Readings & responses for week 1: January 3-7

Welcome, everyone! Before the workshops on Wednesday 1/5 and Thursday 1/6, or at the very latest by the end of this week, please make time for this week’s readings and then comment on this post with a 100-200 word response to the following prompt:

Thinking about your own progress from novice to expert, describe what it was like to cross an information- or media-related threshold in your discipline, when you leveled up to having greater expertise and proficiency.

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26 thoughts on “Readings & responses for week 1: January 3-7”

  1. My experience with information literacy dates back to me looking for citations for a conference paper I was working on. I was very frustrated with academic papers that had more citations than actual written words. Every time I wanted to support one of my ideas with someone else work; I found I needed to work backwards using citation history of previous writings to find the original idea or concept being pitched.

    What I wanted to find were papers that discussed ideas and presented why the citation they chose was appropriate for their work. And how it related to the main theme of the paper or article.
    Searching for the original work is interesting to me. Was the information put into practice? Who else thought the information had value?

    As an author I strive to inform my readers of why the information put value to my work. And where it was leading me and how I might use it in the future.

    1. I really loved switching from MLA to APA for this reason– I had to hunt down the original. This made me understand the history of the ideas I was citing much better– although it is certainly time consuming!!

    2. This is such an important insight about how we as scholars should be using sources – not to substitute for our own ideas (like so many students often end up doing). Letting our readers know how the information lends value to our own work and points us to newer directions is so crucial.

      1. Seeing how the cited information lends value to the work clarifies the thesis. A string of similar citations can read like a report, rather than a synthesis of discrete ideas for a distinct argument.

      2. Professor Choi,
        I agree. Citations should be an integral to their usage. Sometimes the hunt to find the original works is tedious but the outcome is usually a better citation.

  2. My father, a medical researcher, used to apocryphally quote Disraeli about the three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. And I remember my own threshold moment about this issue came when as a PhD student I found myself in the battle between what was then termed “qualitative vs quantitative” research. Was it more “valid” to plop kids into a room where they watched “violent” TV and then count their “violent” actions afterward, or to simply ask them about their reactions to their media diet and try to connect those observations to larger social currents? That certainly changed the trajectory of my own career.

    Later, when I shifted into rhetoric & composition, I saw my profs still struggling to make their own research about the writing process “valid” by counting the times students looked up while they were working, and worrying if they were simply being reductive.

    I suppose it’s an unanswerable question, but since evaluating information sources is a large part of information literacy, I think it’s worth addressing.

    1. “Qualitative vs Quantitative” research is an issue I pay attention to since earning my MA in Psychology. I was already a librarian when I entered the program, but I was still unprepared for the specialized research skills required. Statistics was a shock!

  3. This is a deja vu experience for me, perhaps even my own watershed moment. As I read through the materials, I realized that I am one of the people cited by the ACRL in rhetoric and composition as related research. Yay, I have an article that lives on, except that it came out of a 2008 conference where I had 50 angry librarians taking me to task for arguing that information literacy instruction needed to be the responsibility of classroom teachers and not librarians. Boy howdy, I was naïve. I had a strong theoretical understanding of information literacy, but I was still a new teacher with a poor understanding of how a college functioned as an institution.

    Reading on the topic again, I realize that I have a decade of experience applying (mostly) effective information literacy practices in my courses. But, the discipline itself has moved on. There is a framework now, and what used to feel like avant garde teaching now is being advocated for as a new orthodoxy. So, I ask myself, am I an expert? Am I a beginner? A bit of both? Crossing thresholds for me typically feel more confusing than clear. I know I have a lot more experience, and a bit more cynicism, than before. But, I also have a strong, if latent, mental model of how my own teaching practice works, its history, and its praxis. I didn’t have that the last time I thought formally about information literacy in writing and media instruction — I was at the beginning of my journey. And now I am again.

  4. Claire McCullough is spot on regarding the Information Literate Student’ needing to balance:
    1. determining information needed
    2. procuring information well
    3. critically evaluating information (what motivates the provider?)
    4. respecting the use of information
    5. recognizing the need to refresh information

    As Claire McCullough points out, the goal is to ‘create people capable of creating new things.’

    McCullough claims that engineers lack skill in information utilization. I cannot speak from experience regarding engineers specifically but this skill is truly weak across the population of STEM students I have worked with and may be the result of a general shift over the past half-century from liberal arts education to career preparation instruction.

    From the Information Literacy Framework:

    1. “What distinguishes an information-fluent practitioner from a novice or beginner?”

    Novices will often look for a cookbook approach to follow or a single source to consume. An information-fluent practitioner may lean on sources they have used before but will explore and iterate through a variety of sources over an extended period of time.

    2. “What was your own information- or media-related threshold in your discipline, when you leveled up to greater expertise and skill?”

