WikiInfoLit Case Study


Selecting the topic

As a public services librarian in a higher education environment, one of my perennial challenges is to prepare college students to evaluate information sources (books, articles, news items, web sites, videos, etc.) for research. Students usually do not come to college prepared to think critically about information sources in a systematic way. What is strange is that many young adults have some sophisticated ways of thinking about information in their everyday life (using Facebook posts to address inaccuracies and bias in the news, using Tumblr to critique entertainment media and responding to it with fan works, etc.) - but they rarely translate this deep engagement with sources to their research! To add to the difficulty for teaching librarians, most professors tend to think of evaluating, critique, and analysis in very discipline-bound ways, and very traditionally academic ways. Neither the students nor the teachers are making the connection between the casual, every day critiques that many of the students already do, and the formal academic analysis that the teachers want them to perform on information sources that they will cite in their papers. Traditional library instruction doesn't do much about this. Accustomed to having little time and less priority, we give library orientations and "one shot" instructional sessions and provide self-help information.

Here is a classic example of how we teach students to evaluate information sources: Cornell's library is not understaffed or behind the times; this is maybe not considered a "best practice" for teaching critical thinking about information sources, but it's certainly the most common practice. We talk about "What's a primary source and what's it used for?" "What's peer review and why should we use scholarly sources?" "How is the information in articles different from the information in books?" Then time is up and we shout, "Use the checklist for every information source you want to use in your paper! Come to the reference desk if you need help with anything!" Graduate students are inducted into the research and critical thinking practices of their discipline, often with the help of a subject specialist librarian, but I'm afraid the level of instruction isn't at a much higher level of cognitive complexity.

As a librarian in a terribly understaffed library, my biggest hope of reaching my students is by reaching their professors. So I quickly settled on the idea of preparing the professors to incorporate these information literacy objectives into their instruction (especially ones who teach first-year oriented courses like College Writing and our special Designing the Degree Program sequence).

As for why Wikipedia? I think that may have to do with a mixture of personal and organizational factors. I am a millennial working among Gen Xers in a very hidebound organization (which is itself a fascinating mixture of 1970s social justice idealists on the fringes and 1990s "suits" at the core). The tensions are very interesting. Saying "Wikipedia" is like putting blood in the water and watching the sharks get so excited that they start biting each other! I am tired of seeing a very useful and hope-provoking project being the whipping boy of sage-on-the-stage educators (who would never admit to being that) and everything tangentially related to it (like Open Educational Resources) acquiring a stigma of association.

Also Wikipedia lets educators and learners watch and even get involved in these key concepts of information literacy. Where else can you watch peer review taking place? What other encyclopedia not only posts its editorial policies, but the arguments about how they should be interpreted? It's a really rich source of material for inquiry-based learning.

Learner analysis


Post-secondary and secondary instructional librarians, instructional designers, and instructors.

Gagne talks about "using a rational means of reducing the great diversity of individual learner characteristics" (107) and specifying a target audience helps with that. My target audience consists of people who have at least a bachelor's degree and probably more. They are all adults and I do not need to tailor instruction for earlier developmental levels. They can all be expected to be literate and capable of self-regulation for structured learning, and to have some comfort with it due to familiarity and past success. They can be expected to have developed a repertoire of cognitive strategies, and to have intellectual skills and verbal information that surpasses that possessed by most people who haven't completed college. I can expect that their jobs require them to be at least somewhat computer literate, although it's not safe to assume that they're capable of much more than using a document editor and web browser. However, I will probably not have to worry about extra anxiety and cognitive load due to the learning environment being computer-mediated. However there may be some anxiety or resistance from educators who have never taught or engaged in structured learning online before. For them, I can emphasize the self-paced nature of the learning environment, and the fact that they can review any of the material at any time (Gagne 120). They are all educators, so they will have some awareness, if not formally acquired knowledge, of educational theory and practice. Because of their career, they can be expected to have some motivation for learning the content of the course, whether intrinsic because they find educational topics interesting, or extrinsic because they hope that it will help them perform better in their career, or both. Because I can assume a relatively high level of motivation, discovery learning and problem based learning are good strategies (Gagne 124).

One disadvantage of my audience comprising highly educated adults is that they will have many detailed schemas about education, critical thinking, and information literacy concepts, and if those schemas are incompatible with the content of the course, they may miss the point or have difficulty with the course. On the other hand, the existence of those schemas, if they are compatible, will make them quick to pick up new educational concepts.

While I can assume that there is some level of prerequisite knowledge among my target audience, I need to be sure to specify the prerequisite knowledge clearly in the beginning so that none of the learners get in over their heads, and all of them have the option of seeking the prerequisite knowledge before they begin (or concurrently while they participate in the course.) It will be difficult to tailor instruction to the zone of proximal development (Gagne 125) when I am not with the learners, but these are all experienced learners, and I think if I offer them scaffolding options, they will be able to choose them for themselves and benefit from them.

Learning Environment

  • Asynchronous, unmediated online learning.
  • Adding a Google Group and Diigo group where they can interact with each other and with me.
  • Wiki environment
    • Unfamiliar to many.
      • Some academics seem resistant to new technology - say they are too burdened with research and teaching to learn to use new and complicated tools.
      • Extra cognitive load. Make navigation very useful, instructions short. Don't make them have to look for anything.

Organizational Context

  • SUNY Empire State College (but also available to other SUNY faculty and staff plus secondary and post-secondary educators)
  • Often little time for professional/faculty development. They may have to take this on their own time, and their attention to it will have to compete with their attention to work/life demands.
  • Relatively little priority placed on information literacy/critical inquiry infused throughout the curriculum.
  • Relatively little priority placed on inquiry-based or problem-based learning.
    • Need some focus on affective factors, but should stick to persuading via information and reason because our faculty are sensitive to "condescension".

Learner outcomes

The learner will choose to teach critical thinking and information literacy skills using Wikipedia rather than not using it at all or using it merely as a negative example.

The learner will generate lesson plans to teach critical thinking and information literacy skills using a class wiki and Wikipedia.

The learner will generate a strategy of evaluating the authority of Wikipedia articles and other information sources by presenting a written or media assessment of their expertise, experience, and reputation of their creators.

The learner will generate a strategy of evaluating the neutrality of Wikipedia articles and other information sources by presenting a written or media summary of the different points of view presented, which also assesses how much weight each point of view is given, and questions whether other points of view have been excluded.

The learner will generate a strategy of evaluating the objectivity of Wikipedia articles and other information sources by presenting a written or media examination of them for premises that are unfounded, logical fallacies, conflict of interest, agenda, selection bias, confirmation bias, positive results bias.

The learner will state the reasons for citing sources, by writing or creating a media presentation.

The learner will classify the concept of genealogy or provenance of knowledge by explaining it in writing or a media presentation.

The learner will state the advantages and disadvantages of the peer review system, by writing or creating a media presentation.

The learner will classify the concept of scholarly communication or the conversation among scholars that takes place in journal articles and monographs, and also compare it to the less formal generation and negotiation of knowledge that takes place inside and outside of the scholarly community (eg in Wikipedia), by writing or creating a media presentation.

Design rationale

Short pages

Pages are as short as possible, usually keeping to one activity per page. The main reason is that I want faculty to have a feeling of accomplishment on a regular basis, and going to the next page can be experiences as a mini milestone. The secondary reason is that I want faculty to feel that the course, while longer than many of the others, can still be easily accomplished because each page by itself will not take long.

Conversational style

I have chosen a conversational style but a simplified one, because faculty tend to get more out of interactions with librarians when the librarians behave as academics and peers of the professors, rather than as members of a service profession that just happens to deal with information. (of College and Research Libraries Joint Statement on Faculty Status of College and University Librarians).

High expectations

My target audience is college professors and also high school teachers. All of these people have at least a master's degree in their subject area, and I can expect them not to need simple vocabulary or sentence structure. Many of the professors I work with also see content presented in its unsimplified form as a sign of respect and worthiness of their respect. (Early in my career, I got some sharply worded emails when I gave instructions and explained concepts too thoroughly!) Because all of my target audience belongs to the educational profession, I can also safely assume some background knowledge about common educational theories and practices, and I can rely on their having experienced certain things in their own education.


For English Language Learners and people with language disabilities, I have suggested alternate ways to answer the discussion and lesson plan questions, but I expect that all of the participants will be comfortable answering open, generative questions that ask them to synthesize new information with previously learned information, personal experience, imagination, and speculation.

I will write transcripts for all the videos and plain text versions of the embedded PDF content. However, that may not get done until after the grading period, because it is time consuming.

Google Group

The primary reason that I incorporated a Google Group (discussion board/mailing list) into the course is that participants can learn from one another. The secondary reason is that being aware that others will see their answers may make them think more deeply and write more thoughtfully. And the tertiary reason is that I hope a sense of community will form among the participants of the class, and that they will discover each other as resources of support, advice, and collaboration.


The Diigo group is an adjunct to the Google Group as a means of creating a lasting community among the course participants. Diigo will allow them to share news items, lesson plans, articles, videos, etc. relevant to the course content. If it takes off, the Diigo group will become a continually growing and updated resource of supplemental readings and viewings.

Short readings and viewings

Whenever possible, I did not link to a whole video or article, but rather created a video clip using TubeChop or a text excerpt using SnagIt. I did not want to add to the participants' cognitive load either by making them read or watch the whole thing and have to look for the relevant parts, or by making them scroll to the relevant part. I also wanted to spend less time reading and hearing, and more time thinking and doing in order to assimilate what had been read or heard.

Questions for reflection

I included questions for reflection with every short reading or viewing. I did not require participants to post their answers because that would have made the course even more time consuming and possibly overwhelming. However I did suggest that the participants write down their answers so that they think thoroughly and have the chance to engage in metacognition.

Discussion Questions

Each unit has a set of two or three discussion questions, whose answers are to be posted to the Google Group. I wrote the questions to be open and generative, and to require not only analysis of the content learned, but synthesis of it with previous learning and experience, and also a bit of imagination or creativity. I tried to write questions that make people want to express their opinions and share their experiences so that the workload would be at least somewhat pleasant. The other reason for the kinds of questions I wrote is that I wanted the answers themselves to be interesting and useful for others to read.

Cumulative project

Each unit also asks the participant to draw up a very basic, brief lesson plan based on the theme of the unit. By the end of the course, they will have a set of these lesson plans, so they will be able to teach their students the information literacy concepts using Wikipedia. The lesson plans also act as a common thread throughout the course. The lesson plan is the last learning activity of every unit, giving the course a steady rhythm and giving the learner a chance to observe how much easier it gets and how much deeper and broader their understanding has become as they acquire experience.

Hopefully having a set of ready-made lesson plans will make them eager to use them (if just to get some benefit from the time invested). I felt that that would be more effective at changing the choices made by professors than trying to convince them that it would be a good idea. Professors that I deal with are already quite certain that their attitudes are correct and do not appreciate blatant attempts to achieve affective objectives on them! They are also pragmatic and eager to save a bit of time and effort. Perhaps once they have tried out one of their own lesson plans (it must be good because they created it!) they will appreciate the results and that will change their attitude.

I provided some links to instructions and explanations for learning objectives, learning activities, and assessments. They are not the Gagne method, but if a participant is not yet comfortable with instructional design, I do not want to subject them to Gagne's sophisticated and time-consuming procedures just to complete an activity. It is much more important that they just make a beginning than that they do it "right."

Instructional sequencing and curriculum map

Procedural Analysis

Learning task analysis, prerequisites, learning hierarchy




Events of Instruction




I think I've created a course that is challenging but manageable. It is long, but it can be completed bit by bit. Its structure is repetitive and its navigation is simple, which should give participants a sense of where they are in the unit and in the course, and let them grow comfortable. There is not an overwhelming amount to read or watch, but what there is is completely relevant and as engaging as possible. The discussion questions are open, generative, and will hopefully seed the Google group with some interesting conversations. The lesson plans will give the participants something to take away from the experience, while providing an authentic task and a unifying theme for the course's different units.

I don't know whether participants will actually use the Google Group and Diigo in great enough numbers to create an actual community of practice. I am going to present on this at the SUNY Conference on Instructional Technologies and the SUNY Librarians Association conference and hopefully drum up some interest.

Lessons learned

I regret that I couldn't include all the units that I wanted to. It turns out that the four-unit structure that I saw in all the other courses I looked at consists of four units because that is about how many we have time to make in the time allotted. I still have hope that I will be able to complete the Objectivity unit by May 8 at midnight, but I needed to stop to revise and format what I already had.

I am disturbed by how much my learning objectives not only shaped my design, but were shaped by the design as it emerged over time. I know that systematic instructional design is anything but linear, but I had gotten the impression from Gagne that the learning objectives were the hub around which everything else turned. Instead, everything turned one rotation and I had to redesign the hub... repeated several times. I think I should just stop feeling disturbed about it, because as long as the resulting course has activities and assessments in harmony with the objectives which in turn are in harmony with the reason for which you started designing the course (that is, the gap between existing knowledge and desired knowledge), then all is well.