Expert Opinions: Investigating Threshold Concepts for Information Literacy Instruction

Library Research Seminar V: Integrating Practice and Research | October 6-9, 2010, College Park MD
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Korey Brunetti Reference/Instruction Librarian, California State University, East Bay |

Amy R. Hofer Distance Learning Librarian, Portland State University |

Lori Townsend Data Librarian for Social Sciences & Humanities, University of New Mexico |


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.

Study Design

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).


Theme: Metadata

Theme: Web Organization

Theme: Database Structure

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.

Theme: Format

Theme: Authority

Theme: Information Cycle

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

Theme: Citation and plagiarism


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