Day 4 // Using Information Literacy

Jul 27, 2021

Today we're going to discuss applying information literacy (IL) concepts in real-world contexts. These include the classroom, the workplace, and all the many areas of our lives where we search for information--or coach others in their searches. Walk through Karen's presentation on ways to reinforce IL skills. This will be useful for all of you who teach, or who coach instructors on incorporating IL into their teaching. Then explore Geoff's ideas on how to incorporate students' past experiences into their learning. Take time to attend (or catch up on) another workshop or keynote if you have time. We'll bring the whole week together with today's Sync Meeting and Discussion Board.

Today's Sync Meeting (optional; 2:00 Mountain/Denver time):

Reinforcing Information Literacy throughout the Semester

Instructor: Karen Sobel (

This workshop discusses opportunities you have to help students and colleagues continue to build their IL skills. It has a classroom focus, but the concepts apply in many settings. If you tend to work in settings other than classrooms, think about how you can apply these ideas in your settings. We look forward to hearing your ideas after the session!

Async Activity: Reflection Question

Take a moment after the presentation to think, or to write in your reflection journal:

  • What’s one opportunity you have to reinforce IL skills that students have already learned in your classroom or workplace?

Incorporating Students’ Life Experience & Interests into Their Research

Instructor: Geoff Johnson

At my previous university, I taught a course for credit called LS225: Research Skills in the Social Sciences. It was my first and only foray into for-credit instruction. In the course, I worked with students on a series of assignments through which they chose a topic, brainstormed a search strategy, identified scholarly conversations around the topic, and ultimately created an annotated bibliography. I remember very clearly an interaction I wonder how I would approach today. I asked a student what they were thinking about for their topic.

They said, “I want to compare the playing styles of LeBron James and Michael Jordan.”

I said, “Oh, yeah. That won’t work. You need to choose a scholarly topic for this class.”

I didn’t talk to them about a bunch of parallel possibilities in the scholarly literature (there is research on playing styles that could be applied to Jordan and James; maybe communication scholars look at how analysts talk about playing styles?). I just dismissed it. It could have been an interesting topic – particularly an interesting topic to them if I could have made my objectives a little more flexible.

Ask any librarian who does reference, and they’ll all tell you they’ve had many, many students come to them with this problem: “there’s nothing on my topic.” A lot of the time, there actually are articles on their topic to be found, but they can’t be found using the search terms they’re using, or there are articles available on each part of their topic, but none that put everything together the way they want to.

When we can work together to parse out the topic, identify where different components are being discussed in the scholarly literature, these can be some of the most satisfying reference transactions for librarians (and, I hope, for students, too?). But for each student who comes and gets help and clarity around how to connect their ideas or arguments to the scholarly literature, who knows how many don’t ever make that connection (see note 1 below).

A lot of this, in my mind, speaks to the idea of conversations around a topic (see the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education linked below). A lot of the issues I mentioned above are directly related to assignments that require students to find scholarly sources. The conversation happening among scholars might differ wildly from conversations taking place in other arenas. And, depending on a student’s topic, the scholarly literature might not be the best place to go, or they might need to think about their topic from a new angle in order to make that inquiry productive.

Sometimes, the assignment asks students to compare the arguments in multiple sources, but especially for someone without a great deal of experience reading scholarly sources (and even for folks with a ton of experience, sometimes), finding the argument in an empirical research article can be a chore (see note 2 below), and even once you’ve found it, it’s a different kind of argument than you might have been hoping for.

Without getting too much farther into detail, there are a lot of steps to a research project that might get done without so much as a thought for someone who has been doing research in the literature for a decade or more. But we all learned to do this at some point. It wasn’t natural.

So I propose two possibilities to make research assignments more valuable, and productive to students (and probably more enjoyable to read!):

  1. Throw out the “cite 12 scholarly sources” requirement, and instead institute a requirement (and, ideally, a scaffolding assignment) that students identify the most appropriate conversations in which to engage for the topic they’ve chosen. Have them identify multiple venues where people are discussing the issue and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of making their case in each venue. What kind of evidence is valued in each conversation? Who is considered an authority?
  2. Sometimes, depending on the learning objectives of the class, the scholarly-sources-only requirement is important – if that’s the case, consider reflecting on why that is and make the scholarly literature – what it looks like, how it’s made, who makes it, effective ways to read it – a part of the work. My colleagues Jessica Critten and Kodi Saylor discussed earlier this week some of the shortcomings of the scholarly literature and the components that make it problematic, so please don’t just tell students, “because it’s the only trustworthy information” or “because it’s unbiased”. It’s not the only information that is trustworthy; it’s not always trustworthy; it’s biased (just like me and you!).

Build a scaffolding assignment leading up to the “bigger” research assignment that asks students to read and critique an article (peer-reviewed doesn’t mean unquestionable!). Work with them on what scholarly articles do (they focus on a vary narrow aspect of a topic for the most part; they build on the research of other scholars; one thing they rarely do is present something as the answer); how they differ across disciplines. Having spent some time on aspects like these of the scholarly literature could safe students a lot of frustration and ultimately make the research project a more positive experience.

As much as possible, when you’re embarking on something new for the semester, especially things that you’ve seen past students struggle with, take a moment to check in.


  1. Full disclosure: I didn’t find out what a scholarly article is until I was half-way through my master’s degree. I had seen them, used them, could vaguely identify one before that, but it wasn’t until I was given an assignment to develop a lesson plan to explain scholarly articles to students that I really knew.
  2. Especially with regard to the sciences and the social sciences – how jarring must an empirical research article be to someone who’s been taught the five-sentence/five-paragraph structure most of their lives? Peer-reviewed literature definitely does not tell you what it’s going to tell you, tell you, and then tell you what it told you.

Async Activity: Connecting the Dots

Thinking about Geoff’s discussion of Incorporating Students’ Life Experience & Interests into their Research, consider the ways in which you give students space to nurture their interests and honor their lived experience. Write about it in your reflection journal.

Attend a DPL workshop from outside the IL course.

Link: Digital Pedagogy Lab 2021 schedule

After you attend your session, please think about some major messages you’d like to share with your coursemates. Also, how do ideas you learned in the workshop supplement ideas you’ve developed during the IL course?

Sync Meeting or Discussion Board

Join the day's Sync Meeting (optional; 2:00 Mountain/Denver time):

Share thoughts on the Thursday Question in YellowDig

  • What workshops have you attended? Have you noticed any overlap or connections between what we are exploring in our track and any of the workshops you’ve attended.
  • How do you incorporate a student's lived experience in your context? Strategies? Topics that are of personal interests but also allow for success in the assignment. Different conversations can have people to shape their work/assignments in terms of topic, scope, and evidence.

One-Page Reflection Write-Up

Instead of reflection questions, we would like you to look at your notes for this week including the answers to the previous three days' reflection questions, and write a very short (barely) one-page reflection on what you learned this week. There are no specific questions to answer or required demonstration of your knowledge. This is space for you to reflect and think about what is important to you. That could mean listing your main takeaways from the week. Or perhaps spending time considering what you value as an educator. You are welcome to share this write up with the group via YellowDig.

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