Making students care about IL: Mission Impossible?

*A cross-posting from the Re:Generations blog*

With the Winter semester in full-force, I’ve been doing the usual information-literacy tour. We usually show students some key library resources, give them a little virtual tour of our LibGuides, and then hone in on a few tools and resources we think are going to be useful for their work in that class. This isn’t a perfect model for teaching, but it seems to hold the attention of most of the class, and then often have a question or two.

This past week, at the request of the instructor, I switched things up a bit and focused less on tools, and more on higher-level thinking. I discussed concept of critical thinking, information literacy, and the application of these concepts to their real-world information seeking, be it for their assignments, or down the road as professionals in the field. It was one of the trickiest presentations I’ve ever put together, because I too had to step back and figure out what exactly we’re all doing here — librarians, professors, students — and why any of this matters.

Frankly, I thought it was awesome. I even used a tasty analogy: ” You can’t have a delicious meal without starting with high-quality ingredients. Similarly, you won’t be able to write a good paper — no matter how smart you are — without high-quality resources. Think of wikipedia as the Taco Bell meat of the research world.” That’s cute, right?!

Well, I have never seen a class of more bored-looking 18 year olds in my life. And I’ve seen a lot of bored 18 year olds in my day, lemme tell ya. It was really dissuading and I vowed never to bother trying to integrate concepts of higher-level thinking into my teaching again. Then I went home and ate some ice cream. My bruised ego has recovered, but I wonder: Is there any point it trying to force students to care about information and research, beyond what they need to get a decent mark? Are there better ways to impart these complex concepts that doesn’t induce total boredom?

Libraryland tends to be critical of tools-based information literacy, but I’m a pragmatist: If tools are going to keep them from literally putting their heads down and going to sleep during my presentations, then tools they shall GET.

Have you ever successfully (or unsuccessfully!) integrated discussions of higher-level thinking into your teaching? Do you think it’s something to reserve for students in third or forth year? Or perhaps there are programs that are more hospitable to such discussions than management (i.e. philosophy)?

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3 responses to “Making students care about IL: Mission Impossible?

  1. This is what I *want* to do but I know how bored the kids are with stuff that will make their assignment easier right now. Next week I will be teaching second year psychology students about ‘crtitical thinking’ and while I’m excited to work with the instructor and teach more than ‘here is the database’, I’m pretty sure it won’t end well…But, we gotta try, right?

  2. Hahahah, awwww. Like pigs to slaughter, us ideological lie-berrians! Yes, I think we DO have to try, and in fact one of the Re:Generations members, Jan, posted some pretty nice thoughts over on my cross-posting of this article: http://clatoolbox.ca/regen/?p=748#comments.
    Good luck you! I hope it goes well. 🙂

  3. I like your tasty analogy. I can relate to that situation too. It seems it’s just easier to work on the practical level. I’m wondering what activities you did with them? Lately for my workshops instead of trying to tell them about critical thinking, I focus on the smaller topic of evaluation; I give them two articles and tell them to look at them, find 2-3 differences, and decide which they’d use in their essay. All this before going into the differences of scholarly vs non-scholarly (or whatever else is on the agenda).
    I had another colleague that used to have a Wikipedia activity since it seems many students still don’t “get” that anyone can edit. so maybe doing a class where everyone edits (as a whole class) an article might make that connection between good sources versus any source? I dunno, just throwing out ideas…