Information literacy skills we’re not teaching

I got to thinking recently that there are a whole lot of information literacy skills we’re really not teaching at the moment – many of which are actually quite useful (or potentially so.)

[edited to add: I did get a question about ‘we’ in the above, so it’s probably worth noting here that when I write on this blog, I’m writing from the general perspective of a librarian with strong experience in the secondary school setting, and a general background in formal educational settings (high school, college). I certainly know individuals who are teaching some or all of the things I talk about below, but I know of very few where all of these things are clearly a part of the structured learning expectations, or taught/discussed in any sort of clear way (maybe beyond a few minutes of “Remember to back up your files” kinds of things.

Also, because I’ve had about three people go “I wish someone would talk about that” I’m going to make it a priority to write up some of how I do these things (and why I do them that way) in the near future.]

Tagging and other folksonomy issues:
Tagging is a lovely thing – being able to put labels on things, so you can find them again later. However, it’s also painfully easy for a tagging system to get unwieldy, especially after a year or two. What would happen if we talked about the process of creating a system (figuring out which tags are likely to be useful to you later), and also about maintaining a system (reviewing it every so often to make sure it’s still working well.) Plus, things like how they work on different systems: tagging someone on Facebook, for example, has different implications than tagging a particular book on LibraryThing.

File management:
I don’t know about you, but how I manage my files continues to change and grow. I’m still prone to organizing things in folders, and to creating quick links (via aliases, my dock, and other options) to the files I use most frequently. But at the same time, I also know that there’s some powerful search tools built into my computer these days (that weren’t there in the dawn of time, when I started using an Apple IIc, way back when.)

Searching is great, but like all searches, it involves some knowing what you’re looking for (for example, when the file was last edited, the name, a reasonably unique search term.) If I search on my computer for files containing the word ‘librarian’ or ‘book’ or ‘writing’ for example, I get hundreds, sometimes thousands of files, so I have to pick different terms. There’s also the question of maintaining different versions of files, and keeping them straight. And when we start sharing files – either by emailing an attachment, uploading to a central server (or something like GoogleDocs), it gets even more important to pick meaningful file names.

There are all sorts of techniques for these – but I know a lot of people don’t really know about them. We should change that, somehow.

Making thoughtful choices about time:
One of the real challenges of the online age is .. well, there’s so much to do. It’s so easy to get distracted by some interesting link, and lose track of time. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can build the pattern of self-awareness into more of our online interactions, but I think talking about it is a good start. Where do we spend time online? Why?

Doing something because it’s fun is often fine, but sometimes we stay in online spaces that are no longer fun, because we’ve got the habit. What happens when we change that? All these questions – and many more – are conversations I very much want to see in broader conversation, not just with current students, but with everyone. (And it’s in my list of topics to blog more about here…)

Productivity tools:
One thing I kept pointing out in discussions about the 1:1 laptop initiative at the previous job was something that seems like a small change, but can be huge. What happens when every student in the class has reliable access to class resources? When a teacher could, say, create a calendar with deadlines and reminders, and have every student sync to it, so they’d know about deadlines or other details?

We’ve taught students about analog calendars for years – but what happens when students can tap into the wide range of productivity and task management tools out there, and use them to manage their assignments? Not only will they be better off now (and hopefully, a bit less stressed), but they’ll be learning great skills for the future. (Even though the tools will certainly change, the basic process of getting used to entering it somewhere, managing lists of tasks, etc. will probably still be there.)

(There will be a return of the links posts on Friday: over the holidays, I was getting many fewer links I really wanted to share, but I’ve got a nice collection again.)

Links of interest: December 17th, 2010

Good afternoon! Links today – and links sometime in the next two weeks, but precisely when will depend on what I find, since I suspect many of my regular sources may slow down a little over the next two weeks.

Today’s links include a lot of discussion about social bookmarking tools, changing how we look at doing things, and a hippo.(Actually, a hippo, a loris, a hydra, and an infinite string of elephants and camels. But who’s counting?)

