Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Information Literacy Research and Practice: An Experiential Perspective #ecil2013

The second keynote talk at the European Conference on Information Literacy was Information Literacy Research and Practice: An Experiential Perspective from Christine Bruce. I know a lot about some of what she was talking about, but some areas were new and I needed to stop and think rather than blog. Therefore I certainly haven't captured everything in her presentation (and apologies for any misinterpretations)!
Bruce started by identifying experience as "something profound" and she said that she would talk about IL phenomenographically. (Phenomenography is a research approach which aims to identify variations in conception or experience of a phenomenon (a research approach I have used too). Bruce was focusing particularly on research work of her group, in her examples. She first highlighted Yates' work that discovered that health IL was experienced in a variety of ways such as "knowing myself" or "striving for wellness". The second example (from research by Gunton) was investigating religious IL, experienced e.g. as "growing faith" or "serving the community". Thirdly she mentioned a study of native American IL where IL may (for example) be experienced as "a communal, shared information experience...". All these examples were shedding light on the richness and variety of people's experience of information literacy and learning.
From her perspective IL "may be said to be about the experience of using information to learn" (a position that she unfolds in her book, Informed Learning).
Going back to earlier days, Bruce looked at early motivators for engagement with IL research. She named, amongst other things, the belief that information literacy changes lives, that it is relevant to life and a source of empowerment. She put forward two different early orientations for IL,with a "healthy tension" between the two: the first encouraging conformity, and the second valuing diversity.
Bruce revisited her most well-known piece of research, in which she investigated the conceptions of IL of staff at Australian universities and discovered 7 qualitatively different ways of experiencing IL (the "7 Faces"). For this presentation she highlighted the shift from information being at the core of the experience in faces 1-4, whereas she saw learning as the core focus in faces 5-7. She also identified that variously people experienced information as objective, subjective, or transformational. Bruce talked through the outcome space for the research (see rather poor photo I took, above): you can find an explanation and the original face diagrams here
Bruce moved on to talk about taking an experiential approach to education, which means acknowledging varying experiences, and focusing on enabling learners to experience in new ways. She also noted that "information can take surprising forms" - for example even silence and stillness. Also experiences "are deeper and more powerful and may contextualise skills" and skills may or may not be important as part of the experience. Technology could "skew" perception of information literacy experience. (There were other points in this section of the talk that I didn't capture)
Bruce then moved to current research, noting "diversification and expansion in the research territory". She talked some more about IL as informed learning, and provided a definition (see here), and referred to the six frames for IL education approach. The key publication on the six frames is available as an eprint here:
Bruce emphasisied this involved "turning our eyes" from having information capabilities, to focus on the experience of using information to learn.
She revisited the health information literacy and faith community research she had mentioned at the start of the talk, looking at the variations concerning the conceptions of learning and information (which were part of the analysis structure). At this point I was concentrating even more on what Christine was saying, so I haven't tried to blog the details ;-)  I refer you to Bruce's eprints page for original articles on this research:,
In conclusion Bruce emphasised the "fundamental interdisciplinarity" of IL, and that she felt that we need to understand more deeply "what matters", for example: how do we help people change their lives? how does IL transform and empower? It was important to pay attention to diverse peoples. She gave an example from Auraria Library, where the community was invited to share their information experiences, by creating an archive and working on IL with the community (I think part of this initiative).
Altogether, Bruce was stressing the transformational nature of IL, and the importance of addressing big issues (such as poverty and homelessness) and big questions in our research and practice.

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