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Uniting information literacy & teacher education.

Abstract

This article describes an education professor and a librarian's collaborative teacher action research study of developing information literacy skills in a graduate teacher certification program in Literacy Education. We discuss the problem that initiated our instructional and research partnership, the methods used in information literacy instruction and assessment, the data sources and results and interpret the results in a discussion of how we plan to further develop the students' information literacy skills.

Introduction

Today, teacher candidates must not only be able to negotiate the Dewey Decimal System and the Library of Congress Classification Systems, understand the tasks needed for locating library materials, and be familiar with elementary research concepts, but must also keep current in the ever-changing technological environment which today's libraries embrace. No more are the days where students are satisfied with obtaining information from print sources. Today's students want to sit down at a computer and effortlessly and immediately locate the information they desire. Warnken, (2004) discusses how students who are, "comfortable with technology but do not necessarily have the skills to function effectively and manage the ever-increasing quantities of information resources available in the electronic environment." Little is known by students about the review process that librarians follow to choose materials in their subject area. Most students don't know that academic librarians are subject selectors in specific fields, usually possessing additional degrees in these areas. Extra steps, which usually include professional reviews from several sources, trade publication notices, materials discussed at conferences, and catalog subscriptions, result in a carefully constructed, well-researched collection in each subject area. Manuel's article, (as cited by Warnken, 2004) identified the problem of technologically competent students who overestimate their ability to effectively search for and access information. Kaufman, (as cited in Murry, McKee & Hammons, 1997) suggests that although we live in an "information age," most of society suffers from "information incompetence." Students often aren't self-aware of the problems they face using electronic sources as their primary method of obtaining information. Only when they find themselves unable to manage, evaluate and select appropriate sources, they become frustrated by what they perceive as too-demanding assignments of more positively, reach out to find support from librarians and instructors. Using library resources is critical to students' abilities to understand concepts and access literature about topics of importance to teachers. Research skills must be taught to teacher candidates so that they can conduct their own scholarly inquiry, and teach their students how to manage and evaluate the abundance of information available. Therefore, the need for collaboration between education faculty and librarians is greater than ever.

Context

As authors of this account, we recognize that it isn't unusual to create partnerships between librarians and teaching faculty to infuse information literacy skills more effectively into the curriculum. Our goal and commitment is to strengthen students' abilities to access scholarly, education-related literature within university databases and the Internet, critically evaluate their sources, and then meaningfully incorporate this information into a scholarly review of literature in the field of literacy education. However, as we have worked together to support developing greater information literacy in teachers, we have found the need to examine the content, the amount of class time allotted, and the methods used to integrate information literacy skills. In this paper we discuss our experiences with supporting students in the graduate literacy program in learning the concepts and skills associated with information literacy for professional competence. In earlier semesters, the Reference/Education Librarian demonstrated a search to locate sources of information about an authentic question (e.g. "How can I help fourth graders transition from invented to conventional spelling?"). Students were expected to replicate the demonstration with their own topics. However, we were disappointed by high levels of expressed frustration, and by the lack of quality sources cited in the students' papers. Dismayed by students' inability to provide scholarly research articles and literature reviews that supported their focus questions, we initiated a collaborative effort to improve results. At the same time, this effort became a source of inquiry for teacher action research. We began by investigating how the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, (ACRL, 2000) defined an "information-literate student." According to these standards, the information-literate student:

* Determines the nature and extent of the information needed. Accesses needed information effectively and efficiently.

* Evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.

* Individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose.

* Understands many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses and uses information ethically and legally.

As noted by Henderson & Scheffler (2003), teacher education programs are now required to ensure that teacher candidates comprehend the wide range of information literacies, demonstrate information literacy skills, and integrate information literacy strategies into P-12 instructional activities. The National Council for Accreditation in Teacher Education (NCATE, 2002) standards for teacher education make reference to information literacy in multiple ways, including content standards for candidate knowledge, skills, and dispositions, and in multiple references to the need for candidates to develop technology skills that they can use to enhance their own and their students' learning. With the foundational guidance of ACRL and NCATE, it became apparent to us that instruction in information literacy needed greater emphasis within the teacher education curriculum.

At our institution students who enroll in Literacy and Research: Inquiry I are beginning a graduate program toward literacy teacher certification. All students are already certified teachers, and achieved the baccalaureate. Additionally, the program requires ah entry level undergraduate GPA of 3.0, which would normally lead one to assume a facility with college-level research skills. One goal for the course is to introduce technology. Ability to access Blackboard, an electronic course environment, is one of the technology competencies now expected of all the university's students. While not a "hybrid" course, Blackboard's online course space served as an information center (Lindsay, 2004). Blackboard provides a way to communicate and share information between course meetings and to respond to questions from students.

