2021 ACRL Instruction Section Innovation Award Winners Interview: Alexandria Chisholm and Sarah Hartman-Caverly

This year, the winners of the 2020-2021 ACRL Instruction Section Innovation Award were Alexandria Chisholm and Sarah Hartman-Caverly, Reference and Instruction Librarians, Penn State Berks, for their Digital Shred Privacy Literacy Initiative project. This project demonstrated a high level of innovation with a particular focus on privacy literacy, and includes lesson plans that may be adapted at other institutions.

Innovation Award Committee Vice-Chair Michalle Gould and Committee Secretary Paul Campbell conducted the following interview with the winners about their project.

1. What was the impetus for creating the Digital Shred Privacy Literacy Initiative?  What led you to focus on digital privacy as a topic for instruction?  

This collaboration began with a shared personal interest in privacy and a mutual agreement that privacy literacy (PL) was an underrepresented but vitally important component of information literacy.  The four-part Privacy Workshop Series and subsequent Digital Shred Privacy Literacy Toolkit developed organically through the natural interplay of theory, practice, and scholarship, with each individual project feeding into the next opportunity to advance privacy knowledge among students and support teaching PL among academic librarians.

Prior to arriving at Berks, Sarah led student- and faculty-facing PL initiatives at her previous institution, including workshops called Is Big Data Big Brother? responding to the Edward Snowden disclosures, and StarPhish: Big Data in Education about learning analytics initiatives on campus.

2. What has the response to the Initiative been within your institution and outside of it?  Is there anything about the response that has surprised you?  

The local response at Penn State Berks has been super positive.   We knew we were onto something really special when we implemented the original digital privacy workshop in our first year seminar course and the student feedback started rolling in.  That and the classroom faculty response was overwhelmingly engaged and encouraging – they wanted to learn more and were interested in opportunities for faculty and staff training.

At first, it was easier to get colleagues from outside of the libraries on-board with the idea of offering privacy workshops. There was some initial skepticism from within the libraries regarding how PL instruction fit into more traditional information literacy programming. Once our workshop series garnered external attention, colleagues in our own library began to show more interest. A few of our workshops have been adapted for other campus or university programming, and we are currently working with a team of colleagues to develop peer-facing, professional privacy literacy education for faculty and staff in the libraries.

3. Have you encountered differences in how students and faculty perceive digital privacy as a concept and as an issue?

Faculty and students certainly come at it from different perspectives.  Traditional college-aged students haven’t ever known a world where they weren’t connected through social media and are almost conditioned to being surveilled, while faculty remember the rapid transition to hyperconnectivity.  In the end, both groups are fairly alarmed when we get to the active learning portions of workshops and they really get to look behind the curtain on some of these surveillance practices.  

One of the challenges in working with colleagues on PL issues is that they tend to value their own privacy, but often express a paternalistic view of student privacy. Generally speaking, if their use of student data is FERPA-compliant, they view it as ethical with respect to privacy considerations. Our approach is unique in that we avoid technosolutionist approaches and focus on the positive case for privacy – how privacy enables individual autonomy, development of the self, and free expression – the idea that the purpose of privacy is respect for persons, not protection for data. This is at the heart of the peer-facing programming that we’re developing for faculty and staff.

4. What methods did you use to promote the Initiative within and outside of your institution?  What plans do you have for promoting and advancing it going forward?

At Penn State Berks, we’ve built relationships and partnered with several departments to integrate the workshops into our campus culture and other initiatives.  Between first year seminar, career services, student affairs, counseling services, and the common reading program, we’ve found ways to seamlessly participate in our campus ecosystem.

Professionally, we advocate for the importance of integrating PL into information literacy and try to find every opportunity to present, promote, and write about our approach and toolkit to librarians and educators. Our workshop materials are all available as OERs via the ACRL Sandbox and Project CORA, and we regularly refresh the curated PL resources in the Digital Shred Privacy Literacy Toolkit. We also tweet about PL and privacy issues as @Digital_Shred.

Our next big initiatives are a LOEX 2021 session, Transforming Privacy Literacy Instruction: From Surveillance Theory to Teaching Practice;  a Library Juice Academy course Privacy Literacy in Libraries: From Theory to Practice, to help librarians build self-efficacy; and our upcoming (anticipated 2023) ACRL edited volume, Practicing Privacy Literacy in Academic Libraries.  We are thrilled to create a platform to share the amazing work and ideas of some seriously talented academic librarians.

5. What other opportunities do you see for expanding the scope of information literacy instruction?  Are there any particular topics you would like to see explored next?  

Honestly, there is still so much work to do with privacy literacy.  As important and emerging as these issues are, the topic is only beginning to be addressed in the LIS literature and the applied work and outreach is just not sufficient.  Currently, we are kicking around some ideas for gamifying PL instruction, and hope to develop these further over summer 2021.

Topically, patent prior art searching is a huge growth area. Of course, there are privacy dimensions to patent research, both in terms of patent eligibility and in terms of understanding how patented surveillance technologies operate. We are in the early stages of thinking through how patent searching and analysis can be introduced to kinesiology and occupational therapy students who are using wearable devices in their research and therapeutic interventions, to help them analyze and understand the health privacy implications of these devices.

Independently, we are both exploring the issue of ‘fake news’ and the epistemic crisis. Alex is planning to update her fake news workshop to shift the focus from media literacy to algorithmic literacy, and Sarah is working on research related to epistemic agency. There are privacy dimensions to algorithmic literacy and epistemic agency as well, when one considers the role of privacy in intellectual freedom, and how network propaganda and sentiment manipulation rely on a range of privacy impairments.

6. What advice would you give to other libraries who want to do something similar to this?  

Read, create, share, write, and repeat!  If you have an idea, go for it and don’t look back.  Our research in IFLA Journal shows that many librarians are interested in undertaking PL work, but don’t have the time to develop teaching materials or integrate them into limited instruction periods. Don’t reinvent the wheel! There are some awesome, freely available online tools and resources that are readily adapted into PL learning activities by framing them in the context of a student reflection or discussion. We actively curate these kinds of resources in the Digital Shred Privacy Literacy Toolkit.

There is a dearth of OERs, so if you create or adapt something, share it.  Use the ACRL Sandbox and Project CORA.  Talk incessantly about privacy on campus.  We are encouraging academic librarians to take a leadership role at their local institutions in advocating for student privacy (see: learning analytics practices!) and integrating ethics surrounding privacy issues into curricula.  With our professional ethics and core values, we are positioned to be positive change makers in these much needed areas. There is a need for this work and we always say, there’s room in the sandbox to play.  We’re excited to engage with emerging new ideas that can help push us to expand our work.

Be entrepreneurial, or intrapreneurial. Look for the lowest-hanging fruit. Sarah’s earliest PL efforts were simply using privacy-related topics as search examples in more traditional information literacy sessions. Once she felt like she had enough familiarity with privacy issues, she offered her first general privacy session as a standalone workshop, and developed other programming in response to trends she was seeing on-campus. At Berks, Alex expanded her existing relationships with first-year seminar programming to begin offering our first Privacy Workshop as part of the library’s contributions. The additional Digital Leadership, Digital Shred, and Digital Wellness workshops scaffold from that foundational Privacy Workshop and are offered as part of general campus programming. Since then, we’ve branched out into peer-facing PL programming, and Sarah has offered a business privacy workshop to community entrepreneurs through the Berks Launchbox, our local Penn State-affiliated start-up incubator. So, start small with your shortest path to success, and build from there!

7. Is there anything else you would like to say about this project?

If you feel like you aren’t equipped to discuss privacy or to teach privacy literacy, you’re wrong!  If you’re interested, you’re capable.  You do not have to be a technologist or tech expert to teach about privacy. That’s one of the benefits of our Six Private I’s approach to privacy literacy that is positive-case based and people-centered. For a number of reasons, we are skeptical of technologies that over-promise and look like privacy panaceas. Privacy protection will always be a cat-and-mouse game; what’s unchanging is the value that privacy has for personal dignity, individual identity, intellectual freedom, intimate relationships, free association, and the human experience. Again, privacy is about respect for persons, not protection for data. As a teaching team, we mutually value humility in our practice, so take comfort in knowing that no one can know everything and that our students learn from us modeling that practice. 

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