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Responding to the ACRL draft Information Literacy Framework

As you are no doubt aware, ACRL is drafting a replacement for the Information Literacy Standards. They’re hoping for feedback on their draft of the Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education (Part 1 and Part 2) by 5pm Central today5pm Central on Monday, April 21, 2014.

The Reference & Instruction Librarians of Carleton and St. Olaf got together and, over the course of 3 meetings, synthesized our comments into a unified response. Here is what we have now submitted to ACRL as answers to their questions.

In what ways will the focus on threshold concepts help you to generate conversations with other campus stakeholders (such as disciplinary faculty partners, members of the general education curriculum committee, and academic support services staff)?

The term “threshold concept” has not yet come into widespread use here on our campus, but the concepts themselves will provide valuable support and backing for conversations we have with our campus stakeholders. They resonate strongly with our work on our campus. In particular, the messages of the framework that will most strongly support our work include: a) that this is firmly rooted in critical thinking, but still defined in a very information-based way, b) that this is about building “credibility within [an] ecosystem” and performing “expert moves” within a context (from lines 170 and 173), c) that we focus on student learning strategies rather than a simple ladder of skills, and d) that context can’t be separated from information literacy, but that information literacy is all about ethical and effective participation in a community’s discourse. The context-based language will help us communicate with faculty, giving us official vocabulary to talk about the ways in which information literacy is both a discipline unto itself and also integrated into other disciplines.

How do the sections for knowledge practices and assignments/assessments provide helpful guidance when considering implementing the new Framework? What else would you want to see in these sections?

The “Knowledge Practices” sections do a good job of taking the threshold concept and delineating representative “expert moves” that help increase credibility within a community. Since the concepts are, by definition, difficult to grasp, these sections provide instructors and students alike with a handhold while grappling with the larger concept.

The “Metaliteracy” sections have such potential, but currently fall short. They are far too focused on social media and the producer/consumer metaphor. There is such a wealth of information on metacognition in the scholarship of teaching and learning, and we suggest that this would be a richer, more framework-like direction to take these sections – not removing the social media aspect, but adding crucial focus on self-knowledge, reflection, and putting that self-knowledge to use to participate effectively in the community (whatever platform that participation uses). Emphasis on reflective practice is crucial.

The assignments and assessments sections will be helpful during the transition to and adoption of the new Framework, but they will quickly become dated. We suggest that these be housed in a supplementary document aimed at helping librarians make the transition to thinking and teaching based on the Framework for two reasons. First, they would not bog down the central document of our profession with suggestions that will never be generalizable in the way that the rest of the document is. Second, they could be updated on a regular basis without necessitating full-scale revision of the Framework.

We plan to include additional materials in a subsequent phase (described in the welcome message). What other elements would you find helpful that aren’t mentioned in our plans?

“Ethical Participation” is listed in the definition of information literacy (line 162), but hasn’t yet made much of an appearance in the framework itself. It should either be woven into the current threshold concepts or be given its own concept. And of course, it is far more complex than simple citation practices or copyright adherence. It also involves knowing what kinds of evidence can support what kinds of claims, etc.

Metacognition is a vital component of critical thinking and learning. You gesture toward it both with the new focus on affect and also in the metaliteracy sections, and you have a section mentioning it on line 246, but calling it out specifically and integrating the richness of the scholarship on the topic would greatly enhance the Framework.

A third suggestion is to include, either woven into the others or as a stand-alone concept, some discussion of the importance of managing one’s research materials (bibliographic management, appropriate back-ups and security, file management, data management, research notes, etc). This has implications not just for grants and general effectiveness, but also for increased creativity. Well organized files and notes help researchers see patterns and connections that may not be apparent otherwise. Well documented decisions about research, research materials, and products of research aid in sharing and reuse (or better decisions about keeping some information private).

Is there anything else you would like for us to know?

Definition of Information Literacy:
Line 161: Change the order of the list to “finding, using and analyzing scholarship, data, and other information”

Structure and Terminology:
The “experienced researcher” formulation can be problematic. We see what you are trying to achieve with that formulation, but in practice it can often make it seem like only experienced researchers are actually creating anything. Take Line 425 for example: “with the experienced researcher adding his or her voice….” That makes it sound as if less experienced researchers are not adding their voices – like they have to wait to get some sort of certification before they can create meaning.

