Back in September we were approached by iSchool Professor Rachel Ivy Clarke and Director of the B.S. in Information Management and Technology program director Deb Nosky with a challenge:
How do you teach information and data literacy to a group of high school girls interested in STEM fields?
… by making it fun, of course!
Given the idea to create an escape room by Deb, five of us library science students banded together (myself, Kara Conley, Kayla Del Biondo, Kim Hoffman, and Nicole Potter) to develop an It Girls workshop that addressed three main areas: information literacy and identifying fake resources, smart searching, and data literacy.
What transpired was a truly memorable experience for a group of LIS students with limited prior knowledge on instruction.
Why Teach Information Literacy?
According to the American Library Association (2017), information literacy is the set of skills and abilities that allows a person to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” It allows a person to discern what is credible from what is not and ultimately determine whether that information meets their needs.
In an age where we are inundated by information on a multitude of platforms (physical and digital), it is our greatest asset to understanding what we are interacting with. Yet recent studies have indicated that there is a significant gap of knowledge amongst students where this core competency is concerned.
Information Literacy Skills Are Needed
In 2016, a Stanford University study (Wineburg, McGrew, Breakstone, & Ortega, 2016) indicated that students struggle with not only identifying fake information but also discerning bias.
A study done by ACT (Croft & Moore, 2017) found that students who were aware of fringe sites known to provide disinformation tended to believe that the sources were credible, and that students had varying methods for checking source reliability.
With an increased emphasis on college readiness, it is imperative to instill [information literacy] skills at an early age.
Information Literacy and College Preparedness
As LIS students, we know that the authenticity and credibility of information matters. There is a misconception that a technologically literate generation automatically possesses information literacy as well. Yet, although students can easily understand how to operate and utilize the latest tools, they do not necessarily know how to critically examine the information they yield.
With an increased emphasis on college readiness, it is imperative to instill in students these vital skills at an early age. This is especially important for those interested in STEM learning, who will be expected to interact with and analyze many types of data and resources.
By developing a challenging and exciting means of instruction for high school students, we hoped to assist in the process of preparing them for future careers as information (and data) experts.
What Worked During Our It Girls Workshop
We led the hourlong workshop two times, back to back, in an iSchool lab. Fifteen to twenty girls attended each workshop, and we randomly assigned six teams of three to four girls per team, during each of the two sessions.
The three topics covered during the workshops— fake news, smart searching, and data literacy— involved a mini lecture followed by a timed challenge. The challenges were comprised of a prompt and some sub questions, all of which involved critical thinking and evaluation of sources, smart searching on the internet, and basic data analysis skills, to find answers.
We kept score on a whiteboard, where the girls earned three points for finishing a challenge first, two points for coming in second, and one point for finishing in third, fourth, fifth, and sixth place. Five points total were required, in order to escape, and this system gave each team the opportunity to catch up if they didn’t do so well in one of the three challenges.
The girls enjoyed the ‘escape the room’ concept where they had to race against the clock, and all but one of the teams we worked with, over two hour-long workshops successfully escaped the room. You go, (It) girls!
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
We asked the girls to take turns ‘driving,’ or using the computer, to complete the challenge, and found that the randomly assigned teams worked really well together.
We were delighted to hear dialogue back and forth between the girls with simple questions like, “What do you think?” which revealed that the girls were really putting their heads together.
As with all ‘firsts,’ the workshop had its hiccups here and there. Luckily, we piloted the workshop with some undergraduate students at the iSchool a few weeks prior, which helped us find our flow. We allotted 10 or so minutes for an introduction, and 12 minutes per topic/challenge, totaling 46 of the 60 minutes. Even though we came in closer to 60 minutes, and still wanted the girls to fill out satisfaction surveys, everything turned out just fine in the end. Working well under pressure is a real thing.
Assuming Prior Knowledge
Because the five of us presenters are more than halfway through a graduate program in library and information science, information literacy is something we discuss and apply on a weekly, if not, daily basis. For high schoolers traveling to the iSchool from various states, this typically wouldn’t be the case.
Understanding the Term “Information Literacy”
We didn’t think much about the possibility that most of the girls may not have heard the term ‘information literacy’ before, or known much about smart searching. If we had thought this through, perhaps our introduction could have been more in depth.
Defining Other Unknown Terms
We noticed that some of the girls had trouble identifying fake news at the beginning of the fake news challenge, while other girls were stuck on the wording of some of the questions asked during the challenges.
For example, in the data literacy challenge, we asked the girls to examine a data set of high school students who were applying to SU, which included the city they lived in. We asked the girls to perform some basic data analysis in order to make a data-driven decision of where to build a satellite campus. The only problem? They didn’t know what a ‘satellite’ campus was. Oops!
What the Girls Thought About the Workshop
At the end of the workshop, we handed out a survey with four questions to gauge how students processed and retained the information taught throughout the workshop.
Although the workshop was only offered to a small group of high school-aged girls, the survey provides valuable insight on students’ perception and understanding of information literacy. Here are the four questions we asked and the results of the surveys:
Question 1: How would you explain information literacy to your friends?
Of the 18 completed surveys, only 8 students (44%) provided a definition of information literacy that mentioned (in their own words) the need, use, and evaluation of information. At least three students narrowly defined information literacy to mean the interpretation of “fake news” and four students skipped the question overall.
This low percentage may mean that we did not explain the concept well enough or that students are not as familiar with the term as “fake news” or “web searching.”
It’s also important to note that when we introduced the definition of information literacy at the beginning of the workshop, we asked students how many of them had heard of the term “information literacy” before today. Only two or three students raised their hands.
Question 2: How can you tell if something is fake news?
Of the 18 completed surveys, 17 students (94%) provided examples of ways you can evaluate the validity of a news source. One student did not answer the question. At least 10 students wrote about the importance of checking the author or the source of the article to ensure that it is reliable.
Question 3: What are the smart-search strategies you used to answer specific questions?
Of the 18 completed surveys, 13 students (72%) provided concrete examples of smart search strategies. Five students did not answer the question. The most popular search strategies were using keywords (6 students) and the importance of being specific (6 students).
Question 4: How can data support or hurt an argument?
Of the 18 completed surveys, 12 students (67%) provided a number of examples of how data can support or hurt an argument. Six students did not answer the question.
Highlights include: “Data can be used to backup a claim if from a valid source, but can undermine a claim if it is not credible” and “Data can provide factual- or non-factual- information that can turn someone’s opinion in their favor. If it’s factual, it will certainly be regarded in a better light– but that doesn’t always convince people.”
Next Steps: Sharing What We Learned with the Profession
Information literacy has always been an important skill, but it’s really having a moment right now. LIS professionals are currently grappling with how to teach information literacy skills to a generation who will rely on these abilities more than ever before.
With the success of It Girls: Escape the Lab, there is real potential for us to present our research to our fellow practitioners, either locally or nationally. We are presently exploring different options and are excited about where this project, and research, will take us.
Editor’s note: Nicole Potter, Kara Conley, and Kayla Del Biondo all contributed to this post.
American Library Association. (2017). Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher
Education. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/Template.cfm?Section=Home&template=/
Croft, M. & Moore, R. (2017). Checking what students know about checking the news. (Issue
brief October). Retrieved from http://www.act.org/content/dam/act/unsecured/documents/
Wineburg, S., McGrew, S., Breakstone, J. & Ortega, T. (2016). Evaluating information: the
cornerstone of civic online reasoning. Stanford digital repository. Retrieved from