Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Issues from Parallel Session 6B

I am blogging here about issues from the session I chaired this morning. Agneta Lantz and Christina Brage talked about Information Literacy: from theory to practical implications and Hesham Azmi presented Critical appraisal of information literacy programs: an evidence based approach to assess an Information and Research Skills course in Qatar University.

As session chair I had the task of identifying “three issues or implications arising for research” from the session and “One question to address in the final plenary”. All session chairs have been asked to do this, and as well as some of the questions being used in the final plenary, the issues will also be used in compiling the issue of Libri that will contain some of the full papers from the conference.

At the end of the session I asked participants if they had some suggestions. I only scribbled a few notes, and so I might have misinterpreted things. If anyone who was in the session reads this, I’d be grateful if they add any comments they have! Below are my proposals for the 3 issues, one question, and a "reserve" issue.

One issue I identified was:
1. “The need for discussion in the information literacy community on the nature of evidence” (as in – Evidence Based Librarianship, or Evidence Based Practice). It seems to me that this EBL movement is putting too much emphasis on quantitative methods, and are judging qualitative research using quantiative approaches, which is inappropriate and fails, in fact, to help distinguish between excellent and less excellent quaslitative research. When there is so much interest in looking at the “impact” or “effectiveness” of IL education, this is particularly unfortunate, since it is evident from the (voluminous) educational research literature that qualitative research approaches are important. “Taking” information literacy education is not like “taking” a drug to fight a disease.

Hesham had made some good points which I would agree with e.g. that the IL literature has a lot of descriptive studies and far fewer that clearly present research evidence (see the ppt I gave at the LILAC conference where I was presenting on this point ;-) However – is it, for example, important that we should be homing in on using specific research methods so we can get a lot of comparable studies? Is replication desirable – or even possible given that every cohort of students is different? A very interesting debate ensued at the end of the session I chaired. This is something which has been talked through more in the Information Behaviour community, but the IL research community has different research questions and concerns, so personally I think it is a worthwhile debate. Thanks to Hesham for stirring this debate.
The other issues suggested were as follows:
2. “Creating a vocabulary for information literacy and information behaviour” both for our own purposes, and also for those outside the information field to use when engaging with these areas.
One confusion that was mentioned was the use of the word “research” to mean “search” (as in “research skills” meaning skills in seeking and selecting information). Certainly I have found this an issue: when we asked our first year students last semester what they thought “research” was, most of them gave definitions that were mostly about “search”. I can’t really blame them, since if they have looked at the IL literature they will have seen “research skills” often used in that way. Personally I think that with centrally important concepts like IL and IB themselves you will always get a variety of subtly different definitions as they are evolving concepts and people are positioning themselves in the field. However, then can be broad agreement, particularly when you look at how we present ourselves and our research domains to others. In her keynote Amanda Spink identified “help people learn and think more about their Information Behaviour” as a key research challenge, with “giving people a vocabulary” as part of that. So this is extending that to IL.

3. “How to reach educational administrators” – the research issue here is perhaps the need for more research about their approach to information literacy – or into what would persuade them to focus more on IL in their institutional planning and policy. Thinking about this I am reminded that it is not always (or even generally?) the “rational” arguments that influence managers in decision making! I remember a presentation at the lifelong learning conference in Australia where it was shown how little Government policy is influenced by relevant research (in any field)!

The next emerged as an issue, but I think it makes a nice question for the final plenary:
Question: “How can we create an international forum to share experience of IL research and associated issues: expanding on and continuing discussion at this conference” Obviously there are lots of fora for sharing news etc. about information literacy – but perhaps there needs to be something particularly focusing on research issues. A wiki? A facebook group? ;-)

Also raised as an issue was the following. I will make it the “reserve” issue since I think it did come up a bit at the first plenary session:
Reserve question: “How to teach the teachers to teach IL
Photos by Sheila Webber: Top - poster session; 2nd photo - sporran in a Dundee shop window, June 2007.


Scharrlatan said...