The term “Learners” is used throughout the document. We feel that this is jargon that may become dated. Since ACRL explicitly serves college and research libraries, and since the audience here is for less experienced researchers, we feel that “students” more accurate and simply describes the audience here. We understand that “Learners” also comes from the language of K-12 education, and that continuity is useful between standards, but “students” resonates with faculty far more strongly and will help us get faculty on board with this document.

And finally, the first concept is named using a very short sentence: “Scholarship is a conversation.” We feel that the other concepts would be better served by this construction than by being forced into the “noun as noun” construction (which muddies the waters at best and causes outright confusion at worst).

 Notes on the “Scholarship is a conversation” section:
“Negotiate meaning” (line 425) does not work well for all disciplines, but “negotiate understanding” works well. We recommend “negotiate understanding.”

This section would be greatly enhanced by including some discussion of ethical participation.  Conversations die quickly if people don’t think you’re participating ethically.

It might also be worth emphasizing that engaging with sources in a conversation does not mean parroting back what other people have said. So conversations involve adding to the body of knowledge rather than summarizing. The act of synthesis is vitally important, but simple summary is insufficient.

Notes on the “Research as Inquiry” section:
Inquiry can mean an iterative process or a single question. Perhaps it would be clearer to formulate this as a very short sentence (like “scholarship is a conversation” already is). We suggest “Research is iterative inquiry.”

Line 487: “open or unresolved” is limiting and actually untrue for some methodologies. In many disciplines people go back over the same ground. You could probably just cut this portion of the sentence and be fine.

Notes on the “Format as Process” section:
This section was nearly impossible to understand as it is written. We feel it needs quite a bit of work. The concept as it is currently named makes almost no sense to any of the people we have asked. For one thing, “Format” in library jargon most often describes print/digital/microform/etc. Perhaps what you mean here is “genre” or even “product.” Please consider removing the term “format” entirely. The title would probably be best served by a short sentence rather than a “noun as noun” construction — we suggest something like “Product informs process.”

The scope and focus of the concept is also murky. It seems to be trying to teach two things at once: 1) the process and method matter and help predict what you can get as an end result, and 2) some genres of end product impose methodological constraints. In addition, while the section acknowledges some emerging forms, as a whole it is highly book- and article-focused. This focus leads to a sense that this is primarily about understanding a static set of things. In reality new forms emerge,  and it is important for students to be able to recognize the non-static “alive-ness” of the universe of output types.

Finally, we would also love to see in this section a good way to talk about the different artifacts of a publication you find online: pre-prints, working papers, etc.

Notes on the “Authority is constructed and contextual” section:
This is a hugely important concept that could be strengthened by adding some language about the economics of information (how does research get funded? What gets distributed? Who gets access and through what funds?). This is also tied to the problems of “filter bubbles” where Google and others rank results based on what they know about you already, and your friends feed you information that they like or know you will like, and it becomes harder and harder to stumble on information from other perspectives.

This section could also be strengthened by adding some mention of the importance of knowing both how to navigate information power structures and also influence those structures (via scholarly conversation).

We suggest cutting the example of the Weather forecasts and sticking with a stronger version of what appears on line 21 of part 2: “Scholars within a discipline DO value specific publications or publishers over others.” We also note that previous threshold concepts in this Framework have not relied on examples as much, so it would both strengthen this section and even out the writing style of the document to leave the examples out of this portion.

Notes on the “Search is Strategic” section:
This section could perhaps be subsumed into the section on Research as Inquiry.

If it is not merged with the Research as Inquiry section, we offer several suggestions for improvement. First, under “Dispositions,” add a bullet saying that expert researchers are flexible and patient (or tenacious) – they’re willing to keep digging, to take what they’ve learned and apply it to new searches, etc. Also add the importance of creativity in search. That combination of creativity and iterative work are crucial to strategic searching, and it is also necessary when students are trying to decide whether results are relevant to them or not. Lack of creativity or tenacity lead to two common problems: Results are “not on my topic” (don’t name my full topic in its title or abstract), or the first 5 results are sufficient regardless of whether they adequately fill the information need.

This section could also be strengthened by mentioning the importance of reading (result lists, abstracts, articles) in order to learn the vocabulary of the scholarly conversation you’re delving into. Since search systems rarely go beyond matching the exact character string of each word you type, if you’re typing the wrong words you will get disappointing results. (This also ties back to the concept of engaging in a scholarly conversation – interlocutors have to understand each others’ language.)

This section focuses rather narrowly on search systems and doesn’t leave much room for exploration, either guided or free-flowing.

Finally, on line 175 of part two: “I-Search papers” is jargon with a pretty narrow audience. We recommend aiming for more generalizability