    I learned in graduate school that there is significant pressure on academics to publish and that resulted in a good deal of noise in academic content. At the other end of the spectrum, professionals tend to have strong commercial interests and biases. I realized the importance of appreciating the perspective of the source.

    The ALA framework web pages discuss the importance of meta-literacy which is a concept that should have been apparent to me long ago. I appreciate considering the information capabilities of students in this context. Too often there is a tactical focus on specific skills and techniques when a broader perspective could help to gauge how to best help a student make progress. For me this has always been the case in the field of business and management where academics rush to apply mechanistic models and structures to concepts which are more influenced by personalities, cultures, and psychological impacts than some contrived theory which is applied post-factum as a Procrustean Bed.

    1. Hi Patrick,

      I also find that my engineering technology students are behind in their ability to find information from various sources and apply it usefully towards a problem (let alone integrating it into a knowledge framework). I’m not what the reason, but I suspect that it’s a mix of belief that they don’t need to know how to do this in their professional ambitions, a lack of preparation at previous levels of education (e.g., skill and drill learning), and a general orientation of the habitus of their life towards just-in-time fast facts.

      While I don’t like the term meta-literacy, as I believe literacy is the “meta-“, it’s use here allows for a useful discussion of what students need, which is a change in perspective. I believe if that we are not teaching information literacy with this in mind, we are simply replicating previous failures in their education and inviting them to our own Procustean Bed.

      1. Hi both Patricks. I agree with both of you and wonder how we make engineering and/or technology students more engaged with the conversation about issues and topics in their own fields. How do we convince them the critical thinking process that is the very definition of information literacy is, in fact, part of their professional practice and therefore worthwhile engaging with while they’re still students? Conundrums…

    2. Patrick, I agree. Many of my students also have a problem understanding the concept of “creating new” I tend to attribute it to the “no student left behind” policies of teaching to pass tests. For example, I find it difficult to get my students to begin a project by sketching. Instead of students exploring a broad range of solutions they tend to have one or two ideas with minute variations. This extends to research. Most solutions include one or two sources without investigation into the integrity of the source and no counterarguments. And yes, this approach leads to a limiting emphasis on skills.

    3. I appreciate this sentence very much: ” I appreciate considering the information capabilities of students in this context. Too often there is a tactical focus on specific skills and techniques when a broader perspective could help to gauge how to best help a student make progress.” Starting with students wherever they may be, I think, is a very compassionate approach to information literacy.

  5. With each milestone in my education and career, I feel as if I have discovered something new about my research and the research process. I can definitely say that the experience of “crossing an information threshold” is empowering as a researcher. When having to complete a big research project, such as a dissertation, information literacy is key. Knowing what tools and resources are at your disposal, how to search for and interpret information, etc. helps you tackle what seems like an overwhelming project. This is especially important for beginning researchers. I remember being super excited as an undergrad when learning about the library databases and how to use them. It was particularly exciting because it meant being able to access resources digitally from the comfort of my home. I started to become aware of different source types – how a conference paper differs from a dissertation or what it meant to be peer-reviewed. It led to questions of source credibility and relevance.

    I think with the completion of each research project, you essentially cross an information threshold. With this workshop, I feel as though I am crossing another, especially after reading the article by Potts and Brown. Though I was previously aware of some of the issues discussed in the article, I wasn’t familiar with the term “anti-oppressive researcher.” The article really opened my eyes to how information literacy can be empowering to the researcher at the cost of someone else’s power (i.e., those being researched or written about). There definitely needs to be more active awareness in how we gather and use information in a socially just way.

    1. Hi Christine,

      Your remembrances remind me of learning to use an academic library back in the proto-Internet days of card catalogs on monochrome CRT monitors and discussions on the Gopher system. Finding information in the library seemed like such a byzantine and hostile process. When I found research papers, I could read them, but I never felt like I could understand exactly what they were trying to convey, or at least the greater consequence of that. And, of course, everyone looked far to busy to help a lowly first-year student navigate all of this.

      But, to your point that every time we complete a research project we cross an information threshold, I always try to keep this in mind. I remember some of the small successes I had as a novice scholar and those feelings of empowerment. Leading students more deliberately to these moments of authentic learning is something we can probably all do more of. And, of course, if we espouse social conscientiousness in our own research, recognizing that not just our work product, but how we create it can have a significant and unintended impacts on the communities we work with.

    2. I agree what we write builds on earlier writing and experiences. I also was surprised to learn about the oppressive researcher. The anti-oppressive movement is an interesting look at how we read and how we write.

      1. In one of my roles, I work with academics who specialize in international law, including human rights. There is a huge reckoning going on between researchers in the Global South and the Global North about the dynamics of “extraction” and “colonization” in the field. I agree with you that “The anti-oppressive movement is an interesting look at how we read and how we write.”

