Archive for April, 2014|Monthly archive page

“My dolly’s bigger than your dolly”, or, Why our labels no longer matter

Here’s an expanded write-up of my part of the presentation on ANCIL at the recent Association of Learning Developers in Higher Education conference, one of whose key themes was ‘Who owns learning development?’. In response to this theme Jane, Maria and I talked about moving from theory to practice in the development of a shared academic skills curriculum that embraces information literacy, digital literacies, learning development and graduate identites. They spoke about the practical work they’re doing at LSE; I got to play with the concepts!

When Jane and I carried out the ANCIL research in 2011 one of the first things we did was to map out the landscape of information literacy and how we saw it overlapping with related areas.

 

InformationliteracyVenn

Our representation situates information literacy as the central concept, overlapping with areas of specific information application (new learning literacies), practices involving a specific type of information (digital literacies), and information in use in a particular context or community (academic and media literacies). The graphic was designed to show that we perceive information literacy as interwoven with all these areas – but it also suggests visually that information literacy is a grand narrative: the overarching, ‘master’ concept that relates and makes meaningful all the others.

It’s fair to say that both Jane and I perceived this landscape through the lens of information literacy, as that’s the conceptual matrix in which our approach developed. However, we soon began to see an equal degree of complexity in other areas, in particular recognising the strength of the claim that learning development constitutes a legitimate, epistemologically autonomous, and empirically grounded field of inquiry (see this wonderful article by Lillis and Scott). In other words, learning development could equally validly claim to occupy the central, relational role in our diagram, as a lens through which to see and connect the other areas – including digital and information literacies.

Similarly, digital literacy has gained a good deal of both recognition and traction in the UK higher education arena, where information literacy has notably failed to gain either. As a result, what Jane and I refer to as ‘information literacy’ is now often seen as being subsumed within the larger concept of ‘digital literacy’, in direct contrast to the ANCIL perception imaged above. In other words, digital literacy could equally validly claim to occupy the central, relational role in our diagram, as a lens through which to see and connect the other areas – including academic and information literacies.

Is this a deadlock, a stand-off? Not at all. Enter the wonderful matryoshka metaphor conceived by Florence Dujardin

RussianDolls_LachlanFearnley_ccbysa30

Hello, Dolly!

Mulling over the relationship between information and digital literacy at an SRHE event, Florence said (as nearly as I can remember): “In HE we’re always trying to put one concept inside another so that we can see our preferred one as the biggest idea. It’s like Russian dolls … and everyone’s dolls stack up differently.”

Over the past decade or so, in each of the areas of learning development, information literacy, and digital literacy there has been a radical shift in thinking away from a simplistic, functional and normative approach and towards recognising and honouring the complexity of learning outside the curriculum and the agency of those doing the learning. So here’s a thought: maybe we’re at the point now that it doesn’t actually matter which doll is the biggest, the outward, most visible one. Because of the way our thinking in all these areas has developed, maybe we’ve reached a point where although we’re coming from different specialties and start points, we’re all converging on the same goal: to provide opportunities for our students to construct and sensemake the academic landscape for themselves.

Jane’s and my attempt to map the place of information literacy was the start of a growing recognition on our part of how nuanced each of these specialist areas is, how shifting and negotiated this academic information landscape is, and likewise how fluid are our own practitioner identities as ‘belonging’ to one or more of these areas. As a teaching librarian, I move across and between the arenas of academic literacies, critical information use, digital literacy and graduate identity. I can’t separate them, even if I thought there were any mileage in trying. And I can situate my practice and my professional identity as comfortably in the context and discourse of Beetham and Sharpe’s digital literacy framework, Hinchliffe and Jolly’s VIPER model of graduate identity and employability, or Lillis and Scott’s epistemology of academic literacies, as I can within Bruce’s six frames of information literacy. It’s not that I ‘wear different hats’ in each different sphere: I do the same thing in the same relationship with students, aiming always at the same goal – to help them to realise a critical and reflective relationship with the information that shapes, filters and mediates our lived experience.

 

Image by Lachlan Fearney, CC BY-SA 3.0
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The academic support iceberg

I’ve just had one of those meetings – the kind that make you feel all zingy and creative and as bouncy as a puppy in a ball-pit. It was a conversation between librarians and learning developers, and there are few things more inspiring or full of possibility …

A lot of our discussion was about the ‘big picture’ of what both professions do in terms of academic support, and what it might look like to students. During our talk my colleague Sarah came up with a wonderful metaphor: there are three ‘prongs’ of academic development support – provided by lecturer, learning enhancement staff, and librarians. It’s an alliterative educational trident!

Then I started thinking about how visible each of those prongs is to learners, since mainstream subject content is often perceived as providing all the potential for academic development needed by students. As a (fairly vocal) proponent of both reflective information literacy and learning development, it’s probably no surprise that I feel that subject content needs to be interrogated, negotiated and contextualised in order for deep learning to be achieved. And so I give you … the academic support iceberg!

info_iceberg_image

Above the surface, the academic development environment most visible to students – that available within their discipline, through their interaction with their subject. Below the surface, the rich opportunities offered by stepping back to look at ‘how you do what you do’ and reflecting on how to manage your own learning, with support from specialists in information and education.

 

info_iceberg_bulleted

There are consonances here with ‘real’ conceptual models such as ANCIL and Beetham and Sharpe’s Digital Literacy framework, which express information and digital literacies as a continuum rather than a simplistic single skill, and with current thinking about learning development as a complex of situated social practices. But although the iceberg is a metaphor schema rather than a model, I still like it rather a lot – not least because it’s reminiscent of other surface/depth schemata such as Alke Groppel-Wegener’s wonderful ‘Fish-scale of academicness‘:

Fishscale of Academicness

There’s more about Alke’s Fishscale schema in this post, too. I wonder if there’s room for a trident in there next to the treasure chest … ?