Building professional capacity
Teacher-librarians are well positioned to impart data literacy to teens, but who’s giving instructors the resources and support that they need to do so?
Kristin Fontichiaro, clinical associate professor at University of Michigan’s School of Information, and Jo Angela Oehrli, learning librarian at University of Michigan Library, were up for the task. As principal investigators of the two-year IMLS-funded project “Supporting Librarians in Adding Data Literacy Skills to Information Literacy Instruction,” they set out to design materials for high school librarians looking to foster data and statistical literacy skills in their students.
“We were seeing on our own campus that data was becoming a powerful mode of expression and wasn’t working in ways that information literacy always works,” says Fontichiaro. With help from data and curriculum experts at the University of Michigan, Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, and colleges across the country, she and Oehrli developed virtual conferences, handbooks, webinars, and discussion questions.
Materials cover strategies for introducing teens to data and its usage, visualizations, and privacy topics, such as the implications of data collection by always-on devices like Fitbit or Amazon Echo. Though the initiative formally wrapped in September 2017, all deliverables—including the two books, Creating Data Literate Students and Data Literacy in the Real World: Case Studies and Conversations—are available for free on the project website.
“It’s not enough to have open data. You have to have people navigate that data, know it’s there, and know how to use it,” Fontichiaro says. “Our real goal was for librarians to be empowered, and our workshops show that when librarians and educators know more, they do more.” Materials were designed to be high impact for the school librarian who might not have time to teach a full lesson.
The virtual conferences provided insight into who is interested in these resources. “The first year we had over 80 different job titles sign up, from folks who work at state departments of education or government agencies to classroom teachers,” says Fontichiaro. About one-third of the audience consisted of high school librarians.
The information climate also affected people’s motivation for attending. “In 2016, we asked a registration question: ‘Why is it important for students to be data literate?’ And many people said, ‘Well, they need to make infographics.’ In 2017, the big answer was ‘to participate in elections.’” By demand, a third virtual conference is planned for July.
“I believe that an informed democracy makes better decisions, so I think this is a critical life skill,” Fontichiaro says, “especially in the era of artificial intelligence and algorithms.”