Training an Information-Savvy Campus

October 20, 2004

Arthur Nead
Phone: (504) 865-5714

It's easy to do a bad search on the Internet--to find misleading or incorrect information," says Jean-Paul Orgeron, head of the Center for Library User Education at Howard-Tilton Memorial Library.

orgeronOver the course of its brief history, the Internet has developed as both a tremendous benefit and a big problem for students, researchers and the general public.

The problem, according to Orgeron, is that the world is flooded with information, not only online but in every medium, and only a small part of it is accurate, objective, or was generated or reviewed by qualified subject-matter experts.

To help Tulane students and staff avoid the pitfalls of dubious Internet and other sources, Orgeron has authored a teaching project, "Achieving Information Literacy: Freshman Writing and Staff Development," which received a Wall Fund grant in spring 2002.

A key goal of this project is the development of a dynamic website for use in conjunction with classes on evaluating and critically using information. The Center for Library User Education shares space on Howard-Tilton's third floor with the Innovative Learning Center.

"My everyday job is teaching Students--principally undergraduates--library research skills," Orgeron says. "We offer walk-in workshops on using the library catalog and on using the indexes, and we also do course-related instruction."

His library-skills seminars dovetail with the basic English 101 or 119 courses taken by most incoming freshmen. Those courses often require the students to prepare a research paper, usually on a short story or novel, and to do that, they need to be able to navigate their way around the library.

"The faculty know what we have here, and they take time to bring their students here for seminars on using the library," Orgeron says. The information literacy project originated in the question: what skills should students have as they embark on their college careers?

Several years ago, Orgeron and colleagues from Howard-Tilton met with a group of faculty members involved in teaching English 101 and 119 to brainstorm this issue. Orgeron proposed bringing Tulane students in line with a set of national standards for information literacy that had been developed by the Association of College and Research Libraries.

These include basic strategies and techniques for effectively evaluating information, that constitute a set of competencies that students can rely on throughout their careers--indeed, throughout their whole lives.

By inculcating these skills, says Orgeron, "We hope to make both students and staff better consumers of information--be it scholarly or in the popular press. That is, to teach techniques that will make them more discerning, more critical of what they read, see and hear."

The Wall Fund proposal written by Orgeron and co-investigator Kate Montgomery, head of Howard-Tilton Memorial Library's digital services department, proposed the creation of an online tutorial to help teach skills such as how to use reference sources, catalogs and indexes. The tutorial also addresses how to be a critical user of information, cite sources and avoid plagiarism, with modules on all these aspects.

One unique aspect of the website, says Orgeron, will be its rotating content, which will touch on many different topics of interest. This will vary the site's look and feel, appealing to a varied audience and keep it from becoming boring. The tutorial also is designed to serve staff as well as students at the university.

"We feel staff have a vested interest in becoming critical users of information as well," says Orgeron. Each audience has its own concerns, says Orgeron.

Freshmen face the immediate need to succeed in their college courses, while staff-- a large and varied group of individuals-- have needs as varied as the many academic, functional or administrative departments in which they work.

According to Orgeron, information literacy workshops will be offered to staff though the Center for Workforce Effectivenes. The website is currently in its final stages of development. Downstream, Orgeron sees great potential for the website to be tailored to specific disciplines within the university.

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000