Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Framework for Information Literacy Taking Shape


I believe there is still room for improvement and greater refinement into a document of strength and clarity for and within the profession.

We're up to the second complete--and what the task force hopes is the near final--draft of the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, released for public comment one month ago. Today was the final day to submit formal feedback through the survey instrument provided by the task force, and in keeping with my past practice, I will share my responses to the survey questions at the end of this post.

Before I do, I want to point to recent posts by Jake Berg (here and here) and Lane Wilkinson (here), because they articulate a lot of things that have been on my mind these past months as I have wrestled with both threshold concept theory and its use within the Framework. Also, Lane's post contains a really useful list of links to many of the blog posts that critically engaged the Framework this past year, so his post is worth bookmarking for that purpose at the very least.

The main thing I disagree with both on is their continued concern about metaliteracy, since I believe integrating metaliteracy into the knowledge practices and dispositions throughout the frames was a strong move in this latest draft.*

I also remain unconvinced by arguments against information literacy (studies) as a sub-discipline of library and information science, though a recent Twitter conversation on this topic, and how this question relates to the Framework and the proposed threshold concepts within it, has gone a long way in helping me refine my understanding of the complexity of the question.

Otherwise, Lane's discussion of threshold concepts as simultaneously expert-defined and yet whose characterstics are "agent-relative properties," and Jake's unpacking of the new frame "Information has Value," are both working on my thought process in relation to the Framework in ways that are good and productive, if also at times frustrating and (dare I say it?) troublesome. I also share the concern about the opacity of the Delphi study methodology to initially identify candidates for information literacy threshold concepts that the task force considered for inclusion in the Framework. And similarly, I worry that the student-focused ("agent-relative") properties of threshold concepts beg the question: of what student are we speaking? Barbara Fister makes the point that "we need to bear in mind how these thresholds we define are cultural constructs and avoid assuming upper-middle-class white American experiences that might seem hostile or exclusionary to those who don't fit that assumed identity," to which I can only respond: Yes, we do.    

I'm sharing briefly about my response to these critical takes on the Framework because these concerns don't appear explicitly in my survey responses to the task force, though I do propose in the final bullet of the penultimate question of the survey a radical idea related to calling (or not) the main concept of each frame a "threshold concept" (read on to see what it is ;) ). The reason my broader concerns described above don't feature in my survey responses is mainly that I am still wrestling with my own understanding related to these concerns, such that I'm not ready to make a case in relation to them. I do believe they need to be stated though, and that we all need to engage them head-on and acknowledge the complexity of both the Framework and its varied reception among our colleagues in the profession.

