Photo from Flickr taken by astrangelyisolatedplace

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend a conference in Portland, Oregon, held at Portland State UniversityLibrary Instruction West is an information literacy conference and I was representing a national committee called Co-PILOT that I helped to set up, and LSE. Co-PILOT is a community of practice which encourages those teaching information and digital literacy to share their teaching materials as open educational resources (OERs). This helps to share resources, saving us all reinventing the wheel across higher education and hopefully encourages good practice. I was speaking at the conference about work this group have been doing in the UK, educating others about how to find good quality open resources you can re-use and how to use Creative Commons Licences to licence your own work, so others can use it. I got involved in OERs about four years ago when LSE led the DELILA project, which led to us sharing a number of teaching materials owned by LTI and LSE Library in the national repository of OERs, Jorum.

Working in Learning Technology and Innovation, I was on the look out for new ideas for teaching and innovations. We often think that exciting things are happening in North American universities that we need to be aware of in the UK. I certainly came back with a sense that things are different, I’m just still trying to pin down exactly how. There were over 250 delegates at the conference from a wide range of US and Canadian universities, community colleges and schools. In my first blog post written during the conference I was struck by the differences in terminology we use in UK higher education compared to across the Atlantic. People had quite different job titles so the majority were instruction and outreach or information literacy librarians (not subject librarians or academic support staff) I also met instructional designers (what LSE would call educational developers) and educational technologists.  Those differences suggested to me that academic support services are set up slightly differently in US and Canadian universities. However, people did talk about the same issues we deal with in LTI, such as how to engage academic staff, how to embed digital and information literacy effectively into the curriculum, how to be innovative in teaching and use technology appropriately.

Many delegates I met were part of the academic departments or faculties, having the status of Associate / Assistant Professor, presumably putting them on the same footing as academic staff. This suggested much more of a partnership when it came to teaching than the model we have in the UK. It also meant that undertaking research, going to conferences, publishing, editing journals and even taking sabbaticals were part of their day job. Maybe this is something specific to those who attended LIWest, as after all was is a conference aimed at teaching librarians? But if we believe that learning in Higher Education is more than just what happens in the lecture theatres and seminars, then I think that those of us in what we might term ‘learning support’ roles should really be more widely recognised as partners in teaching and not seen as playing a secondary role.

North America seem to be better at collecting evidence about the value of supporting digital and information literacies and the keynote from Alison Head focused on the impressive work of Project Information Literacy‘s which has carried out research across US universities.  Alison drew on findings in the Learning Curve report about the information literacy abilities of recent graduates. The mismatch between what graduates answers and what employers were looking for was fascinating. Today’s graduates can quickly find answers online, but employers wanted graduates to use both online and traditional research methods and not just rely on Google!

The workshop I ran raised some interesting questions about sharing your teaching resources internationally, potentially with people you’ll never meet. How practical is this? What copyright issues crop up when we try to use open licenses to share our content? One delegate said she would be concerned about using content from a UK website as ‘she knew copyright laws were more strict than in the US.’ We had a discussion if that was the case and what terms such as ‘fair use’ meant. Again terminology differences came up, when I asked a group to look for some resources to help students revise – who would know that this term is not used at all in the US.

Finally I was really struck by the many parallels between the work that William Badke from Trinity Western University and Robert Farrell from Lehman College part of City University of New York (CUNY) described in their talk about situated information literacy in the disciplines and the work LTI and the Library have been doing with the SADL project. It was great to meet Bill after reading his thought provoking article in Communications in Information Literacy from 2010 about why information literacy is invisible. Bill and Robert believe our practices around using information are situated in a discipline and teaching students generic skills sessions will always have a limited impact. I was interested to hear about the work that Robert Farrell has been doing with the Sociology department to understand how scholars use information in this discipline. Some of the work had parallels with the ANCIL audit that we conducted at LSE back in 2012. Robert and I felt there could be a really interesting research project working with one specific discipline across several different institutions to study what he called ‘situated information literacy’.

I made a lot of useful contacts at the conference and it was refreshing to get a different perspective from across the pond, but also discover how much we have in common! I was familiar with Portland having watched several episodes of the cult TV series Portlandia. It is a little different to other US cities I have visited: lots of cycling, organic food and micro brewing to name a few things, but lots of interesting parallels with London too.