Friday, July 11, 2014

The (Second) Draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: My Thoughts

The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has released a revised draft of their Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. What follows are my thoughts on this second draft. The full text of ACRL's hard work is available here, and I quote, cite, and excerpt it below.

The introduction has changed between drafts, as has the definition of information literacy.

First draft definition:
Information literacy combines a repertoire of abilities, practices, and dispositions focused on expanding one’s understanding of the information ecosystem, with the proficiencies of finding, using and analyzing information, scholarship, and data to answer questions, develop new ones, and create new knowledge, through ethical participation in communities of learning and scholarship. (bold is theirs, 4) 
New definition: lines 62-67
a repertoire of understandings, practices, and dispositions focused on flexible engagement with the information ecosystem, underpinned by critical self-reflection. The repertoire involves finding, evaluating, interpreting, managing, and using information to answer questions and develop new ones; and creating new knowledge through ethical participation in communities of learning, scholarship, and practice. (2)
Fair enough.

What I like:

I. Flexibility: Rather than a rigid set of standards that all ACRL member institutions should strive to meet, the framework allows for a variety of implementations, depending on the communities served and the resources at hand. Page two of the new draft Framework is particularly strong on this.

The authors of this Framework are not trying to build a monument, but rather a scaffolding. The line about the Framework as "a  set of living documents" is already more than words (page 3). A Frequently Asked Questions section was added earlier this month, which addresses the roles of critical theory and social justice, among others. It's this very flexibility that gives me the confidence to write posts like these, knowing that feedback will be heard.

II. The assault on the one-shot library instruction session.
Over the course of a student’s academic program, “one shot” sessions that address a particular need at a particular time, systematically integrated into the curriculum, can play a significant role in an information literacy program. It is important for practitioners to understand that the Framework is not designed to be implemented in one, sole information literacy session in a student’s academic career; it is intended to be developmentally and systematically integrated into the student’s academic program at a variety of levels. This may take considerable time to implement fully in many institutions. (pages 3-4)
While the one-shot has some value in terms of library instruction, "Hi, I'm Jake, this is our website, here's how to do some stuff, ask me questions, see me smiling, aren't I friendly...," it's inefficient at spreading information literacy (IL) when compared to the systematic integration laid out in the Framework. The more people on campus that know this, that care about it, and that do something about it, the better we'll all be.
Some of the sample assignments in the new Framework get at this, too. Many of them are hard to pull off in a one-shot. Libraries that are under-staffed and over-extended can and should initiate conversations on campuses regarding these assignments, but library staff might not be around to see those assignments carried out. Though learning and course management systems may present librarians with asynchronous opportunities, information literacy should be a community-wide responsibility that can happen with or without librarians. Indeed, librarians themselves may bear some responsibility for exiting information literacy, as Nicole Pagoswky and Erica DeFraini argue.

III. The inclusion of the word "Wikipedia" (page 7). There are faculty and administrators on every campus that don't want to hear or read that word. Well, here it is. Let's talk about it.

IV. The Information has Value frame (12). To me, this is the most interesting part of the revised draft, perhaps in large part because it has the ability to be the most contested.
as intellectual property, information sources are affected by economic, sociological, and political influences. The means of production may privilege some voices over others. Some search systems may privilege some sources over others due to economic incentive.
It's pretty cool to see that in writing, with the imprint of the ACRL. There's also some good stuff on paywalled scholarly communication, the digital divide, and online privacy and surveillance.

What I don't:

I. Staying with Information has value, I wrote a guest post for Jessica Olin's Letters to a Young Librarian on the tension between "ethical participation" as part of information literacy and the quote below from the draft Framework:
Experts understand that this value designates information as intellectual property, and therefore, recognizes three important dimensions of value. First, information can act as a commodity, and as such, creators can use their work for financial, reputational, social, or civic gains. These motivations may determine how information sources are shared whether given freely, offered for sale, or leased for temporary access. Information users have responsibilities as both consumers and creators of information based on the work of others. Academic and legal practices such as proper attribution of sources and complying with copyright are a result. (12)
As a response:
Putting information as a commodity front and center and tying it to various "gains?" Consumers listed before creators? Complying with a copyright regime that every information professional should know is broken, at odds with the common good and encouraging innovation? 
In the Knowledge Practices (Abilities) section of this frame, a threshold concept is to "Understand that intellectual property is a social construct that varies by culture," (12) but the above excerpt reifies much of what is wrong with the North American conception of intellectual property, and may be at odds with "ethical participation" mentioned elsewhere in the document. 
There's more, so please head over there, too. I'll wait. Thanks.

II. The Delphi Study (page 1, footnote 1). Though overall I'm impressed with the transparency of the Framework committee and how open they are to feedback, far too much of the heavy lifting of generating threshold concepts in information literacy comes from an ongoing research project that is a black box. There should be more transparency. People more eloquent than I feel similarly.
The threshold concepts put forth by the committee were decided upon by an anonymous group of librarians in a “Delphi study.” The task force was not privy to the names or affiliations of Delphi study participants, nor were we given any justification, evidence, research, or other reasons to accept the concepts we were given. The role of the task force was to rewrite and expand upon the concepts given by the Delphi study, not to ask for justification.
Trivia: the method used to create these concepts was developed by RAND during the Cold War to assess the effects of technology on warfare (Source).

