Wednesday, May 14, 2008

UBC-Okanagan: Info Literacy Uncorked

Driving from Vancouver to Kelowna yesterday evening was interesting - cold with a few snowflakes blowing around near the summit of the "Connector" between Merritt and Peachland. 'Hard to believe that we are into spring ...

The reception at WILU 37, however, was warm and wonderful. Melody Burton and the other library staff members at UBC-Okanagan went all out to make folks feel welcome, starting with a tasty lunch in the Arts Building Atrium (it never hurts to get things rolling with some food!). The organization of the conference was meticulous and the sessions all began to pop off one after the other with very few glitches.

I dropped into a provocative session entitled Transforming Information Literacy: Do We Have the Skills? This was offered by a trio of young librarians from McMaster U. in Hamilton (Karen Nicholson, Krista Godfrey, and Shawn McCann). The presentation began with a look at several "21st century fluencies," with definitions provided for each concept. These fluencies included global literacy models as well as "individual" literacies (such as scientific, numerical/quantitative, economic, visual, mulitcultural as well as information and communication technology literacy).

The presenters made the point that we all have certain assumptions about literacy skills and levels. To illustrate this, they distributed "clickers" that allowed us to participate en masse in agreeing or disagreeing with a number of survey statements. (One example: "Students prefer visual information to textual") After results were tabulated for each statement, the audiences responses were examined in light of recent research. This was a great approach to something that could have been pretty dull. It was interesting to see where I sat (with my neo-conservative yet funky liberal views) in relation to my fellow conference attendees as well the research findings. Yes, I too have assumptions (some of which just might be erroneous ... maybe).

This examination of assumptions segued into a discussion of what is happening at McMaster, where there is a new focus on moving the library out of the library and into classes and faculty offices. McMaster now has 7 "learning librarians" (who are also liaisons with faculty). The emphasis is on partnering with faculty to teach "21st century fluencies," in order to facilitate learning. Much of what is being done is based on Chickering and Gamson's book "Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education" [a brief summary of these principles can be found here (].

The presentation finished up with a look at the use of gaming, simulation and virtual worlds as vehicles for learning that can be employed by the library. Shawn McCann (McMaster's "gaming librarian") pointed out that over 130 colleges and universities are now represented in one way or another in "Second Life" ( He suggested that gaming, simulations and virtual worlds were well-suited for learning styles that are visual, kinesthetic and constructivist / exploratory. The bottom line (among other important points) was that "learning becomes fun" with some of these new technology-driven experiences. Lots of food for thought. Note to self: Get my hair out of that bun.

The afternoon marched on with a rapidly-delivered series of mini-presentations called "Lightning Strikes" (10 minutes, no Powerpoint!). 'Found out about information literacy instruction at Washington State University, plagiarism, "the passionate librarian," and shy students.

The keynote presentation was given by John Willinsky ( of UBC (and Stanford). He asked the questions, "Where are we headed in terms of access to knowledge and the university's fostering of an information culture? What are the critical issues and the most promising developments?"

The next hour and half was very entertaining and quite inspiring. John W. worked the room better than most stand-up comedians and felt entirely at ease with the camera that was recording the speech (available, btw, at - click on Channel 8 "Events & Seminars" and choose John on the right of the TV monitor, or try this url:

He suggests that the real key to literacy is motivation and context (i.e., background information). Willinsky says that findings regarding online reading indicate that there is real motivation out there. People are "reading in places that they have never read before." They are going places with information they have never gone before - for example to doctor's offices, armed with sophisticated studies from PubMed. People with "low" reading levels are digging up very high-level reading material. People have a right to this information and the right to use it as they see fit. Willinsky says that we (including librarians and literacy experts) "have the responsibility to engender this sense of right."

He spelled out the 7 "r's" - or rights - of literacy: 1. to know what is known (for example, in Canada now, health research information from the CIHR must be available to everyone); 2. to source what is known (i.e., to examine the data); 3. to share what is known (open courseware is a good example); 4. to fairly use what is known (encouraging developments); 5. to assist others in knowing (this is not just about sharing - it's also about providing context for information); 6. to improve the substance & organization of the knowledge (Wikipedia is arguably the quintessential notion of this - the folksonomy revolution is also a manifestation); to transform the knowledge - i.e., to add value (for example, taking crime statistics and bringing them together so that we can make sense of them).

The speech left most of the audience speechless. When asked if there were any questions, there was silence from the crowd, which had just witnessed a talk worthy of a seasoned evangelist. It got ME fired up, looking for a library to practice my new-found faith in ...

No comments: