The 10 Habits (of Mind) of Highly Effective Information Seekers

I have been on blog-writing hiatus of late due to my new status as a PhD student in Information Science. Happily, this past year has given me plenty of time to delve deeply into the theoretical underpinnings of information literacy and information seeking. I learned a lot, and have been chewing on one problem in particular: What are the missing components of information literacy instruction? What is not currently being addressed?

I believe the answer lies in the essence of every information seeking model out there, and especially in Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process (ISP) model, which I had the pleasure of deconstructing in a theory development class. What is that essence? Uncertainty.

Uncertainty is present in the information seeking process (just about every information seeking model recognizes that role).

Uncertainty is inherent in inquiry and reflective thinking (John Dewey).

Uncertainty is the primary principle of Kuhlthau’s ISP model, and she defines uncertainty as “a cognitive state that commonly causes affective symptoms of anxiety and lack of confidence.”

There you have it. Addressing uncertainty is key to information literacy development. In the absence of understanding ways to overcome the barriers that uncertainty creates in the information search process, we teach skills that will likely not develop beyond the classroom.

So, how do we address uncertainty in the information search process? A good place to start is Costa and Kallick’s Habits of Mind  They identified 16 habits of thought and action that help students manage the uncertainty that comes with ill-structured problems (e.g., information problems). These habits are described to some extent in the Dispositions of the ACRL Framework. However, habits of mind are broader than the realm of information literacy. They are ways of thinking and doing that are essential to many areas of lifelong learning. In a nutshell, habits of mind are life skills.

I found that 10 of the 16 habits Costa and Kallick describe are absolutely essential to information literacy development:

  1. Thinking about Thinking (metacognition)
  2. Thinking Flexibly (being comfortable with multiple perspectives)
  3. Thinking Interdependently (collaborating)
  4. Questioning and Posing Problems
  5. Gathering Information through All Senses (being an observant researcher)
  6. Striving for Accuracy (choosing accurate or evidence-based sources)
  7. Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations (transferring skills)
  8. Persisting (growth mindset)
  9. Creating, Imagining, Innovating (looking at information in new ways)
  10. Communicating with Clarity and Precision

Some of these habits are addressed in IL instruction, but we must remember that there is a big difference between teaching a skill to a student and creating an environment where the student can put that skill into continuous practice. The latter is more important in the development of habits of mind, and the library is just one environment that can be designed to reinforce them.

One simple way to help students keep these habits at the forefront of their minds is to provide them with a profile of the highly effective information seeker (a la Covey’s 7 habits). Post them around the library. Give classroom instructors a copy. Create an institution-wide movement. With these habits of mind, students will be able to search for information with more confidence and purpose, and they will be more discriminant in their selection of sources.

Why not just use the Dispositions from the ACRL Framework? In my opinion, there are too many of them and they are too detailed. The habits of mind simplify those dispositions, making them much more accessible and easy to understand.


The WIN-WIN Approach to Innovation in Education

I am writing about innovation in education today because of a quote I came across from Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese (he recently spoke at a teacher training conference in my school district). This is what he said:

“If you can’t tell the difference between a classroom and a startup, you’re doing it right.” ~Nolan Bushnell

In the world of education, innovation is the word du jour. Everybody (teachers, librarians, administrators) is supposed to be an innovator. Heck, Google even offers a Certified Innovator program. Why all this talk about innovation? Somehow, we have arrived at the idea that innovation will solve all the problems that education currently faces. If only teachers and librarians and administrators and anybody else involved in education would just be more willing experiment or “think outside the box,” then we could transform education into what it “should be.”

While innovation can certainly be a valuable thing, I have a problem with the philosophy that all educators need to be willing to “think outside the box.” That’s a lot of [unnecessary] pressure. Even more so, I have a problem with Bushnell’s quote above. Do we seriously think it’s a good idea to treat a classroom as a startup? After all, 90% of startups fail.

I think if we are going to talk about innovation in the classroom or library or school, we need to talk about it as evidence-based innovation. Not a free for all, experimental pursuit based on fads, or one that has no particular valid basis at all, other than “what we’re currently doing isn’t working.” Or, this has never been tried before, so let’s try it out!

That’s where the WIN-WIN Approach to Innovation in Education comes in (I came up with the acronym). WIN-WIN means:

What Is kNown. Why It’s Needed.

The WIN-WIN approach is an evidence-based one, where innovation is purposeful, targeted, and based on both a needs assessment of the situation, as well as a grounding in educational research (theories, frameworks, validated studies). In other words, it requires an instructional design mindset. And like instructional design, the WIN-WIN approach should generally be a collaborative, team-based effort, rather than an individual pursuit. I see librarians as having a particularly important role in this approach, as they have the research skills to find the evidence needed to justify the innovation.

  • To illustrate the WIN-WIN approach in action, I’ll use library space design as an example. Let’s say that it has been suggested that the library could use more space for collaboration. This suggestion was based on the fact that a lot of other libraries are creating that kind of space, and that collaboration is a 21st century skill. Sounds good, right? Except that it may not be needed in your school library at the present time (and maybe the money earmarked for it would be put to better use elsewhere). With the WIN-WIN approach, your job is to prove or disprove the need for that space.
    • What Is kNown.
      • Are students using the library for group projects / group study?
      • How often are teachers assigning group projects or requiring group study?
      • Are teachers that assign group projects sending their students to the library?
      • What does the educational research say about collaborative / cooperative learning (specifically for the age group the library serves, and looking at literature reviews or meta-analyses, not pointing to a single study)?
      • Are cooperative group skills being intentionally taught at the school?
    • Why It’s Needed.
      • If all indicators from the assessment and research questions outlined above suggest both a need and benefit for more collaborative study space in the library, then reasons why can be articulated based on the findings. Likewise, if the assessment and research suggest a negative benefit to more collaborative study space, that can also be articulated.

In education, it’s not enough to be innovative and willing to try new things. In education, new things are tried all the time, often with great failure or lukewarm success along the way (accountability, charter schools, virtual K-12, MOOCs). And that can be expensive, and sometimes even harmful to students and teachers.

Smart innovation is evidence-based innovation, and evidence-based innovation is more likely to be successful than blind innovation or fad-based innovation. Evidence-based innovation is also more methodical. And evidence-based innovation can give educators a grounding in what they are actually trying to do. The WIN-WIN approach takes elements from instructional design (assessment, design thinking, roots in educational research) to offer guidance on how to be a smart innovator. So, let’s make innovation in education a WIN-WIN situation for everyone!