III. Threshold Concepts (TCs). Over at Sense and Reference, Lane Wilkinson has an excellent critique of threshold concepts that every academic librarian, and maybe every educator, should read. He argues, convincingly, that
  • TCs are based off of probable characteristics within disciplines, but probable is not the same as defining. 
  • The authors of the Framework assume that students will be transformed and troubled by similar concepts in similar ways, but students are a diverse bunch.
  • Knowledge of concepts does not imply ability(s).
  • Disciplines are contested spaces, whereas TCs seek to cannonize.
Given these critiques, we could attempt to improve TCs by saying that they are like a family resemblance, per Wittgenstein. In this formulation a series over overlapping similarities could make up a group of threshold concepts for a discipline, but creating boundaries might prove difficult, as it was for Wittgenstein when he analyzed types of games. Or we could talk about a Latakosian "hard core" for each discipline and base TCs off of this, which is also problematic because of Wilkinson's fourth point above.

What if instead of threshold concepts, we used learning outcomes? For example, "An information literate learner should be able to...." or "A metaliterate learner..."? Learning outcomes are less flexible, and as the authors note in their FAQ, less focused on process, but
  • there may be many roads to information literacy, some of which are under-explored and -theorized at present, and 
  • if librarians, faculty, and other members of our communities can't agree on what a metaliterate or information literate learner looks like, then we need more robust definitions of those concepts.
IV. Atheory and Anti-Theory. So long as we're talking theory, there's a lot of un- and under-cited theory in these frames. Too many assumptions, some of them testable, go unexamined. In Scholarship is Conversation (page 5), there is no discussion of scientific progress, be it Kuhn, Popper, or someone else. This frame is a missed opportunity to discuss the role of blogs, zines, and other non-traditional forms of scholarship that are now easier than ever to create and disseminate, Wikipedia excepted. Moreover, that scholarship is a conversation is a tacit admission that threshold concepts are as well, meaning that they are mutable and malleable.
Similarly, MacLuhan's "the medium is the message" is lacking in the Format as a Process frame on page 9, and the same lack of theory is true of the appendixes.

Rather than turn readers into Straussians, looking for hidden meanings in the Framework and related documents, why not show the theoretical work that goes into it?

V. Metaliteracy is back! All the baggage that term has still applies.
Metaliteracy expands the scope of traditional information skills (determine, access, locate, understand, produce, and use information) to include the collaborative production and sharing of information in participatory digital environments (collaborate, produce, and share). This approach requires an ongoing adaptation to emerging technologies and an understanding of the critical thinking and reflection required to engage in these spaces as producers, collaborators, and distributors. (Mackey and Jacobson, 2014) (pg 18)
Again, if there are differences between metaliteracy and information literacy, under the umbrella of critical thinking, they don't strike me as being major, so I find its inclusion puzzling.
Metaliteracy expands the scope of traditional information skills…to include the collaborative production and sharing of information in participatory digital environments... (slide 17 of this pdf, same original source as the above offset quote)
Yet adding knowledge creation to the definition of information literacy, above, negates any differences between these terms. One is left wondering about the motivations behind this move.

VI. Information literacy is not a discipline. At least, not in the way we tend to think of disciplines as discrete branches of knowledge in higher education. While one cannot major in it, and there's rarely more than one 3-credit semester-long course with "Information literacy" in the title, IL is an area of scholarship that is necessarily inter- and transdiscplinary.

Jan Meyer and Ray Land (2003, pdf) are explicit that threshold concepts take place within disciplines. It seems as if information literacy not a discipline, not bounded in the ways that other fields of study and programs are, thus there can be no information-literacy specific threshold concepts. Here is how the task force gets around this, emphasis mine:
Threshold concepts originated as faculty pedagogical research within disciplines; because information literacy is both a disciplinary and a transdisciplinary learning agenda, using a threshold concepts framework for information literacy program planning, librarian-faculty collaboration, and student co-curricular projects, should offer great potential for curricular transformation. (First draft Framework, page 6, pdf, second draft page 26, pdf)
In addition, committee member Troy Swanson has both anticipated and reacted to some of these arguments, calling information literacy a "conceptual terrain," noting that it, like other disciplines, is not as bounded as one might think (source). Yet terrains still have borders, and while he wants librarians to "own" information literacy, much of this draft Framework is about us giving it up, or at least sharing it. There is a fascinating discussion around IL as a discipline here.

What's next: 

At present, drafting the Framework is a conversation between and among librarians and information professionals, excepting the non-librarians on the task force. As such, we have seen one side of this document. I assume another side, aimed at how to best present this to faculty, will be a supporting document. I hope this part of the Framework will detail some strategies for engaging faculty and campus administration in a variety of college and university settings. For example,
  • How much might a campus-wide information literacy initiative look like "writing across the curriculum,"  (WAC) and would it do for libraries and librarians what WAC did for composition and rhetoric?
  • How might either phasing out, or re-thinking the role of, the one-shot library instruction session change the relationships between the library staff and faculty, and between library staff and administration? 
  • Using threshold concepts, is there a role for librarians to play in fostering transdisciplinary, a term limited to two mentions in the appendixes of June's draft, connections between and among faculty via information literacy?
I'd also like the task force to address the tension between the stamp of authority and expertise that comes with the ACRL imprint and the flexibility of the Framework in terms of local implementations. Is there such a thing as too much leeway here?

Sources used, but not linked to above:
Mackey, T., and T. Jacobson. (2014). Metaliteracy: Redefining Information Literacies to Empower Learners. ALA Editions/Neal-Schuman.

See also, this interesting conversation on twitter.

Elsewhere on this site:
The Draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: Some Initial Thoughts
The Draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: Survey Feedback 

Elsewhere elsewhere:
Ethics, Copyright, and Information Literacy, Letters to a Young Librarian

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