Continue reading Links of interest: December 17th, 2010

Links of interest: December 6, 2010

(Yes, I try to do these on Fridays, but last Friday I had an interview, and the Friday before was Thankgiving. This week is busy too, so I’m doing this now.)

Last Wednesday and Thursday, I took part in a free WebJunction conference that focused on 21st century librarianship. There were lots of great ideas and discussions (and the WebJunction staff and software worked very smoothly). You can now see all the conference materials (including the presentations and the simultaneous chat sessions) online. I particularly liked Pat Wagner’s presentation on staying committed to great customer service, but there were lots of other good conversations.

On the topic of learning more, how had I missed the site fivebooks.com until now? They ask experts in a field (anything from architectural history to political satire to mysteries to .. well, anything) to recommend five books that would give someone a solid understanding of the topic. And why, which is in many ways the more interesting bit.

And Discover Magazine has an intriguing article about using a simple writing exercise to vastly improve student achievement in a challenging class.

What’s the goal of being online?

Several links I’ve come across in the past week or so have talked about both the powers and perils of online interaction.

Doug Johnson revisits an old post of his from 2005 that talks about why restricting online access in schools is problematic. What I find interesting is how much is still like that – but also how much things have changed in some schools.

And I love Scott McLeod’s post about the things we’d be doing (differently) if we truly supported educational technology. (I’m glad to say I’ve done more than a few of them.)

Common advice to authors these days is to be involved online – but how? A post from Betsy Lerner (an agent) looks at a few of the complexities.

I’m very fond of Common Craft’s explanations of media and technology – and they’ve got a new one about social media and the workplace. Particularly great if you know people in smaller businesses trying to figure out where to get started with the subject.

And BoingBoing shared a presentation that makes one think about the power of online tools, and the importance of teaching evaluation skills – and common sense. (The actual combination of events is, as commenters point out, unlikely, but at the same time, I think it’s an interesting case study in looking at other ways to send a situation.)

For librarians and library geeks:

Links of interest: November 12, 2010

Back for another round of links. (I do have some other things in the works, but they’re not quite gelling the way I’d like yet. I hope for next week; topics include a post on tech I use and why, and on the broad question of being a good librarian.)

I came across the In the Library With A Lead Pipe blog/journal due to their posts on librarian workspaces, but I’m thinking even more about about their post “X”, which is about pseudonymity and anonymity in professional (specifically library) communities.

Living online:

Anne Collier and Larry Magid have released a new version of their (free) Parents’ Guide to Facebook. Doug Johnson has a nice summary, with links to the PDF book. It’s got some great advice on specific privacy settings and considerations, and is well worth reading whether or not you have kids, if you use Facebook.

I caught an interesting piece on Talk of the Nation yesterday on NPR as I was driving, on how much employers can limit worker’s behavior – in particular, in online settings. You can read the transcript or listen to the piece (about half an hour) at the NPR site.

danah boyd wrote a fascinating piece on teenagers choosing risk reduction behaviors for online interaction that seem really odd at first glance (in one case, deleting everything posted after a short period of time, in another case, disabling the account entirely whenever she’s offline.) And yet, as danah points out, they make perfect sense in context.

Followup on last week’s stories about Cooks Source:

And other links of potential interest:

Links of interest : November 5th, 2010

Today is Guy Fawkes Day which always reminds me of how people interact with information, and how what we know about an event can shift with bias. (And which, if you know some of the history, is a really fascinating example of how to evaluate information about an event.)

Anybody for…? Emily Lloyd at Shelf Check (one of my favorite library comics) has a fascinating post about creating a social physical library – allowing people in the building to connect with other people who are there doing similar things, or would be interested (a spontaneous story-time, a chance to practice a language, play a game of chess, etc.) Folks in the comments there mentioned a related conversation at thewikiman, with more ideas in the comments.

Let’s try that again. Related to some of the posts last week, Iris has a post about a discussion at her college’s Learning and Teaching Center about Harvesting Our Mistakes. Both some of the specific there – and a reminder to keep up with the process of reflection and adjustment – spoke to me.

