, tracking academic growth, and planning a career, acting as a record of skills, achievements, and learning (LaGuardia Community College, “Introduction: What is an ePortfolio?”, 2017). Nevertheless, academic libraries have been slow implementing ePortfolios as compared to other campus departments, due in part because IL instruction is typically offered once per semester, in one class, and tailored to a specific assignment. However, a few have administered ePortfolios as a method of improving research and critical thinking. In 2008, Three Rivers Community College designed a plan whereby students searched for scholarly articles and then discussed the techniques used to retrieve them in a written reflection of their online learning experience posted into their ePortfolio (Florea 2008, 424-425). More recently, in collaboration with another campus department, the Otis College Library in 2014 created a research assignment that students uploaded to their ePortfolio and that instructors graded using the college’s core competencies (Giuntini and Venturini 2014, 11-15).

Methods and Analysis

Instructed by the authors, the LRC103 class in this study met weekly in one-hour face-to-face sessions for twelve weeks in the spring 2017 semester. Class lessons and assignments aimed to advance student research ability by fostering IL skills. The first class lesson introduced fundamental database tools, such as subject headings and subject term delimiters, to narrow a broad topic down to specific issues and subjects. The technique helps students comprehend article indexing and focuses student research to an elemental concept. For example, a search for “global warming” in a standard database yields thousands of results. However, the recommended subject headings “global warming & politics” and “global warming & the environment” generates a more manageable list. Subject term delimiters, custom to databases, refine this list to specifics.  The assignment accompanying the lesson sought to discover if database tools support critical thinking development. First, it prompted students to write a 200-word description of an article found in a research database, summarizing the author’s viewpoint and any evidence provided in their argument. Next, it asked students to frame and develop a research question for further inquiry related to the article’s topic. Lastly, in a reflection, students explained if writing the summary helped them review and disseminate the material to forge a unique and specific area to research (See Appendix A).

The second lesson demonstrated use of an online encyclopedia, illustrating the expansive subject list available. Then, students read an article on a select topic and gathered keywords. Students made note of words that they felt were key to understanding the topic. The final part of the lesson introduced concept maps, a graphical tool for organizing and representing knowledge. Concept maps break down a topic into related issues, with details or examples for each issue (Appalachian State University: Belk Library and Information Commons 2017). Words are usually “enclosed in circles or boxes of some type, and relationships between concepts [are] indicated by a connecting line linking two concepts” (Novak and Cañas 2008). Using the words marked in the encyclopedia article, students created concept maps. Following this lesson, students completed the second assignment, the class midterm, which asked them to develop a topic and their own argument using methods learned in class. Students had the option to use the first assignment topic or to select a new one. Suggestions provided were affordable housing, human trafficking, and junk food. The instructors recommended that students first break down the topic using a concept map and then develop a related viewpoint or argument from one issue or concept in the map.  For the first part of the midterm, each student needed to find one scholarly article in support of their thesis argument and give a thirty-second, persuasive pitch in class to argue their viewpoint. In their ePortfolio, they provided an MLA citation of the article and wrote a one-paragraph description, which included their thesis statement, an explanation of the topic, and the reason they selected it. In the second part of the midterm, students supported their arguments with two additional scholarly articles, one in support of their thesis and one counterpoint. To showcase their evidence, students created an annotated bibliography. For this class, an annotated bibliography referred to a list of resources, each with a reference citation in Modern Language Association (MLA) style and a summary or evaluation (Stacks, et al. 2017). Finally, in a one-paragraph reflection, students considered whether or not the lesson and midterm helped them narrow down their research and develop their arguments (See Appendix B).

Sample concept map of ‘junk food’ and its related issues, complete with details and examples of each.

Figure 1: Sample concept map of ‘junk food’ and its related issues, complete with details and examples of each.  Concept maps break down a topic or main idea into related issues or concepts, and onto details or examples.

