Lost in the Library of Babel:
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Lost in the Library of Babel:

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In "The Library of Babel," Jorge Luis Borges described a vast library with no circumference and no center, a library exhilarating in its infinite scope but where knowledge is always frustratingly out ...

In "The Library of Babel," Jorge Luis Borges described a vast library with no circumference and no center, a library exhilarating in its infinite scope but where knowledge is always frustratingly out of reach. He seemed to be describing the information landscape as today’s students experience it. How can we help students learn how to navigate their way through the Library of Babel? What role does finding, evaluating, and using sources play in the major? How do skills and dispositions students acquire by engaging in inquiry contribute to lifelong learning and engaged citizenship? In this workshop [at Illinois Wesleyan University in January 2012] faculty will be invited to consider what students need to become information literate and will work on embedding critical information literacy into courses and programs.

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  • In "The Library of Babel," Jorge Luis Borges described a vast library with no circumference and no center, a library exhilarating in its infinite scope but where knowledge is always frustratingly out of reach. He seemed to be describing the information landscape as today’s students experience it. How can we help students learn how to navigate their way through the Library of Babel? What role does finding, evaluating, and using sources play in the major? How do skills and dispositions students acquire by engaging in inquiry contribute to lifelong learning and engaged citizenship? In this workshop faculty will be invited to consider what students need to become information literate and will work on embedding critical information literacy into courses and programs.
  • Start with an exercise to put ourselves in students’ shoes: write down a research question or topic from a course you have taught – something a student might write about for a paper or present to the class. Exchange them with someone from a different discipline. How would you find information on that topic? What search terms would you use? Which databases? How would you decide which information is authoritative? How would you get started, knowing you have only a few weeks to finish this project – and that you have several others to work on at the same time? Our ideas about the research process tend to include a lot of tacit knowledge about how information works, particularly in our disciplines. Library and web tools don’t provide the context and background students need to frame questions and recognize valuable sources.
  • Jennie Nelson in The Subject is Research was struck by the extreme difference between faculty descriptions of research assignments and student descriptions. She has collected student journals for years. One described how a student approached this assignment in a 100-level cognitive psych class. The purpose of this paper is to enrich your knowledge of psychology by encouraging you to explore a psychological topic in depth. Your paper should be five to eight typed pages . . . due on November 13th. [a list of topics was included] Excerpts from the student’s journalOctober 31st. Talked to a friend about my research paper … started getting really upset because I have two other research papers due the same day.November 1st. Went to the library with my roommate. [used a database] I found eight possible sources; they are all in magazines. I felt good as I have finally started on my paper. November 2nd. Thought about my paper with a feeling of dread. Decided I had to go to the library that day. Didn’t. November 11th. Went to the library today and found out they only have two of the articles I need. November 12th. Made an itinerary for my paper (timewise) as I now have only one day to get it finished … [found some books in the library] I fell asleep after my classes. She started writing the paper at 8pm the night before it was due – but wasn’t worried. “Since it’s a research paper, I will barely write anything of my own so it’s basically an organization process.” She made an outline: Intro, Magazine one, Dark Brown, Light Green, Magazine two, Beige, Dark Brown Canvas (the colors of her sources in the order of use). The resulting paper was 1300 words – 1100 of them direct quotes, the rest transitional sentences between them. When Jennie Nelson shared this process with other students they called it “efficient” and “familiar.” This approach is the most common one to research. When Nelson surveyed 238 students asking them about their research process she found that –  75% described a “compile information” approach, like the student’s journal. 10% used the “premature thesis” approach – deciding a thesis before any research10% used the “scrabble game” approach – find a few sources and create a thesis from themOnly 5% used the “recursive research” approach described in writing handbooks – exploratory scanning of the topic, forming a research question, conducting additional research, drafting and rewriting. Excerpted from Jennie Nelson. “The Scandalous Research Paper and Exorcising Ghosts.” The Subject is Research. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2001. 3-11.
  • Students don’t have much trouble finding sources. They have trouble envisioning themselves as part of a social exchange of ideas, as participants in a conversation, as people who have something to say. The real trick is engagement and that depends on students seeing themselves as part of a community of knowers. Free write – what are some issues you encounter with students that are especially important to you? Make a list and share.
  • Three examples of assignments and courses that make knowledge social: first term seminar blogging – they wanted to rewrite what they were reading for class for a college student audience and did so through a blog with researched pages of information.
  • An art history professor asked students in a precolumbian art course to select an item found in the Cenote of Sacrifice at Chichen Itza and come up with a theory about where it came from and why it was thrown in the well. Students had to make the leap from gathering and reporting information to coming up with an original idea supported with evidence.
  • Third example: a political science methods course with a library-based lab section where students have the time to learn not just how to find information but think about where it comes from, how it’s connected, and what social, economic, and ethical issues arise around information. In all three courses, students came to see information as something constructed and shared, not as a commodity to consume. They began to recognize their involvement in making knowledge.
  • Looking at a particular course, what learning outcomes do you have in mind that relate to critical information literacy? (Reviewthe things you earlier listed as important.) How do these outcomes fit into the major? Into liberal learning? Work on defining these outcomes individually, then in groups.
  • Brainstorming solutions to common problems: make a list of issues – things you want students to approach differently, things you might work on in a course– and in small groups take one of the issues and design a way around it. What kinds of assignments or activities would them break out of bad habits? Report out.
  • Work on an assignment or sequence of activities for a course. Workshop ideas in pairs or small groups. Think about how you will assess students’ work – design a rubric or checklist or ?? to use in grading projects. How will you communicate your expectations to students?
  • Finally – a thought about research as joining a conversation, reiterating the social nature of this work . . .

