All posts by troyswanson

2014 Information Literacy Summit Keynote (post by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson)

On April 25th, we held our 13th annual Information Literacy Summit in Illinois. This event is a partnership between Moraine Valley Community College Library and DePaul University Libraries. We are excited to share the keynote address on metaliteracy, information literacy, MOOCs, and threshold concepts featuring Trudi Jacobson and Tom Mackey.

Changing Models, Changing Emphases: The Evolution of Information Literacy featuring Trudi Jacobson & Tom Mackey

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Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book,Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Using the New IL Framework to Set a Research Agenda by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

[I have posted on the new (draft) Information Literacy Framework from ACRL here, and you can also read the thoughts of others here.]

As we approach the upcoming ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas (in June) where our task force will unveil a more complete draft, I wanted to offer some thoughts on how this Framework connects to undergrads with a special nod toward my community college colleagues. (I do not speak for the Task Force in this post.)

As the Task Force has acknowledged, we are basing our work on the groundbreaking work of Lori Townsend, Korey Burnetti, and Amy R. Hofer who almost single-handedly have pushed our profession into a new way of thinking about information literacy (see Townsend, L., Brunetti, K., & Hofer, A. R. (2011). Threshold Concepts and Information Literacy. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 11, 3, 853-869). The new Information Literacy Framework is built around a series of threshold concept that define a line between the expert and the novice. When the novice crosses these thresholds, the novice moves toward becoming an expert.

To me, it is very important for those of us working with first-year students to understand that many of our students will not cross these thresholds in the first year. For those of us in community colleges, we must recognize that many of our students may not cross these thresholds while they are attending our institutions. They may cross these thresholds as upperclassman after they transfer or maybe after they have entered the workforce. However, this does not mean that these thresholds do not apply to us or are not useful to those of us working with first and second-year students. It is our job to assess where our students are in reaching these thresholds and then to find ways in our curriculum to increase their ability to move forward.

I have heard from several community college librarians who are concerned that the new Framework does not connect to our career programs (vocational certificates). While I understand the concern, I do not agree, and I wanted to offer my perspective (not speaking for the Task Force).

To take an example, the most common concern is that the threshold concept “Scholarship is a Conversation” does not connect to these career programs. I would argue that there many areas of discourse around the careers/professions offered by community colleges. These areas look much like scholarly discourse in many ways. They deal with theory, ethics, technology, and general approaches to what counts as knowledge within the respective professions. Professions as wide ranging as welding (yes, there are welding journals), nursing, automotive, massage therapy, polysomnography, respiratory therapy, and others have professional literatures where ideas are exchanged, new approaches are developed, and old approaches are invalidated. All areas of professional study have a level of discourse–a conversation–that makes meaning for the profession. The threshold concept “Scholarship is a Conversation” refers to the scholarship around traditional academic disciplines as well as the scholarship around all career programs.

I think all of the thresholds in the new Framework can be equally applied to career programs. Each vocational program has a living literature, professional ethics, and core theories upon which the profession rests. It is up to those of us who work to build information literacy skills within career students to adapt these concepts to meet their programmatic needs.

Additionally, I have heard from some librarians that the new Framework is not applicable to one-shot sessions. I would argue that one-shot sessions work to build underlying (often searching) skills in students. It doesn’t really matter whether we are using the existing IL standards or the new Framework, the one-shot session is a very small piece of the larger information literacy picture. Even under the existing standards,  I do not recall anyone thinking that a student would be “information literate” after a one-shot session. I am excited about the Task Force’s work because the new Framework is an attempt to define information literacy with greater depth beyond the information-literacy-as-searching definition which often underlies much of the teaching we do in one-shot sessions. Information literacy is more than searching.

The new Framework is an opportunity to offer a definition of information literacy with more depth and meaning to the communities we serve. Once the new Framework is completed and approved by the ACRL board, our work is not done. As a profession, we have the opportunity to define a research agenda around the new Framework. I would be interested to read research into the following:

1. Are there other threshold concepts not included in this Framework?
2. How well do the proposed threshold concepts hold up when tested in the field?
3. What are the steps that faculty members and librarians must take to move new students toward these thresholds?
4. Do students tend to cross these thresholds at different times?
5. How do we adapt professional and/or disciplinary IL standards into new Frameworks based on threshold concepts?

