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.”
We’re excited to announce that the 2017 4T Data Literacy Virtual Conference dates have been announced! We’ll meet virtually on July 20-21, 2017. This year, we’re focusing our presentations on three (and a half) themes:
- Big Data, including citizen science
- Ethical data use
- Personal data management
Registration and more details will be forthcoming soon. If you registered last year, you’re already on our list and will let you know when it’s time to sign up!
Our team member Jennifer Colby, a teacher librarian at Huron High School in Ann Arbor, put together an informative presentation called “What is Data Literacy: Getting our students from data to knowledge.” In it, she expresses the importance of data literacy in classroom learning and gives four salient reasons, quoted from her slides:
- To develop literacy skills
- To develop standardized test taking skills
- To address state and national standards
- To develop informed citizens
Her slides highlight examples of how to approach data, statistics, and visualizations. Data literacy applies to all content areas. Take a look at the infographics on Romeo and Juliet — they give plot insights through their visual representations of events.
In the big picture, data literacy helps students with “understanding,” “extracting,” and “presenting” data. With so much data in school and everyday life, these competencies are key.
Keep her points in mind to incorporate data literacy into your instruction.
Our advisor Jake Carlson has posted to the e-Science blog about our recent work weekend where we convened our entire national team. An excerpt is below:
As someone who generally works primarily with graduate students, I don’t get a lot of exposure to what the expectations are for high school students around data literacy. In the interviews we conducted with graduate students in the Data Information Literacy project they indicated that their data management skills were primarily self-taught. Although I don’t see High School students needing to learn how to manage and curate research data sets necessarily, I am interested in how students could be better prepared for assuming these types of responsibilities as they progress in the education.
Earlier this month I participated in a three day, all-hands meeting for the project where we discussed aspects of data literacy and contemplated possible directions to support High School education. The meetings were intense and wide ranging, but I want to share a few items of that I found particularly interesting.
How much do you need to know to teach data? Many librarians do not have a background in the sciences or math (myself included) which could make teaching data literacy topics intimidating. However statistics and data are not math, or at least there are aspects of data literacy that transcend math, that students need to know and librarians are potentially well suited to teach. Applying data in arguments effectively and ethically and being an intelligent consumer of data are just two areas where the knowledge and skills of a librarian could easily be applied. The bottom line is that while we may not be able to teach students everything about data literacy, we can teach them some important things to further their education.
Many issues in information literacy are relevant for data literacy. Evaluating the quality and appropriateness of materials, for example, is a concern in both information and data literacy requiring the development of critical thinking skills in students. For example, the Reuters news agency produced an egregiously bad chart implying that gun deaths had decreased in Florida since the “Stand Your Ground” law was enacted (they’ve actually increased), citing Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement as the source. Even when the data are sound, the presentation of the data may be suspect. Evaluating data could present particular difficulties for high school students as understanding the context and methodologies behind the data may overwhelm them.
This segues into another issue that was frequently brought up, the difficulty of teaching data literacy in a way that high school students could understand and apply. There are a number of fairly easy to use online tools available to analyze or visualize data that could be used to introduce high school students to working with data by taking a lot of the guess work out of the process. However, focusing on a tool may hinder a student’s ability to understand the underlying concepts of data analysis or visualization and limit their cognizance of the data itself. Schools librarians noted that students will often write their assignments and then seek out the data they need to support their arguments instead of the other way around.
In closing, participating in this project has renewed my admiration for school librarians. Everyone I met was incredibly passionate about the work that they are doing as educators and fully committed to extending their work into data. I can’t wait to see how school librarians will make use of the products with the materials produced from this project.
We’ve been waiting for months, and now the time is almost come! Next weekend, we’ll be hosting a weekend workshop at the U-M School of Information (shown above) with all of our national grant personnel and many of our local colleagues working in high school, literacy coaching, digital humanities, and higher education.
Our goal is to engage deeply with content around our Year 1 project themes (statistical literacy, data visualization, and data in argument) and, through robust and hearty discussion, surface the key ideas, teaching strategies, and high-leverage rules of thumb that are of highest priority for high school librarians in the field. With limited time and access to students, how can we make the biggest impact with the most efficiency?
The results of those conversations will be chapters in a handbook for high school librarians (and, we suspect, their counterparts in higher education and the high school classroom) as well as webinars for a July virtual conference.
This is also our time to launch a nearly-weekly blog, where we’ll collectively share our process, ideas, provocative readings and resources. Stay tuned!
Image: “North Quadrangle Residential and Academic Complex (University of Michigan)” by Corey Seeman on Flickr. CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0. http://flickr.com/photos/cseeman/4869888725.