Threshold Concepts and Outcomes for LIS 101

Through the readings, multimedia content, and exercises on this site, students will learn that information literacy is a complex matrix of skills and understandings. They will learn that searching for information is a process of inquiry and exploration, that authority and credibility are culturally and economically determined conceits, that viewpoints expressed by sources represent a variety of frames in an ongoing dialog of knowledge, that information has both social and economic value, and that using information ethically is as much about faithful interaction with ideas as it is about correct citations. Such theoretical underpinnings of information or threshold concepts, as they are called in the ACRL Framework and supporting literature, resist assessment; however, the demand for the measurement of student learning should not be ignored. With the understanding that a baseline of observable skills may merely scratch the surface of a more holistic understanding, the conceptual, transformative aspects of learning in a class such as LIS 101 may by necessity be shorthanded into a list of functionally measured skills. Thus, students who have completed this course will be able to:

  • recognize when they need to know additional information to complete their papers and projects
  • create objective search strategies
  • perform advanced searches in library databases and internet search engines
  • evaluate sources for usability based on recognition of timeliness, authority, and credibility
  • ethically use sources to complete research papers and annotated bibliographies

 

Information Literacy in the Context of the Curriculum

Somewhere in the documentation of every college or university is a list of general education objectives. Information literacy is always included on the list, either as its own unique item worth learning about as part of a college experience, or lumped together with computer literacy as a kind of catchall. Usually schools try to satisfy the information literacy objective by having some classes assign research papers and projects, and in turn having some of those classes bring their students to the library for one-hour training sessions. That, they hope, is information literate enough.

But the media/information landscape is more confusing and sprawling than ever before, and it seems clear that a one-hour session in which students mostly learn how to do keyword searches in a couple of different databases is insufficient to prepare students to navigate it. Information literacy is traditionally defined as the ability to access, evaluate, and use information legally and ethically. Implied aspects of this definition are that students also know when they need information beyond what they already know (or think they know!); that they know where (and when!) different kinds of information may exist; that they understand the pitfalls of different paradigms of information ownership, creation, and reportage; that their evaluation of information will include the nuances of timeliness, objectivity, and credibility; and finally, that they will understand the cultural, political, economic, psychological, and even biological forces that compel some people to prefer one message to another.

Thus, teaching students to be information literate is fundamentally about teaching them to understand how and why people communicate and to think critically about what is being communicated and how it is being communicated, to acknowledge the relationship between communicator and audience, and ultimately to apply those understandings to an informed research practice that aims for truth, even if that truth is upsetting, unwelcome, or impractical. All the while, a source may be topical, timely, or out of date; tertiary, primary, or secondary; credible, incredible, or a mixture of both; biased, objective, or falsely balanced; some combination of fact or opinion, opinion about fact, fact about opinion, distortion of fact, oversimplification of fact, oversimplification of opinion, and so much more.

Understanding how all of this fits together to help inform personal and societal understandings about the world is the challenge of information literacy. In order to meet this challenge there are some basic guidelines that it would be best to take to heart.

 

Regarding the political aspect of information literacy:

* There is a long and rich history of those in power creating, framing, and/or selectively presenting information in a way that would serve their interests.

* How people access information is often dependent on their political beliefs, and those beliefs are ingrained in us in more ways than previously imagined.

 

Regarding the economic aspect of information literacy:

* Knowing the right information at the right time is a very valuable skill to have.

* The wealthy and elite have access to information that the poor and disenfranchised do not have access to.

* In free market economies, the availability of information is dependent on at least one of the following conditions:  the revenue from selling that information, the revenue from selling advertising to try to influence the people who access it, and/or a benefactor or body who pays for the publishing up front.

 

Regarding the sociocultural aspect of information literacy:

* How information is presented and how people react to it are both influenced by their culture, which is comprised of language, beliefs and norms that are meant to represent shared history, ideology, and values.

* Certain words accrue extra- and meta- meanings over time as they are imbued with nuances inherited from belief systems and culture, thus, the same sentence might mean two different things to two different people.


Learning these basic tenets of information will demystify much of the discourse one may encounter on any given day and should be seen as a crucial first step in becoming information literate. Additionally, students (and people, in general) should strive to understand their own biases, resist the urge to build those biases into their research, evaluate sources objectively and evenly, recognize that scholarship is a discussion and that new information may or may not overwrite all of the information that came before it, and take time to understand the context of information before relying on it for an unrelated task.  

If that seems like a lot, it is!  But this text will help.  Each module contains informative readings which explore how information is created, disseminated, interpreted, and used, as well as research skills that are applicable to any and all research tasks. Though students need not follow them in order, the ideas presented in each module do complement or build on earlier modules. The sources cited throughout are all annotated on the annotated bibliography.

 

About this Text  

The text approaches understanding by providing historical background of the issues central to information literacy and by then extending the concepts to present-day research practices. This particular order and assemblage of information is one possibility out of countless others, and it is perfectly reasonable to find, for instance, other aspects of the legal environment more central to the issues than the ones represented here.  A dialogue about the differences is encouraged, even hoped for. How these modules are ordered, included, or omitted in an instructor’s class is a matter of academic freedom, and users are free to pick and choose from the materials at will. Attribution to www.lis101.com is appreciated.

Jaron Lanier points out in You Are Not a Gadget that design choices may have far-reaching and unintended repercussions on everyday processes that are not yet apparent to the designers. This site has been designed using the Divi Builder created by Elegant Themes.  One aspect of the design is that the Search feature signified by the magnifying glass in the header, identifies which module a keyword appears in but does not specify the individual toggle/chapter containing the word.  The best way to maneuver this oversight is to perform a keyword search using the search tool in the header.  Once the page is opened, simply click each toggle to open all of them, then perform a ctrl+F search for the desired term.  This is, admittedly, an inelegant solution, so if Elegant Themes provides a fix, it will be applied as soon as possible.

 

About the Framework

The framework is a long overdue expansion of our role.  Every librarian has memorized the 2001 definition of information literacy, which is (1) the ability to know when you need additional information, (2) to know how to find it from a variety of sources, (3) to know how to critically evaluate it, and (4) to know how to use it ethically and legally.  The problem with such a definition is that is puts equal emphasis on all of the skills in the set.  How it translates to non-librarians is, “Well, obviously everyone knows when they need additional information, they will go to the library and learn how to use the databases and find books, they will not use the internet, and they won’t plagiarize.”  The end result is that showing students how to plug keywords into the databases is the end-all be-all of information literacy instruction.  Clearly, however,  learning how to put together a search strategy is the least of your worries if you haven’t learned when you need more information; how to evaluate it for bias, timeliness, and credibility; and how to ethically present it after you find it. These tasks represent advanced taxonomies, deep knowledge of self, and a complex and nuanced understanding of how information is created, disseminated, interpreted, and used. These tasks are difficult in an information landscape filled with distractions, falsities, exaggerations, back and forth polemics masked as journalism, pay-for-play pseudo-academic journals, and nakedly partisan think tank studies.  

The framework can be mapped to the definition, and each aspect of that definition further refined to a specific set of skills. Maoria J. Kirker, the Information Services & Assessment Librarian at George Mason University has provided a simple graphic that shows the interrelations. Where applicable, I will trace each reading and research skill lesson back to this graphic.  On the lis101 homepage, an index of tags maps concepts to exercises, lessons, and readings.

 

maoriakirkermapping

Librarian Maoria Kirker has mapped the old definition of information literacy to the new framework. She likewise lists the discrete skill sets encompassed by each.