As librarians, our “discipline” works between traditional disciplines/career fields. But, we should recognize that our discipline swansonphotostill needs a research agenda that builds theory and makes our profession more effective. To me, information literacy is at the core of what we do and our research agenda should be built upon it. The new Framework presents a chance to move our research forward.

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Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book,Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Graphic Novel Symposium — #comicculture by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

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We are very excited about our upcoming Graphic Novel Symposium, which will be in September of 2014. Check out our website, http://www.morainevalley.edu/comicculture. We are aiming to create an academic event that can be utilized by our faculty members in the arts and humanities (and maybe other areas of the curriculum).  We’ll be featuring faculty lectures, local comic shops, a gaming event, and a cosplay event.

We’ve been working on the marketing for this ,  and we recruited one one of our awesome catalogers, Brenda Lozano, as our model for our images. Yes, it’s true. When Brenda is not cataloging our electronic resources and helping to write our metadata standards, she is modeling.  You can see the results of this shoot at our downloads page.  Also, check out this short video about the photo shoot.

Behind the Scenes: Graphic Novel Symposium Photo Shoot

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Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book,Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Your Curriculum is Not About 3D Printers or Zombies By TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Texas Library Association Conference in San Antonio. While there, I had the opportunity to talk with Justin Hoenke (among many folks) who is also a contributor to this blog. We discussed his work at the Chattanooga Public Library and, specifically about the use of their 3D printer. Listening to him talk, it really struck me that at the basic level Justin does not really care about the 3D printer. The 3D printer is all well and good, but the thing that he is really after is the learning, the creativity, that the printer enables. Justin told me, “if libraries want to get into the maker movement, they don’t really need a 3D printer. They really just need a roll of duct tape and some raw materials to use in building” (this quote was given to me over drinks so please take it as more representative of his larger points as opposed to an exact quote). It was clear to me that Justin was not really a technologist, even if he uses technology to do his work. He gets excited about the things that people can do with the technology (even if the technology is a roll of duct tape).

This year my library received two awards for our campus-wide zombie game . We received the Proquest Innovation in Libraries Award from ACRL  and the Innovation of the Year Award from our own campus. I mention these awards partly because of a character flaw where I like to show off. But I also bring these up because our library’s zombie game is comparable to Justin’s 3D printer. We didn’t organize our game because we wanted to play a game. We did it because we wanted to organize a learning event that enriched the curriculum in a unique way that no other campus department could. We could pull together IT support and student activities while still making the event curricular giving faculty a tool to use to create assignments. Faculty members from across the curriculum created assignments so that their students could participate. This included microbiology, nursing, statistics, massage therapy, criminal justice, writing, speech, and others.

It wasn’t too long ago when it was trendy for administrators within higher education to merge the library with IT departments. Obviously, every institution has their own reasons and goals when they reorganize, but this move always concerned me a little bit. I always have felt that moving libraries outside of the academic division sort of missed what libraries are all about. Moving libraries to IT emphasizes their role as learning infrastructure and DE-emphasizes their role in learning. And I have always thought that the whole point was learning. Perhaps, David Lankes makes the best point in The Atlas of New Librarianship. He notes that librarians can no longer think simply about service communities, but that librarians must focus on the learning needs of those service communities. It’s about curriculum.

So, what’s your curriculum? Your curriculum is simply the learning needs of community. Your curriculum ties together resources, events, swansonphotospace, classes, technology, and other services aimed at learning. Your curriculum recasts the purpose of your library away from stuff, away from content. Your curriculum doesn’t just bring you face-to-face with your community. Your curriculum brings you face-to-face with your learners. And, most importantly, your curriculum is not about 3D printers or zombie games.

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Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book,Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Fair Use is in the Eye of the Beholder…or Not by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

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I have a decent understanding of copyright and the process of determining fair use, but I didn’t have a good understanding of how YouTube enforces and adjudicates copyright disputes. I’ll own up to my naiveté, but even after acknowledging this, I am still troubled by YouTube’s approach to copyright enforcement.