And this is also why I am advocating for one more iteration of the Framework, including another draft released for public comment, before the task force submits the Framework to the ACRL Board of Directors for approval and adoption by our national professional organization. And I do make the case for this in my survey comments, which I will now copy below, bolding the parts I feel summarize my overarching concerns; I did offer quite a bit of feedback at the level of page and line number, which I don't expect you to wade through unless you choose to, so let the bolded text be your guide. Here they are:
How satisfied are you with the overall Framework? 
The Framework is a vast improvement over the linear, checklist approach to information literacy teaching and learning encouraged by the 2000 Standards document. The Framework is flexible, holistic, and adaptable, offering the “whys” of information literacy in order to contextualize the “whats” (skills, competencies, outcomes, etc.) we have been accustomed to working with these past 14 years. The Framework offers a much-needed wider perspective on the work we do as information literacy instructors, which is poised to enhance our pedagogy if we engage it and invite it to do so. 
That being said, I believe the Framework still has room to be refined as my comments below will communicate, such that my recommendation is that the Task Force make one more critical pass over/through it, and offer one more (hopefully final) draft for public comment, before submitting it to the ACRL Board for approval and adoption. I would like to see this final draft be as lean as possible, with all of the supplementary documents removed entirely, so we can read it as though it is in its final form. I do not think the length of time needed for one more iteration of the document will set the Task Force timeline back more than a few months, such that a final draft might be ready for the Board before ALA Midwinter.   
Momentum related to the Framework revisions should not halt; rather, I am advocating harnessing this momentum to make the document as strong as it can be, and one more draft for public comment I believe would accomplish this.  
If you have followed the development of the Framework through the previous draft, please tell us what changes you find most helpful. 
  • The new brief introduction is a vast improvement over the introduction to the last draft.
  • I’m glad the assignments and self-assessments have been removed from the frames.
  • I believe the deep integration of metaliteracy throughout the knowledge practices and dispositions offered in the frames, as well as in the revised definition of information literacy, is a strong improvement over the previous draft.
  • The adoption of the term “frame” to refer to each unit of the Framework is fantastic, and mitigates confusion surrounding the definition of “threshold concept” (more on this below).
  • “Searching as Exploration” is a good revision to the name of this frame, as is “Format as a Process,” though the latter frame could still stand to be critically examined and cleaned up some more in both meaning and the communication of that meaning. 
  • “Information has Value” as conceived is a worthy addition to the frames, though I feel the use of the word “value” in the concept’s name is at odds with the three dimensions of value described in the longer description of the concept (p.12). “Value” in the frame title invokes the idea of “values” (as in “our values as a profession”), and yet the three dimensions described are all inherently critical of the “value” being placed on information in each context (i.e., information as commodity, information production privileging some voices over others, and monetization of personal information/data online). To be clear, these dimensions *should* be critical in this regard--all of these dimensions of information are absolutely true, and need to be addressed in this Framework as you have done here--but the name of the concept communicates (to me) something much more positive than the longer description does. I’d be interested to see the Task Force think through the rhetoric of the name of this frame in relation to the whole, and determine if there is a better name for the concept that better captures the meaning communicated in the longer description. 
  • I am pleased with the glossary, and glad it is less than one page long while still covering the most important new terminology in the document. 
Does the “Suggestions on How to Use the Information Literacy Framework” section, in conjunction with the Frames, help you to engage other campus stakeholders in conversation? 
Yes, however, I believe this section does not belong in the final version of the Framework document, but rather in supplementary documents whose purpose is to assist the profession with implementing the Framework. The presence of “Suggestions on How to Use the Framework” will not be useful in four years’ time, when the document is in later stages of implementation at most schools. This section should not foreground the frames, which are the most important part of this document and thus should be presented to the reader with the leanest of context + the revised definition of information literacy offered beforehand, and as close to page 1 as you can manage. 
How might the Framework affect the way you work with students? 
The Framework will enable collaboration between me and students’ course instructors in a way that the Standards did not. This collaboration will result in deeper integration of information literacy into their courses and programs, such that students will be able to transfer information literacy knowledge, skills, and behaviors between contexts, because they will be instructed in them in a scaffolded manner throughout the curriculum. The Framework will give me the mindset, language, and rhetorical position from which to make the case to teaching faculty and administrators that this kind of integration benefits students, both in their learning and in their formation into critically informed citizens and persons in society.  
What one thing do you most want the Task Force members to know about the draft Framework? 
Apologies, but there is more than one thing, since this survey question is the “catch-all” for any other comments I have to offer. Here below are the considerations I’d like to offer the Task Force as my basis for recommending one more pass over/through the Framework, and releasing one more draft for public comment before submitting a final version to the Board. 
  • I think the Framework document would be stronger if the only sections included are: the brief introduction (including the revised definition of information literacy); the frames (don’t number them or title this section “The Six Frames” but rather “The Frames,” since it is possible new frames will be identified and developed by the profession over time); the glossary; and sources for further reading. *Everything else* is supplementary, and should be made available to all alongside the Framework--and in some cases (i.e., the introduction for faculty and administrators) cleaned up, focused, and revised significantly (this section needs input from faculty from many disciplines, and might perhaps become part of the work of the implementation task force your group is recommending that the Board appoint when your work is done)--but not as part of the Framework document itself. The leaner, and more nimble this document is, the easier it will be to implement. 
