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Information Literacy Instruction: Frameworks, Pedagogies, and Practices (July 2020): The Framework, Threshold Concepts, and Pedagogy

The Framework, Threshold Concepts, and Pedagogy

The Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education is built around the theory of threshold concepts, first introduced by Jan Meyer and Ray Land in their report Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising within the Disciplines. The report, which was part of a research project on the development of teaching and learning environments, was developed, expanded, and published in multiple versions in the years following its introduction, and it became very influential in the scholarship of teaching and learning before it was ever applied to information literacy. According to Meyer and Land, threshold concepts are the ideas that allow students to begin to think like disciplinary experts; once understood, threshold concepts change perspectives and allow for new connections and new knowledge to build. In addition, Meyer and Land posit that threshold concepts have certain recognizable characteristics: they are transformative, integrative, irreversible, bounded, and troublesome. These characteristics explain why the concepts are so significant and why they can be difficult to grasp. They have since been used by others, and in Transforming Information Literacy Instruction: Threshold Concepts in Theory and Practice, Amy Hofer, Silvia Lin Hanick, and Lori Townsend examine why certain ideas are threshold concepts for information literacy and how understanding them as such can help librarians design more effective information literacy instruction.

Transforming Information Literacy Instruction stands out in the field of books on threshold concepts in part because it argues for librarians to see information literacy as a field of study, and also because it invokes various theories (e.g., genre theory, economic theory, pedagogical theory) to examine how and why specific threshold concepts that are similar but not identical to those in the Framework align with the goals of information literacy instruction. By bringing other theoretical perspectives into the discussion of information literacy threshold concepts, this book opens the door to new ways of thinking about information literacy as a discipline. Other books examine the six threshold concepts, or “frames,” that specifically make up the Framework: “Authority Is Constructed and Contextual,” “Information Creation as a Process,” “Information Has Value,” “Research as Inquiry,” “Scholarship as Conversation,” and “Searching as Strategic Exploration.”  Among the works addressing these particular frames, Disciplinary Applications of Information Literacy Threshold Concepts, edited by Samantha Godbey, Susan Beth Wainscott, and Xan Goodman, is notable. Including a foreword by Ray Land, it explains and explores the threshold concepts of the Framework by examining them in the context of specific academic disciplines. The Information Literacy Framework: Case Studies of Successful Implementation, edited by Heidi Julien, Melissa Gross, and Don Latham, also provides case studies of academic librarians designing discipline-specific information literacy instruction around the threshold concepts of the Framework. The collection discusses the Framework’s utility in collaboration with disciplinary faculty and in developing future librarians and instructors as well, which may be helpful for librarians advocating for its use at their institutions. Dave Harmeyer and Janice Baskin’s Implementing the Information Literacy Framework: A Practical Guide for Librarians is particularly useful for librarians grappling with the change from the Standards to the Framework, especially because it suggests ways for librarians to advocate for the use of the Framework and get more involved with larger scholarly conversations around information literacy.

Published at the same time that the Framework was being filed, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think about Information, edited by Troy A. Swanson and Heather Jagman, engages less directly with the Framework, but it mentions both the Framework and threshold concepts in several places. This collection is important to the conversation around information literacy instruction because it explores the epistemological foundations of information literacy and the theories of pedagogy that are transforming how librarians teach. Finally, Mary Francis’s The Fun of Motivation: Crossing the Threshold Concepts combines an overview of threshold concepts, lesson plans, and learning theory. Francis’s approach to the Framework is unique because she explores motivational theories and models and then demonstrates how the threshold concepts of the Framework can be used in conjunction with motivational strategies to maximize student engagement and learning. In addition to making information literacy instruction more “fun” for students, Francis’s collection makes a good argument for seeing information literacy initiatives as an important part of student engagement and retention.