The class final required students to explain the most successful ways to develop a research question based on skills learned in class, in either a five-minute video, five-minute audio recording, or Microsoft PowerPoint presentation of at least five slides. As part of their work, they needed to describe if they will use the skills learned in other classes and assignments (See Appendix C). Lastly, an eight-question survey given to students on the last day of class provided a means to quantitatively measure success of class pedagogy. It was optional and anonymous (See Appendix D).

To evaluate student work, the instructors created an assessment rubric based on one of LaGuardia’s four core competencies, inquiry and problem solving. Inquiry and problem solving is comprised of the ability to design, evaluate, and implement a strategy or strategies to answer an open-ended question or achieve a desired goal. Students advance this competency by framing an issue, gathering evidence, analyzing material, and formulating conclusions (LaGuardia Community College, “Outcomes Assessment”, 2017). Based on this framework, the instructors assessed student work on ability to: 1) analyze and synthesize research material, 2) formulate conclusions to develop research questions and thesis arguments, and 3) understand and integrate IL skills.

Therefore, students who received a letter grade of A on an assignment demonstrated proficient IL skills. A letter grade of B signified competent skills, a C denoted developing skills, and a grade under C deemed the student a novice. In addition to a grade, the instructors also provided constructive feedback to advise students how they could improve their work.
Since each of the three assignments weighed differently towards the student’s final grade, all grades in this article were proportioned based on one-hundred points. For example, if a student assignment received fifteen out of twenty points, the grade was seventy-five, or a C, and the student demonstrated developing IL skills. In addition to grades, the authors analyzed student reflections to draw conclusions on student progress in class and uncover what pedagogies best helped.

Results

In the first assignment, seven students demonstrated proficient skills, two had competent skills, one showed developing skills, and one was a novice, for a class average of 89.5. In a combined midterm grade, six students were proficient, three were competent, one was developing, and one was a novice, for a class average of 89.1. While student work remained at the competent stage in the first two assignments overall, performance improved to proficient on the final, for a class average of 96.7, as students displayed a deeper understanding of research concepts and were able to express them in presentation and reflection.

A line graph shows student progress, from 89.5 in the first assignment, to 89.1 in the midterm, and to 96.7 in the final exam.

Figure 2: The line graph shows student progress in each of the four class assignments based on 100 points.  The class average changed from 89.5 in the first assignment, to 89.1 in the midterm, and to 96.7 in the final exam.

 

Student obstacles in the first two assignments were inability to narrow down a topic in a focused research question and lack of solid arguments in thesis statements. For example, the research questions “are artists overly-hypocritical of other artists’ work for biased reasons?” and “is society to blame for engraving the idea that men were/are much more superior than women?” were not open-ended but rather took a position. Similarly, the question “what are the causes of animal extinction?” could be improved by selecting a specific animal or animal habitat.

Conversely, the question “how did Edgar Allan Poe’s life affect his writing?” was open-ended and focused but could be revised by concentrating on one event in Poe’s life. In the midterm, the statement “[weight gain and disease due to junk food intake] has been a problem that has been occurring for many years and there is a solution to the problem” was not a solid thesis but rather only stated there was a solution. On the other hand, the thesis “college students should get free tuition” suggested a solution but didn’t offer any justification. Lastly, the complete statement “due to the highly addictive nature of junk food and food manufacturers reluctance to alter their products or marketing, only some type of severe intervention will improve the quality of the food made in America and lessen the rates of obesity and diabetes” demonstrated a strong thesis and highlighted student learning progress, acknowledging the complexity of the issue while taking a side.

Another student challenge was inability to follow directions. Some failed to provide an opposing viewpoint in the annotated bibliography while others placed too much opinion in a summary. For example, one student wrote: “[with this article] I came up with many more questions than answers.” Still, another student didn’t provide summaries at all, but rather simply listed citations. While most students explained class pedagogy well in the final exam, some didn’t explain it thoroughly enough or didn’t provide examples in relation to assignments. For example, one student simply added a bullet list on the final to support the best ways to successfully develop a research question rather than explaining them. Several students neglected to distinguish between their assignments, making it uncertain where one assignment ended and another began.

