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Supporting students’ information literacy skills

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Contributor:  Andy LewisAnthea Chou, Victoria Hart and Sonja Rivera

Department: Library Services

Tags: QMplus, Information Literacy Skills

Link to the Qmplus course

Background/ Context

The Library’s Teaching & Learning Support Team is a relatively new team that was created during the recent restructuring of Academic Services. Central to this new Team’s collective role is the teaching of Information Literacy Skills.

Evidence indicates (Cordell, 2013; Mackey and Jacobson, 2011) that many undergraduates are adept at using a range of information technology skills for their own – largely social – purposes, but initially experience difficulty in acquiring and applying these skills to academic contexts, especially skills concerned with identifying, searching for, and evaluating information. Students may be adept at using new technologies, but they do not necessarily have the abilities to use research content in effective ways: ‘digital literacies and information literacies do not go hand in hand’. (Rowlands, 2008)

The four Information Assistants in the T&LS Team were charged with the task of creating an ILSs module on QMplus that would serve as baseline support for undergraduates who need:

  1. to understand the concept of ILSs and master practical techniques for effectively searching the Library catalogue and other resources;
  2. an introduction to the basics of referencing academic writing;
  3. to learn how to efficiently collect, store and manage the bibliographical data they accumulate during the course of their studies. ILSs are normally taught through the medium of teaching sessions (group presentations, workshops and 1-to-1s); this QMplus module aims to introduce these skills in an electronic context.

The instructions were that:

  • Content should be concise, engaging and innovative – new ideas, novel and ambitious approaches were positively encouraged
  • Visual imagery should be bright and prominent
  • The module should include interactive content whenever possible, which could be used to complement actual teaching sessions
  • The content should include examples from a range of subject disciplines
  • The long-term benefits (e.g. for employability and career prospects) of possessing accomplished ILSs should be clearly emphasised
  • The module should reflect the current strategic aims of College, the Student Experience – Teaching Learning and Assessment strategy and the Professional Services strategy

Methodology

The IAs worked closely together as a team with no one person taking charge. There were regular meetings, but they were short and focused on resolving practical issues. It quickly became apparent that each of us had different strengths and individual tasks were ‘assigned’ without fuss to the appropriate person. We all sought constant feedback, help and constructive criticism from each other; duplication of work did not prove a problem.

Establishing the basic structure of the module took time and a lot of discussion and debate within the team, but consensus was eventually achieved on a simple format based around three themes:

  • Find it! Tips for broadening search strategies and effectively searching catalogues, databases, etc
  • Use it! How to evaluate and assess information and avoid plagiarism
  • Reference it! An introduction to academic referencing, and some practical suggestions for managing bibliographical data

There was a set of existing pages on QMplus which were essentially experiments and abandoned ideas undertaken by other colleagues in the Library. Rather than create a fresh set of pages from scratch we took over these pages and reconfigured them in line with the agreed structure; certain elements from the experimental pages were retained when appropriate. Other benefit of QMPlus was that it has tools to create online books and in future it will allow us to add interactive activities such as Quizzes and Discussion forums.

We then researched and captured ideas and resources from various webpages, publications and online software. We sought to enhance interactivity and the visual impact, and to that end we filmed our own introductory video using a personal iPad, created cartoons and quizzes and found images and pictures that we could use without infringing copyright. There was an ethos of trial and error with all of these undertakings, and we found that we had to be persistent and sometimes work around the technology to achieve results.

Managers provided helpful feedback and constructive criticism throughout the life of the project. Whilst the module was a work in progress we also had a useful meeting with a member of the E-learning Unit who offered general guidance and suggestions.

Outcomes /Evaluation

The module was completed before the deadline and was successfully launched. Initial feedback from colleagues who have reviewed the results has been positive; some flaws have been pointed out and in time it may be possible to address these. The IAs are keen that these do not remain static pages which gradually become dated but are refreshed with new and/or improved content.

Key points for effective practice in the future

We found that generating ideas for the module came easily (in fact, we probably had too many ideas); the difficulty came in selecting, refining and translating them into reality, and in that sense we did not always find QM Plus to be straightforward to use. One post-upgrade difficulty, for example, was that the edit and preview modes did not quite correspond making adjustments and fine tuning a somewhat laborious process. We also found difficulties with constructing suitable user navigation routes through the module; we hope that with training and expert guidance we will be able to iron out these wrinkles in future.

We used a team member’s personal iPad to film and record our short video; this produced good results (possibly better than we expected), but we had originally hoped that with guidance from other members of staff we could have used college equipment.

Essentially, we learnt about QMplus as we went along; this is a good way to get to grips with the system, but it was slow-going at times and focused training would undoubtedly have saved us some time. We did not feel that we had anyone to turn to for practical guidance and advice and were thus thrown back on our own resources.

Other tools used

In keeping with the DIY approach we used the following free software in addition to QMplus tools:

  • Screencastomatic allows one-click screen capture recording on Windows or Mac computers with no install.
  • Powtoon is fantastic tool for creating animated videos and presentations, it’s really simple to use and very eye-catching.
  • Emaze is a presentation software, although we used it as a prelude to one of our quizzes
  • Slideshare
  • iMovie
  • Garageband
  • YouTube

Some members of the team proved adept at getting to grips with this software, and the knowledge they gained whilst using these products may prove useful in the future. Most of this software required us to create online accounts; some of these were personal accounts, but some were created as team IA accounts as it was felt that this might be useful for future purposes.

References:

Cordell, Rosanne Marie. (2013). Information Literacy and Digital Literacy: Competing or complementary? Communications in Information Literacy, 7, (2), 177-183

Mackey, T. P., & Jacobson, T. (2011). Teaching information literacy online. London: Facet Publishing.

Rowlands, I. (2008). Understanding information behaviour: how do students and faculty find books? The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34, (1), 3-15

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