Students who find themselves swimming in the vast ocean of information while doing research are no longer lost at sea at UNM-Los Alamos. Thanks to a generous gift from an anonymous donor, the UNM-LA Library recently subscribed to an online courseware program that is available to all enrolled students that teaches information literacy. UNM-LA is the first institution of higher learning in New Mexico to subscribe to and implement the courseware.
Designed by librarians and produced by Credo, a company best known for its online reference database, the cutting-edge program consists of eleven modules dealing with everything related to information searches and research, including for example, information formats, online searching concepts, citations and how to present information. The content of all the modules is clearly mapped to information literacy standards that have been produced by the Association of College and Research Libraries. The short, self-paced, interactive modules are easy to understand and can be customized for specific classes. There are brief quizzes to reinforce users’ knowledge within each module.
UNM-LA Library Director Dennis Davies-Wilson was awarded a Faculty Initiative Award in 2009 for an “Online Information Literacy Project” in which he created instructional videos and handouts presenting the fundamentals of how to find and evaluate information from the library. Credo’s product is exactly what he was striving to create on his own and he was instrumental in acquiring the new software for UNM-LA.
“Credo’s product gives students a much broader and more thorough idea of information literacy concepts, with hands-on experience, than what I can teach in one face-to-face session and two videos,” Davies-Wilson said, referring to the time typically allotted to his instruction of students. “Once the students go through the modules that touch on all the fundamental concepts of information literacy, I can focus on the specifics of their particular course projects or papers with them.”
Every day we receive the equivalent of 174 newspapers worth of data and information, according to the introduction module explaining the importance of information literacy. Finding the appropriate and accurate information being sought can be challenging, but is vital to individual success even beyond university studies. Students reaching college age are often assumed to be savvy about best practices regarding online search strategies, but in truth, these are skills not often explicitly taught in school.
“Knowing how to navigate searches and how to best present the information accurately and authoritatively are skills the students will use the rest of their lives, not only for their college papers,” Davies-Wilson said. “Higher education is really about teaching people how to be lifelong learners, and information literacy is probably one of the most important tools to help them succeed.”
Although we have convenient resources for online searching at our fingertips with Google and Wikipedia, crowd sourced information from these sites is not necessarily reliable. Libraries subscribe to robust and reputable databases that are discussed in depth in the modules, and links directly to the databases available at UNM-LA are included in the lessons.
“We try to teach students there are all kinds of different resources and that these databases will connect them with even more resources,” Davies-Wilson said. “Books are still useful, too, and not all are available electronically.”
The Credo modules strive to teach critical thinking skills and recommend that students consider tapping a variety of sources of information from textbooks to periodicals. The tutorials cover how to read scholarly materials strategically, what key concepts and keywords are most searchable and how to use the many styles of citations.
Davies-Wilson, who has been at UNM-LA for the past 16 years, said he is working with department heads and individual instructors to customize the modules for their classes. Currently, Psychology, Greek Mythology, and four English classes are directly utilizing the information literacy software during its first semester available. Davies-Wilson said it should be available to all students through the UNM-LA Library web portal in the next semester regardless of their coursework.
As the program is used more, subscribers can submit suggestions for improvement, and upgraded versions of the software are regularly released to users.
“The fact that this product was designed by librarians, the ability to customize it, the convenient delivery system, the mapping to national and international information literacy standards and the interactivity of the modules that appeal to different learning styles make this product unique. It’s very clear the students are learning the material in the modules when I conduct face-to-face follow up sessions. So far the results have been very good,” Davies-Wilson said.
The Los Alamos community is welcome to utilize the resources and services at the UNM-LA Library. Community patrons may borrow materials, use computers, and access a selection of online databases available at the library.
For more information, contact the library at 505-662-0343 or visit UNM-LA Library.