Selected Resources: Using Practitioner-Engaged Evidence Synthesis to Teach Research and IL Skills

You may not be aware of this, but every year the ACRL Instruction Section Teaching Methods Committee puts out two lists of Selected Resources, one focused on teaching methods and instructional design and the other focused on assessment. These lists feature articles and other materials that have been published the previous year that are worthy of note. It’s a resource that doesn’t get as much use or attention as it should, so I’ve decided to assign myself the homework of making my way through each item on last year’s lists and write about it here.

Today we’re all about “Using-Practitioner-Engaged Evidence Synthesis to Teach Research and Information Literacy Skills: A Model and Case Study” by Sarah Young and Mary Maley.

Disclosure: I am currently a member of the ACRL Instruction Section Teaching Methods Committee, which selects and evaluates materials for the Selected Resources lists. I played a role in the selection process and reviewed several of the items that ended up on the final list for the current year as part of that process.


Information literacy and service learning: a perfect pairing

For this article, Young and Maley talk about a model for delivering information literacy training to undergraduates which takes advantage of current trends related to service learning. Their case study centered on an intern working with a youth development program who conducted a rapid systematic review of the scholarly literature in the relevant field and was then able to apply what was found to current practices in that field. This gave the student an opportunity to employ information literacy concepts and skills in a more “real world” professional setting. Along the way, they make an argument for how service learning has the potential to serve as a foundation for information literacy instruction that goes beyond basic research skills.


Does anyone think the one-shot model is effective?

Young and Maley begin their article with a discussion of the trends in information literacy instruction over time. The one-shot model and its various shortcomings are featured heavily, which makes sense because for a long time this has been the dominant model of delivering information literacy instruction. Which is weird because no one seems to like it that much. True, there are a lot of great articles out there about how to teach one-shot sessions in effective and creative ways but even those don’t seem to often be written by writers who feel like the one-shot session model is a good idea. It’s just that, in a lot of cases, one-shots are all we have to work with. They are that little bit of territory we’ve managed to stake out for ourselves in a higher education landscape where information literacy is generally treated as a basic or even remedial skill. It took a lot of work to get even that much and it’s taking even more work to hold on to what we have in some places. But are there any real advocates out there for this particular model? Or am I being blinded by my own bias here?

Anyway, there are a lot of articles out there that argue for finding ways to step outside the typical one-shot model but I think what’s great about Young and Maley’s work is the way they’ve attached information literacy to service learning so that the student in question actually has an opportunity to understand that information literacy is something that will be applicable to their life beyond the academic environment. If students are going to be required to get this “real world” experience as part of their college work anyway, why not also give them an opportunity to use their IL and research skills in a new environment? It’s a great idea.


Service learning as an opportunity to learn the contextual nature of research

Plus, I think there’s a huge opportunity here to help students learn about the contextual nature of research. The student who participated in Young and Maley’s study was asked to do a synthesis of scholarly literature in the field where their service learning took place. This is a great way to become familiar with research in a particular field of study and think about how to apply that research in a practical way but, as Young and Maley acknowledge, this is still an academic way of doing things and a real practitioner in the field may not have access to the scholarly resources that a student with a university affiliation does.

So service learning could also theoretically be used as an opportunity to learn what research looks like in a particular field. If practitioners don’t have access to scholarly research, how do they learn about these issues so that they can apply them as part of their work? What other information is it important for them to seek and how to do they go about doing it? What sources are considered appropriate? How is information evaluated? How are decisions made about what information to act on and which information to be aware of but not necessarily use?

Even as an information literacy scholar, I have no idea how someone who works as part of a youth development program (like the student in the study) would answer these questions. I would be really interested to know what the student found out and how what they found would differ from their experience with academic research and what they thought of those differences.

That’s not quite where Young and Maley went with this but I think where they went and what they did (as well as their use of evidence-based practice) is a smart use of current trends in higher education that shows how information literacy can be relevant to those trends and relevant beyond the skills students learn as part of a single one-shot session.


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