Our information literacy research has highlighted the importance of bringing minority or indigenous voices into our research conversations with students and colleagues. I previously posted on information literacy’s (IL) role in decolonising the curriculum. As I reflect on that post, two key questions have emerged:
- How can we, as teachers and librarians, ensure our students are being exposed to a range of perspectives on any issue?
- How can we support students to find a range of diverse voices in Google, Google Scholar and academic databases?
In this post, I want to share some ideas for how I have been addressing these questions in my first-year business communication course.
QUESTION 1 – Exposing students to various perspectives
I suggested that we could look more closely at the sources we use ourselves and those we provide to students. This means being aware of current research and continually extending our own understanding of diverse perspectives within our disciplines. We also need to look at the information students are independently accessing to explore aspects of our disciplines, and comment on these when marking to draw attention to the inclusion or exclusion of diverse perspectives in sources accessed. We need to be aware when students are buying into dominant ideologies over new, emerging, or indigenous views of the world and actively comment on this.
My students currently use a textbook, which is a very general introduction to business communication skills and doesn’t emphasise indigenous ways of knowing explicitly. In 2018, I had the opportunity to co-author on a revised textbook, initially targeted at Australian students. My goal was to make it more user-friendly for a NZ student audience This included adding a Māori case study and using Māori core values of whanaungatanga (relationship), kotahitanga (unity) and manaakitanga (respect) to underpin the case study. This is a small step, and further development will be needed in subsequent editions, but it is a start.
Another approach I have taken to explore a range of perspectives is to emphasise the importance of using a range of sources to inform our understanding of any topic or issue. In universities, we strongly promote the use of academic information, namely journal articles, in assessments. In our academic profession, publishing journal articles carries a greater weighting than, say, writing this blog post. But in my course, I ask students to engage with quality professional information sources as well, to bring research and practice together. Students engage in an online learning module that explores source types, strategies for finding and accessing information in databases and Google, and use our Maori-informed Rauru Whakarare Evaluation Framework to evaluate information they are finding. Students are encouraged to bring a critical eye to everything they read; not purely taking in the content, but also the underlying message and position of the author. In academia, citation is currency, so I ask students to consider carefully who they are giving credit to and why when they choose to use particular sources.
And there is some evidence that these attempts are working! In Assignment 3, students engage with a range of quality information sources by evaluating them using the Rauru Whakarare Evaluation Framework. A student reflection captures the impact of this approach:
The Rauru Whakarare Evaluation Framework provided a logical structure to questions I already ask myself when evaluating information. Often my source evaluations take place at an almost unconscious level, so the framework made my evaluative thinking more explicit, and more conscious, which I feel make me think more deeply about my choices of source. This resulted in my written evaluation having a strong logical flow. (115.111 A3 Reflection Assessment, Sem1, 2019)
QUESTION 2 – Finding diverse voices in search engines
Search engines do not have a built-in social responsibility to offer up a range of diverse perspectives in the search results. Algorithms use a range of factors to determine ranking including keyword frequency and proximity, quality of links, clicks, relevance, distance, authority, popularity, and paid advertising. In academic databases and Google Scholar, author name, journal title and keywords in the title has a strong impact on ranking. Citation frequency is the most significant factor, which is problematic given we know minority voices and emerging perspectives are cited far less frequently than dominant ideas and perspectives.
We need to teach the limitations of search engines and encourage students to go beyond the first few pages of results. Then we need to support students to develop search strategies to uncover less-dominant voices online.
Simple strategies include finding specific authors who are known to represent indigenous and minority viewpoints and searching directly for them. Taking it a step further, looking at who they are citing through reference lists and ‘cited by’ functions in search engines, and exploring this literature too. Another strategy is to work the other way: investigating who is citing authors representing indigenous perspectives, thereby giving them authority on an issue, and then follow this citation trail.
Keyword searching is a another important aspect of using databases. In the field of communication, research coming out of New Zealand is largely considered minority in the US-dominated field, so adding ‘NZ’ or ‘Zealand’ to searches will likely provide access to local research relevant to our learning contexts. Using Māori search terms alongside English terms will also increase chances of accessing research or information informed by indigenous perspectives.
These are just some examples of what I am doing to enhance students IL skills and increase their understanding of how to access diverse perspectives to support their learning. I invite you, our readers, to get in touch with your ideas so that we can build a kete of ideas and resources to share!