Admit it. We all know a lot better, a lot of the time. People know that sitting around all day isn’t the best thing for one’s health, but here we sit. We know that the label says there are 6 servings of macaroni and cheese in the box, but it really divides better by 2 or 3. We know that being distracted while driving isn’t the safest thing, but we text and we do our makeup and we fiddle with the radio and we play our ukuleles while we drive, anyway. And when it comes to information and data, of course we know that it’s best to back-up our files in multiple places and formats, to name our files a certain way so that we can find things easily, and to write down instructions and practices so that we, or others, can repeat what we did the first time. Of course we know these things because let’s be honest, it’s common sense. But… we don’t.
Personally, I get incredibly frustrated at librarians who think we’re adding something important to the world of data management, just by teaching people these notions that really are common sense. I think that there’s something more that we need to do and it involves understanding a thing or two about the way people learn and the way they behave. In other words, lacking a behavioral psychologist on your research team, librarians would do well to study some things from their camp and put them to use in our efforts at teaching, providing information, helping with communication issues, and streamlining the information and/or data processes in a team environment.
I’m preparing to teach a course in the fall and thus I’ve been reading some things about instructional design. In her book, Design for How People Learn, Julie Dirksen explains that when you’re trying to teach someone anything, it’s good practice to start by identifying the gaps that exist “between a learner’s current situation and where they need to be in order to be successful.” (p. 2) Dirksen describes several of these gaps:
- Knowledge and Information Gaps
- Skills Gaps
- Motivation Gaps
- Environment Gaps
More, I believe she hits the nail on the head when she writes, “In most learning situations, it’s assumed that the gap is information – if the learner just had the information, then they could perform.” I know that I fall into this trap often (and I bet that I’m not alone). I believe if I teach a student how to conduct a solid search in PubMed, that’s how they’ll search. I show them a trick or two and they say, “Wow!” I watch them take notes. I help them set up their “My NCBI” account. We save a search. They’ve got it! I feel like Daniel Day Lewis in the movie, There Will Be Blood, “I have a milkshake and you have a milkshake.” I have knowledge and now you have the knowledge. Success!
Now if you do any work that involves teaching students or clinicians or researchers or anyone, you know not to pat yourself on the back too much here. I teach people, my colleagues teach people, all of our many colleagues before us (teachers, librarians at undergraduate institutions, librarians at other places where our folks previously worked) teach people. We all teach the same people, yet we keep seeing them doing things in their work involving information that make us throw up our hands. How many times do we have to tell them this?!
Well, maybe it’s not in the telling that we’re failing. This is where I think understanding and appreciating the other gaps that may exist in the situations, addressing them instead of simply passing along information, could lead us to much more success. And this is where we could use that psychologist.
Earlier this week, I tweeted that I was taking suggestions for what to rename the systematic review that I’ve been working on with my team, for it is anything but systematic. A’lynn Ettien, a local colleague, tweeted back the great new name, “Freeform Review.” I loved that. Another colleague, Stephanie Schulte, at the Ohio State University, offered up a really helpful link to a paper on the typology of reviews. But it was what my colleague, Eric Schnell, also at OSU, tweeted that led me to this blog post:
BINGO! Every person on my team knows what the “rules” are, but they keep changing them as we go along. I spend time developing tools to help this process go more smoothly, but still get a bunch of notes emailed to me instead of a completed form. I give weeks to developing a detailed table of all of the elements we’ve agreed to look at. Except this one. Oh, and this. Oh, and should we also talk about this? I put my head down on the table.
But Eric is exactly right. This is how most people deal with information. This is how we work. And it’s not a matter at all of people not knowing something, but rather it’s a problem of people not doing something. Or better put, not doing something differently. Sometimes people do lack knowledge. Many times, people lack skills – something that a lot of practice can fix. But an awful lot of time, what we really need to address are the gaps that have nothing to do with knowing what or how to do something.
Why won’t my people use the forms I’ve created and the tables that I’ve prepared? They said that they liked them. They said they were what they wanted. So… what’s the problem? I think it’s something that each of us who works in this field of information wrangling needs to become proficient at, i.e. learning to see and address all of the gaps that exist. At least the ones we can.
And I, for one, am still learning.