Ilana Stonebraker is Assistant Professor of Library Science and Business Information Specialist in the Parrish Library of Management & Economics, Division of Humanities, Social Sciences, Education & Business, Purdue University Libraries. She also serves on the BRASS Executive Committee and co-founded the New Business Librarians Group.
Steve asked me to share on his blog the impetus and beginning stages of my new course: HONR 299: Greater Lafayette Greater. HONR 299 came out of a themed version of MGMT 175: Information Strategies for MGMT Students, a class I have been teaching for nearly four years. MGMT 175 is a flipped course focused on information literacy that makes heavy use of problem-based learning. The aims of MGMT 175 are simple, yet deceptively challenging for students: “solve problems using information”. Students are given information-rich situations aided by library databases, and must find ways to generate insights.
First, some background. Purdue University is situated in West Lafayette, Indiana, which is bordered by Lafayette, Indiana. The whole area is called “Greater Lafayette” or Greater Lala, if you must. West Lafayette is a college town, specifically a college town filled with engineers. Lafayette is a manufacturing town. The big employers are Subaru, Caterpillar, Tate and Lyle’s corn syrup plant, and Evonik. Greater Lafayette is surrounded by corn and soybean fields. The Wabash River runs through both cities, somewhat the boundary between the two of them.
In Fall 2015, I had started meeting regularly with a particularly excellent group of business librarians on Google Hangouts: Kenny Garcia, Caitlan Maxwell and Jessica Jerrit. This group, formed loosely at ACRL 2015, was focused on practicing what it called critical business information literacy (CBIL), defined as the application of social justice to business information literacy. What does it mean to be an ethical business person, and how does an ethical business person find, evaluate and use information?
The work I did in MGMT 175 was affected by CBIL thinking. More specifically the cases I used in class were affected. Many of the cases were focused on individual aims: more profits for one company, stakeholder or investor. Why was business information always about increasingly the success of the individual and not the community? After all, business people often work for communities, often think of themselves as being grounded in civic responsibility. What if students weren’t trying to solve the problems of a company, but rather the problems of a whole community?
Thus, the course theme “Making Greater Lafayette Greater” was shamelessly stolen from an art installation in Lafayette. Jason Tennenhouse, known locally for founding Greyhouse Coffee, created a website where people could submit ideas and they would be scrolling at the old gas station at 6th and State in Lafayette. It should be noted that at the time there were no political connotations to making something great.
I switched the four cases used in the class to be more civically focused. Student investigated demographics, learned about best practices and considered local competitive strengths. They went on field trips to startup incubators, coworking spaces, and city beautification projects. As a final project, students were given a hypothetical 4 million dollar budget (the budget of the state street project, which had a call for proposals at the time) to fix something in the community. The problem they focused on had to affect not just students. In the final project, students proposed art filled bus stop shelters, day care centers, community gardens and ambitious development plans.
I liked teaching the course and I think the course had value. It led to me getting the “Exceptional Event Planner” award from Purdue’s Learning Community Office. But I felt rushed. MGMT 175 was a one-credit- eight week course. I had to balance multiple content needs of other things I felt I need to cover in the class (evaluation of sources, citation) with my more civically-minded approach. More specifically, my students, all lovely people, had not signed up for this adventure I had thrust upon them. It was the common teaching trap: teaching things which had had value in the abstract, but weren’t always valuable to my students in their lived experiences.
At Purdue, the Honors College is in an ambitious and new undertaking. Their mission to create “well rounded, global leaders” through four pillars: interdisciplinary academics, leadership development, undergraduate research, and community/global experiences (website). In Spring 2016, they put out a call for new courses. Teaching the Greater Lafayette class within the Honors College appealed to me because I could teach it as a three credit course, was given professional development funding, and also was guaranteed a class half the size (20 v. 40). It seemed to me to be the best place for further development of the Greater Lafayette course.
As it was once explained to the Von Trapp family, starting at the very beginning is a very good place to start. What do I want students to gain from the class? What’s the meaning of it all?
- Student will articulate and empathize with the diverse group of struggles the Greater Lafayette area faces at a local and global level across economic, cultural, and administrative dimensions.
- Students will find, organize, and evaluate information about the Greater Lafayette area.
- Students will identify sources to learn more about problems that are important to them.
- Students will apply concepts of economic development to create an action plan for either the Lafayette or West Lafayette city governments to implement change in the community.
The course is a triple challenge for me: I have not taught a three credit course, I have never taught in the Honors College, and I am also not an economic development expert, though I have had a personal lifelong fascination with its messy science. However, this is not the first time as a librarian I have had to do something I’ve never done before, and I doubt it will be the last.
My concern is whether my desire to teaching economic development will envelope my information literacy roots. I believe that a course is not information literacy just because a librarian teaches it. My roots are always in how students use information to inform their decisions, and that includes frank discussions of bias as well as moments for students to show empathy. My colleague Megan Sapp Nelson defends our role in data management by highlighting the unique group of skills that librarians bring to the table. Librarians, by the nature of their work and perspective, are system thinkers. Librarians think of things in terms of inputs and outputs in a larger scholarly communication cycle. I would characterize system thinking information literacy as how I approach HONR 299: from a high level. I hope students can solve problems by thinking in information literate ways.