Implementing ACRL’s New IL Framework: Practical Directions for Threshold Concepts

In this breakout session, facilitated by Robert Farrell, Coordinator for Information Literacy & Assessment at Lehman College, participants began by identifying their concerns implementing the new Information Literacy Framework at their institutions. Some of these issues included:

  • How to use the framework to make a programmatic message
  • How to implement the framework into pedagogy (practice)/ How to craft assignments (many were disappointed with the “sandbox” promised in the new IL Framework)
  • How to explain Threshold Concepts, and especially Threshold Concepts related to information literacy, to their faculty
  • How to present the framework to teaching librarians and earn their buy-in
  • How to use threshold concepts when not operating within a discipline (i.e., many of us teach at community colleges where students are mostly taking foundational and prerequisite courses, not disciplinary courses for a major)
  • How to distinguish between the framework’s “knowledge practices” and “knowledge dispositions” and apply them to teaching

After identifying these issues, the group discussed the differences between knowledge practices and dispositions. (Knowledge Practices are more like the outcomes listed in the standards because they describe specific behaviors, using words like “define, use, understand vs develop, motivate, question.” Dispositions are more like habits of mind, or ways of thinking, and describe how one is in the world.) After this discussion, the group decided that implementing the concepts into pedagogy was the most pressing, and it would be most helpful/beneficial to their work if they could think about possible assignments and activities. Thus, they decided to redesign an existing assignment to incorporate Threshold Concepts and then design an assignment, from scratch, based on a Threshold Concept.

I. Assignment Redesign

Participants outlined these steps in their redesign process:

  1. Analyze existing assignment
  2. Assess the assignment
  3. Compare and contrast the assignment with respect to the new framework and the existing IL standards
Whiteboard notes from session discussion

Whiteboard notes from session discussion

Participants chose to redesign a one-shot evaluation activity that included the CRAPP test (where CRAAP is an acronym for the evaluative criteria “Currency,” “Relevance,” “Authority,” “Accuracy,” and “Purpose”) for a course in which students were researching a social issue (in this case, anorexia). They identified “Authority is Constructed and Contextual,” “Information has Value,” and “Scholarship is a Conversation” as potential threshold concepts on which to focus. The group observed that the CRAAP test, introduced without reference to one of these concepts, does not focus much on dispositional qualities.

To fix this problem, they brainstormed these ways of modifying the session with a focus on the concept, Scholarship is a Conversation:

  1. Provide students with multiple sources form them to evaluate and assign them the task of categorizing the different perspectives in each source.
  2. Ask students to track a citation from a scholarly article (either one the librarian has assigned or that they find themselves). Once they find the article, ask them to read it, and reflect on whether the first article agrees/disagrees with the cited article.
  3. After students read two (or more) articles that are in conversation with each other, ask to draw stick figures talking to each other with thought bubbles that contain the main concepts of each perspective.

II. New Assignment

Before designing an assignment from scratch, Robert gave an example of an assignment that incorporates a Threshold Concept to start with, about how he teaches Scholarship as a Conversation. He meets students upstairs and asks them, as they walk downstairs to the classroom, to think about what makes a good conversation or a good conversationalist. They come up with a good list including style, knowledge/evidence, medium (face to face, text messages), time (synchronous/asynchronous), and rhetorical moves (agree/disagree/partially agree or disagree). Then we can think about who the conversationalists are within the students’ topics.

Creating Assignment

Concept map created in session discussion

Keeping this example in mind, the group then drafted a new assignment that focused on the Threshold Concept, Information has Value. They wanted to create an assignment that would help students understand the value of scholarly production. The group created a concept map (see image on right) of different ways that scholarly work can be of value, including economic and social value. Then they designed the following activity for a one-shot session tailored to a STEM-related course (although it could be easily adapted for a humanities course as well):

  1. Once class starts, give students an article (perhaps one about a pharmaceutical drug so that you can tie into the consumer sphere in the end). The students could work in teams or individually.
  2. Ask students to skim through the article to identify the funding source.
  3. Once they know who funded the research, ask students to research the organization, paying particular attention to the organization’s mission. Ask students to try to identify the organization’s values and to reflect on how these values may have shaped the research and article in hand.
  4. Ask students to brainstorm what they think the authors’ (the scientists’) values are. Suggest that they Google the scientists and locate their CVs to find this information. Guide their observations so that they might think about non-economic values (like prestige, if the journal is prestigious or if the authors’ CVs are filled with honors or open access, if the journal is open access). Possible questions: What does the scientist value? Who is the scientist? What are the values of the organization the scientist works for? Why do they write the article? What else have they written?
  5. Follow this activity with a short lecture/intervention about the publication process and how information is disseminated. For instance, if this article is about a major drug ingredient, you might help students make the connection that the research has consumer value, too, since the scientists’ research has been applied by the pharmaceutical industry to make drugs for sale to consumers. This discussion could extend into a discussion about patents as well.

    Whiteboard notes on steps for new assignment

    Whiteboard notes on steps for new assignment

  6. As an assessment, ask students to do a one-minute reflection about the different ways that the article they examined has value. Alternately, ask them to write down the Muddiest Point (i.e. “What was the muddiest point in this discussion about how information has value?”).

III. Further Reading

During this session the following resources were mentioned as potential reading related to implementing the new framework in the classroom:

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