Dr. Jane Liu is a founding member of the Advisory Board of the Threshold Achievement Test for Information Literacy. She is a faculty member in the Chemistry Department at Pomona College and she incorporates elements of information literacy in her teaching.
Jane, we are so pleased to have you on the Advisory Board for the Threshold Achievement Test for Information Literacy. You bring a valuable perspective to our work, particularly as a faculty member in the sciences. Please tell us about your position as Associate Professor of Chemistry at Pomona College.
Jane: I have a fantastic job! I was hired to primarily teach biochemistry, which I describe as understanding how cells and organisms work, at a molecular level. I teach this subject in the classroom, mostly to third- and fourth-year undergraduates, but I’m a firm believer that some of the best ways to learn science is to actually do science. So I also engage students in my research lab where I investigate how genes are turned on and off in bacteria. My students and I work side by side, wearing lab coats and gloves, growing bacteria, isolating DNA, RNA and proteins, and doing experiments on these materials to answer questions that we do not know the answer to. There is a great deal of learning that can occur when tackling the unknown – and there are always a few unexpected surprises that are uncovered.
More recently, I’ve wanted to engage younger students and have begun teaching general chemistry, which is mostly populated by first year students. I also developed a new course, aimed at second-year undergraduates, that I call Analysis of Scientific Literature – Demystifying the Approach and the Science. I guide the students through a set of related journal articles and students are given the opportunity to develop their ability to decipher figures, interpret findings, and propose and defend further experiments to test their own hypotheses and questions. I have loved watching the students develop these skills over the course of the semester. We also spent time in class discussing grant writing and funding mechanisms, the process of publishing a journal article, and the challenges and opportunities of being a scientist.
Between the teaching and the research, there is never a dull moment and never a lack of something new to explore. Like I said, I have a fantastic job!
Q: How do define or think about “information literacy?”
Jane: I think of information literacy as the ability to find, evaluate and synthesize information to address a given question.
Q: I imagine that as a professor of chemistry, you have a lot of material to cover when it comes to student learning. What role does information literacy play in your students’ success?
Jane: Information literacy is huge when it comes to teaching biochemistry. The amount of biochemistry content that can be taught is ever expanding. I simply cannot cover it all in the time that I have, nor would I want to. My goal is to prepare my students so that they have a foundation such that if they ever want to learn more about any biochemical topic, they’ll be able to find the relevant information they need, digest it, and develop a good understanding of that topic. This is really challenging to actually accomplish, however. It involves providing the students a good foundation in biochemistry that allows them to engage more advanced content that they may seek out. But it also requires that the students have the proper information literacy skills. I’m always concerned that I’m not teaching one (or both!) areas well enough.
Q: Do you collaborate with librarians in your teaching or research? Have librarians helped you and your students?
Jane: As you can see from my above answers, I think about information literacy a lot – and its intersection with learning chemistry content, as well as the ability to engage primary scientific literature. I have found that the librarians at my institution are great partners in thinking about these topics. For example, I’ve worked on a project with some librarians to try and help me understand if my students were changing their approach to reading primary literature as the semester progressed. One of my favorite collaborations in recent years didn’t involve information literacy, per se, but it was a workshop that I developed with some librarians to help students decide which citation management software they wanted to use. We called it a “showdown” and students got to try out two software programs and then vote on which one they liked the most. Our goal was to have them simply use some sort of citation management software and I think we got there.
Q: Why did you join the TATIL Advisory Board? And what do you hope can be achieved with the TATIL test?
Jane: I joined the Advisory Board because I was really interested in observing and experiencing the process of developing an assessment tool for information literacy. My training is in biochemistry and while I know how to carry out experiments to address chemistry questions, I have never been trained to assess learning and educational outcomes. It has been really useful to see the TATIL test develop – from identifying performance indicators for students outcomes, to creating and editing test questions, to assessing the test itself. I am glad that I have been able to take part in this process and am very impressed by the collective work of the TATIL team.
Thank you, Dr. Jane Liu!