How One University Made Digital Information Literacy a Priority

A Q&A with two librarians from Texas A&M–Corpus Christi

Not too long ago, we ran a book chapter on Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi’s (TAMU-CC) program to make digital information literacy a priority for its students. The I-Know program, which resulted from this effort, interweaves scaffolded digital literacy instruction and objectives across the undergraduate curricula. The chapter we ran recounted how and why the university moved to this model and the role that TAMU-CC’s librarians played in this effort. 

But I remained curious about the program. The chapter ended right before the launch of this program and its professional development training for faculty. I wanted to know what happened since publication. Graciously, Tara Carlisle and Emily Murphy from TAMU-CC agreed to talk to me about the program, both its background and its recent developments. Below is my interview with them. I recommend reading their chapter “From Consumers to Creators: Scaffolding Digital Information Literacy Throughout the Undergraduate Curriculum” from Instructional Identities and Information Literacy (ACRL, 2023). But if you haven’t read it already, I think you can safely begin with the interview before perusing the chapter.

Just a recap question: What is the I-Know program? What are its goals and how did it come into being? 

The I-Know program is a campus-wide initiative at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC) to enhance undergraduate students’ information literacy skills while also preparing them for the evolving digital information landscape. The overarching goal of I-Know is to prepare every undergraduate student at TAMU-CC to find, evaluate, create, and communicate knowledge using digital technologies so that they can successfully and responsibly navigate the increasingly complex information landscape as global citizens. 

The I-Know program was developed as a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) to meet accreditation standards set by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The original plan was developed by a committee of faculty, staff, and students at TAMU-CC, and identified four overarching Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) related to digital information literacy. These SLOs would be integrated in a scaffolded way at three points across an undergraduate student’s time at TAMU-CC.

While the program is housed within the Mary and Jeff Bell Library, it is an initiative that reaches across campus. Initially, faculty participate in a professional development orientation hosted by librarians, and then create a plan for integrating I-Know SLOs into their courses. We have classes in each major at TAMU-CC that are now considered I-Know courses, and we have worked with 58 faculty to formally integrate digital information literacy into the curriculum and have plans to expand that in the coming year.

How do you define “digital information literacy”? Why do you think an initiative to broaden digital information literacy gained such wide support at your institution?

We define digital information literacy as the ability to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information effectively and responsibly by leveraging the appropriate technology to achieve one’s goals. There are several factors that helped this initiative gain such wide support here at TAMU-CC. 

When developing the QEP, the committee did their own investigation across campus and found that our students found the research process “daunting” and wished for more opportunities to conduct research in their coursework. They also found that our students performed below their peers in the ability to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information when compared to other similar institutions. This investigation helped with initially gaining support on campus.

As we implement the program, we are finding that support for our initiative continues to grow. In 2019, there was a growing conversation around the idea of mis- and disinformation, especially related to politics and social justice issues, which was then amplified in 2020. Alongside that, many of our faculty are reporting some learning loss related to digital skills that they attribute to the pandemic. Even though our students are digital natives and are adept with specific technologies, we’re finding that they still struggle to effectively find, evaluate, and use information as technology advances and as the online information landscape becomes more complex. 

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You note that, before the I-Know program, most digital information literacy instruction at your institution concentrated on 1000-level courses. Why is this approach, which many universities take, insufficient?

Through the I-Know program, we have a unique opportunity to touch our students multiple times throughout their college journey. It also allows us to build a common understanding of digital information literacy across campus.

Before the I-Know program, librarians were mainly supporting first-year students. But Information literacy is a series of interconnected skills that need to be practiced repeatedly in order to improve. It’s very important that students receive information literacy instruction at the start of their academic program, but it is also critical that we continue to help students build on what they’ve learned as they continue to the next stages of their undergraduate program.

By breaking digital information literacy down into scaffolded SLOs, we can spend more time focusing on the specific skills students need to develop, at the appropriate time. With our first-year students, we are developing online learning tutorials around “Searching as Strategic Exploration.” For our sophomores and juniors, we are creating lessons around “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” and “Information Creation as a Process,” reinforcing them within the context of a students’ major and throughout their undergraduate career. We know which faculty are integrating I-Know SLOs, and when, and can then support the professor and students at their time of need. 

This approach allows us to be more structured and comprehensive when teaching digital information literacy. 

Were students involved in this process? What were their thoughts on digital information literacy? What sort of feedback did you receive from them?

Yes, we had an undergraduate and a graduate student serve on the planning committee, and they were fully involved in the development of the QEP. They actively participated in monthly planning meetings and co-presented the plan as part of a panel to SACSCOC reviewers. Our undergraduate student, who was a senior business major at the time, thought scaffolding digital information literacy throughout an undergraduate student’s program was a good strategy. Her own experience was receiving library instruction as a first-year student and not much after that. She was also a library senator for the Student Government Association (SGA), so she played a valuable role communicating updates about the plan and gathering feedback during SGA meetings. 

Your original article discussed the I-Know program up to fall 2022. What has the past year looked like for the program, and what’s the path forward?  

This past year was hectic, but so rewarding. We collaborated with First Year University Seminar coordinators and faculty to refine the Level 1 (Find) plan, which resulted in FYLC University Seminar coordinators shifting the curriculum so there was a greater focus on building students’ research skills. Also, as part of this curriculum shift, the I-Know team partnered with the library instruction team to design and develop a series of micro-courses, Research Skills 101, that align with the I-Know learning objectives. These interactive, asynchronous micro-courses enable faculty to embed them into their classes at their point of need.

Another important accomplishment last year was partnering with 34 faculty from 32 departments who agreed to integrate Level 2 (Evaluate) learning objectives into their I-Know-designated course. For many faculty, this was a lot to ask since they already had a set of learning objectives established for their course and within their departments. To support faculty, we created an online I-Know Faculty Guide that has a host of resources, such as sample lessons, assessment plans, and information about the program’s connection to ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy. After faculty implement their plans this academic year (2023–2024), we will assess students’ learning and gather faculty’s feedback. 

To me, one clear benefit for this scaffolded approach is that it enables universities to better respond to emerging technologies and convey appropriate standards and considerations to students and faculty. Has the I-Know program helped lay the groundwork for conversations about generative AI (e.g., ChatGPT) on your campus? How are those conversations playing out?

Yes, you’re so right, this is a great opportunity to incorporate emerging technologies throughout this program. Generative AI is creating new ways to find information. We must critically evaluate its responses, and it’s changing the way we create research questions and communicate professionally. We have hosted a few conversations around generative AI starting last spring. This fall, we are hosting a faculty roundtable discussion about implementing AI into class teaching. 

In a recent conference presentation, we were asked if the rise of AI makes the techniques we are teaching obsolete (yikes). We are confident it is the opposite. Our teaching and assessments focus on making students’ search and evaluation processes visible so that they can get feedback and improve over time. An important component of digital information literacy is the ability to be more self-aware about one’s process for finding, evaluating, and using information. So whether a student is using research databases, the open web, social media, or an AI tool to do research for class assignments, we want them to be able to articulate, analyze, and improve their search and evaluation processes. We have adapted some fantastic lessons from Harvard’s Project Zero that promote these critical thinking skills, which can be adapted for most disciplines. 

As we prepare for the final level (create and communicate), we are also reaching out to faculty who are using innovative teaching methods and asking them to share their experiences. This is an ideal time to facilitate discussion and make a collective and coordinated effort to teach students how to confidently use and adapt to new technologies as they evolve. 

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