Earlier this week I was invited by the language faculty at my school to attend a lunch presentation they had organized. They had asked a faculty member from the German department of Wayne State to come talk to them about the importance of information literacy in foreign language curricula.
It’s always informative to hear professors talk about info lit, and it was good to hear from somebody who has thought a lot about how and why it’s important for language professors to squeeze even more into their curricula. For instance, she explained that even though languages classes are jam packed with grammar, vocabulary, culture, and literature, without information literacy their students will just become really good tourists, and language departments will continue to struggle under the perception that they are “service departments” on their campuses. Information literacy is what gives students access to the deeper cultures of their chosen languages. Without it, students may not realize that one issue can be viewed very differently in different cultures, or that there are alternate argument structures, or that these alternate structures are fundamental to people of other nations and cultures. This deeper level of understanding, this advanced fluency, is not accessible via grammar alone.
She also emphasized that information literacy is not something students learn in freshman comp in the English department. It was good to hear somebody else saying that this isn’t like a vaccine; you can’t get a good shot of it once in your freshman year and then be good to go for the remainder of your college career.
It was also good to hear that this is something that faculty members can easily work into their classes. I’ve said time and again that if everyone relies only on librarians to get every student up to speed, the librarians will burn out and the students will never get as rich an experience as they would if these concepts were worked into most if not all of their classes.
But I was surprised at how much I squirmed as I listened to the presenter give examples from her classes and argue for better inclusion of “my” field of expertise into language classes. It reminded me that I’d failed to adequately convey to my faculty exactly what I can do, or exactly what I can teach them to do, for our students. Did they realize as we sat there that I love to explain the disciplinary conventions of citation and how it is one expression of the interpretive communities their students are trying to enter? Did they know that I, too, have worked with students to understand the value of book reviews? Did they realize that evaluating web sources and figuring out what kinds of sources will be acceptable for specific topics and interpretive communities is what I walk students through every single day? And did they or the presenter know that I’m good for more than identifying and training students on appropriate databases?
Unfortunately, I think not. And that’s entirely my fault. I’ve got a lot of great excuses (I’m new the field, new the campus, and I’m figuring out all this stuff as I go… the list goes on and on), but in the end, I worry that they’ll copy the examples this other professor (which were wonderful, by the way) rather than working with me to figure out how to get the same benefit within our curriculum and with our students.
And then I slap myself in the forehead and remind myself that this is a wonderful thing. My faculty are actively engaging the question of how to develop their students’ higher reasoning skills, and they’ve latched onto info lit as one of the methods for accomplishing this. And this isn’t actually “my” turf. It’s our turf.
I just wish I knew the most effective way follow up after this experience. I want to be more than tech support for bibliographic databases.