Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

The research jigsaw

I’ve been mulling a lot recently over how to describe what it is I teach, why information literacy isn’t the same thing as learning to use the library, and above all why it can’t be covered in an hour at the start of term. I’ve been using the concept of the ‘information landscape’ to give an idea of the scale and complexity of the information-handling abilities needed by researchers.  This idea extends neatly into a broader metaphor schema where the subject knowledge is the landscape, while information literacy is the set of navigational and survival tools you bring with you into that terrain – the map, the compass, the energy bars, the binoculars.

I like the landscape metaphor a lot, particularly because it lets me talk about research as exploration and discovery, which is an aspect I sometimes feel we don’t stress enough. It also maps nicely to ANCIL’s ten strands, which express the idea that information literacy isn’t a homogeneous, one-shot entity but a complex (and contextual) array of practices and values around using information. However, when talking to course leaders recently about the set of modular classes i’m designing for their students, I found myself thinking of UWE’s iSkillZone, which uses a colourful, clickable jigsaw image on its front page. Jigsaw pieces are discrete units in their own right, but when put together they make  a larger, harmonious entity – literally, a big picture …

M.St. research jigsaw

So here’s the research jigsaw I designed for masters level students. I plan to give an introductory session that touches briefly on each piece and how they interlock to create a framework for supporting research. Later in the course we’ll focus on specific pieces when we look at various aspects of the research process in more detail, such as literature searching, information and data management, referencing and attribution, and academic writing.

The question mark is partly in homage to the Three Investigators, whose business cards feature question marks that stand for unanswered questions and unsolved mysteries. That seems to me a pretty good parallel with research – but when I send the diagram to course leaders I might express it a bit more like this:

In this diagram the question mark could stand for creating and developing a research question, e.g. during the dissertation phase. It could also stand for the unpredictable ‘unknown unknowns’ that crop up during the process of doing research, including its emotional impact – stuff that can blindside you, throw a curve ball, or give you a new direction and impetus (sometimes all four). Finally, it also stands for the keystone of research: “never stop asking questions”.

I also had a go at mapping the jigsaw pieces to the ANCIL strands, which worked out well:

M.St. research jigsaw mapped to ANCIL strands

Between all the pieces all but the ‘transitional’ strands, 1 (Transition to Higher Education) and 10 (Social dimension of information), are addressed. Seeing that gap is a useful outcome to the exercise, all by itself.