A bit about me:  I’m a researcher in the School of Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington. I also co-coordinate a third year course on learning and behaviour. My research is about gambling and impulsivity. I also connect research in with my teaching wherever possible, but I am a newcomer to research into information literacy, so I’ll be learning about IL as we go along. I will be crunching the data we get from our survey and IL literacy rubric, and on evaluating the effects of IL partnership projects (between librarians and teachers) on students’ experiences and IL development.

I wanted to begin by reflecting on a particular challenge that I face teaching psychology and working with postgraduate research students because fostering IL skills is key to meeting this challenge. Psychology is in the middle of what is often termed a “replication crisis”. For example, in a recent research group meeting with academics and postgrads we discussed  a high-profile paper published by a group of researchers who repeated 100 published psychology experiments as carefully as possible. (They even tracked down original materials used where they could). In many cases, they did not get the same result as the original published paper. This is part of an on-going debate in psychology about how much confidence we should place in published results.

The replication crisis is a complicated issue connected to other complicated issues. One is the “file drawer problem”. Journals are more likely to publish studies that find positive results rather than those that find there is no relationship between two things or that one thing has no effect on another (researchers stash away negative results in their file drawers and no one else knows about them). This might be cluttering the literature with fluke results. So we need to teach students how to advocate for their important “null” findings and to critically consider possible publication bias.

The replication crisis is also connected with psychology’s continued reliance on “p values” (more formally, “null hypothesis significance testing”) in spite of the fact that this approach has been heavily criticised for many years. See this paper from 1994 charmingly entitled “The earth is round (p < 0.05)”  and this statement from the American Psychological Association that concludes in part that “Scientific conclusions and business or policy decisions should not be based only on whether a p-value passes a specific threshold.” 

But we teach students how to calculate p-values and apply the common wisdom threshold from day one. Perhaps by necessity we start with simple ideas before building complexity.  It’s also important to teach students what this rule is and how to apply it so they can engage with the current body of psychology literature that uses this approach.  Even better if they can – unlike many scientists–  explain what p values actually mean in a clear and simple way.

But before they become independent researchers, students need to develop a more nuanced understanding that goes beyond systematically implementing a simple rule. We have learnt from the replication crisis that they can’t put their confidence in every published paper reporting “significant” results, but equally they can’t disregard every previous finding- many results do tell us important things that are really true about the world and well help us solve real problems. Students need to learn how to find and critically weigh different types of evidence in order to reach a considered conclusion- and communicate the level of confidence the current evidence warrants to others. We can’t tell them what conclusions to draw because no one has simple answers and because new evidence will come in all the time that they need to be able to independently consider after they have completed our courses. What we need to do is give them skills in finding and critically evaluating reliable sources of information to reach their own independent conclusions. In other words, we need to prioritise building development of students’ information literacy skills into our psychology courses if we are going to equip our students to grapple with and contribute to important debates in the field going forward. This is something I want to continually improve in my own teaching and I am confident work on the IL spaces project with our diverse team will be invaluable towards achieving this goal.

I spent today in Palmerston North with some of the rest of the team finalizing the programme for the orientation hui next week- looking forward to meeting everyone contributing to the project.