The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…

Threshold Concepts for Information Literacy as a Potential Support for Student SoTL Researchers

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Written by Jen Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University

At ISETL last month, I had the good fortune to attend a session presented by Amelia Koford, Daniel Braaten, Collin Bost, and Mark Dribble (all representing Texas Lutheran University) titled, “How Threshold Concepts Help Students Think Like Researchers.” In this session, the audience was introduced to the Association of College & Research Libraries new Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education, a resource meant to guide students’ understanding of obtaining information while engaging in research. To this end, the Framework was established as a set of six threshold concepts (concepts that, when learned, create transformative learning experiences for students that change their perceptions and allow newer, broader, and deeper understanding of critical concepts).

While various, discipline-specific threshold concepts have been identified for learners, those presented within this Framework apply to a more cross-disciplinary audience and could potentially prove useful as a structure to support novice researchers in developing a focused understanding of the research process.

In SoTL communities, we have been talking about the need to increase the presence of student voices in SoTL research. Perhaps this Framework could be helpful in this endeavor? Consider the Framework’s threshold concepts and descriptions (excerpted entirely from the original source document):

Authority is Constructed and Contextual

“Information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and   are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used. Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority. It is contextual in that the information need may help to determine the level of authority required. ”

Information Creation as a Process

“Information in any format is produced intentionally to convey a message and is shared via a selected delivery method. The iterative processes of research, creating, revising, and disseminating information vary, and the resulting product reflects these differences.”

Information Has Value

“Information possesses several dimensions of value, including as a commodity, as a means of education, as a means to influence, and as a means of negotiating and understanding the world.”

Research as Inquiry

“Research is iterative and depends upon asking increasingly complex or new questions whose answers in turn develop additional questions or lines of inquiry in any field.”

Scholarship as Conversation

“Communities of scholars, researcher, or professionals engage in sustained discourse with new insights and discoveries occurring over time as a result of varied perspectives and interpretations.”

Searching as Strategic Exploration

“Searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a broad range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding is developed.”

Arguably, each of these threshold concepts can be directly applied to SoTL research in a broad manner including a variety of approaches and representations across disciplines. With that in mind, I am curious. If we agree that these threshold concepts can apply to SoTL, how do we/should we help our student SoTL researchers understand these threshold concepts? How did we, as SoTL researchers, internalize these concepts and how can we best model these ideals? Please consider sharing your input in the comment area below to start a discussion on these topics!


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