I realised that I hadn't posted the presentations I was involved with at the European Conference on Information Literacy, so I'll do that this week. Firstly, there is the presentation given by me and Bill Johnston: Information Literacy, Threshold Concepts and Disciplinarity. I've given our abstract below the embedded presentation. In the third slide ("key strands") Bill and I also positioned ourselves within this field (that of British, Nordic and Australian educational research), from which the concept of Threshold Concepts emerged. We are educational researchers within this field, and have connections with some of these researchers.
Threshold Concepts (TCs) are significant in developing the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Framework for Information Literacy (ACRL, 2015), and this has stimulated discussion about using TCs in Information Literacy (IL). This paper: briefly summarises TCs; identifies key disciplinary and pedagogical anomalies in the approach to TCs in IL; presents proposals for exploring TCs in IL more holistically.
TCs emerged from research into characteristics of quality learning environments in UK higher education (Meyer & Land, 2003). TCs are described as transformative concepts within disciplines, enabling learners to conceive the subject in a new way, and experience possibilities for deeper disciplinary thinking and practice. Mayer & Land (2005) identify ways for educators to use TCs to facilitate “epistemological transitions, and ontological transformations” (Meyer & Land, 2005: 386). They note the danger of structuring teaching mechanistically, which might encourage mimicry rather than understanding; they also identified the value of variation as a teaching strategy. Åkerlind et al. (2014) have taken this further by combining phenomenography, variation theory and TCs.
We identify two anomalies in the way in which TCs have been developed for IL in a USA context. The first is in sidestepping the question of disciplinarity (as do Townsend et al. (2011). The studies which have inspired ACRL’s adoption of a TC approach have investigated the views of librarians teaching IL to learners of other subjects. This is different from identifying the TCs of a discipline, for learners aiming to think and practice in that discipline (the original, and usual, focus for TCs). Whilst Tucker et al (2014) have proposed TCs as valuable for the library and information curriculum, there has not been a study of IL TCs for people studying IL as a subject in its own right. The second anomaly is the way in which TCs are fixed generically within the ACRL framework (rather than more explicitly acknowledging that IL is experienced differently within different subject disciplines (Webber et al., 2005). Further, for understandable, pragmatic, reasons, there is evidence that they are being incorporated in reductive ways (e.g. Oakleaf, 2014), which may negate the transformative possibilities and lead to mimicry and surface learning.
We draw on experience in teaching IL as a subject to propose an approach to discovering and using TCs for IL education, which acknowledges that IL has its own epistemology and ontological reality (Johnston & Webber, 2006). This is elaborated with observations and reflections from an IL module, using an action research framework.
Åkerlind, G., McKenzie, J. & Lupton, M. (2014). The potential of combining phenomenography, variation theory and threshold concepts to inform curriculum design in higher education. In J. Huisman, M. Tight (Eds.), Theory and Method in Higher Education Research II. (pp.227 – 247). Bingley, England: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Association of College and Research Libraries. (2015). Framework for information literacy for higher education. Retrieved February 15, 2016 from http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework
Johnston, B. & Webber, S. (2006). As we may think: Information Literacy as a discipline for the information age. Research Strategies, 20(3), 108-121.
Meyer, J. & Land, R. (2003). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge 1: linkages to ways of thinking and practicing. In C. Rust (Ed), Improving student learning: ten years on. Oxford, England: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development.
Meyer, J. & Land, R. (2005). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (2): epistemological considerations and a conceptual framework for teaching and learning. Higher Education, 49(3), 373-388.
Oakleaf, M. (2014). A roadmap for assessing student learning using the new framework for information literacy for higher education. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 5(40), 510-514.
Townsend, L., Brunetti, K. and Hofer, A., (2011). Threshold concepts and information literacy. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 11 (3), 853-869.
Tucker, V., Weedman, J., Bruce, C. & Edwards, S. (2014). Learning portals: analyzing threshold concept theory for LIS education. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 55(2), 150-165.
Webber, S., Boon, S. & Johnston, B. (2005). A comparison of UK academics’ conceptions of information literacy in two disciplines: English and Marketing. Library and Information Research, 29(93), 4-15.