Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Information Literacy Article by William Badke

William Badke continues to champion the cause of information literacy. As a prolific author, he addresses many facets of finding, evaluating, interpreting, and using information. Though I have not done so yet, it would be a good idea to read his book Research Strategies: Finding Your Way Through the Information Fog, 3rd. ed., which was published just last year.

I have enjoyed reading his regular "Infolit Land" column in Online: Exploring Technology & Resources for Information Professionals. His Jan/Feb article is titled: "Professors and Personal Information Literacy." In it he describes three different professors he has known (of course he conceals their identity). Professor A comes to him and essentially wants him to do the research for him--a literature review (47). Professor B, on the other hand, copies down search terms and techniques, while not exactly grasping the larger information-literacy strategy. Finally, Badke explains how Professor C brings his students to the Library every semester for instruction, introduces the class, and emphasizes the value of what they've have been taught (48).

Before writing, I had not paid attention to the sections of the article, which shed more light on the character of each professor type here: (a) intermediary dependent, (b) strategy determination, and (c) teachable professor. This article is worth reading.

Badke makes some excellent points, so I'd like to quote him directly:
I've started to wonder if faculty members who are passively resistant to information literacy instruction are guided less by pride than by a lack of belief that information literacy can be taught at all. Most faculty members fell into their own research skills just because they are gifted academically. No one taught them, and they can't even remember learning how to do research. To them, teaching a student how to do research is like teaching critical thinking. Academics are always talking about it, but few have any sort of notion of a pedagogy that could actually bring it about. You learn it by doing it, so how can it be taught. (48)

He says it better than I can. Badke acknowledges that his generalizations do not ring true for every academic in higher education. There are professors who dedicate time to understanding pedagogy and how to really foster critical-thinking skills, but they seem to be in minority. Many academics worry a great deal about covering the content in their courses. Content/knowledge is very important, but understanding how people came to that knowledge is just as important, as is knowing why that knowledge is important and how it impacts other knowledge.

I suppose that if I were to disagree with one thing that Badke says in the last quote, I would take issue with the assertion that "Most faculty members fell into their own research skills just because they are gifted academically. No one taught them, and they can't even remember learning how to do research." In many cases I would think that professors picked up research tips and insights a little bit at a time from a classmate here, a thesis adviser there, an observation they make while combing through footnotes, and sometimes even from a librarian. If it takes a village to raise a child, maybe it takes an invisible college to raise an academic.

On the bright side, it seems that Badke's comments in this article would align well with Ken Bain's ideas in What the Best College Teachers Do; the best college teachers are teachable themselves, make an honest effort to understand their students, and sympathetically invite them to learn--not always relying on just one or two methods.

One other thing that Badke says caught my interest.
But easier search tools do not mean better searches. Abandoning sophistication often means abandoning effective and comprehensive academic research. (49)
Librarians like to hear this sort of thing; it's very vindicating, and it encourages us to go forward in our efforts to convince students of the value of the databases they pay for themselves with their tuition dollars. Taking the time to learn how to search the databases can be very useful, not only for students, but also for faculty.

By the way, I do agree that "easier search tools do not mean better searches."

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