18th Annual Information Literacy Summit in Illinois

On April 5, Natasha and I attended the 18th Annual Information Literacy Summit at Moraine Valley Community College (MVCC) in Palos Hills, Illinois (co-sponsored by DePaul University, Chicago). It was our third time attending this one day conference and we’d seen some pretty amazing presentations and keynotes in the past, including Emily Drabinski, and Wendy Holiday. Once again the event did not disappoint. This year’s featured speaker was Dr. Nicole Cooke from the iSchool at the University of Illinois and she kicked off the Summit with her keynote “News, Media and Disinformation: Making Sense in Today’s Information Landscape”, introducing and providing depth to concepts of disinformation and misinformation. Especially interesting was her discussion on the emotional dimensions of information consumption. Her presentation also set the tone for a Summit that provided much in the way of practical, hands-on, classroom exercises from a majority of presentations, which was great to see.

Two excellent additions to this year’s Summit included:

  1. A Google folder created by the Summit hosts for attendees to take collaborative notes on each session.
  2. A closing conversation with a focus on critical librarianship and emergent strategies during which participants had the opportunity to discuss ideas in more depth with one another.

These two collaborative approaches to the Summit created more connections and networking (at least in our opinion) than previous years.

If you have yet to make to this one-day, low-cost conference (only $25 this year if you presented!), we strongly encourage you to take a look at this opportunity for 2020 (call for papers is usually in January) – check them out on Twitter @ILSummit. Year after year, we see wonderful keynote presenters and attendees from all over the U.S. Check out the Information Literacy Summit website, where you can access keynotes and presentations from the past several years. And shout out to the librarians and other organizers at MVCC and DePaul for coordinating yet another successful event.

Critical perspectives from sunny Savannah

We recently attended the 7th Annual International Critical Media Literacy conference in Savannah, Georgia. A small, but powerful event that brings together educators and activists from diverse fields including education, English, TESL, communications/media, and librarians, to name but a few.

There were two librarians presenting this year – one more than last year! And there is definitely room for more. A critical information literacy (#critlib) approach would bring much to the critical media literacy conversation. Our chapter on this very topic was recently published in Angela Pashia and Jessica Critten’s collection Critical Approaches to Credit-Bearing Information Literacy Courses .

The conference was expanded to two full days this year, thanks to the hard work of William Reynolds and Georgia Southern University, as well as ACME board members. This provided for two keynote speakers in addition to more opportunities to learn from one another. A great example was Jeff Share’s closing session that brought a more informal, participatory dynamic, where the group could freely exchange ideas, closing thoughts, and comments for future directions. Two days also ensured we could enjoy the decidedly warmer weather of Georgia, which was about a 40 degree improvement on Illinois.

We had the honor of coordinating a panel discussing practical classroom approaches to media and information literacy, participating with Ralph Beliveau, Julie Frechette, and Jeff Share. No one will be surprised to hear that they had thoughtful and incisive comments to make on the topic.

If you missed the conference, sometime in the next few weeks you can browse the contents on the ICML website. The call for papers usually goes out in October/November every year.  

The Challenges of Collaboration

It’s been some time since we’ve had the space to write a blog post together. Work, publication deadlines, sabbaticals, and new jobs are some of our good excuses. In light of this, we thought we would share how we’re able to continue our collaborative research despite these obstacles, including now working at different institutions.

Although collaboration has long been a buzzword in academia, often there is little institutional support (in terms of time, know-how or finances) to transform good collaborative intentions into actual classroom practices. But by working together, we were forced to critically reflect on each other’s power in the classroom, as well as our own intellectual backgrounds, recognizing that there are many differences that must be worked out for a collaborative approach to work. More significantly, our collaboration caused us to be both more critical of our individual teaching practices but also more empathetic.


Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

Collaboration, in terms of research, faces fewer obvious institutional hurdles but has its own set of challenges. When we first started learning more about each other’s discipline for our combined media and information literacy teaching and research collaboration, we soon found that we were learning alongside one another, which better served our partnership. It might sound a little strange to even note the fact that we were learning alongside one another – after all, we work in academia. But we suspect, like many who read this, that although disturbing, relatively little of our time is dedicated to actually learning new things, let alone learning with a colleague in a different discipline.

We think collaboration and openness go hand-in-hand. We wouldn’t be as open with our work if not for our own collaboration and sharing of ideas, even when we don’t always agree. Often out of disagreement comes insight into not only how narrow your own ideas or perspective might be, but the opportunity to reconceptualize an idea or issue through another disciplinary lens is invaluablein the evolution of thinking. Baldwin and Chang (2007) noted, “One of the principal benefits of collaborating with others is to achieve goals that cannot be achieved alone. In fact, one definition of collaboration characterizes the process as “an effective interpersonal process that facilitates the achievement of goals that cannot be reached when individual professionals act on their own” (Bronstein 2003).

For us, nothing beats working through ideas in person. But now that we are in different locations and opportunities for working this way are infrequent, we spend a lot of time on Google Drive organizing our work and planning out next projects. Much of our collaborative work takes place on evenings and weekends (especially writing), with weekly phone calls scheduled in advance to help keep us on track. These calls also serve to keep us engaged with the disciplines we work in, exchange resources and provide perspective on our day-to-day work. It’s hard. It’s definitely not ideal. We feel it’s worth it though. We continue to explore new ideas, write and present at conferences, re-connecting with colleagues we first met when we initially started our work (looking at you International Critical Media Literacy Conference).

There is always risk and uncertainty (egos must be checked and compromise is not always easy) in an interdisciplinary, collaborative approach, but new learning and new resources lead to growth and development of ideas and deeper understandings. As McDaniel and Colarulli (1997) observed, “Real collaboration cannot help but create conflict; and it requires compromise, sharing of power and responsibility…”

Shout out to Ian O’Byrne whose reference to the work on ‘Openness as social practice’ sparked the initial kernel for this topic, which then morphed into our first blog post of 2019. We hope to write more this year. Thanks for reading.

Natasha & Spencer

Networks & Accessibility*

We recently had the opportunity to meet (via Zoom) Thomas Mackey and Trudi Jacobson to discuss their influential metaliteracy concept. We wanted to understand how this idea differs from our approach to critical media and information literacy. Trudi and Tom were incredibly open about their work, the evolution of the metaliteracy concept, as well as the various critiques of it. Moreover, their willingness to take the time to discuss the topic with two people they’d never met speaks volumes about how they view and approach collaboration in higher education.


To us, this exemplifies the idea of educators working openly to support each other in their teaching and research (whether that work is in the same area or across disciplines). Our research and teaching was at a point where we had to understand metaliteracy better to move forward. Of course, we’d already read their published works but learned much more about the evolution of their research during that hour-long conversation.

Below, are some main ideas from our conversation with Tom and Trudi:

  • There is some misunderstanding about the metaliteracy concept – it is not a combination of literacies but an overarching idea for higher education
  • Metaliteracy was conceived as an overarching literacy, and it was hoped that it would serve as a unifying term
  • As their work has evolved, the overarching concept is less important and theories of metacognition are more critical

Collaboration is an overused word (and does anyone actually to think of themselves as uncollaborative) but what does that actually look like in practice? Over the last few years, we have moved from traditional and often entrenched proprietary ideas of “my” work. After all isn’t this how “we” make names for ourselves, achieve promotions, books deals, etc.

But after collaborating in the classroom, and in writing, and then working with others in both of our fields, it is obvious that ideas will evolve, be implemented faster and be far more interesting if more are involved. It’s great to be able to work in such similar areas, employing multiple literacies from a critical perspective.

Too often academia is petty and competitive. You read the works of someone but then meet them in person, and there is a disconnect. Mackey and Jacobson have renewed our faith in what it means to work openly and connect with people (and their work) who we might not have otherwise had the opportunity to talk with. They understood our work, approach and perspective, and encouraged us to continue our research, despite commonalities, critiques or differences.

So, thanks again Trudi and Tom.

Natasha & Spencer

P.S. As always, thanks to Ian O’Byrne for his continued, great work, pushing the importance of working open in higher ed.

*Credit to Ian O’Byrne for this title and idea: http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/hybridped/wakefulness-digitally-engaged-publics/

National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) Conference Reflection

The biennial NAMLE conference was held last month in Chicago. As this was our first NAMLE conference (#NAMLE2017), we were excited, and relieved, to see so many media literacy “camps” (come on now, we all know they exist) represented, as well as many different kinds of audiences (activists, students, university professors, k-12 teachers, librarians, etc.) present.

