Information Skills and the Polytechnic University
Cal Poly students graduate with a strong set of practical skills that make them highly desirable employees within their disciplines. However, today's world changes so quickly that in order to continue to be productive and successful (both in the workplace and in one's personal life), each Cal Poly graduate needs to be prepared to continually upgrade his or her skills and knowledge. It is important that students learn a robust set of information skills that will prepare them to take control of their own future within a digital world.
Information skills today include, but also go beyond, the traditional skills needed to select a topic, conduct scholarly research, and compose one's ideas into a written work. While such activities are still a fundamental part of a university education, and certainly translate into important lifelong critical thinking and communication skills, at a polytechnic undergraduate university we are challenged to consider the wide variety of ways in which students will use information as graduates in the 21st century. Students who have grown up immersed in online environments and new modes of communication are bringing new forms of digital literacy into the classroom and workplace, and it is imperative that educators work to understand students' learning styles, preferences, and strengths. In turn, we must help students learn to think critically, appreciate, and evaluate the diversity of information types, qualities, and voices available online. Information skills, often referred to as "information literacy," must encompass such concepts as "media literacy", "data literacy", and "digital literacy" in order to fully meet student needs.
At Cal Poly, educators strive to prepare students for professional and personal success by fostering teaching, scholarship, and service in a learn-by-doing environment. The Robert E. Kennedy Library participates in serving the university's mission through its collections and services. Subject specialists, known as College Librarians, work closely with teaching faculty to develop strategies for information literacy education. The library aims to build upon its established success in this area and develop an instruction program that will ensure a level of consistency in reaching all Cal Poly students.
Goals of the Kennedy Library Instruction Program
The Kennedy Library is in the early stages of developing its instruction program. College Librarians are working together to identify a formal set of goals and learning objectives for Cal Poly students. While our librarians recognize that students in different disciplines have different learning experiences and different information needs, we have also begun to discover common goals that cut across college boundaries. Some preliminary priorities include:
- Introduce all students to information skills at the freshman level.
- Integrate instruction on information skills within the curriculum as much as possible, building upon other academic skills learned at each level of the curriculum.
- Use ACRL standards for information literacy (2000) as a starting point for identifying instructional outcomes, but tailor instruction to both discipline and individual needs.
- Ensure that all students graduate with a strong understanding of the information environment of their discipline, including channels for communication among professional practitioners.
- Challenge students to critically evaluate the digital world in which they are immersed
- Provide opportunities for students to become strong communicators using a variety of modes of communication.
The Kennedy Library is committed to employing a range of instructional techniques that will allow for effective presentation of material, engage students, and provide a positive learning experience. We strongly believe in learner-centered instruction, and believe that by integrating instruction on information skills into the curriculum students will experience learning as more relevant and timely. Students at Cal Poly are accustomed to creative, active learning experiences, and College Librarians regularly explore ways to bring our own teaching into line with the polytechnic philosophy.
The Kennedy Library is also committed to leveraging technology to enhance learning in both classroom and online environments. We deliver instruction in a variety of modes, catering to a range of student needs and encouraging self-directed learning.
Finally, the Kennedy Library is committed to working on a continual basis with campus partners in order to keep current with curricula and best practices in pedagogical techniques.
Roles for the Kennedy Library and its Campus Partners
Role of the Kennedy Library
As a hub for research, study, discussion, and technology use on campus, the library is in an excellent position to coordinate instruction related to information skills. Because information skills cut across disciplines, it makes sense to have an entity like the library work with all stakeholders to develop a consistent approach to helping students achieve these skills. This is a much-needed step for this campus, since information skills are not currently being taught in any systematic way.
The library sees itself as having the following roles in this initiative:
- Develop and maintain a set of learning objectives related to information skills.
- Coordinate its activities related to teaching information skills with campus partners.
- Provide specific resources to support acquisition of information and research skills. Cultivate a learner-centered, creative learning environment.
- Promote best practices in instruction and the use of instructional technology.
- Continue to encourage community synergy by serving as a cross-disciplinary hub on campus.
- Support the value of respecting individuality, diversity, and experience.
Role of the College Librarians
Kennedy Library's College Librarians are already heavily involved in instructional activities related to information skills and research techniques. Librarians' expertise complements the subject knowledge of college faculty, creating the potential for effective partnerships. Librarians continuously update their skills as teachers and employ new pedagogical principles and techniques both within and outside of the classroom.
As the Library's instruction program grows, however, College Librarians will need to recognize their limitations and be strategic in their approach to supporting the development of information skills across the full breadth and depth of the Cal Poly curriculum. College Librarians cannot physically be within each Cal Poly classroom, and will instead work to create a set of complementary curricular resources that can be used in a variety of ways. College Librarians will work as a group along with campus partners to develop an information skills curriculum for Cal Poly.
Role of the CTL and the Instructional Design Consultant
The alliance between the Library and The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) continues to offer a great opportunity for furthering these goals, particularly in the area of instructional design. The CTL offers a variety of resources to assist in the development of instructional material, including workshops on "best practices" in teaching, a hybrid workshop, a variety of mini-workshops and tutorials on the use of specific technologies, and video presentations of teaching methods.
The CTL also has three Instructional Design Consultants on staff (one is a liaison between the Library and the CTL) available to consult with the College Librarians on a wide range of pedagogical and technical issues. The CTL plays a vital role in contributing to the excellence of Cal Poly's instructional program.
Role of Faculty, Students, and Campus Organizations
Faculty members have an important role to play in teaching information skills. Given the importance of University Learning Objectives relating to critical thinking, communication, and lifelong learning, it is vital that faculty members consider the library's educational role with an open mind, and entertain the possibility of entering into a partnership with the library. The library invites every member of the faculty to consider the ways that today's information environment affects students. Even if a course is not research- or writing-intensive, students are likely using information skills. By working together, librarians and College faculty can find creative ways to help students develop these skills, in a practical, hands-on environment.
There is a wide range of campus groups and entities working to improve student learning and campus life. Faculty and librarians can partner with groups such as the Academic Skills Center, the Academic Excellence Program, the Honors Program, Student Advising, ASI, Career Services, Student Life and Leadership, and others to explore ways to reach students.
Background Reading List
"Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century," Barbara R. Jones-Kavalier and Suzanna L. Flannigan in EDUCAUSE Quarterly, vol. 29 no. 2, 2006)
"Information Literacy and Reflective Pedagogical Praxis," Heidi L.M. Jacobs in Journal of Academic Librarianship, vol. 34 no. 3, pp. 256-262, 2008) (requires login for offcampus users)