  6. I don’t believe I have expertise in information literacy. In workshops like the one we are participating in this semester; I realize how little I know. My ‘ leveling up” of proficiency has been an ongoing process. fairly recent. At Citytech, I am responsible for designing assignments that engage a group more diverse than in my previous academic experiences. And the standard graphic design reference material that had always appeared a bit stilted now appeared blatantly biased. I needed to reexamine my material and conclusions about what was and was not “design,” and who determined those conclusions. More difficult, I needed resources to support my conclusions.

    Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. In the past few years, the field of graphic design has made a concerted effort to reevaluate the definition of design, and who creates it.

    Now, when students research core concepts about information in this field, there are varied resources available. These resources affect what the Delphi Study describes as ways in which to address the affective, attitudinal, or valuing dimension of learning. I do subscribe to the idea of a meta literacy in terms of metacognition. The need for a lifelong practice of critical self-reflection seems particularly necessary in a rapidly changing ecosystem. This practice provides what Wiggins and McTighe refer to as threshold concepts, the portals that enlarge the understanding and practicing within that discipline. The expanded inclusion of previously ignored designers affects the valuing of multiple expressions of design as it allows for future expansion. What may seem comprehensive today might seem oppressive tomorrow. The concept of the “anti-oppressive researcher” means choosing to do research that challenges dominant ideas. Considering dominance by “reversing the gaze” on whom and what gets studied was just one step in understanding the process of information expertise. I expect to find many more.

    1. “Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. In the past few years, the field of graphic design has made a concerted effort to reevaluate the definition of design, and who creates it.
      Now, when students research core concepts about information in this field, there are varied resources available.”

      It is wonderful that there is a collective movement within your field to critically evaluate and “redesign” design!

  7. McCullough (2006) led an interesting discussion on what information literacy stands for in engineering, and what can be done to incorporate information literacy in engineering. Specifically, I agree with her stance that information literacy is the “essence of education”, and that its integration within existing curriculum can strengthen the purpose of higher education. One major part of engineering work is problem solving, which involves gathering of information about the problem and generate solutions based on research or information seeking. Her insights lead me specifically to examine what is done frequently in my field of vocational and technology education, so I can better understand the information literacy skills required by our graduates.

    The Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education critically address college student competencies such as research as inquiry, scholarship, searching and information creation. All of these competencies are delineated through the description of knowledge practices and expected dispositions. For instance, a student well-versed in scholarship as conversation will contribute to scholarship conversations such as conference seminars and identify barriers in participating across such conversations. These descriptions provide the instructor with additional tools to develop learning objectives to help student attain skills and dispositions expected as part of attaining information literacy.

    1. Hi. I really appreciate your thoughts here because among other classes I teach the English Department’s Technical Writing course (ENG2575), and one of the main assignments involves identifying a problem in a technical field, examining the issues, and proposing a solution. We do point the students toward the library in order to find information, but I don’t know that we do enough with the connection between problem identification and information search/evaluation. Sometimes it feels like they’re simply repeating what they find on an initial search rather than actually grappling with the problem and examining the different perspectives about that problem and its possible solutions. As you rightly point out, I’m not sure they understand the idea of “conversation” as part of information creation. And I struggle with how to make that real and immediate, especially in an asynchronous class.

      In other words, I don’t think reporting information is the same as engaging with the ideas. Information literacy is not simply a thing but is also a process, and one that students need in order to more fully engage in their own professional practices. I’ll keep struggling with how to do that better.

      1. Yes, I run into a similar problem with ENG 2575. I think students mistakenly go in thinking of the project as an informational research report, where they are just presenting what other sources have already said on the problem/issue. That’s not the case. As you say, they need to be in conversation with the sources, notice parallels or differences, and move beyond what has already been said. They are adding to the conversation and recommending a solution based on their analyses of information gathered (this can be an amalgamation of different existing solutions, or a suggestion on how to improve them). They are not simply reiterating the present solutions.

      2. Jacquelyn, I did not know what you taught. The skills are exactly what the ENT students need to work on. They live in manuals and specification sheets. They are always surprised these can be tools for their writing. Determining a thesis for their writing is usually the toughest step. I will guide them to you in the future. The idea of engaging the students on content they care about always propels them to write at at higher level.
        Teaching the students to write about how to solve a technical problem with use of information literacy will engrave the knowledge to a higher level of understanding.

    2. “One major part of engineering work is problem solving, which involves gathering of information about the problem and generate solutions based on research or information seeking” — this sentence is very interesting to me. It is a good way to think about research and what to do with research. Its ultimate goal is to solve a problem of one sort or other — including lack of previous research.

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