Check out the full conference program here- https://namleconferencenet.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/conference-program-web-version.pdf


              View from Roosevelt University, site of NAMLE 2017

Although there are some real and substantial differences in approaches to media and information literacy among these various traditions and groups, there are obviously also enough similarities to encourage such diverse participation. This bodes well for the future.


Picture3       Picture2


Slides (two images above) from Jeff Share’s NAMLE presentation ‘Critical Media Literacy & Environmental Justice’ – his work, along with that of Doug Kellner, has influenced our own

Pre-conference activities included a well-attended second meeting of the North American subchapter of the Global Alliance for Partners in Media and Information Literacy (GAPMIL). This may be the only organization to explicitly promote media AND information literacy. As our research and teaching makes a case for bringing these two worlds together, you can see why GAPMIL is of particular interest to us. Happily, there were more librarians at this meeting than the first one in Canada last year (maybe because the American Library Association conference was also in town), but predictably questions resurfaced regarding the term ‘media and information literacy’.

If you are still unsure about the similarities and overlap between these two areas, we suggest reading work by Marcus Leaning.


His research was one of the main catalysts for our own collaborative media and information literacy writing and teaching. In 2014 Leaning published a chapter on the topic in the anthology “Media Literacy Education in Action: Theoretical and Pedagogical Perspectives”


and just this year published new work on the topic, “Media and Information Literacy: An Integrated Approach for the 21st Century”.


Also, check out the UNESCO media and information literacy curriculum published in 2011.


Sonia Livingstone, Renee Hobbs, and Hans Schmidt have all called for an alliance between media and information literacy too.

In addition to the above, our collaborative research and teaching lead to incorporating work by several key writers in the library and information science world including Emily Drabinski, http://www.emilydrabinski.com/ Eamon Tewell https://eamontewell.com/ and James Elmborg https://works.bepress.com/james_elmborg/. See March 15 and June 23 ‘No Silos’ blog posts for more on this.

But back to the GAPMIL pre-conference event . . . there was recognition by some media literacy educators about the value of librarians and as noted, several librarians were in attendance. In addition, four working groups were formed:

  1. Advocacy
  2. Outreach
  3. Research
  4. Communication & Organizational Development.

Chairs of each group will also serve on the GAPMIL steering committee. And although forming a new subchapter of any organization is usually messy and often challenging, we are hopeful for the future of this group. We collected a list of Twitter handles from interested participants – thanks to Ian O’Byrne http://wiobyrne.com/ who Skyped in with that great suggestion – email Natasha if you want a copy. There is also a GAPMIL Facebook group if you want to be involved or just stay apprised of latest developments. Ian and Troy Hicks https://hickstro.org/ did a stellar job keeping meeting notes – you can read them here https://docs.google.com/document/d/1p3frrjxedRrBU8pyhAjGvh1M0ZuYF-GfpXIDN0AEusI/edit?ts=59515f8d#heading=h.18u9dx6dwsd6

Relatedly, the Center for Media Literacy’s http://www.medialit.org/ 2017 media literacy week will focus on what libraries and librarians are doing in support of media literacy education.


We believe more interdisciplinary work should be encouraged by NAMLE and other organizations (in LIS, communications and other fields). It would be great to see this as a theme for future conferences.

We learned much more than there is room to discuss here at the NAMLE conference, including many ideas for the third iteration of our media and information literacy class – check out our curated class hashtag #co233bc to see some of these ideas and resources. We plan on revising our syllabus in the next couple of weeks and will post on this site. If you are interested in seeing detailed lesson plans, don’t hesitate to reach out, always happy to share.

Finally, it wasn’t all work. What’s a trip to Chicago without a visit to Second City? It’s even funnier when Spencer Brayton and Neil Anderson http://www.aml.ca/ get called out by the comedians . . . too bad that didn’t make it to Twitter.


Spencer, Karen, Neil, Natasha and Marieli at Second City


Spencer & Natasha

Adventures with a Communications Prof!

In the last two months, Natasha and I were lucky enough to present at two conferences: the 16th Annual Information Literacy Summit presented by DePaul University Library at Moraine Valley Community College Library (Illinois), and the Canadian Association for Professional Academic Librarians (CAPAL) at Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

The Summit is a well-established venue for attracting some high profile keynote speakers. Last year we were inspired by Emily Drabinski’s (coordinator of Library Instruction at LIU Brooklyn) powerful “critical pedagogy in a time of compliance” speech and were confident it would be difficult act to follow. However, Wendy Holliday (head of teaching, learning, and research services, Cline Library, Northern Arizona University) did not disappoint, and gave an equally inspiring presentation entitled “boundaries and sovereignties: placing students at the center of information literacy”. Check out her references below!


Do you facilitate the transformative space between teacher and student is a question (and a call to action) that has stayed with us since the keynote a month ago. Watch both of their presentations as well as other Summit keynote speakers on YouTube and check out the hashtag #ILSummit to see what else was discussed. We hope to return next year.

CAPAL was an amazing experience, because it is organized as part of a larger conference – the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences – which lasted over a week and featured more than 70 professional organizations (of which CAPAL was just one). More than 8,000 people attended this year’s Congress in Toronto – learn more about it here. Seeing Cornel West give a powerful presentation (even in the overflow room) was a highlight.


CAPAL is a relatively new organization (incorporated in 2013) and featured many librarians working in the ‘critical’ LIS wing. We use a lot of Eamon Tewell’s work in our research and teaching, and were excited to see him present. We also finally met another duo co-teaching across disciplines @LornaERourke and Pascal Lupien teach media and information literacy from a political science perspective. They gave an amazing presentation on their collaborative efforts and we hope to work with them in the future.

Shout out to the crew at Ryerson University Library & Archives (@ryersonlibrary) including Ann Ludbrook (who is doing amazing open access work – check out @RyersonOER), and Fangmin Wang and Namir Ahmed who gave us a tour of their Digital Media Experience Lab. These photos don’t do it justice.


Last highlight from Toronto was visiting Marshall McLuhan’s old classroom – thanks for the tour Neil Anderson (@mediasee)!


Abstracts, papers and slides from past conferences are available here. This site should be updated soon with work from the 2017 conference (including our powerpoint). Check out that hashtag too #CAPAL17

There was a common disconnect between keynotes and presentations at both of these conferences – the keynotes were typically far more ‘critical’ (a take we appreciate) than some of the presentations. In a few instances, presentations didn’t include any critical elements or were exactly the types of topics and themes directly critiqued by the keynote. What does this mean? We welcome your responses to this question.

It was also interesting for Natasha to be one of a few non librarian faculty members at both of these conferences. She overheard a lot of “bloody faculty” type remarks and couldn’t really blame them. From her perspective, many faculty only view librarians as ‘information finders’ or other ‘skills-only’ types, rather than scholars with knowledge to share. Librarians dominated both conferences, so it was an interesting experience for Natasha as a communications faculty to be in that environment twice.

Scholars (on both sides – media and information literacy) have to be prepared to ‘cross-over’ into each other’s worlds. Despite seemingly few doing this, we are more determined than ever to offer a model of a combined critical media and information literacy pedagogy. We hope to have further opportunities to discuss these ideas and concepts next week in Chicago during NAMLE (National Association for Media Literacy Education) and ALA (American Library Association) conferences. We’ll share our observations with you then.

Thanks for reading!

Spencer & Natasha

In Defense of Media & Information Literacy: A Mini-Manifesto?


(Memorial to first silo built in America – Spring Grove, IL – courtesy of D. Ambrose)

Although many (including UNESCO, Sonia Livingstone, Marcus Leaning, and Renee Hobbs) have called for collaboration between media literacy (often located in media and communications, as well as education, programs) and information literacy (library and information science), the two areas remain remarkably siloed.

Marcus Leaning noted, “ . . . the experience of being a user of information resources and a consumer of media is so similar that the two cannot be separated” and characterized the common siloed approach as “pedagogically wasteful”.

It is no surprise that we agree with this characterization.


There are commonalities in widely accepted definitions of media literacy and information literacy. For example, in the Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) “Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education”, information literacy is defined as a “. . . set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning”.

Similarly, Sonia Livingstone stated, “ . . . as media and information technologies converge and pose new problems and challenges for citizens in their everyday understanding of those technologies, two particular traditions are converging. One, broadly, we could call media literacy, the other comes from information literacy, and people here may be more or less familiar with those different traditions. But of course, as technologies converge, skills converge as well, and so we need a convergent notion of literacy”.

