Friday, May 11, 2012

"Participatory Technologies" Article by Meredith Farkas

Meredith Farkas has written a good article for librarians involved with information literacy.  She celebrates the advantages of incorporating participatory technologies into the information-literacy classroom.  Using Web 2.0 tools such as blogs and wikis in the classroom can increase student learning and responsibility.  In fact, she claims that these tools "have the potential to create a more engaging learning environment.  Increased learner autonomy give[s] students a greater sense of responsibility for their learning and has been shown to improve student achievement" (84). 

One of the great advantages of blogs in relation to information-literacy learning is that blogs encourage reflective thinking, which can potentially guide students to think about their own research process.  Farkas notes that blogs can invite "reflection within an environment of peer interaction" (84).  Students will often listen to their peers before their instructors; they may be following the rule "Don't trust anyone over 30."

In theory, Farkas also extols the constructivist model, which naturally downgrades the traditional model of the teacher being the authority figure.  Students can learn and grow more when they interact with each other, challenging each others' ideas.  Of course, she explains this a bit more eloquently: "Constructivist pedagogy views students as active participants in learning who construct knowledge based on their existing understanding as well as interactions with peers and their instructor.  Unlike in behaviorism, the instructor is not seen as being wholly responsible for student learning" (86).  She ties this teaching theory to Web 2.0 and calls it Pedagogy 2.0, though I have not verified if she is the one to coin this term.
Microsoft Office Clipart.
As an instruction librarian myself, her final section appealed to me the most: "Information Literacy and Pedagogy 2.0."  She emphasizes the importance of evaluation:
In a world where the nature of authority has come into question (Chang et al., 2008), students will need to evaluate information in more nuanced ways then they are currently being taught at most colleges and universities.  Information literacy needs to be increasingly focused on teaching evaluative skills to students; skills that go well beyond determining whether or not something is peer-reviewed.  (90)
 Four or five years ago it seemed that librarians, myself included, still showed bogus websites to their students to raise awareness of the importance of evaluation.  In certain cases, this may still be appropriate and get students attendance.  However, it seems that college students need to evaluate information at a more sophisticated level.  Farkas' claim that "students will need to evaluate information in more nuanced ways" (90) makes sense.  Rather than looking at sources to see if their are black or white, legitimate or bogus, genuine or fake; students need to determine if information is relevant to their research question, to understand if it is credible, objective, current, accurate, and authoritative. 

The hardest thing for students to determine may be the accuracy of information, so looking at credibility, objectivity, and authority may give necessary clues for them to determine accuracy.  Most of all, they should be concerned with the relevance of sources, yet some students seem to be too quick with the gun at killing sources.  Part of college involves creativity at understanding how the broader subject relates to the more specific paper topic.

Meredith Farkas addresses a new issue, at least it did catch me off guard: "Those teaching information literacy will also need to focus on developing in students the dispositions needed to be a successful consumer and producer of knowledge" (90).  It seems easy to teach content and research strategies as a librarian, but developing new dispositions in students seems a tall order, not to say it is not desirable.  With one- or two-shot sessions how much can library instructors really do? 

Undoubtedly, this work of influencing student attitudes in the direction of knowledge creation may seem daunting for library instruction, yet it may also insert some life into the instruction.  This goes beyond just showing the steps of how to use a database and taking advantage of the features that can be easily explored independent of the instructor.  Therefore, I agree with Farkas, though it may require some stretching for most library instructors.  "It is important for librarians to consider how we can help students develop the attitudes that will make them critical and effective information seekers through learning activities" (Farkas 90).  Indeed, librarians should take the time to reflect on how to inspire students in this direction, but it may start with librarians becoming more passionate and confident about their own information-seeking abilities.

How does this translate to the library instruction classroom?  It means that librarians need to get students actively engaged in the process.  Farkas writes:
Librarians still offering lecture-based information literacy instruction need to explore ways to make their instruction more engaging and student-centered through collaborative, problem-based learning.  The Library literature is replete with case studies suggesting creative active techniques for enhancing student learning.  (90)
She goes on to encourage more questions, dialogue, and group work.  Rather than creating a set outline, librarians should conduct formative assessment to understand the constituents of their classes (91).  Each class coming to the library consists of a different group of individuals with different experiences.  Bending the instruction focus to meet students' needs seems to be more effective.  Going a step beyond this, it seems that success in the library instruction room may increase if the formative assessment is sent out and completed prior to attending the library workshop.  This allows the librarian time to think about where adjustments should be made.  Not all librarians like to adjust on the fly.
I agree with Farkas when she says the students do not reflect: "Students rarely reflect on their research process, which can result in the need to re-learn skills they used in their last assignment" (91).  Working with the instructor, a librarian may be able to leverage a reflective requirement, and they could do so with a blog (91).  I have always liked this idea, and Farkas explains why blogging and wiki creation are such good ideas.  "Blogs could also be used to have students investigate the social origins of information and identify bias within writing.  Students can engage with the peer review process through reviewing the work of their classmates on blogs and wikis" (92). 

Participatory technology, then, engages students in the peer-review process, invites them to critically assess the research process, provides "teachable moments" for the instructor, and increases student learning (92).  "These activities can generate an understanding of peer-review at a level far beyond simply checking a box in a database search interface" (92).  They can also increase the sense of community, enliven the classroom, allow the instructor to offer guidance and feedback, and lead to positive student learning outcomes.  Moreover, it may even increase writing and communication skills.
This article was very well written and offered a number of insights into the value of participatory technology as it relates to library instruction in higher education.
I do recognize her from American Libraries as the author of numerous technology columns.  She is a librarian at Portland State University and writes the blog titled Information Wants to be Free.

Work Cited
Farkas, Meredith.  "Participatory technologies, pedagogy 2.0 and information literacy."  Library Hi Tech 30.1 (2012): 82-94.

No comments: