iSchool Lecturer Mary Ann Harlan Completes the San Jose Gateway PhD Program with Research on Teen Digital Content Creation

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In October 2012, iSchool Lecturer Mary Ann Harlan became one of the newest alumni of the San Jose Gateway PhD Program, our School’s international doctoral degree program offered in partnership with Queensland University of Technology in Australia. Her dissertation, Information Pathways: The Information Practices and Experiences of Teen Content Creators, looked at the different ways teens use information to learn and create in an online environment.

“I decided to earn my PhD because I had a question I wanted to answer,” said Harlan, who took four years to complete the part-time doctoral program, working simultaneously as a iSchool Lecturer and Teacher Librarian Program Coordinator. “At the time I started the doctoral program, I had been teaching information literacy standards to kids,” Harlan recalled. “These kids were agile in the digital world and were producing amazing things. I wanted to learn how they did that because they weren’t getting that knowledge from school.”

Harlan’s research focused on teens’ artistic content – music, film, and the visual arts. “I interviewed 11 teens, sometimes more than once, and hung out with them in their environment to observe their work online,” said Harlan, whose background includes teaching middle school English and working in both middle and high school libraries.

Harlan found a wealth of online creativity in her sampling of teens.  Their online artistic creations included uploading their own music videos on YouTube, recording original rap songs online, participating in sound clubs, and uploading their artwork, ranging from doodles to involved animations to oil paintings, onto

“In my dissertation, I wrote a description of the different activities the teens were involved in and the different ways they experience information, along with how these two things intersect,” said Harlan. Through her research, she found that while these kids were capable, they would have benefited from mentorship and coaching around using information in creative ways. “Mentoring would expand their learning levels and make them stretch,” she said.

Harlan sees the role of librarians as providing that mentorship, particularly in the way teens think about how they get information and ideas. Harlan’s research found that much of their learning was through rich online communities that gave these teens opportunities to practice online. “They’re finding ways online through word of mouth and by browsing,” said Harlan, who noted that while the teens she interviewed were self-motivated, not all teens have the skills to reach out or the intrinsic interest.

Harlan’s expertise enhances the three courses she teaches at the iSchool: INFO 233 School Library Media Centers, INFO 250 Design and Implementation of Instructional Strategies for Information Professionals, and INFO 264 Materials for Tweens. For instance, her direct work with teens has made her “very aware of the myth that just because teens are of a certain age, doesn’t mean that they are comfortable in digital environments,” she said.

Harlan received her Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from the San José State University School of Information in 1999. She has served on the Board of Directors for both the California School Library Association and American Association of School Librarians, and on the Quick Picks Committee for YALSA. She currently serves as Chair of the special interest group of arts & humanities at ASIS&T and has partnered with San Francisco Public Library and the MacArthur Foundation on a grant-funded project to design Digital Learning Labs and develop a city-wide learning network for middle and high school students.