by Amanda Hovious, The Designer Librarian
As a PhD student in Information Science, I have been chewing on one problem in particular: What are the missing components of information literacy instruction? What is not currently being addressed? I believe the answer lies in the essence of every information seeking model out there, and especially in Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process (ISP) model, which I had the pleasure of deconstructing in a theory development class. What is that essence? Uncertainty.
Uncertainty is present in the information seeking process (just about every information seeking model recognizes that role).
Uncertainty is inherent in inquiry and reflective thinking (John Dewey).
Uncertainty is the primary principle of Kuhlthau’s ISP model, and she defines uncertainty as “a cognitive state that commonly causes affective symptoms of anxiety and lack of confidence.”
Addressing uncertainty is key to information literacy development. But in the absence of understanding ways to overcome the barriers that uncertainty creates in the information search process, we teach skills that will likely not develop beyond the classroom.
So, how do we address uncertainty in the information search process? A good place to start is Costa and Kallick’s Habits of Mind. They identified 16 habits of thought and action that help students manage the uncertainty that comes with ill-structured problems (e.g., information problems).
These habits are described to some extent in the Dispositions of the ACRL Framework. However, habits of mind are broader than the realm of information literacy. They are ways of thinking and doing that are essential to many areas of lifelong learning. In a nutshell, habits of mind are life skills.
Many of the habits Costa and Kallick endorse are absolutely essential for information literacy development. In particular, here are ten habits we need to instill in our students:
- Thinking about Thinking (metacognition)
Thinking about thinking seems simple: to be aware of your own thought processes. But hidden biases and faulty heuristics can cloud a student’s judgment. Encourage students to spend some time thinking about how who they are impacts their relationship with information.
- Thinking Flexibly (being comfortable with multiple perspectives)
Any research project that requires an analysis of multiple perspectives requires thinking flexibly. Encourage students to investigate articles from sources across the political spectrum to see how different people present the same information. Likewise, fostering respectful classroom discussion about debatable topics is another good way for students to interact with differing viewpoints.
- Thinking Interdependently (collaborating)
Most jobs and projects require some amount of collaboration. Assignments requiring students to share their ideas clearly and actively engage with input from others will not only make them more thorough researchers, it will help them more clearly communicate the information they have found.
- Questioning and Posing Problems
Teach students to plan their research process ahead of time. Have them identify what they know and don’t know before they begin. Also, teach them not to be afraid of being wrong! If given the opportunity they will most often find that what they think they know is incorrect or incomplete. Embrace that!
- Gathering Information through All Senses (being an observant researcher)
Not every answer is in a book or database! Offer assignments to allow students to interview people and/or observe behaviors first-hand.
- Striving for Accuracy (choosing accurate or evidence-based sources)
Teach students not to settle on the first source they find, even if it seems legitimate and supports their prior beliefs. Have them read as widely as time allows, and engage with primary, secondary, and tertiary sources to see what the overall state of knowledge is in the field under study. Ask them when possible to verify conclusions by consulting other expert sources.
- Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations (transferring skills)
Let them know that it is acceptable to draw on previous research experiences to tackle new research problems. It isn’t cheating to use the same database over and over again if it has the requisite information!
- Persisting (growth mindset)
Teach students to follow a research project to the end, and not to give up if they don’t succeed right away. Researchers don’t usually find what they are looking for in the first article they read. Showing students how to put together different combinations of keywords, and navigate different kinds of sources will make them much more likely to find what they need. (And it always pays to reiterate that librarians are here to help when they get stuck!)
- Creating, Imagining, Innovating (looking at information in new ways)
Create assignments that let students share their research findings in new and interesting ways. Would visual aids such as graphs and charts be easier to understand than a written narrative? Would an e-portfolio be more accessible than a printed paper?
- Communicating with Clarity and Precision
The best research skills in the world will only have limited value if students can’t communicate their findings precisely and clearly. Reinforce the importance of presenting information in a clear, unbiased way.
Some of these habits are addressed in library/information literacy instruction, but we must remember that there is a big difference between teaching a skill to a student and creating an environment where the student can put that skill into continuous practice. The latter is more important in the development of habits of mind, and the library is just one environment that can be designed to reinforce them.
Introducing these ideas to students need not be overly complicated, and a few simple steps can help them keep these habits at the forefront of their minds. Define the profile of highly effective information seekers and enumerate those qualities on posters and handouts. Post them around the library, touch on them during instruction sessions, and give instructors in other departments copies for their classrooms to reinforce it beyond the walls of the library.
With these habits of mind, students will be able to search for information with more confidence and purpose, and they will be more discriminant in their selection of sources. These habits of mind correspond in many ways to the Dispositions from the ACRL Framework but will likely be more approachable for students and newer information seekers.