Cahoy works to help students acquire necessary literacies

August 27, 2009

This fall, Ellysa Stern Cahoy, assistant head of Library Learning Services, is developing ways to help students acquire literacies they need to succeed in college and the workplace -- beyond traditional reading and writing. Cahoy works with faculty to help students build skills in finding and evaluating information, creating and critiquing multimedia, and choosing the right technology tools for the right task.

As an ITS Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) Faculty Fellow, Cahoy developed a faculty-focused workshop to examine nontraditional literacy skills in July. This semester, Cahoy is extending this effort by working directly with two faculty members to create assignment models that will help students develop information literacy and other critical literacies, such as multimedia creation skills. She then plans to share her project results and recommendations with faculty throughout Penn State.

Cahoy calls the combination of literacy skills she has been investigating “digital literacy.” Digital literacy is “a merging of several literacies, including information literacy, technology literacy, media literacy, and visual literacy," she said, "and also incorporates new skills that students will need to succeed when they graduate and enter the workplace. This includes content creation skills such as podcasting, video creation, and blogging. Digital literacies help students learn how to use information ethically to create new works that are collaborative, socially driven, and contain a powerful message.”

To underscore the importance of helping students develop digital literacy, Cahoy pointed to a 2007 report, “College Learning for the New Global Century: A Report from the National Leadership Council for Library Education & America’s Promise” by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The report recommended that students should prepare for 21st century challenges by gaining information literacy skills, among others.

In July, Cahoy, along with a team of TLT staff from the Penn State Digital Commons, conducted a half-day workshop titled, “Developing Literacies for Student Digital Media Activities.” Attended by 35 faculty and staff, its purpose was to inform them of where to find resources and tools they could share with their students, and to let them try some of those tools themselves by completing a video creation assignment after which they could model future student assignments. The workshop had both a discussion portion and a hands-on portion. As part of the discussion, attendees worked in teams to brainstorm specific skills or knowledge a person needs for each type of literacy. During the hands-on session, attendees were pointed to several quality online resources for digital images available to the Penn State community. Teams then chose a historical event and completed a series of steps to create a short video telling the story of the event. The workshop will be offered again at the Digital Commons Tailgate in November.

During the fall semester, Cahoy and the TLT team will be working with Terry Hartman, who is teaching a nutrition course, and Emily Rimland and Anne Behler, who are teaching a library studies course. The groups will collaborate to create a multimedia assignment for each course incorporating specific learning outcomes. Cahoy said those will be “information literacy outcomes, identifying whether students are accessing and evaluating the appropriate information. Technology and media literacy outcomes will be studied as well.”

Cahoy said they will create a pretest and a post-test for students who are in the two courses, focused on the learning outcomes.

“It’s going to ask them to rate themselves at the beginning of the semester and then post-project on how proficient they are at skills such as evaluating information," she said. "Then we’re going to do focus groups with some of the students and dig in even more deeply about the process and about the biggest outcomes that they personally got from this.”

Cahoy plans to write at least one article on the work she has done during her fellowship, “essentially,” she said, “on this new model of librarianship, the role of the librarian as partner within the assignment creation and instructional process, and how this project demonstrates the merging of literacies critical to student success.”

Reflecting on working with her TLT Faculty Fellow team, Cahoy said, “All the work that we’re doing is toward building a model for collaboration between TLT and the Libraries so we’re more linked in the future, especially when it comes to students creating multimedia projects.”

  • Cahoy, pictured at right, assists attendees of the July workshop.

    IMAGE: Mary Janzen
Last Updated November 18, 2010