UNESCO noted, “Media literacy (ML) and information literacy (IL) are part of one another. They have differences and similarities, but they overlap in many areas. Together, they include all the skills, knowledge and abilities that we think of when we think of library literacy, news literacy, digital literacy, computer literacy, Internet literacy, freedom of expression and freedom of information literacy, television literacy, advertising literacy, cinema literacy, and games literacy”.


This is not to sweep important pedagogical and philosophical differences aside, and there are plenty depending on what field you are working in (media studies versus education is an obvious one) or approach you adopt (skills based versus cultural studies influenced traditions).

But those interested in a critical media perspective (including work by Jeff Share, Doug Kellner, and Julie Frechette) could form important interdisciplinary alliances with many working in the critical information literacy field including Emily Drabinski and Eamon Tewell. Trying to figure out what kinds of projects you can do in the classroom that reflect this perspective? Maybe include some materials from The Global Critical Media Literacy Project’s educator’s resource guide.

For another approach, try resources available from the National Association for Media Literacy Educators (NAMLE), the Center for Media Literacy, ACRL Framework for Information Literacy Sandbox or UNESCO’s curriculum (available in several languages).


The ALA (American Library Association) annual conference, the NAMLE (National Association for Media Literacy Education) conference and the recently formed North American Sub-Chapter of the Global Alliance for Partnerships on Media and Information Literacy (GAPMIL) are scheduled to meet in Chicago at the end of June 2017. Is there an opportunity for all interested parties to connect?

Are UNESCO’s GAPMIL sub-chapters working with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions’ (IFLA) Libraries, Development, and the UN 2030 Agenda project? And vice-versa?

It’s time to start the conversation. And time to take the alliance seriously.


Media literacy, digital literacy, information literacy, and news literacy have all received unprecedented mainstream media attention since the US presidential election – check out Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, Executive Director of NAMLE, on CNN. But these terms are also in danger of becoming buzzwords and some catch all solution to the problem of “fake news”.

We should work together to capitalize on this unprecedented opportunity and collaborate: librarians teaching media literacy/news literacy, educators supporting and emphasizing the need for information literacy at all levels.

Earlier this year at the Winter Symposium: Digital Literacy & Higher Education, many noted often feeling isolated or marginalized. Participants commented with consistent exasperation on the difficulties of getting colleagues and administrators to understand the importance of media and information literacy.

We should feel empowered to teach media or (though we prefer ‘and’) information literacy at our institutions. It’s time to reach out and form alliances between educators. Why not collaborate to end the isolation and make the movement more powerful?

Looking forward to your feedback and suggestions.
Natasha & Spencer

A Different Approach

As conferences and other professional development opportunities usually do, we return to our institutions inspired to do things differently. In addition to teaching media and information literacy, I have also been teaching an introductory college success course over the last three years. The skills-based instruction with pre-defined lesson plans provided is not my typical approach to teaching. Although the course was already developed when I was first asked to teach a section, that didn’t mean content delivery would be easy.

With little background in this area, I forged ahead the first two years mixing my background in critical media and information literacy in delivering this content to make the course more than the pre-defined shell it originated as. More recently, I found that my colleagues teaching sections of this course were also flexible to tailoring course content to where their students were at. This is no surprise and what we as educators do. For me though, I found an opening to insert critical digital literacy pedagogy, still fresh in my mind from discussions at the URI Winter Symposium. Instead of me telling students how to develop their skills in these areas, I also started to and will continue to ask them how they do these things and what advice they would give others- not what they have been told to be like and do. Together, we created an online environment where we curate these ideas and operate openly in sharing with other students.

Aside from discussing content as it relates to the campus and work environments, we also focus on the digital environment, which will become increasingly important in their academic and professional lives. We read from Mozilla’s Internet Health Report and discuss how diverse perspectives help us communicate and understand the perspectives of others, as well as how filter bubbles can limit our learning and understanding of our peers. Is it more work to add a digital element to this learning? No. I’m working differently, teaching the same concepts, only in a different way that will be more beneficial to the class and have them leave with a tool that they curated together and can share with others, including prospective employers or graduate school applications in the future.

This is a new approach for me and the class. Looking forward to sharing ideas (and learning from suggestions) as I move through the rest of this semester.