LSC644: Information Literacy and Instructional Design (final exam, in class-open book).
ALA Information Literacy Standard Three addresses the cognitive/constructivist concept of building new knowledge onto the existing knowledge base and value system that already exists in the student. But applying that concept to an underserved population could add some complications to the equation, especially if one had previously assumed the existence of a homogenous population with a shared value system and a shared accumulated knowledge base. In responding to this issue, we should imagine a particular underserved group and the specific difficulties that may be faced in helping members to evaluate information.
Let’s consider a newly arrived immigrant group whose members are refugees from a country in violent conflict, say Somalia. There is an immediate language barrier that must be overcome. There are existing values that need to be understood, as well as new values that need to be taught and inculcated. Suddenly, what may have been a simple problem of applying the constructivist model of discovery, guided design, advance organizers and metacognition (Grassian, 2009) morphs into a requirement to apply all three models we studied, i.e., the behaviorist model of active participation promoted by programmed instruction, modeling and behavior modification, the cognitive/constructivist model already cited, and the humanist model incorporating elements of self-actualization, self-sufficiency, and self-confidence values in order the overcome the barriers that otherwise would keep isolated this underserved group. We will look at each model in turn, and review common threads across all three as we discuss why a comprehensive approach is required in this case.
First, why is a comprehensive approach required? We already mentioned the language barrier, a very fundamental bar to learning. Setting up language instruction, face-to-face, as well as online, will go a long way towards finding a way to overcome that barrier. Assuming that members are motivated to master English, as most members of refugee groups are, setting up on-line tutorials to supplement and complement face-to-face instruction will speed up that process, and in fact, may enable us to move past the behaviorist model and to the cognitive/constructivist model immediately. We wouldn’t want to dwell too long on behaviorist methods, anyway, as we are aware of the limitations inherent in the behaviorist model, i.e., a focus on observable stimulus makes it difficult to study other pertinent phenomena such as understanding, reasoning, and thinking (Bransford, 1999). But before leaving behaviorism too soon, we would confirm that active participation and readiness (including mastery of the subject material, level of complexity, and self-pacing) are common threads in both the behaviorist and the cognitive constructivist models, giving us a convenient transfer point.
With the language barrier taken care of, we would want to consider other factors which could manifest themselves as barriers to learning and what we could do as librarians to overcome those barriers. Using the constructivist approach, we could present information to the group members that would help to ease their transition to the new environment. We would want to find ways to determine the parameters of their existing knowledge base, through evaluations, through conversations, through interviews. The survival skills they developed to endure the conflict environment they left might surprise us! It may also present a suitable and useful base of knowledge on which to build new information. Careful and painstaking research may reveal that members of such groups do remarkably well in a new environment of peace and opportunity, because of the acuteness of their basic survival skills and requirements. We would follow the outline of the cognitive model in designing online training in basic employment skills, computer training, and opening, so to speak, their awareness to learning possibilities. Free online MOOC courses could provide a great source of information on a variety of subjects, in addition to online courses available in the library. Through the use of guided design and metacognition, much like this online exam, for example, we could help them cement the knowledge that they had acquired, providing an avenue, at the same time, for transfer from the constructivist approach to the self-reflection considered primarily a part of the humanist model.
Utilizing elements of the humanist model, we would encourage members of the group to experiment and interact with the information being conveyed, whether concerning job-seeking/finding skills, or just better understanding the cultural values of a new and different environment. Again, using direct instruction and online tutorials, we would gradually shift them into a mode of student-centered learning, shifting the responsibility for learning to the group members themselves in self-directed, self-regulated instruction based on their own interests and abilities.
We have not addressed the central concept of evaluating information, however, which would be our most important task as information professionals. Grassian suggests that the combination of metacognition and self-reflection “resonate” with IL instruction (Grassian, p. 39). A solid grounding in information literacy equips students of any group, underserved or not, with “the ability to locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information” (Eisenberg. 2004, p. 5). Our goal, our primary goal would be to equip the members of the underserved group with solid information literacy skills, which, in turn, would result in their becoming competent, independent, and life-long learners. Teaching information literacy skills by definition includes critical thinking as well as other types of literacy, including visual literacy, media literacy, computer literacy, digital literacy, and network literacy (Eisenberg, 2004). Though traditionally part of a group considered underserved, these folks would have a good beginning on success in their new environment.
We have not addressed the effects on these group members of the trauma they may have endured, nor of the learning disabilities group members might have developed from enduring that trauma. Perhaps that is the job of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, and not of librarians. It is our job to be aware of the possibility of such issues, and to be prepared to make recommendations and referrals to related community service providers for assistance in those areas. Again, online learning solutions may provide a key, just as it would for blind or deaf users, where mechanical accommodations (touch screens, pull down menus, large size fonts, speaker amplifications, etc.) can be made (Carlson, 2004). In one of the MOOC courses I took, a student severely disabled with autism was able to focus on the online videos and readings in ways that he never had succeeded in being able to do in face-to-face instruction. It may well be that online instruction can give the individual learner the individual attention he/she requires in ways that face-to-face instruction cannot. Similarly, students with emotional handicaps resulting from the trauma of war and violent conflict we have earlier described might benefit from a carefully prepared course of instruction provided in an online format.
Bransford, J. (2000). How people learn : brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C. : National Academy Press.
Carlson, S. (2004). Left Out Online. Minnesota: Access Press Ltd. Accessed at http://www.accesspress.org/2004/left-out-online on December 12, 2013.
Eisenberg, Michael. (2004). Information Literacy: Essential Skills for the Information Age. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.
Grassian, Esther S. (2009). Information Literacy Instruction Theory and Practice, 2nd Edition. New York: Neil Schuman Publishers, Inc., 2009.