First attempts: Scott McLeod (who focuses on technology in K-12 education, and who does a lot of work with administrators trying to figure out how to implement technology in their schools) has an interesting post on how to look at the first steps of technology practice.

More things we’re not teaching: His post made me realise that I missed something in my Things we’re not teaching post: how many schools are teaching students how to find a task management technology that works for them that goes beyond “Write it in your planner”. These days, kids with access to their own tech devices (whether that’s a phone, mobile device, laptop, or home computer) have a lot more choices in figuring out how to manage deadlines and assignments – and it might be good to talk about them, show off some options, and so on.

What’s getting asked: Brian Herzog has been writing about his experience at the NELA 2010 conference, and has a great post about changes in reference questions in public library settings, based on Pingsheng Chen from the Worcester (MA) Public Library presentation.  Summary: libraries are getting fewer of the easy questions, but more of the time consuming or challenging ones. (Since people are tending to do their own searches for the simpler stuff, and only coming to the librarians when they get stumped.)

Community concerns: The Disruptive Student series at ProfHacker (a Chronicle of Higher Education blog) has an interesting post today on dealing with bullying in academic settings. While focused on teaching settings, there’s some interesting stuff in there for people in libraries to think about too.

Understanding other experiences: While browsing around ProfHacker, I found a couple of posts on dealing with students with disabilities or other access needs, with some useful information for anyone who teaches.

For another take on this situation, FWD/Foward has a post this week on how teachers and professors can help students with disabilities. (FWD focuses on an intersectional approach to disabilities.)

The problems with copying: Seanan McGuire, author of a number of books (the October Daye series, and as Mira Grant, the NewsFlesh series) made a post this week about Internet piracy and who it hurts. She has a follow-up post with a few clarifications and additional points, too.

In a related area, my reading lists have been full of people talking about a really blatant example of why copying is stupid. Author writes an article (a comparison of apple pie recipes.) A small local newspaper publishes it – without permission or recompense. Author writes politely, requesting a donation to a program of her preference, in lieu of payment.  Editor responded that, well, it was online, so it was in the public domain – and oh, by the way, she should be grateful for publication and badly needed editing.

You can guess at the outcome, but John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever, has the best overview of it: The Stupidest Thing an Editor With Three Decades of Experience Has Said About the Web Today. (With links to the author’s original post about it, including a copy of the relevant email.) He has a follow-up post, too.

Dear people: stuff on the ‘Net is not automatically in the public domain. Please share with anyone who has not yet learned this.

Harassment, Internet spaces, and reality

Someone I care about is having problems with a stalker who’s both harassed her in physical space and online. That reminded me that I haven’t talked recently about my approach to dealing with that kind of situation.

It’s a subject I’ve been thinking about every since I got online, 16 years ago now. I’ve had my share of mildly worrying experiences (people who just wouldn’t give up), but I’ve also had more friends than I can count who’ve had everything from persistent harassment and fixation to outright threats of major violence.

I also spent about 18 months as a volunteer on LiveJournal’s Terms of Service (Abuse) team, which handles everything from DMCA copyright reports to concerns about harassment to requests from the police, to parents trying to figure out how to handle their child’s online interaction. (And I did this in 2003-2004, when there was a lot less info out there on most of these topics.) Add to that ten years working in a high school library and helping educate parents, kids, and teachers about different issues, and you get a lot of interest in the subject. It also means I have a lot of opinions – but I’m always interested in learning more.

It’s all real:
You’ll notice that below, I don’t say ‘real world’ and ‘online’. This is, in my experience, a particularly damaging way to look at it. Many people have very meaningful connections with others online. Whether those are old friends who live far away now or people they’ve met online through shared interests, the emotions, conversations, and interactions are still very real. When they go wrong, they still hurt just as much.

Beside that, online harassment, insults, and threats do affect us in our physical lives. They add stress, they take time to deal with, they may require changes in our behavior and where and how we spend our time. How is that not ‘real’? So, here, I use ‘online’ and ‘physical world’. A little clunky, but much more clear.

