I am just travelling back from the Special Interest Group Phenomenography conference, held in Kristianstad, Sweden on 22-24 May. As you might guess, this is a conference for researchers who use the phenomenographic approach, and there were about 50 delegates from Europe, Australia, Africa and Asia. The presentation was Variation theory as a basis for designing a module´on teaching information literacy. This was coauthored with Stuart Boon and Bill Johnston: Stuart (pictured here) was at the conference with me to co-present as well. This is a slightly edited version of the powerpoint - I have inserted a couple of slides explaining a little about phenomenography (obviously not necessary at the actual conference!) and taken out a couple of slides at the end, since these are ideas-in-progress.
We presented some of the conceptions of teaching information literacy discovered in our phenomenographic research project (into UK academics' conceptions of informatio n literacy and teaching information literacy) as a basis for the discussion of my proposed use of variation theory for currculum design of a new module "Education for information literacy" (core to the new MA Information Literacy at Sheffield University, UK, for which I am programme coordinator). The idea behind variation theory (to simplify) is that learning takes place through the learner experiencing variations of a concept or subject or phenomenon, so that he/she can discern critical aspects and thus get a deeper understanding.
In this case, my idea is that students can gain a better understanding of what it means to teach information literacy through discussing, reflecting on (etc) the different ways that people conceive of teaching it. Our research showed that, amongst the academics we studied, there was a lot of variation: from thinking it was someone else's job, to seeing teaching information literacy as being about giving students access to sources, to conceiving of teaching information literacy as being about challenging the student to work creatively with information in their personal and professional lives. We could focus in on distinctive aspects of each approach and look at what makes that approach different.
As a prelude to discussing this in detail with colleagues I have been presenting my ideas in a Departmental seminar, a Second Life discussion and now at this conference. At the conference, Ference Marton (who is generally referred to as the "father" of phenomenography) in fact commented rather on his interest in the disciplinary differences we had discovered (just thought I'd name drop there). Here is the edited ppt at Slideshare.