Sophie Bury joined the Advisory Board of the Threshold Achievement Test for Information Literacy in 2015. In this interview she reveals her passion for teaching and her commitment to assessment. Read about Sophie's projects on faculty IL and media literacy and learn why she joined the TATIL Advisory Board.
Question: Please tell us about your job. What are the highlights of your position?
I am currently in the role of Head of the Bronfman Business Library at the Schulich School of Business and Learning Commons Chair at York University Libraries. I will commence a new role at York University Libraries as Director of Learning Commons and Reference Services in July 2018.
The Learning Commons unites learning services at York University to better support students’ success and is a partnership of the Libraries, Learning Skills Services, the Writing Department, the ESL Open Learning Centre, the Career Centre, the Teaching Commons (supports teaching development at York) and the YUExperience Hub (supports experiential education at York).
My previously held roles include that of Business Librarian at York University and Wilfrid Laurier University, as well as leadership roles in the area of information literacy at both these universities in committee chair or other leadership positions.
I am very passionate about the role of academic libraries in student learning and success and very much enjoy the public service aspects of my role, including interacting with students in the classroom, as well as being one of the library’s key players in developing our reference and Learning Commons services to enhance the student experience.
Q: Tell us about your research and professional interests. What are you trying to accomplish?
Information literacy has been a major focus of my professional and scholarly pursuits for some fifteen years. One of my key research interests is faculty’s information literacy attitudes, perceptions and experiences of information literacy (IL) both as this relates to undergraduate and graduate students. I have conducted two studies at York University in this area involving faculty across different disciplines. Other research interests of mine include IL assessment, faculty development in the area of IL, and mainstreaming academic literacies in curricula in higher education. Please see the publications and presentations sections of my professional website for more information.
My professional interests of late have turned to the topic of media literacy and fake news and I look forward to co-presenting on this theme at the WILU conference at Ottawa in June. This is the main IL conference in Canada and takes place annually.
I believe this topic is very relevant and timely for librarians and offers a unique opportunity for student engagement, as it becomes more and more difficult to differentiate authenticated or authoritative information from suspect or unreliable information sources. Engagement with the theme of fake news offers an opportunity to foster students’ media literacy, and encourage them to engage more critically with news sources and encourage civic-mindedness.
I’ve been influenced, for example, by the Stanford Graduate School of Education study which found that most students, middle school through college, experience difficulty in distinguishing credible news sources from unauthenticated news sources. I also am a big admirer of the work carried out by Alison Head under the auspices of Project Information Literacy (PIL), and more recently in the research they are conducting to look at young adults’ view of news and their ability to distinguish fact from fiction including a recent podcast where Alison is interviewed about PIL’s news consumption study.
In terms of concrete work undertaken, I have been on a team with colleagues at my university to organize fake news/media literacy book displays across all our libraries, to disseminate bookmarks (ALA fact or fiction bookmark) and flyers on this topic, and to host a featured panel session with journalists and academics. My institution has also prepared a Libguide in English and French on the theme of fake news. We are currently working on developing a brownbag session with colleagues to discuss intentional approaches to integrating fake news and media literacy within our IL practice, and we are developing a student workshop on this theme which we plan to launch in September as part of Science Literacy Week.
Q: Do you teach? How has your approach to teaching changed since you started your career?
Teaching is a substantial component of what I do, especially the teaching of business information literacy competencies to undergraduates and graduate students. There is no question that my approach and philosophy with respect to IL instruction, and its place in higher education has shifted during this time.
One strong influence on my approach to teaching resulted from my attendance in a three day intensive Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW) at York University in Summer 2015. The ISW program is in place in many universities across Canada and available to faculty, TAs and librarians in many cases. At York University Libraries about a dozen of our librarians have taken this workshop, so it is impacting our IL practice broadly speaking. The ISW program is designed to improve the teaching effectiveness of both new and experienced instructors. At the heart of this approach is the BOPPPS (Bridge-In, Outcomes, Pre-assessment, Participatory learning, Post-assessment, Summary) model, as explained at the Teaching Support Centre’s website of Queen’s University. Participants prepare three mini-lessons and benefit from expert facilitator and peer feedback. What makes this workshop so powerful is the experiential learning approach combined with receiving much useful theory on best practices for teaching adult learners. I have placed value on incorporating active learning in my classroom for some time but this workshop taught me new techniques for incorporating participatory learning and has meant that I more regularly incorporate the bridge-in or hook in my teaching, and share outcomes with learners rather than just developing them for myself. It has also meant that I give more focused attention to integrating assessment as part of the entire instruction cycle.
