On Friday, November 13 I traveled to Ypsilanti, Michigan to attend the inaugural LOEX Fall Focus Conference. This two day conference focused exclusively on the new Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. There were about 120 instruction librarians in attendance from across the nation.
A Brief History of the Framework
For those of you who keep up with what has been happening in the ACRL world of instruction librarianship, you know that our world has been rocked by the February 2015 filing of the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. In 2011, it was decided by an ACRL Review Task Force, that significant revisions were needed to the fifteen year old Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. In March 2013, the Revision Task Force began their work and in January 2014 the first draft of the Framework was introduced. Reactions to the Framework were mixed and many discussions (often heated) ensued. The controversy swirled around the nature of the Framework. While the Standards focused on information literacy as skills-based, the Framework introduced information literacy as a social practice. Originally, the Framework was supposed to replace the Standards, but in February 2015, the ACRL Board of Directors decided to “file” (as opposed to “adopt”) the Framework. And so this past weekend, 120 instruction librarians from across the country gathered together to try and figure out what all of this means for the instructional programs at our institutions.
LOEX day one – Friday
I will begin by saying that I wish they had kicked off this conference with a plenary session such as the one we had Saturday morning. While many key concepts were introduced throughout the conference, it would have been great to have someone provide a more structured context for the new Framework with more discussion about the learning theory behind the Framework. While I believe I finally have a grasp on “Threshold Concepts” as being transformative, troublesome, and irreversible, there are other learning theory ideas that I’m still trying to digest. For example, there was mention throughout the two days that information literacy can only be understood within the context of a discipline or social context. Also, it was evident that some of the concepts truly resonated with the librarians (so many references to “Scholarship is a Conversation”!), but some of the concepts were rarely mentioned such as “Research as Inquiry.”
SESSION one – “Translating the Framework into Your Current Practice” by Jo Angela Oehrli and Diana Perpich (U of Michigan)
This session incorporated a jigsaw exercise which the presenters use to train the 100 people who do library instruction at the University of Michigan. They took three of the concepts and distributed them on colored cards throughout the room so that each person held one frame: Authority is Constructed and Contextual; Scholarship as Conversation; and Searching as Strategic Exploration. You first found 2 other people who had your same concept (mine was “Scholarship is a Conversation”) and I must say that it was very interesting to hear what others are doing with that frame! When I teach, I just mention the concept in class (which is a valid approach I later learned!), but some instructors have students examine articles that build upon previous articles/research. The first group was our “expert” group. We then formed our “jigsaw” group and found people with the same color card but with different concepts. We then shared what we learned and that was also interesting! For the “Authority is Contextual,” one librarian was into rock bands and she talked about how a band becomes an “authority” for that type of music. That is not an analogy I could use, but I bet Steve Kelley could nail that!
SESSION Two – Information Literacy by Design by Jonathan McMichael and Liz McGlynn (UNC-CH)
Some of the sessions I attended just tbecause of who was presenting (in this case Jonathan). This presentation was based on Liz McGlynn’s SILS Master’s Paper. In this presentation, they talked about how they trained graduate students and paraprofessionals to use Understanding by Design (which they changed to Information Literacy by Design) to shape their library instruction sessions for their freshmen English 105 classes. They credited the Framework with freeing up the canned sessions they previously presented, to empowering their instructors to tailor the sessions by keeping the learning outcomes for the session the main purpose of the session. They use “Big Ideas” to transform student experiences (very much in line with “Threshold Concepts”) and they teach using “chunking” rather than “coverage.” On a side note, every time I hear Jonathan speak I feel like I’m not working hard enough! The undergraduate library at UNC has two instruction librarians and they are reaching over 300 sections of this writing class by using graduate students and paraprofessionals as instructors, and that is just one piece of what he accomplishes each semester!
SESSION Three – Framing New Frames by Lisa Hinchliffe (U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and Laura Saunders (Simmons College)
This was probably the most highly anticipated breakout sessions of the conference. Lisa is the lead instructor for “Immersion,” a past ACRL President, and an active contributor to listserves and social media about information literacy issues. Her skepticism of the Framework has been well documented. Laura Saunders is an Assistant Professor at the Simmons School of Library and Information Science.
