i3 conference at RGU in Aberdeen
Dr Leanne Bowler presented on Modeling the Metamemory of Information Seekers Through Visual Metaphor. She was aiming to generate visual metaphors that reveal, for example, awareness and beliefs about ones own memory, and about finding and refinding information. In her PhD, Bowler looked at metacognitive strategies in information literacy, adopting a metacognitive ethnographic approach (one article about this research is here). She became particualrly interested in in a category revealed in her research: "Knowledge of Task" (which included understanding memory).
She described this as discovering a person's schema about how their memory works. The challenge was uncovering this elusive area, as you can't really look "straight on" at metacognition. She had felt that metaphors might be a way of revealing the way the mind works and epistemological beliefs.
Her "metaphor" research had 27 participants, including teens, doctoral students, and people from 2 different Masters programmes. Bowler used brainstorming, sketching, metaphorical design (see Madsen, 1994) and fictional enquiry (essentially storytelling, including drawing the story). Bowler gave an example of a prompt she used with participants: "When I search for information my memory is like a... [object]". The participant would do the drawing and then the participant would talk about it (it was part of a 2 hour session including storytelling)
Some findings: the younger the teen, the less complex the notion of memory as it relates to information seeking (assumption that information is neatly stored in memory "information is waiting tio be retrieved"). One participant drew a picture of a computer (so like computer memory) andother of houses along a street. The older group saw memory as more complex, they had more ideas of tools needed to help memory. Bowler thought this could be linked to epistemological development, as memory is part of how you build knowledge. There were some metaphors that cut across all age groups. Examples of metaphors were a maze; something ordered (e.g. a picture of a chest of drawers, of a mailbox); "inferential" (e.g. using a musical metaphor when one thing was alerting you as to whether something was wrong or right); "elusive" (e.g. pictures of trying to get hold of a cat; trying to catch butterflies); random (e.g. information like sprinkles on doughnuts, some sprinkles fall through); effortful (e.g. memory like picking up a grain of rice with chopsticks).
Bowler concluded that the study demonstrated that metaphor can illuminate two complex phenomena. She felt it would be interesting to see whether different metaphors translate into ways of thinking and acting about information.
Photo by Sheila Webber: Aberdeen University Library (site of the reception last night).