by Erin Vieira, WIC intern

Instructional librarians Hannah Gascho Rempel and Jane Nichols explore the topic of information literacy in their workshop “Information Literacy as an Act of Critical Exploration and Reading”.

Information literacy work is often presented as a linear process: you identify a need, find information related to the need, evaluate it for credibility, apply it in a specific context, and finally, acknowledge where it came from. Information searching, evaluating, and use is also presented as an iterative process. However, as Rempel pointed out, information searches are actually  often messy, and there aren’t always a specific set of skills or processes that every single person can follow. Rempel offers the following graphic of how research actually works:

Rempel highlights two aspects that are often undermentioned and over-assumed: exploration and reading. It is important to teach and learn about these two aspects so students have stronger information literacy. Although there is no specific method, we can facilitate how students ask questions with these aspects in mind. It takes time to model and build these ideas into assignment structures, but in the end, it can allow students to more actively practice this skill, which can be used for critical purposes in their field or to emphasize or create change as citizens.

Pre-Existing Reading Assumptions

Before delving into the specifics of reading for information literacy, Rempel first addresses preexisting assumptions she and other people may have about this aspect.

Rempel considers herself an ‘active’ reader. When reading for academic purposes, she typically uses a screen with her text on it and uses Zotero for notetaking. However, her reading process may differ from others; some may use a highlighter and a printed text instead. For many who have been reading a long time, it can be unclear why we make certain reading choices, so it’s important to understand how we each go about reading. Considering the range of what and why we read in our own fields can help us assess this.

For students, the topic of reading can be difficult. Sometimes, they think reading is unnecessary, too hard, and takes too much time. Without understanding the system behind reading, they can miss contextual cues that help them differentiate sources. Having more practice in reading can help students be able to identify the authority and credibility of their sources, and we can help them in part by sharing our own reading purposes and approaches.

A Framework for Reading

With this in mind, Rempel brings forward a framework distilled from Robert DiYanni because of its flexibility and adaptability to many different contexts. The framework suggests reading be done in three stages.

  1. Read to understand (annotate, verbally summarize)
  2. Read to look for meaning (make connections outside of the text, discuss)
  3. Read in conversation (generate response questions, discuss)

After going over the framework, Rempel opened up the breakout rooms for workshop participants with an activity.

In the breakout room, participants played the role of a student, but brought their teacher lenses. Rempel prompted participants to think of ways the reading framework may or may not apply to their own contexts, asking, “How could this be incorporated into your own teaching strategies?”

Pre-Existing Exploration Assumptions

After discussing the reading portion, Rempel then questioned what pre-existing assumptions people may have about the topic of exploration. When students think about exploration, it can often feel like a gamble, trying to guess what instructors want from them. Because of this, they avoid unfamiliar topics, leading them to choose overly narrow or broad topics. Overall, they can feel rushed to arrive at their final topics or conclusions and miss the exploration stage altogether.

A Curiosity Framework

To decrease the riskiness for students, Rempel highlights another framework, the curiosity framework. The goals of this framework are to:

  • Explore with your perceptions (notice if you are visualizing a place—what you might be seeing, smelling, or hearing)
  • Explore interpersonally (notice if you’re thinking about specific people, groups, or if you have implications about those preconceived groups)
  • Explore epistemically (think about similar language or patterns used in other sources, research, and in language and expression)

Much like the last activity, Rempel asked participants to go into breakout rooms, but with the curiosity framework in mind this time.

Transparency and Application to Own Context

Once the participants returned from the breakout room, Nichols spoke about applying what the participants had explored. She described the importance of being transparent about reading expectations and purposes; students feel more motivated when instructors are more transparent about the readings. Creating precise opportunities to practice reading and exploration skills can help them feel more motivated and engage in active and critical thinking.

Nichols also suggested the transition from an affective lens model to a holistic approach. She recommended using Carol Kuhlthau’s affective lens model, which establishes students’ emotional stages they go through during research and reading, and Jessie Loyer’s addition on how to foster student interest creates a more holistic approach, allowing for student care. There are times where research can open students to harm, with materials that can discredit their current knowledge, so it is important to acknowledge how to best care for the topic.

Nichols also notes that another way to care for students within reading is being transparent about their disciplines. Students often go through and switch between different disciplines. Naming skills and habits in a concrete way allows for more clarity for them.

With one last activity, Nichols asked some questions to have participants consider this aspect.

With these questions in mind, participants were urged to continue to reflect on their knowledge of information literacy and how to best incorporate it into their classes for both transparency and effectiveness.

You can view a recording of the workshop here.

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