They began their discussion by talking about the pros and cons of the Framework. They saw its potential in how it is conceptually based, how it inspires pedagogy, how the metaphors invite exploration, and how the new-ness is energizing. They saw the pitfalls as: treat frames as standards (I will reiterate this later, but this was mentioned several times—frames were never meant to be measured or treated like standards); thresholds become ends; functions to limit and not expand; unclear state of concepts rejected. Lisa and Laura both pitched the idea that we need to go with the idea of just “concepts” and give up the theoretical “threshold concepts.” They also believe that the Framework should allow for new concepts to be added. Laura’s new Concept was “Information Social Justice” and Lisa’s Concept was “Information Apprenticeship in Community.” You can read their Knowledge Practices and Dispositions here.
LOEX day two – Saturday
PLENARY – Merinda Kaye Hensley (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
By far, the highlight of the conference was the plenary session on Saturday morning. Merinda Kaye Hensley served on the Framework committee and I learned so many things from her presentation! She presented findings from a study from a survey (in which I participated!) about how the Framework was being used in the Fall of 2015. While that information was interesting, it was the nuggets of additional information that were fascinating! She was a superb presenter and she reminded the group that the Framework was a committee effort and she did not agree with all of the document. She talked about the new definition of information literacy. The old definition could easily be summed up by saying: “an information literate person is one who can find, evaluate, and use information.” Here is the new definition: “Information literacy is the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.” Merinda pointed out that there is nothing in the new definition about evaluating which she sees as an essential element to information literacy.
Here are some findings from the survey: 1) most believe that threshold concepts help to elevate librarians from practitioners to instructors; 2) one of the complaints of the Framework is that the learning theory jargon contributes to confusion; 3) people are divided over whether or not information literacy is a discipline (most do not think it is).
She said that FRAMES CANNOT BE TESTED and she specifically mentioned the TATIL test that is being developed to test the Framework! This was reiterated in other sessions by other presenters, but she clearly stated that TATIL was missing the intent of the Framework. This was significant for a couple of reasons: one was that TATIL was presented a breakout the day before, and also we (ZSR) agreed to help test the BETA version of this with at least 25 of our students. Learning Outcomes should be tested, not the Frames.
Another very important criticism of the Framework is that there are no Learning Outcomes included. Each institution is encouraged to come up with their own Learning Outcomes to meet the particular needs of their institution. She stated that the knowledge practices and dispositions should be based on Learning Outcomes and not the Frames. This one idea was worth the entire conference for me! No wonder we are all grasping to understand this document. She also believes that the Standards and the Framework can exist together and that many people are pulling Learning Outcomes from the Standards to be used in the Framework.
The last nugget of gold that she tossed out, was that “No one is expected to teach all the frames.” She went on to say that sometimes just mentioning a concept at the beginning or end of a class is enough. By the way, I did not realize the Frames are listed in alphabetical order! The committee could never agree on an order based on priority.
Session 5 – “A Framework Rubric” by Emily Z. Brown and Susan Souza Mort (Bristol Community College)
Emily and Susan used the LEAP VALUE Information Literacy Rubric to assess the information literacy skills of the students at their community college. When the Framework was introduced, they changed the rubric to reflect the new concepts. This was the only session I attended that gave out their Powerpoint as a handout and they also gave everyone a copy of their rubric. They were primarily doing citation analysis, but Amanda, Kyle and I will be able to use many of their ideas on a LIB100 final project rubric we are in the process of developing.
I attended a few other sessions, but those are the highlights. Overall, it was a fantastic conference! Friday night, I enjoyed eating at a local restaurant with 11 other librarians from the conference (a “dine around”). It was fascinating to talk about all kinds of things. I did not know that at Emory, their I.T. department and Library are combined, and the head of I.T. reports to the University Librarian! Now that is an interesting model!
I am very thankful for the opportunity to attend this conference and I look forward to attending LOEX in the May in Pittsburg!