Expert Opinions: Investigating Threshold Concepts for Information Literacy Instruction
Library Research Seminar V: Integrating Practice and Research | October 6-9, 2010, College Park MD
Watch our presentation: http://voicethread.com/share/1425348/
Read our abstract: http://www.lrsv.umd.edu/abstracts/Townsend_et_al.pdf
Korey Brunetti Reference/Instruction Librarian, California State University, East Bay | firstname.lastname@example.org
Amy R. Hofer Distance Learning Librarian, Portland State University | email@example.com
Lori Townsend Data Librarian for Social Sciences & Humanities, University of New Mexico | firstname.lastname@example.org
As information literacy instructors, we regularly encounter students who have difficulty understanding foundational concepts of our discipline. We sought experienced perspectives on where students encountered troublesome concepts within the instructional content of information literacy.
Our study employs open-ended qualitative survey questions to explore the commonalities that emerge through querying information literacy practitioners about where their students often get stuck. Our theoretical approach is a pedagogical framework called threshold concepts (Meyer & Land, 2006).
Overarching Theme: Google
Google, as a search tool and shorthand for web content in general, permeated our responses. Librarians pointed out the ways in which the web has re-written the rules of search, evaluation and format identification - in other words, our instructional content.
Overarching Theme: Affect
Librarians pointed to attitudes or emotions of students regarding research, the library, or academia. Affect is not related to content but is helpful in identifying threshold concepts, as student frustrations pinpoint trouble spots in course design.
Category: Finding Information (Relates to ACRL Standard 2)
Students have difficulty both identifying where to find information that is appropriate for their research, and building more complex search strategies that exploit advantages of search systems (they apply simplistic search strategies that work with Google).
- Students lack awareness of metadata, expect all online information to be full-text, & tend to avoid controlled vocabularies/subject searching.
- Possible threshold concept: Metadata makes information findable.
Theme: Web Organization
- Students don’t understand how search engines organize info on the web, and how this differs from relational databases. There’s pervasive belief that everything is online and findable by Google, and that one source is adequate for their research needs.
- Possible threshold concept addressing web organization.
Theme: Database Structure
- Database structure-related concepts such as using faceted search options, limiters, and particularly search boxes, were frequently highlighted as student trouble spots.
- Google and, increasingly, library search interfaces put the mechanics of search beneath a deceptively simple skin, the “single search box” phenomenon. However, not all search boxes work the same way.
- Possible threshold concept addressing database structure and “findability.”
Category: Evaluating Information (Relates to ACRL Standard 3)
In the Google age, students must act as little selectors when evaluating resources while searching the web. In the past, this kind of evaluation of sources for credibility/authority was librarians’ domain. Bibliographic instruction formerly concerned processes for finding information; now we must also teach them how to evaluate what they find.
- Web makes it difficult for students to distinguish between traditional formats (books, journal articles, newspapers) while introducing new digital-only formats (blogs, government websites, etc.).
- Threshold concept: Format is a process.
- Authority is difficult to judge when the student is not an expert and sources on the web are often lacking credentials or anonymous.
- Threshold concept: Authority is constructed and contextual.
Theme: Information Cycle
- Students must understand the way information is created and disseminated in order to evaluate scholarly materials. Students must examine the validity of the methodology/findings within a disciplinary context.
- Threshold concept: Disciplinary creation of information (primary & secondary sources).
Category: Using Information (Relates to ACRL Standard 5)
Brings together themes such as the economics of information production and dissemination, citation and plagiarism, intellectual property, and originality.
Theme: Information as a commodity
- Students don’t understand their position as consumers (and producers) of information in a system with many stakeholders; librarians tend to focus instead on the mechanics of citation/plagiarism.
- Threshold concept: information as a commodity.
Theme: Citation and plagiarism
- Relates to other themes of disciplinarity, format.
- Primarily concerns non-content literacy skills such as academic writing and reading comprehension.
- Through collecting and analyzing our peers’ perspectives on student “stuck places” and challenging content areas, we have confirmed that threshold concepts are a useful approach for information literacy instruction.
- We suggest that emphasizing the information science side of the content we teach will improve student understanding by helping them think like information professionals.
For further reading:
- Association of College & Research Libraries. (2007). Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. In American Library Association, Association of College & Research Libraries. Retrieved November 10, 2008, from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/standards/informationliteracycompetency.cfm
- Meyer, J., & Land, R. (Eds.). (2006). Overcoming barriers to student understanding: Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge. London: Routledge.
- Meyer, J., & Land, R. (2007, August 17). Stop the conveyor belt, I want to get off. Times Higher Education Supplement, 1807, 14. Retrieved from http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=90288§ioncode=26