Harassment is the fault of the person doing the harassing.
If you are being harassed, it is not your fault, and you are not to blame. That said, knowing some things can make your life easier if you do have a problem. You have a better idea what steps to take, you know what information you need to have ready to make a report, things like that. Sometimes information and specific tools can help you descalate a situation or make you less appealing to a stalker, too.

Continue reading Harassment, Internet spaces, and reality

Links of interest – September 17, 2010

danah boyd had an interesting post earlier this week on a different side of the question of online identity: do your name your child something that’s uniquely identifying (meaning they have to learn about managing their online identity very early), or something more common (where there could be a number of people with that name.)

As someone whose first name – Jennifer – was the most popular name for girls in the entire decade I was born, but whose last name is a lot less common, at least in the US, I sort of split the difference. But it did mean I started using other user names in places where I didn’t necessarily want to use my last name pretty early on, because knowing my first name and last name and general area of the country was, for about a decade, a pretty easy way to dig up my address.

Not So Distant Future has a great post about who we should be including in the conversation when we talk about education – more specifically, a letter to NBC about not having included actual teachers in their upcoming series.

The copy this blog has a post on some common myths and misperceptions about copyright - fairly complex ones. The link in the first paragraph to a previous post on a similar topic is also well worth reading.

I’ve been fascinated by web usability for a long time, and there’s a recent new detailed post about why some of the things that have been common wisdom in usability may be changing (or not true in the first place). With links to data and studies and other useful things of that kind. It gave me a kick to go plan the redesign of a site I maintain for a community education organisation for better usability. Jessamyn, who linked to this post as well, also has a recommendation for a document from Usability.gov .

Links of interest: July 9th, 2010

(I missed last week’s both because a bunch of travel for a job interview threw my schedule off, and because I’ve been in the midst of the Real Name posts.)

Related to the link a few weeks ago about how browsing the stacks is dated, here’s a very nice counter example from Barbara Fister on Library Journal Online who makes a case for mindful browsing as peer-to-peer review.

If you’re like me (and many of my generation) who learned a whole lot from Our Bodies, Ourselves, you might, like me, be delighted to discover that the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective has a blog. Recent posts include information about a revised scale for maximum heart rate for women, and about proposed changes to visiting rules in hospitals (especially of interest LGBTQ folks, but of use to many others as well.) That post includes the links on how to make comments on the formal proposal and other good things.

A discussion on Metafilter about bookless libraries. It’s rather more anti-library than might be productive, but I think it’s also useful to be reminded that different libraries serve different purposes. (I particularly like Hildegarde’s comments, in terms of explaining that.)

For people unfamiliar with libaries, donations not only require time to decide if they’re appropriate additions, but they also require staff time and resources to process – cataloging, labeling, property stamping, adding a protective cover, and so on and so forth. The library I previously worked at, this comes out to a dollar or two of supplies, and probably 10-15 minutes of someone’s time per book: it doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up fast when you’re talking more than a handful of books. (And when that someone has a bunch of other stuff that they also need to do…)

And a great slideshow from a researcher at Google (Paul Adams) talking about the challenges of social networks in terms of how we actually form and have relationships with people. Great stuff.

And finally, Blizzard has announced that they’re retracting their decision to require real names on forum posts: much more information on the WoW forums. (I still plan to continue with the Real Name series, don’t worry, because we all know this is going to come up again.)

The other side of the screen

I’ve been thinking, this morning, about a post I just read from Scott McLeod, called “Can you ever really know that edublogger beside you?” He makes the excellent point that while we can get to know someone online, we don’t know all of them – or their actions.

I’ve heard this conversation go round hundreds of times in the fifteen years I’ve been active in conversations online – first on Usenet and email lists and my college forum system, later on Yahoo lists, on web fora, on LiveJournal, on MUCKs and MUSHes and conversations about MMORPGs. And they’ve all got a seed of truth.

But this particular argument is also missing something.

We all talk about our lives differently in different spaces. At work, we focus on some things, and gloss over others. With friends, we’ll pick different topics. At a gathering of fellow fans – like the one I’m at this weekend – the topics are again, different.

