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Visible IL: Curriculum Integration

Friday, June 3, 2011

In my last post I linked to an article that detailed some of the barriers facing librarians who want to integrate information literacy instruction into the curriculum. I also pointed you to a couple of blog posts concerning the possibility that maybe, just maybe, information literacy was a topic of limited interested outside instruction librarian circles, and the faculty we work with might be wanting something from us that was different from what we thought we should be giving them.

Of course these opinions do not represent the entire range of thought concerning information literacy. Here at the Schusterman Library, for example, we are plugging away at our plan for an integrated info lit program. It’s not that we don’t recognize that there might be pitfalls.  We know they exist.

So I asked our director, Stewart Brower, the obvious question: why are we doing this? His answer was simple:  because there are so few other options that work. One-shot workshops, for example—why wouldn’t students see that as a tacked-on extra, something their professors employ to fill in otherwise empty class time, something that’s supposed to be good for you but not very useful or interesting? Of course this isn’t so, but it’s not surprising that students might see it that way. One-shots are isolated from everything else in the course, they’re often given at the start of the semester when students are overwhelmed with the beginningness of it all, and the content is sure to be forgotten before the first research assignment. Not to mention the fact that the professors only want to give us fifteen minutes for the entire one-shot. And who can blame them? Faculty have enough to do without trying to cram us into the nooks and crannies of their courses.

This is the point where I acknowledge colleagues who do amazing work with one-shots – librarians who teach their hearts out, who leave their students gasping with the brilliance of their lessons, who in less than an hour can turn recalcitrant students into IL converts. We do the best we can with the tools that we have. This is what librarians have always done.

But curriculum integration, for us at least, would be better, no matter how effective our one-shots are. Stewart likes curriculum integration, he says, for several reasons. First, IL librarians can take a big picture approach to their jobs that way. We’re not just trying to hurriedly show students the most important bullet points, as we would in an unintegrated approach. We can look at the student’s needs throughout the entire program and offer tailored instruction at the appropriate points.

Second, curriculum integrated IL is highly assessable. We should end up with the data that allows us to tell administration that our instruction made a difference. Of course you can do this with isolated workshops too. But numbers showing improvement over the long term are far more meaningful than scores that show improvement before and after a thirty minute workshop.

Finally, a curriculum integrated approach reaches all the students. We would no longer have to rely on our current hit and miss approach, relying so heavily on the faculty friends who recognize our value.  Stewart’s last word on the subject: “A strong information literacy program really should start by asking how to reach all the students and make certain they have all learned something about employing critical thinking when using information resources. And I think that has to start with a look at the curriculum, first.”

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