  • Along with the above, the non-frame sections need to be closely proofread by the Task Force (not a copy editor) so that the language, voice, and rhetoric of these sections is consistent with the backbone of the Framework--i.e., the frames. (For example, in the “Setting the Context” and introduction to faculty and administrators sections/appendices, there is reference to the sample assignments within each frame/threshold concept, when these have been removed.)
  • At the top of p.2 of the Introduction, the list of frames (lines 38-43) should be bulleted and not numbered, because the presence of numbers introduces to the reader a linear hierarchy into the frames which I do not think you intend.
  • Within the new definition of information literacy (p.2), a minor but important grammatical tweak I suggest is to change the first word of the second sentence (line 64) to “This” so it reads “This repertoire involves…” This edit will tie the second sentence of the definition more strongly back to the first, making it more cohesive overall. This definition is likely to be quoted and cited a *lot* after the Framework is adopted, so I’d like to see its formulation be as strong as it can be.
  • I’d like to see a clearer distinction made between the expression of knowledge practices and dispositions within each frame; more specifically, some blurring between the two is occurring because of the leading verb choices (i.e., at lines 167-168: “Recognize that they are often entering into the midst of a scholarly conversation…” “Recognize” is used elsewhere as a dispositional verb, but in this case it is categorized as a knowledge practice; another example at line 318: “Identify” is used as the lead verb of a dispositional statement when the act of identifying is more of a practice; and one more, though there are others, at line 362: “Are inclined to” is most certainly a dispositional verb construction, but here it is the lead verb of a knowledge practice). Part of the final pass over/through the document I’d like to see the Task Force do would include a very close look at the verb choices for knowledge practices and dispositions throughout, such that the final constructions of these statements are clearer in terms of their categorization as either a knowledge practice or a disposition.
  • Related to the last: I recommend cutting “(Abilities)” after every instance of “Knowledge Practices” as a heading. It is redundant and distracting, especially since the sentence that follows the heading includes the word “abilities” as well. 
  • I’d like to see included in the introduction even more explicit communication to the reader that the knowledge practices and dispositions included in the frames are *not* exhaustive nor comprehensive, that practitioners will likely identify additional knowledge practices and dispositions for each frame, and that this is not only okay but very much encouraged. 
  • The longer (non-bolded) descriptions for Scholarship is a Conversation and Research as Inquiry are the perfect length; as the reader continues through the frames, however, the longer descriptions (non-bolded prose for each frame) get longer and more unwieldy. These later passages (lines 229-250, lines 283-302, lines 329-352, lines 381-403) are in need of editing for clarity. As an experiment, I cut every sentence and parenthetical from these passages that either invoked a concrete, potentially dated example (the “for examples” and “such as’s”), or described the behaviors of the novice, and these sections became much tighter as a result. 
  • Re: describing novice behavior: since the frames are meant to describe the information literate learner, I do not think it is beneficial, and might even be a weakness, to spend so many words on novice behavior. I worry that by doing so, practitioners will become hyper aware of novice behavior in our students, which to me is a less than helpful awareness to have, as it tempts the practitioner (myself included) to draw attention to these behaviors *as* novice during instruction, to the students themselves, thus disempowering and alienating the very students we seek to instruct. 
  • In line 279, I suggest this edit: “Format refers to the manner in which tangible knowledge is disseminated.” This goes along with my recommendation that this entire frame be closely examined again for clarity of both meaning and communication of that meaning.
  • In line 324, I suggest this edit: “There is no one one size fits all way/path [you pick] to find the needed information.” The word “source” doesn’t encompass the act of search enough for this concept. Also, there is a typo in line 326: “pursuit” should be “pursue.” 
  • In line 369, I suggest the following edit: “Understand that first attempts at searching don’t always result in the information need being met.” I do not prefer the phrase “pay off” as it sounds transactionary. 
  • In line 378, I suggest that “In addition” be replaced with “Furthermore,” to once again tie the final sentence of this concept-definition more strongly to the previous sentence; “In addition” makes the last idea/sentence expressed feel like an afterthought, which it should not be.
  • In line 407, I suggest “in the United States” be replaced with “in their geographical context,” since we teach and support students studying in more contexts than just the United States.
  • In line 422, I suggest replacing the word “only” with “merely,” though I concede this suggestion is more stylistic than anything else.
  • Finally, though I am tentatively supportive of the formulation of the concepts in the frames having occurred through the theoretical lens of threshold concept theory--supportive mainly because this methodology has resulted in six frames that I do believe are key to what it means to be information literate--I am increasingly uncomfortable with threshold concept theory itself as a feature in this Framework. Threshold concepts (as theory) are simultaneously expert-defined yet characterized in relation to the learner, which makes them difficult to grasp, and will get very complicated to assess. I believe, though, that this is a weakness of threshold concept theory, not of the specific concepts developed for this Framework. As such, a radical move that would resolve this conflict might be to nod to threshold concept theory as influential to the development of the Framework in the introduction, and then *let the theory go* and just refer to the six frames as “information frames” or “information literacy frames,” since the goal of each frame is to *frame* (verb) the teacher’s and the learner’s approach to the research process. I am less and less convinced I will be referring to these frames as threshold concepts in my conversations with teaching faculty, which I know is my prerogative, but I thought I’d throw this idea out there, as a way to address the growing concerns I am observing in my colleagues about grasping what a threshold concept is.  
Please share any additional information that would help us in understanding your perspective on the proposed Framework. 
I am very excited about this new Framework, which should be evident by my participation in the revision process thus far as a member of the profession. And, you guys are doing amazing work. I hope you will consider my recommendations above, as one more pass over/through the document by your particular group (the Task Force) will refine the Framework in a way that no other group could, due to your history with the document.

*This seems like a good opportunity to plug the final publication version of my article, "Teaching metaliteracy: a new paradigm in action," co-authored with my research partner Teresa Grettano, and finally posted to the Reference Services Review website. An openly accessible post-print version is available as well.    

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