Teaching information skills in Higher Education

When it became obvious that the existing Information Literacy teaching programme was not working, Karen Marie Øvern set about making changes.

Changing the way we teach information skills

It is never nice to realise that what you do simply is not good enough or that the courses you have put your heart and soul into seems to have little or no effect at all.  

I had worked at Gjøvik University College for almost five years, growing more and more frustrated every year, when I realised that something had to be done about the way I taught Information Literacy (IL).

Working closely with students - a test case

As part of my master thesis I got the opportunity to teach a small group of Radiography students over a period of seven weeks.  They were working on six assignments for a portfolio, and two of the assignments required semi-systematic literature searching.  I gave an introductory lecture in which I talked about the basics:  how to structure academic texts; where to find different kinds of information; how to use a PICO form; how to search a few databases and so on. 

The week after, the students were divided into groups and started working on assignments. And then the fun part started! We had two hours at our disposal every week for the seven weeks. Every week the students handed in drafts of the assignments to me, and when we met up I would sit with each group and walk them through their drafts. I would comment on things like choosing search terms, presenting results, structuring the text, following the argument through, missing parts, etc. I would also make them explain procedures unknown to me and I could point out things like "You say one thing here, and another here. What do you mean here? Where did you find this information?"

Every week I would also include a small lecture on some tool (like EndNote) or how to solve a problem that I had seen in several groups. I ran a pre-test and a post-test (multiple-choice) before and after the entire experiment. Every week the students filled out a form called "Critical Incident Questionnaire" (CIQ), where they answered questions relating to how they perceived what had occurred in class that week. The multiple-choice tests gave me an idea of what levels the students were on, but the CIQs were in a way much more interesting, as they gave me an idea of what the students found useful, motivating and what they found hard and frustrating.

Working closely with faculty

Most librarians will not get a chance to teach a small group of students for seven weeks. Usually, we get a one-off, detached session of one-two hours, and where the goal of the session is muddled and not integrated in any project that the students are working on.

It is not always possible, even in a small University College like GUC, to teach information skills at the right time (when it is relevant to the students), but collaboration with faculty staff certainly helps. I have found that trying to include myself at the faculties, always talking informally to faculty staff when I come by them, have made a big difference. Many of the faculty staff members do not know what we do at the library, and many have been astonished when they have seen the list of topics we can teach.

This autumn I am involved in several interesting and fun projects on teaching information skills, and it all comes down to talking to the right people, showing interest for their subject speciality, and being engaged and positive about my own role as an academic librarian.

Top tips

  • Stop saying information literacy - no one knows what is
  • Have your lunch with new people at least a couple of times a week
  • Read the course descriptions and contact the teachers/coordinators in charge, suggesting where you could come in
  • Take your students seriously. Do not prepare one generic lecture that you give to everyone
  • Assessment is important. Dare to do it properly and accept it when you have to change something that isn't working
  • Try something new - and have fun!

Karen Marie is Librarian at Øvern Gjøvik University College in Norway.  She  will be speaking about teaching information skills at Internet Librarian International 2011.

Photo courtesy of Ewa Rozkosz via Flickr.