I thought about titling this post, “I Fought the Law and the Law Won,”
but the problem is that this whole thing isn’t really about the law at all. In YouTube Land, it doesn’t really matter if your use of copyrighted material falls under fair use or not. What matters is that content creators can use YouTube’s enforcement tools to shutdown your account and make life so difficult that you avoid any use of outside content all together. YouTube has become the default, national forum for online video, and, as such, their approach to copyright has a chilling effect on speech and public discourse.

Our library has 93 videos totaling well over a 100 of hours of content on YouTube, but my problems stem from a total of 45-75 seconds of video. Actually, about 25 seconds of a particular video has allowed Sony Music to put a copyright strike on my library’s YouTube account. My library’s YouTube account is still in place and our videos are still visible, but we are no longer able to upload videos longer than 15 minutes, which pretty much limits most of our primary uses.  When the violations appeared, I probably should have clicked on the “acknowledge” button, which may have helped to avoid the  strike . But, our use falls within fair use, and I decided to challenge the claims against our use.

The following copyright violations were identified through YouTube’s automated system:

1. A lecture given by our campus police chief where he shows a YouTube video (ironically) and YouTube’s bots caught the music in the background of that video. So, the bots caught music in a video within our video. They called this a misuse of 3rd party content, even though the video within our video is made freely available by City of Houston and the music in question is a very small percentage of the work in the background of a video.
Our video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uSYkqR33ec
Video within the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VcSwejU2D0

2. A lecture and dance performance from a dance company visiting our college. YouTube’s bots caught the music used by a dancer in a demonstration. After filling out YouTube’s forms claiming fair use, this video was eventually given the green light. We won this one after appealing.
Our video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rl_h7DcTcgw

3. (This is the one that put a strike on our account.) A student created video hosted on our account. This was a video project created for a speech class that used 25 seconds of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. When I uploaded it, I knew that this one might be a problem, but I felt that we were safe under the tests of fair use (see Stanford’s Measuring Fair Use: The Four Factors ). I have taken this one all the way through the appeal process and have been given a strike.

Of course, I recognize that YouTube/Google is a private company that can set their own rules on their platform, but I also find it troubling that they make money off of all of the content freely given to them. As someone who has given them useful content and driven traffic to their site, I feel that they have a responsibility to me and to the millions of other users like me. They have a responsibility to write rules that do not allow huge companies like Sony to bully their way through the online world.

Just a few months ago, Lawrence Lessig won a suit against Liberation Music in an effort to fight this kind of copyright abuse (see Lawrence Lessig Wins Damages for Bogus Youtube Takedown). Unfortunately, Lawrence Lessig doesn’t work for my library, and it is unlikely that the swansonphotoElectronic Frontier Foundation will swoop in and fight for fair use on my library’s behalf. More than likely, I will have to wait six months until this copyright strike expires, and then will have to become very strict with future videos. The weighing of fair use under US copyright law won’t really matter.

One positive result from this experience is that our librarians have a new example to use when talking to faculty about scholarly communication issues. Our campus has new justification for a campus-hosted video solution that is independent of YouTube. I am fortunate enough to work at a college large enough to implement our own video management system, which is not always possible at smaller colleges or smaller public libraries who depend on services like YouTube. None-the-less, the overall result for us is a chilling effect that helps to avoid this administrative paper chase.  

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Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book,Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

 

The New Information Literacy Framework and James Madison by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

Today, the first draft of a new Framework for Information Literacy has been released for comment. ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education Task Force  has been charged with revising the info lit standards. (For the record, I am a member of this committee but I do not speak on behalf of the committee here.) The task force’s work address the recommendations made by a previous review group . The task force is working on a product that I believe will be qualitatively different than the existing standards.

The “Old” Standards
The current (old) ACRL Information Literacy Standards were monumental when they were completed in 2000. They had a significant impact on libraries and on higher education by coalescing conversation around information in meaningful ways. Over the years, many of us have been critical of the Standards and highlighted their shortcomings, and I think that we must recognize the important role they have played in shaping information literacy instruction.

