Tuesday, October 22, 2013

General Education, Digital Literacy and Information Literacy: Infusion at SUNY Oswego

Entering the 21st Century:  SUNY GER, ACRL Standards, Middle States and 3 Directions

We have redesigned our General Education program at Oswego to infuse information literacy into our curriculum.  I served on the General Education Council throughout this process and encountered two happy surprises: the 3 Directions conceptualization of information literacy is a settled issue among our faculty and taken for granted; and the only way to concieve of basic computer use at this time is in terms of digital literacy, with disruptive outcomes in the disciplines.  Background on information literacy in our General Education follows an explanation of my surprises.

First Surprise: Information Literacy as a settled issue

At the beginning of deliberations on infusion I shared with the Council my earlier post on "Integrated Literacy Across the Curriculum," and a continuing re-statement of my position that information literacy broadly-concieved encompasses reading and writing and thinking as well searching for sources, and necessarily incorporates the SUNY GER categories for Writing and Critical Thinking as well as Computer and Information Literacy. This is an ax I have been grinding here for over a decade with no clear success, at least until I saw this sentence in the Council minutes:
To begin, there is no little degree of overlap between the third learning outcome in Computer and Information Literacy, the third learning outcome in Writing, and the learning outcomes for Critical Thinking
This is not the revolution, but my feeling that my position is not only accepted by the Council but also more broadly by the faculty was reinforced when we began to review the infusion plans from the departments.  Most of the plans documented how students met the information literacy outcomes in the context of learning to do research and write in their disciplines.  In fact most departments found this easy to document, leaving the computer literacy outcome as the primary point of failure.

I am beginning to feel that the conceptualization of information literacy as the broad ability to use information for learning, life and work is almost taken for granted at SUNY Oswego.  That is better than a revolution--it means that information literacy is becoming an institution.

Second Surprise: Re-inventing "basic operations of personal computer use" as digital literacy in the disciplines

We quickly encountered problems in how well our faculty could address computer use in their programs. It certainly seems quaint to me to be concerned about "personal computer use" as a college level learning outcome in 2013.
  • Capacity of faculty to teach and assess digital presentation 
  • Variation in use of computers in the disciplines especially in regard to data in the humanities


I arrived in Oswego in August 2000, just in time to greet the 21st Century on January 1, 2001.  Oswego State had just started a revised general education program based on the 1999 SUNY GER (General Education Requirements) which included an information literacy requirement under the guise of Computer and Information Management.

"Students will:
  • perform the basic operations of personal computer use;
  • understand and use basic research techniques; and
  • locate, evaluate, and synthesize information from a variety of sources."
Although the central administration of SUNY allowed either infusion or a required course to meet the requirement, the expedient move at Oswego was to go with a required Computer Science course, and as it happened the faculty in Computer Science focussed on basic computer use.  It took a few years for them to extend the course into a research activity: requiring source material to be used and cited in creating a web page/site.  Meanwhile, in 2004 the faculty at Oswego divided the Computer and Information Management requirement into Computer Literacy and Information Literacy with an advanced component for Information Literacy and encouragement for departments to infuse these into their majors.  Several departments in the sciences chose to infuse at the time.

Then three years ago SUNY began to be more flexible about the implementation of SUNY GER and at Oswego we took advantage of that to improve our program, in part by simplifying and streamlining the program through reducing the required courses by a third.  As a result Oswego's General Education program now requires that Computer and Information Literacy be met by infusion.  Departments then had to either document how the learning outcomes would be achieved in the required courses for each major, or revise their programs to require a course, usually in Computer Science, that is determined to include the learning outcomes for Computer and Information Literacy.

This past year, then, the General Education Council reviewed proposed infusion plans from almost all our departments, negotiated with departments that were not quite on the mark, approved most of the plans, and coordinated with the Academic Policies Council to approve a handful of program revisions.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Future of Information Literacy in Higher Education

This prospectus from the ACRL task force charged with revising the ACRL Information Literacy Standards (2000) highlights the likely introduction of 'threshold concepts' and 'metaliteracy' as features of the new statement of standards.  They frame these two elements with the idea of a holistic view of educated information use and the idea of lifelong learning as opposed to a skill set that can be taught and "learned once and for all."  In a coming post I will speak in more detail as to what we are doing at SUNY Oswego in regard to threshold concepts and metaliteracy, and also how our work on a Cognitive Apprenticeship approach strengthens learning through continuous practice.  I want to emphasize the holistic aspect but for now will only point out that other things on this blog already address that thoroughly.

Also For Now

About threshold concepts: "They are the central concepts that we want our students to understand and put into practice, that encourage them to think and act like practitioners themselves." (Hofer, Townsend, and Brunetti, 2012, 387-88 quoted by the ACRL task force.)

At Oswego we have been coming at this from the perspective of situated cognition which calls for explication of the landmark or guidepost concepts and then implicit or tacit learning of details and refinements of practice.  Related work on Cognitive Apprenticeship calls for "focus on conceptualizing the whole task before executing the parts." (Collins, Brown and Holum, 1991.)  The outcome of our work is the Question-Discover-Use conceptual framework of the research process.  In short, this framework shows students how posing a question, finding expert sources and using those sources to build new knowledge will involve them in growing participation in a community (discipline) of scholarly or professional practice.
And about metaliteracy:  "Metaliteracy expands the scope of traditional information skills…to include the collaborative production and sharing of information in participatory digital environments… " (Mackey and Jacobson, forthcoming quoted by the ACRL task force.)
We have also anticipated this development in creating Question-Discover-Use.  We have tried to pair words for traditional literacy with terms that are more open to a wide range of media and formats.  So Reading/Understanding, Writing/Sharing, and Thinking/Creating.  We also work to emphasize the social and personal elements of research by suggesting that one's question should interest others; that sources are persons with names and expertise, not just a book object; that one's own work is a disciplined contribution to knowledge; that integrity is a matter of respect for others and oneself; and that a student researcher is joining a network of professionals.

And For Later

In a future post I will report on how we developed Question-Discover-Use in part as an attempt to update our past uses of the ACRL Standards and how we are using the framework in improving information literacy learning through the principles of Cognitive Apprenticeship. 

Also, we hope to offer an early exemplar of what the new Standards could look like in practice.