Lost in the Library of Babel: Lost in the Library of Babel: Presentation Transcript

  • Write down a topic or a research questionthat one of your students might write about in one of your courses.
  • Jennie Nelson, 1994Interviewed 238 students• 75% - compile information approach• 10% - premature thesis• 10% - scrabble game• 5% - recursive approach
  • Project Information Literacy (8,000+ students, 25 institutions)• Students have trouble getting started and choosing among options; tend to use strategies learned early (HS or 1st year); work at narrowing the range of choices because they face too many.Citation Project (160 first year students, 18 institutions)• students do not understand their sources; instead of summary use patchwriting; tend to assemble papers from quotes; most quotes are lifted from the first page.Stanford Study of Writing (longitudinal study of Stanford undergrads)• Students are deeply engaged in writing in everyday life and have a strong sense of audience; write far more than they did in 1980. When “writing to do something” they are better writers.
  • search is embedded in social processes and relationships
  • “[we] should highlight,in addition tothe tools and skillsmetaphor, theimportance of learningabout context andcontent inunderstandinghow information ‘works’ . . . we need torecognize that information‘access’ is not just about informationconsumerism, but also about individuals andgroups of people actively shaping the world. Christine Pawley
  • Liberal learningLearning a disciplineLearning within a course
  • What are your goals?Will you scaffold assignments?Will you provide opportunities to practice?Are there ways to foster a sense of community?How can you encourage writing goals:• Cognitive sophistication• Students’ ownership of their own voice• Intellectual presenceHow will this learning experience contributeto the major? To life-long learning?
  • Photo creditsBiblioteca Jose Vasconcelos by CINKerTurn page by andy.brandon50Book stack by ginnerobotNew York Times on the New Art of Flickr by Thomas HawkEvidence based change by Bernardo GuzmanRubik’s cube redux by M.ChristianCenote from waterlevel by Mike MileyLab bench by Spencer9Ideas (desk) by Alfred HermidaTexture by Friendbrook MedowsWorks citedLiving SimplyTeaching Inquiry Zotero group Barbara Fister – fister @ gustavus dot edu