Another shift in my teaching practice over time has been marked by greater investment of time in faculty development pursuits as a means to enhance IL education for undergraduate students, alongside initiatives that recognize IL as part of a larger literacies landscape. This has translated to developing programming that offers instructors opportunities to incorporate attention to academic literacy holistically in assignments or coursework.
To this end I co-chaired the Faculty Subcommittee of our Learning Commons for some years. Initiatives have included pursuing grant-funded research to conduct focus groups with faculty at York to determine how they conceptualize undergraduate students’ academic literacy and their own role as instructors in facilitating academic literacy. The findings, which we’ve shared at conferences, helped us to develop programming in partnership with our Teaching Commons designed to integrate rather than separate attention to diverse academic literacy abilities. This has included a series of workshops (some of them co-taught), offered under the auspices of our Learning Commons, focused on themes related to academic reading, academic writing, information literacy, and academic integrity. In addition, we developed a faculty module for SPARK (Student Papers and Academic Research Kit), an online tool designed to help students write academic essays with thirteen modules available under a Creative Commons license. SPARK was collaboratively developed by librarians, writing instructors, and learning skills specialists, and the faculty module is organized to help instructors succeed in integrating SPARK into their courses and to facilitate their design of effective assignments to develop students critical reading, writing, library research and many other types of academic literacy skills. I have co-published on the programming we developed with my colleague, Ron Sheese, who is a professor in the writing and psychology departments at York University.
Q: How has the Framework affected your own thinking or practice in the domain of information literacy and how is your library approaching the Framework?
As I mentioned earlier, in mid-career my thinking around the role of IL education has shifted and I have come to the belief that if IL education is to become a mainstay in higher education it needs to see a high level of faculty ownership with ongoing librarian contributions which focus on faculty development. The launch and increasingly widespread adoption of the ACRL’s new Framework has convinced me of the need for the approach even more.
The Framework focuses on threshold concepts which, by their very nature, are complex and cognitively challenging for students to grasp. They can only be learned over time, ideally during the course of a degree program, through in-depth, incremental, iterative, and scaffolded approaches. The reality is that faculty, not librarians, are the individuals in classrooms with students most of the time. Large scale ethnographic studies such as the ERIAL Study have shown that students put much stock in what faculty tell them, while on the flip side, their awareness of the role of librarians is relatively low. While there are always opportunities for impactful curriculum integration projects with librarian involvement, the reality to date is that the IL one-shot session prevails. To make progress I think it is critical that more librarian time be invested in faculty development initiatives, e.g., working closely with educational developers on campus to communicate the role that librarians can play in equipping instructors with strategies and tools to design and embed IL in assignments, courses and programs. I believe that sharing the Framework and associated resources like the sandbox and toolkit are key here, alongside other frameworks and techniques for teaching and assessing information literacy.
My own libraries’ approach to the Framework to date has been to develop programming targeted at instructors. In May 2015, under the auspices of the library’s Teaching and Learning Committee, a workshop was offered titled Strengthening Student Success through Research Skills. This workshop introduced faculty to the Framework and provided participants with the opportunity to rethink the design of their research assignments using the information literacy threshold concepts. Faculty attendance was high and they responded quite well to the workshop. We revamped the workshop specifically for Teaching Assistants (TAs) in 2016 and promoted this in partnership with our Teaching Commons. I helped design and deliver workshop content and the workshop feedback was positive, though attendance was not as high as we had hoped it would be. I also co-teach a workshop (typically well-attended) on teaching critical writing and library research skills annually with a colleague (writing professor) for TAs and we incorporate several slides on the new Framework. Our experience is that TAs are always highly engaged by the threshold concepts and their associated knowledge practices and dispositions. We continue to think about ways to build attention to the Framework in to our practice but as the library is undergoing restructuring at the current time, some initiatives are on hold, and strategic approaches to adoption of the Framework are more likely to commence afresh in 2019.
