Friday, September 6, 2013

Contextualising information fluency

It was time again to deliver my 'collaboration lecture' morning. I blogged about this previously in July 2011 in terms of the activity I set students upon as part of it. This time I went in with a discussion about digital literacies still buzzing around my mind. Joe was probing about the ways in which, for example, presentations, happen in clinical areas, giving the 'digital' practice a compelling context that students could see themselves participating in when joining the workforce. Conveniently, the students were just back off placement, returning for the final theory block of their second year - they were chatty, especially with each other!
The module assessment requires them to work in groups towards a summative group presentation (which has 10% of the marks awarded by their peers for their contributions towards the groupwork). In order to build a case for learning about and through collaboration I decided to ask them what had they seen of presentations, broadly defined, out in practice areas. Out of 80 or so students, I had about four or five responses. Here is a flavour:
  • Mufti-Disciplinary Team meetings, where the patient's notes and scans support case reviews.
  • A doctor leading a session for patients about their condition.
  • A nurse, leading a small group teaching session
That last example was the only one featuring a nurse actually doing the presenting. So I called upon the fact that nurses have a professional commitment to the continuing development of themselves and those around them. They could expect to be responsible for the practice-based learning of their own students one day. More than that, on qualification and registration, all nurses are duty-bound to act as 'Stage 1 Mentors', meeting the requirements set for that role by the national regulatory body, the NMC, "you must facilitate students and others to develop their competence" and that could well imply the development or use of an online resource.
In another context, it is a real possibility that they would deliver a conference presentation at some point in the future. I tell the students that working alone is 'easy'. You can be as lazy about the way you work as you like on your own. Once you involve others in a collaboration, it becomes vital that they make some key decisions about how they are going to work together. Part of that must include how the group will curate artifacts of the collaboration (agreed search strategies, articles found, summaries compiled, ideas noted, the presentation itself, etc.) and communication, including discussion, either face-to-face or online. Of course, these methods are useful when working alone but collaboration opens up the potential for a richer, perhaps riskier learning experience.
So the students get some ideas about how to manage the artifacts of collaboration, but little or nothing about the act of parleying with the knowledge acquired or presented by them or their collaborators. This is where epistemic fluency comes in, a key transferable skill - but a rare and shy 'animal'. Goodyear et al only capture a glimpse of it in their study... If it is so scarce, is it too difficult, too ambitious to expect to be able to conceptualise and present to students (or staff, come to that) as something really vital? And yet, have the students really got the most out of collaborative learning projects without actively trying to leverage the opportunity to maximise gains in epistemic fluency?

Goodyear P, Ellis R, Brew A and Sachs J (2007) The development of epistemic fluency: Learning to think for a living. In: Transforming a university: The scholarship of teaching and learning in practice. Sydney: Sydney University Press. Available at: