Tying Television Comedies to Information Literacy: A Mixed-Methods Investigation

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    The Journal of Academic Librarianship 40 (2014) 134141

    Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

    The Journal of Acadea number of potential benets to using lm to increase student aware-ness of IL. Visual media, and television comedies specically, may be ca-pable of fullling numerous tasks simultaneously, such as connecting

    College and Research Libraries (2000) Information Literacy CompetencyStandards for Higher Education (IL Standards), currently in the processof revision. The highly inuential IL Standards continue to provide im-has the capacity to illustrate information literacy (IL) concepts inaction.

    Beyond introducing opportunities to discuss the importance ofeffective information seeking and information literacy skills, there are

    to understand the information environment theand by extension, their own.

    The foundation of many instructors' and insassessment of information literacy instructionvehicles for humor. By implementing excerpts from popularmedia in the classroom to stimulate dialogue, various challengesto effective undergraduate library use may be brought to light.This study seeks to provide insight into whether televisual media

    attempting to create a memorable classroom experience. Laughing ata television show, for example, can help to create an emotional connec-tion towhat library instructors want students to learn (Peterson, 2010).By relating to characters on an emotional level students are more likelyE-mail address: Eamon.Tewell@liu.edu.1 Tel.: +1 718 488 3464.

    http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2014.02.0040099-1333/ 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.com Community depictsmanner, and is one ofhave used libraries as

    ence will evoke strong reactions in students, and these emotions allowdeeper learning to occur. Film and television create strong emotionalresponses in people, and this same effect can be applied whenstudent use of the library in an engagingmany lms and television programs thatColorado community college and arehave taken a proactive approach bselecting the library as a central methe group study room reads, SHHstudy in large bold letters. One otheir location by referencing a classiclibrary. Hey, this is kind of like Brestudent's study partners dryly repThis scene from the rst episode of thing a study group andlace. The blackboard in.people are trying totudents comments onset predominantly in aClub, huh? One of theWe are in a library.

    This type of engagement with what Detmering (2011, p. 265) termsthe cultural contexts of information literacy can result in the recogni-tion of IL as the ability to use information in everyday life, and not sim-ply a theory associated with a class or assignment. Using students'familiarity and comfort with television comedies as a basis, more com-plicated or conceptual subjects can be addressed. As Springer andYelinek (2011, p. 79) has found, Using the right popular culture refer-pare for a Spanish exam. The students are in tstrugglheir rst semester at aing to adapt, but they

    shared interest in, is an appealing format for considering the signi-cance of information literacy in settings beyond the library or campus.Three students gather in their library's group study room to pre-Tying Television Comedies to InformationMixed-Methods Investigation

    Eamon C. Tewell 1

    Reference & Instruction Librarian, Long Island University Brooklyn Campus, 1 University Plaza,

    a b s t r a c ta r t i c l e i n f o

    Article history:Received 8 January 2014Accepted 25 February 2014Available online 15 March 2014

    Keywords:Information literacyPopular cultureLibrary instructionTelevision comedies

    Many components of Informyet an introduction to theseThis study evaluates the impLiteracy Competency Standardposttest results from193 subbe integrated into one-shotprovoking manner.


    oklyn, NY 11201, USA

    n Literacy (IL) are too massive to be addressed in a single instruction session,cepts is essential for students' academic careers and intellectual development.of applying excerpts from television comedies that illustrate ACRL's Informationr Higher Education to library instruction sessions for rst-year students. Pre- ands and interviewdata from two focus groups indicate that television comedies cantruction sessions to demonstrate IL concepts in an accessible and dialogue-

    2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

    students through a mutual interest, providing a theme for the instruc-tion session, invoking emotional learning, and acting as scaffolding for

    mic Librarianshipportant guidelines for instruction and assessment, due in part to detail-ing the set of abilities an information-literate personmust demonstrate.Using ACRL's IL Standards to guide and evaluate information literacy in-struction has proved fruitful for a number of researchers (Emmett &Emde, 2007; Magnuson, 2013). The motivation for this study stems

  • into classes, including fostering camaraderie, drawing attention to theinstructor, and making learning more enjoyable. Walker (2006) em-

    135E.C. Tewell / The Journal of Academic Librarianship 40 (2014) 134141ploys humor in an attempt to mitigate student library anxiety, andfurnishes practical techniques for instructors seeking to cultivatehumor in the classroom. Vossler and Sheidlower's (2011) Humor andInformation Literacy provides a basis for the efcacy of humor as aninstructional tool and offers pragmatic advice on how librarianscan use humor to teach IL. With this review of the literature on thebenets and applicability of popular culture examples and humor in li-brary instruction in mind, the research questions for creating lessonsthat connect television comedies to components of IL concepts werefrom the possibility that, as Detmering (2011) and Peterson (2010)hypothesize, specic learning outcomes may be met by using the pow-erful inuence of multimedia and popular culture. It is the author's ex-pectation that by seeing characters from Parks & Recreation strugglewith ideological bias or by hearing Stephen Colbert's remarks onWikilobbying, students can better situate IL concepts that are notori-ously difcult to grasp within their own academic worlds. First, theliterature provides context for the use of popular culture, televisualmedia, and humor in the classroom.


    While the use of television and lm to teach information literacy isinfrequently documented, popular culture as a means to facilitate liter-acy has appeared occasionally in the LIS and educational literature sincethe early 2000s. Within this subset of the literature a variety of instruc-tional settings and popular culture texts are represented. In libraries,particularly academic institutions, a variety of media have been usedto foster students' information literacy skills, most notably music andshort stories (Blackburn & Molidor, 2011; Brier & Lebbin, 2004). Brierand Lebbin (2004) argue that narratives are ideal vehicles for givingmeaning to and aidingmemory of content that is otherwise challengingto comprehend, an observation also applicable to televisual media.Friese (2008) advocates for the inclusion of popular culture materialsin school library collections and instruction to support the developmentof students'media literacy. Analyzing the content of three popularlms,Detmering (2011, p. 265) posits that judiciously selected lms are anexceptional medium to contextualize the access, use, and interpreta-tion of informationwithin a political and social framework for political-ly engaged information literacy instruction. Peterson (2010) usesselections from three different lms as a means to demonstrate to stu-dents the practice of research skills. Adopting the reality TV programJersey Shore as a theme for information literacy classes, Springer andYelinek (2011, p. 85) found through survey responses that 95% of stu-dents felt engaged during class.

    Popular culture has also been incorporated into non-library curricu-lum. Most notable is Alvermann, Moon, and Hagwood's (1999) PopularCulture in the Classroom, an overview of teaching media literacy to stu-dents using popular culture examples. This guide for instructors pro-vides an array of practical strategies for incorporating popular cultureinto classes. In particular, the volume addresses the teaching of criticalmedia literacy, a concept closely linked to that of information literacy.In regards to television comedies Gray (2005, p. 225) makes use of TheSimpsons' frequent parodies of other popular culture touchstones tocommunicate media literacy and rhetorical devices employed by massmedia, and advocates creating a student-centered learning environ-ment by means of students' own experiences of and responses tomedia texts as a touchstone for education. Beyond the use of popularmedia to involve and inform students, the topic of humor to improve li-brary instruction provides further underpinnings for this research.Arnsan (2000) and Trefts and Blakeslee (2000) discuss the importanceof humor as a tool to facilitate learning and reduce stress. Trefts andBlakeslee (2000) identify several advantages to incorporating comedydevised.RESEARCH QUESTIONS

    This study seeks to measure student learning in relation to popularmedia, specically television comedies, when used in an instructionalsetting to introduce information literacy concepts. It is hypothesizedthat student learning in regards to selected IL concepts, as expressedin ACRL's Information Literacy Competency Standards, among an experi-mental group receiving instruction with three excerpts from televisionprograms in conjunction with group discussion will be higher thanthat of a control group which participates in only group discussion.This research is designed to address the following research questions:

    1. Are popular culture examples, such as excerpts from television com-edies, an effective means of increasing student learning in one-shotinstruction sessions?

    2. Does student familiarity with and understanding of IL concepts in-crease when popular culture examples are tied to these same con-cepts during one-shot instruction sessions?

    3. Do students prefer instruction that utilizes popular culture examplescompared to solely group discussion?

    More broadly, this study investigates whether popular media canserve as an effectual means of information literacy instruction. Beforethese questions are explored, excerpts from three television comediespertinent to IL concepts are identied for incorporation into library in-struction sessions for rst-year students.


    Based upon prior knowledge of television comedies and onlinesearches for relevant examples, the author identied excerpts from pop-ular TV programs that contain themes pertinent to at least one standardfromACRL's Information Literacy Competency Standards. Additional criteriaconsidered during the process of excerpt selection gave preference tothose of short duration and containing widely accessible humor. Briefdescriptions of the excerpts and their corresponding IL Standards follow.

    Excerpt 1 Wikilobbying The Colbert Report, Jan. 29, 2007. The ColbertReport is a satirical late-night news program that parodiesconservative pundit shows. The series began in 2005 and iscurrently in its ninth season. Actor and comedian StephenColbert plays a ctional anchorman who is unafraid tomake poorly informed and hyperbolic statements. TheColbert Report's satirizing of current events has resulted inseveral Wikipedia-related topics, including one entitledWikilobbying. This term refers to the act of compensatingothers to edit Wikipedia entries in order to more positivelyportray one's company or commercial product. In the select-ed excerpt Colbert discusses Wikialityreality becomingwhat themajority agrees uponand in particularMicrosoft'shiring of a computer expert to alter Wikipedia entriesreferencing Microsoft's products to enhance their publicimage. Brumm et al. (2007) concludes with an insightfulstatement that prompts reection: When money deter-mines Wikipedia entries, reality has become a commodity.This excerpt corresponds directly to Standard Five: The in-formation literate student understandsmanyof the econom-ic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of informationand accesses and uses information ethically and legally(ACRL, 2000, p. 14). Performance Indicator 1 for this Stan-dard states: The information literate student understandsmany of the ethical, legal and socio-economic issues sur-rounding information and information technology, whichare the issues The Colbert Report's Wikilobbying segmentspeaks to.

    Excerpt 2 Ron and Tammy Parks and Recreation, Season Two,

    Episode Eight. Parks and Recreation is a comedy series on

  • 136 E.C. Tewell / The Journal of Academic Librarianship 40 (2014) 134141NBC that debuted in 2009 and is currently in its sixth season.Set in the ctional location of Pawnee, Indiana, the series isled by Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, a well-intentioned, per-petually optimistic bureaucrat in the town's Parks Depart-ment. In Season Two of Parks and Recreation Leslie Knope'scheerful predilection is testedwhen she learns that the Paw-nee Public Library wishes to build on the same land soughtafter by the Parks Department. One of Parks & Recreation'srunning jokes, made tongue-in-cheek, is that the library isthe one municipal department that everyone loves to hate.Leslie declares: The library is the worst group of peopleever assembled in history. They're mean, conniving, rude,and extremely well-read, which makes them dangerous(Scully & Miller, 2009). Leslie schedules a meeting withTammy Swanson, a shrewd and forceful Deputy Director ofLibrary Services. In Tammy's ofce there are books on theApproved shelf (Man Putty, Woman War III) and theRejected shelf (Power In Your Pants, The Male Brain It'sBigger!) that make it apparent Tammy is decisively failingto maintain a collection representative of all types of view-points. During Leslie and Tammy's exchange nes arediscussed and forgiven, but Leslie continues todistrust the li-brary. IL Standard Three dovetails with this excerpt fromParks and Recreation: The information literate student eval-uates information and its sources critically and incorporatesselected information into his or her knowledge base andvalue system (ACRL, 2000, p. 11). Information evaluation,including how information is selected for acquisition by li-braries, is a salient issue for undergraduates to understandand is illustrated succinctly by this excerpt.

    Excerpt 3 Retreat to Move Forward 30 Rock, Season Three, EpisodeNine. 30 Rock is a satire of the television industry that airedfrom 2006 to 2013. The actors, writers, and producers for actional live sketch comedy series similar to Saturday NightLive are the subjects of show's sardonic focus. JennaMaroney,who in Season Three has an...


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