Q: What types of information literacy assessment have you done?
Information literacy assessment has been a professional interest of mine for some time. I have incorporated different forms of IL assessment in to my teaching. At Laurier university, in the early days of my career as an academic librarian, we developed an online tutorial and associated fixed-choice tests in WebCT. I co-published on usability testing approaches to this tutorial and was really thrilled that this was then nominated as one of the top 20 instruction articles of 2005 by the ALA’s Library Instruction Roundtable. At York University I routinely use student library session evaluations, one minute papers, and have also used pre-test/post-tests and incorporated classroom response systems (TurningPoint and Poll Everywhere) within my IL sessions both as pre-assessments and to gauge students’ grasp of concepts taught during or after the instruction.
There have been a number of milestones for me in terms of IL assessment. The first was York Libraries’ participation in SAILS in 2005. It appealed to us that this was a standardized test with a rigorous methodology behind it which allowed us to understand an undergraduate cohort’s grasp of IL skills rooted in the ACRL Information Literacy standards and benchmarked against the performance of undergraduates at a wide range of institutions across North America. To learn more on this, you can consult our session slides where we co-presented on our experience and findings from the adoption of this tool in 2006 at the Ontario Library Association conference, together with the University of Western Ontario, who also implemented SAILS.
A second turning point came with my attendance at ACRL’s Information Literacy Immersion Institute - Assessment Stream - in December 2009. I had the great pleasure and privilege to have instruction from IL assessment gurus including Deb Gilchrist and Megan Oakleaf. I learned a great deal about the different forms IL assessment can take, and the relative strengths and weaknesses of different IL assessment approaches, in particular fixed-choice tests relative to performance assessments, e.g., rubrics. It was also a year where the power of the concept of constructive alignment struck home both as a result of attending this institute, but also as a result of a sabbatical year where I spent time at the School of Information and Community Studies at University College Dublin. Claire McGuinness, one of the School’s faculty members, who has published quite broadly on the topic of information literacy, introduced me to Biggs and Tang’s seminal work titled Teaching for Quality Learning at University where constructive alignment is a core concept. This outcomes-based approach, rooted in constructivist approaches where teaching and assessment are aligned to outcomes, really appealed to me and influenced my teaching thereafter. I have also been inspired by Jane Secker and Emma Coonan’s New Curriculum for Information Literacy (ANCIL) which offered instructional librarians and faculty a comprehensive curriculum based on the principle of constructive alignment where specified activities and assessments are keyed to IL outcomes and in turn divided into ten distinctive strands.
Q: Why did you join the TATIL Advisory Board?
My first exposure to TATIL came when I attended a Planning and Assessment workshop focused on the new ACRL Framework in summer 2015. It was hosted by the Library at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, under the leadership of Sheril Hook and Silvia Vong. April Cunningham gave an introduction via webinar on work underway for TATIL. When I read the blurb for this session, I will admit to be being skeptical because I was dubious about the effectiveness of a fixed-choice testing approach to measuring student grasp of knowledge practices and dispositions in the new ACRL Framework. I wondered how it would be possible to have an assessment tool used in tandem with a framework that is so concepts-based. However, I was very impressed by April’s presentation and by her intellectual acumen, and she won me over through her clear and compelling overview of the methodology this tool uses. I was especially impressed by the scenario-based problem-solving items used to address the dispositions that are so core to the Framework. Later I agreed, alongside Silvia Vong, to be one of the Canadian academic librarians involved on the TATIL advisory board. I also helped with cognitive interviewing of undergraduate students for test item development. Being involved in this way has helped me build a deeper appreciation of the Framework and how we might address student learning. It has also helped me build a broader network of like-minded librarians who are keen to adopt the Framework in their teaching and to find effective ways of assessing what students are learning.
Thank you, Sophie! We're glad you're on the Board!