However, any of us who have spent time working with the current standards recognize that they pretend to be something that they are not. They, in effect, do not actually set up standards. They do not create a single set of outcomes that all students across higher education could be measured against. They are a detailed set of indicators and outcomes that are intended to measure a set of skills that are so broad and far reaching that the standards could not possibly be successful. There is no single set of measures for the vast degree of information literacy applications that exist. I don’t mean to say that the old standards are not important because they were, but we should recognize that the old standards are not standards in the same way that there are reading, math, or spelling standards.

The New “Framework”
Recently, I was listening to an episode of WNYC’s show Radiolab which I thought was pertinent to the Information Literacy Task Force. The episode featured historian and writer Joseph J. Ellis who was discussing the Constitutional Convention of September 1787 which Ellis wrote about in his book, American Creation. The framers of the Constitution were struggling to find agreed upon answers that would help them form a national government. The founding fathers could not agree on fundamental questions such as, “Who is in charge?” Hamilton and his followers argued to disband state governments and focus on strengthening a centralized government. Jefferson and his followers wanted no central control at all.

James Madison, who eventually wrote the basic document, had a great epiphany. At first Madison was very disappointed that the convention didn’t seem to solve anything. The Constitution didn’t present any answers. Ellis notes, “[Madison] starts to think differently. He starts to say, ‘oh yeah’…this could work precisely because it’s unclear. And he found what he calls a ‘middle station’…The Constitution is not a set of answers. It is a framework for argument. This is a document that allows us to continue to discuss and debate the core issues that we face…” (You can listen to Ellis’ discussion on Radiolab at, “Sex, Ducks, and The Founding Feud” Thursday, December 19, 2013, http://www.radiolab.org/story/sex-ducks-and-founding-feud/).

Now, I am not trying to equate the Information Literacy Task Force to the Constitutional Convention. (Although it may be fun to try to figure which Task Force members would be Washington, who would be Franklin, and who would be Madison.) But, I am drawing the comparison in that we are attempting to create a new way of thinking about information literacy that does not present *your* campus with answers. Let me say that again – the Task Force is not writing outcomes for your campus. I am not sure how we could actually do that. I do not believe it is possible for us to write all-inclusive skills for all instances of information literacy across the diversity of higher education.

The new information literacy framework outlines threshold concepts that differentiates the novice from the expert researcher. The thresholds may appear different within different disciplinary swansonphotocontexts. They may appear to be different for different institutions. This is a dramatic change from the past standards. The task force is presenting a novel approach that will take some adjustment for many. It is my hope that these concepts open a point of conversation between faculty members and librarians. Since the new framework does not outline skills to teach, but, instead, thresholds of understanding and dispositions for action, librarians and faculty can explore how student’s develop as information literate learners within the curriculum. This is move past the one-shot session toward more meaningful pedagogical exchange.

More importantly, for our profession, I hope that this document is never a completed document. This Framework should not be in existence for 14 years before it is revised. If the next revision occurs in 2028, then we (as a profession) will have failed. We need to consider such questions such as: How do these thresholds grow and change? Do new thresholds appear and old ones disappear? Are there different thresholds for undergraduates and graduate students? Our goal should be to engage in an ongoing conversation about where these thresholds exist.

I see this Framework as a bold step in the right direction, but it is by no means a perfect or definitive step. There will be many critics. But, to me, that is the point. This will not be a finished document. You should try to poke holes in the Task Force’s work. You should voice your opinions and push us to a better understanding of what we do (click here to go to online survey). I do not know any other way that this Framework will be improved.

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book,Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at@t_swanson.

Clive Thompson Talks Librarians on Circulating Ideas by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

Recently, journalist Clive Thompson was on the Circulating Ideas podcast with Steve Thomas. They discussed Thompon’s book Smarter Than You Think.

I wanted to share this because I have read the book and found it to be very appropriate and timely for libraries. (I also wanted to share it because Steve does a great job!) The book’s main point is a shot across the bow of the Google-is-making-us-dumber argument (Nicholas Carr). Thompson builds a compelling argument that technology (including Google) is, in fact, making us smarter. Many new technologies are a form of extended cognition that enhance and ideas. Thompson is not a technological idealist by any means, but his thoughts are timely and well-supported.

