This presentation is a discussion of how a virtual reference environment can be much more than quick answers to simple questions. Through the cognitive apprenticeship model of instruction, virtual reference can be a tool for inculcating a way of thinking about how to find, evaluate and use information.
Traditional apprenticeships were environments where an expert coached a novice in a set of skills. The basic coaching strategy was modeling. The novice watched the expert perform the task and observed the expert solve problems as well as plan and implement solutions. When the novice was ready to perform the task, the expert monitored the novice, assisting when necessary and providing guidance along the way through scaffolding. As the novice acquired the skills necessary to perform the task, the expert withdrew the scaffolding to allow the novice to take control, make mistakes, and learn how to correct them. Inherent in this coaching was enculturation of the student into the practices of the discipline to which the novice aspired to enter (Collins, Brown & Holum, 1991).
Cognitive apprenticeship includes not only the four components of traditional apprenticeship, but also components that incorporate specifically cognitive aspect into the model, such as visibility. In a cognitive apprenticeship, the expert inculcates the learner with mental skills by making expert thought processes observable to the learner. One of the central goals of the cognitive apprenticeship model is to guide the student in acquiring the culture of the experts in the field. Exposure to the thought processes, the habits and the heuristics of experts lifts the student from the status of novice to that of an expert. Jacobson (1996) argued that culture can be learned, and that the cognitive apprenticeship model provides an ideal framework for the teaching of this type of knowledge.
This presentation describes and illustrates an instructional strategy, within the learning environment of virtual reference, for bringing awareness to the student of the culture of an information literate individual. The presenter will analyze actual virtual reference transcripts to illustrate the instructional potential of virtual reference.