It’s certainly something that can be abused – people can lie, leave things out, or even lie to themselves. But far more often, it’s simply that we’re seeing a piece of what’s going on, not the full picture. As long as we remember that – and as long as we’re aware of how what we put out there shows a slice of ourselves and our actions – we should be just fine.

So, here’s my guidelines for myself, when it comes to online interaction:

1) I make decisions about trust in the realms I have data for.

Online, there are certain things someone might demonstrate. They might show me they’re articulate (in writing), that they think about and respond to criticism or questions in a productive way, that they have a knack for pulling together different pieces of information in a fascinating way.  I may take their suggestion of another blogger to read, or a particular approach to a problem they’ve got a lot of described experience with seriously.

For everything else – all the things I don’t see – there’s a neutral zone. I don’t trust it, but I don’t distrust it, either. I treat it the same way I do a piece of information in Wikipedia: possibly useful, but if I’m going to rely on it for anything other than amusement or transient conversation, I should probably check it out more first.

2) I have realistic expectations.

I’m generally very willing (time and energy allowing) to meet people in person I first got to know online (and I’ve had some amazing friendships and interactions come out of it.) But I’m also realistic: I don’t expect that a meeting for dinner means we’re going to be Best Friends Forever. Mostly, I expect we’ll have an interesting conversation over a nice meal, and both go away with new things to think about.

I expect that there are things that might surprise me. I make sure I can take care of my own basic well-being without relying on them. And I usually come prepared with some stuff I’m pretty sure we’ll mutually enjoy. Most importantly, I assume that we’ll have a pleasant time, but that it probably won’t be one of the earth-shatteringly amazing days of my existence. (It might be, but assuming it will be just leads to disappointment!)

3) Sharing is likely to be unequal.

Online, it’s very easy for the information sharing to be quite uneven. Imagine a prolific blogger: over the course of six months, they might share a fair bit of information about themselves in whatever they’re talking about. Their reader may come to feel they know a fair bit about the blogger.

And yet, even if those readers reply, the amount *they* share may be far less in quantity than the blogger shares. Or it may be in totally different areas of interest. This isn’t bad or wrong – but it does mean that both parties should be aware of what they do and don’t know about each other, and plan accordingly.

4) People can’t see things about me that seem obvious from inside my own head.

I pay attention, when talking to people online, and especially if a meeting is coming up, to what I tend not to talk about.

Here’s a rather odd one: I’m a librarian, and I’m a voracious reader, but I have a long history of not talking about all of what I read – a side effect of having gotten very self-conscious of how fast and how varied my reading was back in elementary school. I’ve been working up to doing better with that (hence the GoodReads widget in my sidebar here), but even that isn’t everything. (For example, I don’t plan to list books I read to deepen my religious understanding there, unless they’re also of wide general interest.)

And so, I also pay some attention to what people don’t say in their own comments, and whether that’s relevant to the ways I know them. If someone keeps a very focused blog, that’s one thing – but if someone wanders over a range of topics, but persistently leaves some out, it’s sometimes worth a little attention if I’m going to meet them face to face.

Being aware of these things means that when they come up face-to-face – as they often do, because some conversations can be much more comfortable with a few people in person than with lots of people in online public space – I can structure what I say better. And I can remember to ask them questions when it’s relevant, about the stuff they don’t talk much about.

In conclusion:

These four guidelines have meant that almost all of my face-to-face meetings with people I know via online settings have been good fun, interesting, and overall enjoyable. I’ve had a handful where we didn’t click (but nothing worse than that), and hundreds, now, of occasions where we became closer, had more to talk about, or deeply enjoyed each other’s company.

(Right now, I am sitting on a hotel couch with a friend I met online. Yesterday, I picked her up from the airport, and we have had lunch with others, and an outing, and coffee this morning, and we are currently sitting on a couch with our computers in hand waiting for more People From The Internet to show up.)

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Information Technology Librarian at the University of Maine at Farmington, the small liberal arts college model campus in the University of Maine system.

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