He spends several sections of his book acknowledging libraries and the role librarians play in leading the charge on information literacy. In the podcast Thompson notes,

There’s this structural disconnect inside schools…
Library science is more important on an everyday level than ever before but schools haven’t figured out that they need to integrate that and their librarians into everyday teaching.

swansonphotoThis podcast (and book) compliment many developments within librarianship. Specifically, I think they connect well with the thinking of David Lankis (and others) in the conversations around new librarianship.

If you’d like to find the Circulating Ideas podcast featuring Thompson, you can find it here: Circulating Ideas, Episode 37: Clive Thompson

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book,Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at@t_swanson.

One Book, Many Zombies by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

In May, I posted about our simulated zombie outbreak (see:
Humans vs Zombies as an Active Learning Event by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson). We adapted the popular Humans vs Zombies game into an experiential-learning event. I am happy to report that we survived our own zombie apocalypse.

I wanted to share our write up in American Libraries, One Book, Many Zombies . I am also wanted to share this video we created that summarizes our zombie game.

World War M: Humans vs Zombies (Summary Video)

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Problems with Evaluating: (Part 3) Threshold Concepts

The concept of “evaluating” information runs throughout the existing ACRL Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education. They highlight the different ways we teach students about information at different points in the research process. Here are the primary points:

Standard one: The information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed.

  • Performance indicator 2:  The information literate student identifies a variety of types and formats of potential sources for information.
  • Outcome C: Identifies the value and differences of potential resources in a variety of formats (e.g., multimedia, database, web site, data set, audio=visual, book).
  • Outcome D: Identifies the purpose and audience of potential resources (e.g., popular vs. scholarly, current vs. historical).

Standard two: The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently.

  • Performance indicator 4:  The information literate student refines the search strategy if necessary.
  • Outcome A: Assesses the quantity, quality, and relevance of the search results to determine whether alternative information retrieval systems or investigative methods should be utilized.
  • Outcome B: Identifies gaps in the information retrieved and determines if the search strategy should be revised.

Standard three: The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.

  • Performance indicator 2: The information literate student articulates and applies initial criteria for evaluating both the information and its sources.
  • Outcome A:  Examines and compares information from various sources in order to evaluate reliability, validity, accuracy, authority, timeliness, and point of view or bias.
  • Outcome B: Analyzes the structure and logic of supporting arguments or methods.
  • Outcome C: Recognizes prejudice, deception, or manipulation.
  • Outcome D: Recognizes the cultural, physical, or other context within which the information was created and understands the impact of context on interpreting the information

Of course, the problem with these standards, performance indicators, and outcomes is how do you transform them into something that is teachable? More importantly, how do we take this list to faculty members?  I’ve wrestled with these questions for many years. This is a problem that ACRL has also acknowledged in their call to edit these standards. They are recommending a set of standards that are more simplified and more connected to practice.

Lori Townsend, Korey Burnetti, and Amy R. Hofer have suggested a move away from standards and a move toward threshold concepts which are more attuned to practice (see Townsend, L., Brunetti, K., & Hofer, A. R. (2011). Threshold Concepts and Information Literacy. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 11, 3, 853-869).

“…threshold concepts are the core ideas and processes that define the ways of thinking and practicing for a discipline, but are so ingrained that they often go unspoken or unrecognized by practitioners” (Townsend, Brunetti, and Hofer, 2011, p. 854).

In terms of “evaluating” information, Townsend, Brunetti, and Hofer suggest a couple of threshold concepts that shed useful light on the topic. These are:

Format as Process
“A threshold concept relating to format, then, would focus on the student understanding that format is the result of a process. Information is packaged in different formats because of how it was created and shared. Shifting the focus from the end product to the pattern of events which define information production fundamentally changes the conversation” (p. 861).

Authority is Constructed and Contextual
“An authority threshold concept makes explicit the idea that authority is both constructed and contextual, based on evaluative criteria specific to the situation. An understanding of this concept enables students to critically examine a sources–be it a Wikipedia article or a peer-reviewed conference proceeding–and ask the relevant questions about its origins, context, and suitability of the information need of the moment” (p. 863).