While Sheila's comments on quantitative evidence do reflect where evidence based practice originated they are now anachronistic in the sense that both within evidence based library and information practice and within the wider movement of evidence based practice there is increasing recognition of the value of qualitative research. At the EBLIP4 Conference in May I gave a presentation on how systematic reviews of qualitative research can usefully inform library practice. In addition Liasa Given has done much to champion qualitative evidence:
Given, Lisa M. 2006. Qualitative research in evidence-based practice: A valuable partnership. Library Hi-Tech: Evidence-based Librarianship 24, no. 3: 376-386
and in the Open Access EBLIP journal:
Evidence‐Based Practice and Qualitative Research: A Primer for Library and
Information Professionals

and Peter Brophy has proposed "narrative based librarianship" as an antidote to evidence based librarianship in the same way that "narrative based medicine" is an important part of evidence based medicine.

Sheila Webber said...

Hi, yes I am aware of people from within the EBL movement troubling the notion that EBL has to be quantatively focused (and if you are who I think you are then I read a paper of yours about this ;-) However, I would still contend that not everyone has "caught up" with this and the default position in discourse is towards seeing things like randomised trials being a "gold standard" and qualitative approaches (like case studies) being dismissed en masse without acknowledging the ways in which robust qualitative research can be distinguished. For example, not acknowledging the huge difference between something which calls itself a "case study" and is basically a description of one situation from one perspective with no real research intervention, and a good research study using a case study approach drawing on multiple sources of evidence to produce an analysis etc etc. I'm not saying that YOU don't recognise this.

On another note, it's very nice to have a comment from outside the conference!

Christine Irving said...

I would like to add to the points Sheila has identified.

“Creating a vocabulary for information literacy and information behaviour” both for our own purposes, and also for those outside the information field to use when engaging with these areas.
I think for the vocabulary to evolve you first need to gain an understanding of the area you want to become involved in or influence. The i3 conference goes some way to starting that process by having professionals from three different information fields together in one place. It is also beneficial as one speaker said (I think it was Amanda Spink) to attend other professional conferences that have relevance to your own field. I recently attended the Centre for Research in Lifelong Learning and greatly benefited from it. Having just completed an MSc in Lifelong Learning and Development I could engage with professionals working in this field. The MSc opened up the world of lifelong learning, learning theories, styles and workplace learning which all proved really useful in carrying out a small exploratory study of information literacy in the workplace. It has also enabled engagement with professionals working in community learning. In turn hopefully those professionals are learning about information literacy in our discussions.

I remember being told to have the end user in mind when constructing any form of communication and this includes the vocabulary you use. This in someway ties up with something Helen Partridge talked about in relation to Community Information Literacy (CIL) research and different dimensions to it i.e. looking at it (CIL) through different frames or lenses. We need to remember that different people / professions will look at things differently and that we can sometimes be talking about the same thing but using different vocabulary as we may be looking through a different lens. I think sometimes we forget this in our enthusiasm and desperation when talking to politicians, policy makers, grant holders, teachers, lecturers etc as you will not get anywhere using the vocabulary our own profession use.

Also as Martin Westwell’s presentation demonstrated if you focus too closely on one thing then you might miss what is going on around / the bigger picture. I think this is often true of information literacy.

“How to reach educational administrators”
I think we sometimes forget that educational organisations are businesses and places of work and that as in the workplace you need to identify the organisations aims and objectives and demonstrate how you can contribute to them (using their language).

There is probably much that we can learn from knowledge management as Bonnie Cheuk’s presentation ‘Information and knowledge in the workplace: love it or hate it’ demonstrated.

I think it is also about making contacts, as Karen Cunningham, Head of Libraries & Community Facilities, Glasgow said at a skills day I attended - get out there and be prepared to talk to everyone, build trust and partnerships slowly, delivering what you say you will and giving back as much of your time and commitments as you can.

“How to teach the teachers to teach IL”
I have only heard of one library and information professional being asked to do an information literacy session for student teachers and that was in Scotland. Which reminds me I should follow up on that and find out what the outcome was.

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Anonymous said...

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