The course's content goal is to heighten awareness of the importance and value of research, and enable future uses for scholarly research by professional literacy educators. To these ends, information literacy skills are necessary to locate and identify empirical research about reading and writing. Therefore, candidates for literacy certification need orientation and instruction in the use of databases to select professional journal articles. With guidance from a course text, Action Research: A Guide for Teacher Researchers (Mills, 2003), students describe their topics of interest, create focus questions, and prepare a list of keywords, synonyms, and descriptors that they think might be useful to locate sources relevant to their focus questions. Students are supported in composing an evaluative review of relevant literature using the text Preparing Literature Reviews: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches (Pan, 2001) and in communicating their new knowledge through a PowerPoint presentation. The task requires facility with information literacy and use of multiple technology applications.

Method

Our study began with a lengthy discussion about graduate student research skills and technology issues. Our experiences working with literacy graduate students led us to share the inconsistencies between what we expected as faculty and what the students actually did in terms of scholarship. Since this course was ripe with possibilities to blend information literacy skill development with research on teaching reading and writing skills, we decided to work together to help these students acquire the information literacy skills necessary to develop their access to and understanding of research, and simultaneously to commence an action research study of this process and its outcomes. We modified a survey instrument to gather data about students' initial perceptions of their information literacy skills and needs. We created questions to assess confidence in information search strategies and familiarity and comfort levels in the library. This survey is delivered as the first assignment in Blackboard, which is introduced in the first class. The instructor then retrieved the survey's aggregated results and posted them on Blackboard's Discussion Board for student input.

By the third scheduled meeting, students have chosen a literacy topic and created focus questions to guide their inquiries. In this session the librarian is introduced to demonstrate search techniques. As part of this guidance, the librarian addresses differences between scholarly journals and popular magazines (O'Neill and Roberson, 2005). Students search the library's databases in a scaffolded activity to locate sources. This activity offers students an opportunity to select appropriate databases, use advanced search techniques, and practice how to phrase search terms using Boolean operators to locate peer reviewed journal articles that meet criteria for scholarly research. They identify "practitioner" oriented articles and compare them to "research," and debate whether a particular article is recognizable as research. They identify research methods, threats to validity, and discuss useful ideas they can derive from the article. We demonstrate how to cite articles retrieved from electronic resources using the APA Handbook. The fourth class is utilized to discuss and demonstrate the five criteria needed to critically evaluate information obtained from the Internet (Beck, 1997). Students' learning is reinforced by viewing "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," New Mexico State University's Library webpage, designed to demonstrate how seemingly credible websites may be biased, inaccurate, and misleading. Administered via Blackboard, a midterm examination consisting of short answer questions and performance tasks is used to evaluate the effectiveness of the information literacy skills development. Additionally, the course project literature review paper provides substantiating data to support the effectiveness of teaching information literacy skills.

Results

Survey response data regarding technology experiences and attitudes suggests that respondents ate comfortable with technology, their computer skills, and conducting research. However, in the Fall '05 semester, where two sections of Literacy & Research I students were asked "What questions do you have about using the library's resources for research in literacy? "98%, (N=15 and N=9), did not have confidence in their ability to locate scholarly research, determine relevance, synthesize literature, compose a literature review, format citations or even know where the library was located. Representative responses were:

* How do I locate topics for this research? Where is the educational section in the library? Will I be able to use my home computer to access the library? Ate there any restricted times?

* I have never used anything in the Swirbul library so I would like to learn how to use their resources to research literacy this semester.

* I find the Eric database to be overwhelming. I would like to learn how to use it more effectively.

* Not really. I am doing this Pre-course assessment now because this wonderful colleague of mine sat down with me and showed me the tope.

In other essay answers students reported that their fears centered on technology. Only four said they felt comfortable using technology. They complained about lack of access in their own classrooms, and worried about creating electronic portfolios.

Discussion

The pre-course survey supplied us with conflicting results. The more direct questions answered by true or false told us that the great majority of students felt comfortable with their technology and research abilities; yet their answers to the essay questions, their in-class behavior and comments on Blackboard's discussion board told us otherwise. While students professed enjoyment and comfort with computers in the short survey responses, we noticed through concrete experiences in the classroom that these same candidates did not possess confidence in their technology skills, talked about their lack of access to equipment, displayed negative attitudes towards technology and are often confused and frustrated by technology demands. Lacking skills in using computer tools, their anxiety, frustration and negativity bordered on technology aversion (Sosin & Rosenbloom, 2005).

Literature reviews submitted during previous semesters show that even practicing teachers are not aware of their field's professional literature. Many graduate students begin the literacy education program without knowledge of the differences between general interest, practitioner-audience literature and the professional research literature needed for graduate research. We realize that we must establish the differences between general interest articles published in practitioner magazines from professional research published in journals. Unfortunately, brevity is required for acquainting students with library resources and information literacy skills, due to the large amount of content incorporated in this introductory course. During the first few semesters of this course, only one class out of fifteen was allocated to library search techniques. It has become clear that there needs to be more time allowed for the search and review of the literature.