A list of information literacy threshold concepts would necessarily include additional concepts focusing on the “evaluating” information concept (teaching students about information) beyond these. I include these because they were included in the 2011 Townsend, Burnetti, and Hofer article.

It is no secret that the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education Task Force (of which I am a member)  is looking at information literacy threshold concepts as an alternative framework for understanding learning related to information. When I consider “evaluating” information and the decade spent teaching students about information, I find these threshold concepts to be refreshing. They do not assume a mechanical process that is disconnected from reality. They also flush out understandings that are vital to successfully making decisions around information.

(Note: This post is not connected to any role I may have as a member of the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education Task Force. My thoughts do not necessarily represent the thoughts of the committee.)

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

 

 

Problems with Evaluating: (Part 2) Affective Science & Information Literacy by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

I have long been interested in the idea of why we believe what we believe. I have been interested in this relating to information literacy instruction. How do we evaluate sources and how do we make decisions about what counts as truth? Recently, I have been doing some reading in psychology and neuroanatomy focusing on the complex ways that the brain utilizes outside inputs to make decisions. This research highlights some disconnects and points where our practice, as instructional librarians, may be falling short with these new developments in the literature.

Over the history of the 20th century the emotions and affective reactions were largely ignored by psychology. In the last two decades, researchers have presented a broader understanding of the fact that emotion plays an underlying role in all kinds of decision-making. Our moods and emotions color all of our interactions with the world whether we realize it or not. It wasn’t that long ago when most cognitive researchers believed that each region of the brain performed a specific function, and it was generally held that the limbic system dealt with emotion/affective reactions and the frontal lobes dealt with cognition and analytic thinking. Recent research has shown that the picture is much much more complex. The picture that is emerging is one where personality, decision-making, emotions, etc result from combinations of activity within the brain. Importantly, analytic activities (such as interpreting information) activate a whole range of brain regions especially those more associated with affect.

swansonphotoI am concerned that many librarians (myself included at times) still hold the view that our brains are like recording machines capturing all that happens around us. The learning process is then equated to information processing as if we are walking computers. Students simply absorb data, compute this data, and arrive at the logical conclusions. Naturally, we know that this view does not represent reality. In the abstract, we know that different people will reach different conclusions. But, in practice, I wonder if we think that given the same facts, all of us would achieve the same answer? I often hear academics speak with trepidation about the online, political echo chamber. We rant about anti-scientific views that are shared across social media.. What underlies these rants and fears? I often suspect that it is the assumption that the computational machines that we teach do not agree with us.

Increasingly, brain research is showing us that not only are we not computational machines, but we are more life belief machines. Our beliefs are our shorthand to understanding the world. Our understandings about how the world works and that emerge within specific situations greatly influence decision-making. These beliefs help us filter what we see help us recognize what is important and help us know how to handle particular situations. Clearly, psychologists have been building the picture of the believing brain for many years, but the revelations resulting from brain imaging are starting to reveal the mechanisms at work.

This quote from The Believing Brain: From Spiritual Faiths to Political Convictions by Michael Shermer is telling concerning right and wrong:

“In fact, research now overwhelmingly demonstrates that most of our moral decisions are grounded in automatic moral feelings rather than deliberatively rational calculations. We do not reason our way to a moral decision by carefully weighing the evidence for and against; instead, we make intuitive leaps to moral decisions and then rationalize the snap decision after the fact with rational reasons. Our moral intuition – reflected in such conservative-liberal stereotypes- are more emotional than rational. As with most of our beliefs about most things in life, our moral beliefs come first; the rationalization of those moral beliefs comes second.”

The jump from neuroanatomically-based brain research to a one-shot, information literacy classroom may feel like a quantum leap, but I have always felt that teaching students about information is at the heart of what instructional librarians do. If information literacy is truly a vital skill for lifelong learning, then it is upon us to make these leaps and recognize the implications for our practice and for our learners.

If you are curious about some of the books at the top of my reading list, I would suggest

  • Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman
  • Believing Brain by Michael Shermer
  • The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson and Sharon Begley

Feel free to add additional titles in the comments below.

 

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book, Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.