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Ilana Stonebraker, Purdue Libraries

Ilana Stonebraker, Purdue Libraries

Purdue University Libraries Assistant Professor and Business Information Specialist Ilana Stonebraker has been recognized by the Library Instruction Round Table (LIRT) for her article “Toward informed leadership: Teaching students to make better decisions using information.” The piece, published in November in the Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, is recognized as one of the “Top Twenty Articles of 2016” by LIRT in its June 2017 newsletter.

In March, Stonebraker was also recognized as a Library Journal 2017 “Mover and Shaker.”

In the Q & A piece below, Stonebraker provides some insight into the noted article, which the LIRT article selection committee described as a top-twenty article because of “its originality, strength of evidence, and applicability.”


Q. What was the impetus for your article “Toward informed leadership: Teaching students to make better decisions using information”?

Ilana: I became interested in decision management after teaching with a problem-based learning pedagogy. Many of the phenomenon I describe in the paper are things I have observed in my students’ behaviors. It seemed to me that more information did not make students any better at making decisions, so I started looking for other literatures that could help me help make my students better decision-makers. I found decision management and evidence-based management, and I saw how they addressed a gap in information-literacy literature. I tried to start to address that gap with this paper.

Q. What are your assertions regarding instruction and the tools librarians provide to help undergraduate researchers in the piece?

Ilana: My goal in this article was twofold. First, I wanted to assert and support my main claim, which is that decontextualized information-literacy knowledge training that overly focuses on information access makes students worse decision-makers, not better ones. I then focused on practices coming out of decision management and decision science that could help us teach students decision-making skills. My main practices focused on decision awareness, process creation, and decision practice, drawing on my own experience, and also how we might assess decision management differently than we do traditional information literacy.

Q. What are some examples, from your own teaching, that support your assertions/arguments in the article?

Ilana: One activity I discuss in the article involves decision awareness. Decision awareness is a metacognitive approach in which students examine how they make decisions and what biases that might enter their decision-making processes. I usually assign this activity before Spring Break; students read a Harvard Business Review article called, “Before You Make That Big Decision.”

Then, over Spring Break, they think of a decision they made in a group setting. Then they select one of the biases in the paper and describe, in a short assignment, how their decision was affected by that bias. They come to class and get into groups and discuss their individual decisions. (Given the type of decisions students make over Spring Break, this can be pretty silly.) Then, in large groups, we discuss the types of bias, but also additional questions like, “Was the decision you made a good decision or a bad one? How do you know?”

This conversation can be very interesting because it typically devolves into two camps. Decision science asserts that a decision can be good because the process is good (this leads nicely into process creation), or because the outcome is good (which makes more empirical sense, but is pretty risky).

It’s really interesting to think about how a decision is good or bad, especially from an information-literacy standpoint.

We librarians like to think decisions are only good if they have good process (through clever research skills), but we also want students who can see an outcome from a decision and grow from it. After all, that’s what scientists do.

Q. What do you hope faculty librarians take away from the article?

Ilana: I was pretty nervous that people would read this as an overly critical article of information literacy, so I’m glad people like it and/or are reading it! This paper, ironically, was published on election day, and I think there’s some strong “fake news” implications to it. Sometimes we think people are worse decision-makers because they don’t have access to enough information or enough “quality” research access. But, actually, people become worse decision makers when they have less context and more information. We’ve been saying as a profession for a while–that context is important and this article just reinforced how important it is.