Trusting sources

I have been reading quite a lot of academic texts lately, and I have been thinking and writing about what I have read. For me, writing is a way to think more carefully about what I have read and I guess it also leads to deeper learning. Some of the texts I have been reading needs more time to sink in, others have given me ideas that are more ready to implement.

One of the texts I read last week was Olof Sundin’s “Den pedagogiske bibliotekarien: Från källkritik till källtillit” [The pedagogic librarian: from criticism to trust of sources – not the best translation, it is much more catching in Swedish…]. This is a chapter in the book “Bibliotekarier i teori og praktik” [Librarians in theory and practice]. Olof Sundin is a well-known, highly cited author and professor at Lund University in Sweden. I first discovered his research when I did my Master’s many moons ago.

Sundin started by saying that false news have become a democratic problem, and that this gives information literacy a new start or maybe rather a new drive. The libraries are often assigned the role to develop their patrons’ media and information literacy. This is done in public libraries as well as in academic libraries. Still, academic librarians teach more than public librarians, and we are in a position to reach patrons.

Sundin continues by saying that there is a false distinction between theory and practice. In reality they are intertwined and co-dependent of each other. Of course. But librarians have to speak the same language as their partners for collaboration, i.e. the teachers – and this means that librarians need more pedagogic insight.

Sundin explains the basis for constructivism, and how the constructivist theories led to more problem-based learning and project work. Carol Kuhlthau contributed with important insights when she published her Information Search Process (ISP) where she included thoughts and feelings students may have when searching. Kuhlthau’s work is clearly inspired by the constructivist approach.

Socio-cultural theory promoted situated learning, and claimed that learning is not a neutral process. Meaning that if we want to teach students how to find information, they need to learn that in a situation that is relevant and meaningful to the students.

So far in Sundin’s text, I don’t think I came across anything new to me, but then he started to write about socio-material theory. I had never heard of that. Socio-material theory (sociomateriality) is not a learning theory, Sundin explained, but it is an idea on how the social aspects and the material aspects influence each other. This is of interest to librarians because we deal with the intersection of technology and people. You can’t separate information skills from the society, from technology or the material, Sundin claims. It is all connected. Sundin also writes that Kuhlthau ignores these links, and downplays the material side of the matter (e.g. knowledge on the resources as such).

Talking about resources, Sundin explains that the digital sphere changes some things. When everything is searched for and read on the same platform, it is easy to forget the importance of information infrastructure. Many of the digital resources that we use are becoming easier to use, and therefore the infrastructure becomes invisible to us. The more intuitive and seemingly easier to use an information system is, the less control we have. We now less and less about why we find what we find. The algorithms decide for us. One of the library’s tasks is to expose the all the more hidden information structures, Sundin continues.

A common advice concerning source assessment and evaluation is to compare the findings with that you can find in other sources, a kind of horizontal evaluation. But due to the algorithms, we are already in an “echo-chamber” that gives us what it thinks we want. We cannot evaluate one source at a time, as a single unit, but comparing horizontally with other sources is not enough either. We need to also include a wider context and the information infrastructure that have influenced us.

Sundin writes about how we can lose faith in established knowledge. It is possible to find single studies that supports any kind of world view. Established knowledge supported by thousands of studies, like on the effect of vaccines or climate change, can diminish in importance with people. The library can have a role here, because our collections are not algorithm-based, Sundin says. We can become stabilisers in an unstable society. “Source trust” is explained as trusting established methods in knowledge production in society and the sources of information that springs from these methods. This can be a frame of reference, Sundin said.

Well – I think it is interesting about horizontal source evaluation and that the echo-chambers influence this. I hadn’t really thought about that. I am not sure we can really help keeping or re-establishing people’s faith in sources based on our collections, but maybe I am being too pessimistic here. I sure hope Sundin is right.


Critical thinking: testing a new workshop








Earlier this year, I wrote about how I need to reboot my teaching efforts. I am not talking about a complete abandonment of my previous efforts, but just a newer and fresher look. I love teaching. Teaching students make me feel like I am part of their process, and however small my contribution is in the whole picture of their education, I feel like I was there. I love talking to students after sessions to hear what they understood, and the best part of it is that sometimes the students are able to connect the dots right there in front of you. It might not be a Eureka! kind of moment, but just a little insight that suddenly made something else clear for them. I will not deny that I sometimes come into classes where none of the students are interested, and I can’t seem to wake them up, or where everyone just stares in complete silence and refuse to engage with you. Most times, though, there are at least a few who choose to participate in discussions or at least ask some questions that allows you to clarify things and move things forward.

I have been teaching for at least 14 years. I have never used manuscripts, because I can’t make them work for me, but in the beginning I think I held very tightly on to my keywords and went through the information like I just pushed the “Play”-button on Spotify. The class started and “Play” and the lecture just came out of the speaker that was my mouth. Fortunately for me, I hardly ever get nervous, so I could do this pretty effortlessly, but of course it probably was of little or no use to the students to hear me babble on about Boolean logic etc.

In the years that have passed since I started teaching, I have tried to continuously improve my practice. Small changes here and there, assessment, new changes, assessment etc. I believe that it is important to evolve as a teacher even though I have taught for years. Every now and then, as I described earlier this year, I get an itch for change. If I don’t act on it, I feel disengaged and lose my motivation. It doesn’t have to be something big. Maybe just a couple of new activities or new assessment forms, or a new collaboration. Anything, really. It usually starts with reading some new journal articles or new books, or attending a conference.

When I came across DeBono’s “Six critical thinking hats”, I felt like trying this with students. I have long felt that we spend way too much time still on the classic one-shot instruction with “Click here, click here” sessions (database demonstrations). I wanted to include more on critical thinking. After reading an article (1) discussing the thinking hats I made a new session in form of a workshop. I found a newspaper article (in Norwegian) on care technology (like GPS, security alarms etc.) and made questions according to the six different hats that the students could answer in groups. I tested the session on my colleagues, and decided to cut quite a few of the questions to make it more suitable to do in one 45 minute session. Earlier this month, I found an article (about ageing and nursing homes) relevant for master students in nursing, and made new (but similar) questions to all  six hats. I gave the students 10 minutes to read this short article (approx. two pages), but most were done in six minutes or less. There were only eleven students present for this class, so in stead of doing it in groups as a workshop, we had an open discussion. It went really well! The students were happy to get a new framework for critical thinking, I was happy to engage with the students in their discussion, and it felt really fresh for me. I don’t expect this to work as well every time, but it felt great to try something new. The evaluation forms I got also suggested that students need more focus on critical thinking skills, and that they were happy to engage in a more active session, rather than a lecture format. Wohoo!

1. Kivunja C. Using de bono’s six thinking hats model to teach critical thinking and problem solving skills essential for success in the 21st century economy. Creative Education. 2015;6(03):380-91.