Conclusion

This was the first time at our institution that a librarian together with a faculty member of the literacy program worked together to design and conduct a teacher action research project to study effective approaches to information literacy by education graduate students. This semester, both instructor and librarian were actively able to respond and support literacy students through the use of Blackboard. Not only did we provide the midterm through this electronic format, but we both took active parts in threaded discussions that created a forum for scholarly debate.

The results of our pre-survey proved two things to us. One, that our students did not understand the difference between information literacy and issues of technology, and two, these same students were over confident about their technology skills in general. When we asked questions about information retrieval skills, students' answers were about technology skills. Information literacy was rarely mentioned as an area of concern, and when it was discussed, it was in relationship to finding articles for the literature review assignment only. They never made the connection that information literacy might be about more than just finding journal articles, and that the successful location of relevant articles represented only a portion of the information literacy skills they need in their professional lives.

It is our opinion that it should be the responsibility of every educator to clarify and correct the misunderstanding and confusion students may have of the term "information literate", and it is our belief that it must come from a unified, collaborative approach of both the education professor and the academic librarian. Therefore, as part of our plan to further develop the students" information literacy skills, with support from Literacy Program faculty, we have modified the curriculum to increase the number of library sessions to provide multiple opportunities for a librarian to introduce and reinforce information literacy skills including how to:

* Conduct a title, author and keyword search in an online catalog

* Take a thesis statement and create a search string in a subject-related database

* Choose the right database for their research needs

* Use Boolean operators to create an effective search term

* Use a thesaurus to help build topics or search strings

* Cite their references in APA style

* Discover and critically evaluate information obtained from electronic resources

Our attempts to unite information literacy and teacher education have provided us with data to better support future efforts to support and assess learning. In the absence of a formal Information Literacy Program, our goal is to empower and expand the capacity of reading teacher candidates by demonstrating how to effectively access information related to the field of literacy. We continue to try out different approaches and teaching methods in order to make the tasks more meaningful for literacy students. Our study of incorporating information literacy skills in a graduate literacy course has resulted in curriculum development and our ongoing collaboration. Our goal is to provide students with a greater ability to locate and assess information for themselves, in support of the children they teach. With scaffolding, and our ongoing collaboration, we can attain this goal.

References

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2000). Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning. Retrieved August 26, 2005, from http://www.ala.org/ala/ acrl/acrlstandards/informationliteracycompetency.htm.

Beck, Susan. (1997). Evaluation criteria. The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: or, Why It's a Good Idea to Evaluate Web Sources. Retrieved October 24, 2005 from http://lib.nmsu.edu/ instruction/evalcrit.html.

Beck, Susan E. (1997). Examples. The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: or, Why It's a Good Idea to Evaluate Web Sources. Retrieved October 24, 2005 from http://lib.nmsu.edu/ instruction/evalexpl.html.

Henderson, M.V., & Scheffler, A.J. (Winter, 2003). New literacies, standards, and teacher education. Education, 124(2), 390-395.

Lindsay, E.-B. (Winter, 2004). The best of both worlds: Teaching a hybrid course. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 8(4), 16-19. Retrieved August 27, 2005 from http://www.rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/cho2738z4.htm.

Mills, G. E. (2003). Action research: a Guide for the teacher researcher. Upper Saddle Ridge, N J: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Murry, J.W. Jr., McKee, E.C., & Hammons, J.O. (1997). Faculty and librarian collaboration: The road to information literacy for graduate students. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 8(2), 107-121.

National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. (2002). Professional standards for the accreditation of schools, colleges, and departments of education. Retrieve August 21, from http://www.ncate.org/public/unitStandardsRubrics.asp?ch=4.

O'Neill, L. & Roberson, G. (2005). Periodicals: Scholarly journal or popular magazine?? Retrieved October 22, 2005 from http://libraries.adelphi.edu/bar/r-17.pdf.

Pan, M. Ling. (2004). Preparing literature reviews: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Glendale, CA: Pryczak Publications.

Sosin, A. & Rosenbloom, B. (2005). Discovering & Addressing Technology Aversion in Graduate Literacy Specialist Candidates. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Society for Information Technology in Teacher Education. Technology & Teacher Education Annual, 2005. Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education. 1601-1605.

Warnken, P. (March, 2004). The impact of technology on information literacy education in libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship v30(2). 151-6. Retrieved March 9, 2005 from Library Literature and Information Full Text Database.

Adrienne Andi Sosin, Adelphi University, NY

Patricia A. Deleo, Adelphi University, NY

Andi Sosin, Ed.D., is an Associate Professor in the School of Education at Adelphi University; Pat Deleo, M.S.L.I.S, is an Assistant Professor and Reference/Education Librarian at Adelphi University.
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Author:Deleo, Patricia A.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 2005
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