Student reflection on progress was generally positive. In fact, a student suggested that one skill learned in the course was the “ability to think critically about information found” in research. In a first assignment reflection, a student commented, “after laying out all the information and my personal thoughts, I felt that I had a better understanding of the article, making it easier to develop my own research question.” Another submitted that in summarizing the article they “started to really absorb the information.” In midterm reflections, concept maps most successfully aided student success. One wrote: “[concept maps] helped narrow down the possibilities of creating research questions and starting my search with general keywords where I could find articles.” Another added: “it allows me to develop a cohesive structure for the ideas that I want to present and analyze the relationship between the ideas and the main concepts as well as how the ideas complement the concept.” Reflections on the annotated bibliography were also positive and suggested that students not only developed IL skills but planned to integrate concepts in other classes. “It breaks down the articles and picks apart key details,” one student suggested. Another delved deeper, adding that they will retain class work for reference in case they need citation assistance: “It will come in handy in classes where the professor prefers MLA8 style.”

Results of the final survey indicated that students were generally pleased with pedagogy and instruction provided, and they generally agreed that reflection aided research. All participants identified both making a concept map and using fundamental database tools as the most useful approaches to develop research questions. Written feedback was also primarily positive, indicating satisfaction in semester-long IL course. One student said: “I thought this class was really helpful and should have been one of the first classes that I took here at LaGuardia because it helped a lot with writing research papers and finding information.” Another said: “the topics helped with my knowledge and expanded my experience with different databases.”

Discussion

This semester-long case study provides an argument that the course helped students develop IL skills and that further research is warranted. Its limitations were that it was conducted on one class with a low enrollment. The ideal case is either a class with a larger enrollment in a longitudinal study or a comparative study of two class sections, one section using reflection as a learning practice and one without. The authors hope their work can serve as a framework for subsequent studies at LaGuardia and elsewhere to foster IL skills.

While grade success may suggest that students gained academic proficiency in the class, student reflection provides the best argument for credit-bearing IL courses. In their own words, students reflected how they integrated key concepts into their academic work that will be used in both future classes and in life. Students suggested the concept map as the key method to success in the course, making this graphical tool a vital part of library instruction. It allows students to break down a topic and make conclusions about what area to research. Reflections also provided an opportunity to connect class pedagogy to lifelong learning. In a final study feedback response, a student summarized the need for semester-long instruction, and that the course should have been one of the first classes that they took at LaGuardia to guide their research and IL skills.

Conclusion

Student achievement in the course demonstrates that when applied in a credit-bearing IL course, strong IL pedagogy and effective use of instructional technology aids and enhances student success. Students generally felt that the IL skills they developed in LRC103 can be utilized in other courses. However, for IL instruction to be successful, strong pedagogy is tantamount in concert with thoughtful implementation of instructional technology, in this case ePortfolio. Ideally, credit-bearing IL instruction would be offered when a student begins college. The following is a list of considerations when making IL pedagogy decisions generally and possible next steps for LRC103.

Prepare useful lessons and select appropriate assignments

Nothing replaces solid pedagogy. Constructive assignments foster student learning. The lesson on concept maps as a method to develop focused research topics spurred the greatest jump in level of the inquiry and problem-solving competency. Assignments that encouraged metacognition — Student midterm reflections and answers in the final survey — also suggest concept maps as a useful method to help narrow a research topic.

Instructional technology best practices

There is no ideal course management platform.  An easy-to-use format where material and information can be added and retrieved is ideal. Naturally, the library may not be the final voice in what platform software a campus uses. However, it can suggest recommendations based on feedback from students. It is recommended that class time should be allotted at the beginning of the semester for course software instruction. Subsequent instruction should also be considered at the time assignments are introduced or prior to due dates, in order to model best practices.

Finally, organization and maintenance of a platform is key to success, and, as with any electronic tool, ePortfolio is only as good as the effort put to its use. Things to avoid are unlabeled assignments, irrelevant material, uploads that require additional software, broken links, and incomplete evidence.

Gather Qualitative Data

Since LRC103 is a one-credit course with modest enrollment, the sample size will remain small thereby limiting the impact of quantitative data. Gathering more qualitative data in the form of written reflections and student interviews could benefit the ongoing development of IL pedagogy for librarians teaching this course. Regardless of the instructional technology utilized, student reflection and metacognition are essential for credit-bearing IL instruction courses.

Collaborate with other academic departments

To promote library resources and services, collaborate with other departments. The English department is one option. Developing a research question, finding information, formulating a thesis, and then writing an argumentative paper are the basis for a common English class paper. Beyond English, there are ample opportunities incorporate IL pedagogy in various disciplines: history, social sciences, and STEM programs. An essential feature of the ACRL Framework is its flexibility. “Research as Inquiry,” “Information has Value,” and “Searching as Strategic Exploration,” three of the six frames, are central to academic research regardless of discipline. For example, LaGuardia’s Library has collaboratively developed a curriculum of one-hour, one-shot library instruction sessions for the college’s First Year Seminars, introductory, discipline-specific courses that provide remediation (LaGuardia Media Resource Center, FYS Library Instruction, 2017). The curriculum maps from LaGuardia’s core competencies (e.g. global learning, integrative learning) to related concepts in the ACRL Framework and library instruction lesson plans for each seminar; the entire curriculum is hosted on the LibGuides platform. This type of collaboration could be expanded to the Library’s credit-bearing courses to incorporate discipline-specific IL pedagogy. One way to incorporate is participation in LaGuardia’s Learning Communities, which pair two or more courses around a common theme (LaGuardia Community College, “Liberal Arts Learning Communities,” 2018). These learning communities could give LaGuardia librarians an opportunity to teach discipline-specific versions of LRC103 that would implement the conclusions from this case study and supporting research.

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Appendix A: Prompt for Assignment 1

Prompt for Assignment #1.  First, students were asked to write a 200-word description of an article found in class.  Next, they were asked to develop their own research question based on the article. Lastly, they needed to explain in 100 words if writing the summary helped them develop the research question.

Appendix B: Prompt for Midterm

Prompt for the midterm, which was divided into two parts.  In the first part, based on the thesis from Assignment #1 or another thesis on a topic of their own choosing, students needed to first, find one article in support of their thesis and then upload a citation of the article to their ePortfolio.  Secondly, they worked on 30-second, persuasive pitch of their viewpoint, which they later delivered in class. Lastly, they wrote a 50-100 word paragraph in their ePortfolio, explaining why they selected the topic. In second part, students found two additional articles, one in support of their argument and one opposed to it.  Then, the created an annotated bibliography of all three articles and posted it their ePortfolio. Lastly, in a short paragraph in their ePortfolio, they reflected on the assignment and explained if it helped them narrow down and develop a research question.

Appendix C: Prompt for Final

Prompt for the final.  Using a five-minute video, five minute audio recording, or PowerPoint presentation, students were asked to explain the best ways to successfully develop a research question based on the skills learned in class.  In their answer they need to first, describe whether using ePortfolio as a reflective tool helped them develop a research question, then determine if the class assignments help you make connections to other classes, and lastly if they will use the skills you learned in class in future assignments.

Appendix D: Final Survey

Eight-question, student questionnaire to determine success of class pedagogy.  Questions sought to determine both which class lesson for developing research questions worked best to developing a research question and which ePortfolio reflection was most helpful.

About the Authors

Derek Stadler is the Web Services Librarian at CUNY LaGuardia Community College. Derek holds a B.S. in Computer Science, as well as an M.S. in Library Science and a M.A. in History. In addition to library research, Derek is also an avid history researcher, with a focus on New York City and urban studies.

Ian McDermott is an Assistant Professor and Instruction Librarian at LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York. His teaching and research focuses on information literacy and open educational resources. He is particularly interested in exploring the intersection of information literacy and critical pedagogy. He received an MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh, an MA in Art History from Purchase College, SUNY, and a BFA in Photography from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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