NDL 301: Information Fluency

quick link to daily schedule

Tuesdays, 2:30 – 4:20 Lib 201 and smaller library lab
Instructor: Barbara Fister, x7553


I hope that by the end of this course you will

  • have a deeper understanding of how libraries and their resources are organized
  • be able to search for information effectively online and in print
  • develop your ability to evaluate and select high quality sources
  • be familiar with tools for saving and organizing sources and be able to write a literature review
  • understand where sources come from and how economic and social factors are changing publishing
  • develop a network of knowledge about the people, institutions, publications, and websites actively involved in your chosen research area
  • understand the research values of your major field(s) and how they compare to those in other disciplines
  • be informed about issues of ethics and social justice related to information access
  • be better prepared to engage in civic life by being skilled at finding and using evidence to inform real-world issues

Assignments & grading

In brief, these are the components of the grade.

  • participation (20%)
  • blog contributions (20%)
  • literature review (35%)
  • interview of a researcher and reflection essay (25%)

20% of the grade
This is one of those hard-to-quantify pieces of the grade. I expect you to come to class prepared, contribute to discussions, give other members of the class interesting things to think about, and be an active, curious participant. Basically, your grade will be based on my interpretation of how engaged in the course you are.

Blog contributions
20% of the grade
Contribute weekly blog posts and comment on other people’s blog posts throughout the semester. These can range from a few sentences (such as a brief description and a link to a news story related to the course or a quick update on your research) to a few paragraphs. Don’t panic! The purpose of this assignment is to extend the class discussions and to become comfortable with writing about ideas in informal but public platforms. This kind of thoughtful but relatively informal sharing of ideas is a genre of academic writing that is growing in influence and worth practicing.

Literature review
35% of the grade; complete draft due May 10; final version due May 20
Your literature review is an essay that should survey some of the most important sources available on the issue you have chosen, arranged according to some sort of organizational principle that groups sources together, including for each a brief description of each source that provides a sense of what each source contributes to the whole. We’ll look at several examples so you can get a sense of what your project should look like. Though the number of sources you include will vary depending on your focus, you should plan to examine many sources and select 8 – 12 of the most significant ones to analyze in your review. What “counts” as a quality source will also depend on your topic and your field. You are welcome to work on a project for another course, but be sure it’s okay with your other instructor. I will comment on a draft before you hand in the final copy. 

Interview of a researcher and reflection essay
25% of the grade; reports in class on May ; reflection essay due May 24
For this assignment, you will arrange to interview someone who does research in your major area. To avoid running into crunch time, conduct the interview before the end of April. Take notes so that you can share your impressions with the class. After hearing reports of your classmates’ interviews, write a reflection essay that includes an analysis of how research processes in your discipline (based on your interview subject and on your own observations) compare to traditions of different disciplines and what values are important in the field. 

Also: students are expected to adhere to the Gustavus honor code. Students with a disability should let me know so we can make appropriate accommodations that work. Though I’m happy to consult on any writing-related questions you may have, students are encouraged to visit the Writing Center and/or to consult with Jody Bryant, whose specialty is writing assistance for multilingual students. There are drop-in hours or you can set up an appointment online.

Readings and schedule (subject to change):

  • March 1 – using the Web for research. For today, read Vannevar Bush’s essay “As We May Think” (on Moodle), read “What World are We Building?” by danah boyd, and watch . . . 
  • March 8 – using government documents and maps. For today, read “Is the Internet Good or Bad? Yes” by Zeynep Tufekci and find and read one article of your choice on how data is being gathered and used by either corporations or the government. (“Big Data” is a search phrase that might help.) Be prepared to summarize your chosen article for the class. (It would also be a good subject for a blog post, hint hint.) Also watch . . .
  • March 15 – archives and special collections; using reference books. For today read “Information Overload: The Early Years.” Have you thought about who to interview yet?
  • March 22 – understanding literature reviews; tapping into the citation network.
  • March 29 – spring break – no class
  • April 5 – no class. Sorry! Email me the name of your interview subject.
  • April 12 – primary sources and tracing the evolving history of an issue.
  • April 19 – statistics case study. Read for today Joel Best (via Moodle) and “Prime Number” from On the Media.
  • April 26 – developing a social map of your research area. For today read “Anatomy of an Idea” by Steve Johnson.
  • May 3- the peer review process; what motivates scholars to publish. Read for today Polanyi (via Moodle) and  Ziman (via Moodle).
  • May 10 – reports on interviews and discussion of disciplinary values. A complete draft of your literature review is due for review by your peers and by me.
  • May 17 – no class, but you can work on the final draft of your literature review, which is due on May 20th.
  • No final exam. Reflection essay due May 24.

This course will give students interested in going to graduate or professional school—or who simply want to know more about research—an immersion in the structure of the literature of their chosen field and exposure to research tools and collections. Students will conduct a literature review on a topic of their choice and will analyze aspects of their discipline’s traditions, compare them to traditions in other fields, and explore the social and ethical dimensions of research.

The header photo collage used in the header is by mypixbox, who has made it available under a Creative Commons license.

This is an open course. Feel free to use the material here.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


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