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Information Literacy: Teaching Activities

Please Note

The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) has recently adopted the newly developed Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (2015).  The Framework seeks to address some of the limitations of the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (2000) and offers a revised and expanded definition of information literacy:

“Information literacy is the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.” 

The Mount A Libraries Information Literacy pages will soon be revised to reflect the transition from the ACRL Standards to the new Framework.

Stay tuned. 

Information Literacy Teaching Activities

The following are fairly quick-and-easy teaching activities that librarians and faculty can use to help students develop specific information literacy skills.

Human Boolean Logic
Human Citation Styles
Scholarly vs. Popular Sources
Web Site Evaluation
Evaluating Sources - Introduction
Evaluating Sources - Real World Practice
Understanding Disciplinary Approaches

Human Boolean Logic

Briefly explain Boolean AND, OR, and NOT. Then call out Boolean searches describing the students and ask them to stand when they hear themselves being described. For example: students (everyone stands) AND female (males sit) AND wearing jeans. Another example would be economics majors OR physics majors OR people who like doing math. Students should be able to see that connecting search terms with AND will narrow their searches down, and using OR will broaden their search. Tailor your search terms to your class to make it relevant and fun, but be sure you don't choose potentially embarrassing categories!

With the first example search, some of the males with jeans on may stand up when they hear "wearing jeans"; this is a good opportunity to reinforce that ANDs keep narrowing the search, so adding new search terms with AND will never retrieve more items. You can make this more complex if you write down your "search" and use nesting.

*Alternative* (requires prep time)
This version allows you to talk about truncation, the importance of choosing good search terms, and the value in searching for synonyms. Before the class, think of two or three related searches and write them down. Think of some reasonable synonyms for your search terms. If you would like to tackle truncation, make sure that some of the search terms can be truncated. As an example:
(feminis* OR women OR female*) AND (work OR employment OR job*)
Write the search terms down on little pieces of paper. Where truncation is used, write down all possible endings. You may want to include spoilers like "girls" as a synonym for "women" or "femur" for a poor choice of truncation such as "fem*".

Hand every student one search term and proceed as above with your Boolean searches. This time, after you do your search, you can ask those sitting if anyone has a word they think should be included in the search. For example you might leave "women" out of your search. This can lead into a short discussion about brainstorming for synonyms.

Human Citation Styles (requires prep time)

Large Class Version
On large pieces of paper, write down parts of an actual citation. If you like, include extra bits of information or punctuation. In class ask for volunteers. Have the volunteers gather at the front of the room and give them each one citation part. Ask for another volunteer to put them in the correct citation style order. Depending on how much time you have, you can either ask for other people to have a try, or ask the whole class to correct the citation. Intercede when necessary.

Small Class Version
Do the prep as above, but make a few copies. Split the class into groups. Have the groups arrange the citation correctly. Have everyone look at the groups' citations and make corrections where necessary.

Scholarly vs. Popular Sources (requires prep time)

Bring several scholarly and popular sources to class. Split the class into groups and have them examine one scholarly and one popular source. Ask them to come up with a list of differences. After groups report back, talk briefly about why it's important to understand these differences and to use scholarly sources for their academic work.

*Alternative 1*
Bring in other relevant sources -- trade publications, alternative press sources, books, encyclopedias, handbooks, newsletters, or newspapers -- and ask them when they would use these sources in their research.

*Alternative 2*
Bring in print copies of database or web-based articles from scholarly and popular sources rather than hard copies of the actual sources. This way, students have to move beyond format observations such as "glossy paper", "no pictures", "lots of ads" to more content-driven differences.

Web Site Evaluation (for computer lab-based classes)

Choose a web site ahead of time and in class have students visit the site for a few minutes to evaluate it. Collect their comments about whether they think it would be a good site to use for their research assignment. Intercede where appropriate and be sure to point them to a good evaluation guide, such as the library's Evaluating Web Sources.

For early-year classes it might be best to choose two sites in order to demonstrate a fairly good one and a fairly bad one. For later-year classes, try to find an ambiguous site. Regardless, it's a good idea to find pros and cons with the site(s) you choose in order to demonstrate that critical evaluation is always necessary.

Evaluating Sources - Introduction

Show students this web page. Ask for a show of hands for who believes each of the four statements, and ask why they have chosen to believe that statement. Tell them you're going to give them a bit more information and show them the next screen. Again, ask which statement they believe and why. Show them the final screen with the full citation information, and go over why they may or may not want to believe each. Follow with a general discussion about the potential difficulties in evaluating sources without a subject background, and the importance of evaluating carefully.

Evaluating Sources - Real World Practice (requires prep time)

Ahead of the class, find 2 or 3 articles on a topic relevant to the course. Make sure there are some differences, such as from different kinds of sources (popular, scholarly, newspaper, trade magazine, web), different eras, different schools of thought, different purposes (research paper, lit review, opinion), different points of view, etc. The purpose of the exercise is to have students practice evaluating sources, so it would be useful for them to experience common pitfalls.

In class, divide students into groups of 2-4. Give every group 2 articles. Ask them to decide whether or not they would use the articles for a research paper and why or why not. Let them know that they may want more information than they have at hand, and ask them to note anything that they would look into further (e.g. author's background, more information about a publisher). Allow 10-15 minutes, then have the groups report back. Intercede where appropriate. There may be an opportunity to mention that critical evaluation requires thoughtful questioning rather than quick judgements -- just because a source is from 1932, is from a newspaper, or uses incendiary language doesn't necessarily mean it should not be used.

Understanding Disciplinary Approaches

For classes where students are going to be research interdisciplinary topics, or when they are likely to be finding information outside of their discipline (e.g. Sociology students research body image and finding articles in Psychology journals), it is useful to be explicit about disciplinary approaches.

Basic Level
Take a very broad topic (e.g. big box stores) and ask students to come up with narrower topics that different disciplines may be interested in (e.g. Market share for Commerce, role in urban sprawl for Geography, the fight to unionize employees for Sociology). Briefly discuss the disciplinary approach of the course they are in, potential overlaps with other disciplines and why they might be problematic (e.g. Anthopology students looking for ethnographic material on a Carribean island may simply find a history of that island).

Intermediate Level (requires prep time)
Give students several short uncited passages of text discussing a single subject from articles, web sites, encyclopedias, etc. from different disciplines. Ask students to try to identify which discipline the text comes from. Have them brainstorm how or if they could use these sources in their course assignments, and what difficulties they might encounter due to the different disciplinary approach. Intercede where appropriate.

Other lists of activities are available:
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Activities cover: selecting appropriate sources, narrowing a topic, popular magazines vs. scholarly journals, generating keywords, basic keyword searching, understanding citations, evaluating web sites, and considering intellectual freedom and censorship.


Last updated 22 August 2005