Scholarship as a Dinner Party? : Exploring the ACRL IL Threshold Concepts

On June 3rd I attended the first in a series of workshops focused on the ACRL’s Draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, and how the threshold concepts proposed in the document can be translated into practice. This first workshop was focused on two threshold concepts: “Scholarship is a Conversation” and “Research as Inquiry.” 23 librarians participated in the event, including one from York University and four from Ryerson University. UTM Librarians Mindy Thuna and UTSC Librarian Whitney Kemble guided us through group and individual exercises, discussions, allowing for opportunities to offer feedback to them and our fellow workshop participants.

The workshop was a great success with lots of lively conversation and light bulbs going off. Mindy and Whitney started off the activities with some introductory remarks and group discussion about the threshold concepts. We were asked to define the two concepts: “Scholarship is a Conversation” and “Research as Inquiry” to provide context and scaffolding for the rest of the exercises.

We were then directed to choose one of the two threshold concepts and to engage in an individual reflective exercise, brainstorming how we would apply our chosen concept to an information literacy teaching situation through the creation of learning objectives or strategies. This could be a one shot or year-long course, or even an online module or tool like a libguide. The individual component did not last long, at least for the group that I was sitting with! Since the concept that I was brainstorming about was “Scholarship is a Conversation,” this now seems entirely appropriate.

Wendy Traas, Susan Barker, and Eveline Houtman and I all excitedly discussed how to translate this theory into practice in a one shot classroom setting on teaching the difference between scholarly and non-scholarly articles for use in a research paper. Using the framework of “Scholarship is a Conservation,” we asked, whose voice has more authority in the conversation? Whose opinions or evaluation contributed to the publication of an article? Who is the intended audience for the article? Who is the publisher? What is the title of the article? We thought about possible exercises for students to develop a “profile” of an article, asking these questions to determine the authoritativeness and persuasiveness of an article. An article might be authoritative but poorly written and therefore not persuasive. Another article could be persuasive but not authoritative. Is the article an opinion piece? A blog post?  A newspaper article or a peer-reviewed journal article? Written by a leading authority or newly minted member of the field?

Next we were instructed to create a poster presentation of our strategy for teaching our objective. We puzzled over how to translate our discussion into a classroom activity and a poster.  Susan Barker suggested the idea of a dinner party. So “Scholarship as a Dinner Party” it is!  We drew a big table that included some of the different voices in the scholarly conversation, and off in the corner of the poster was a smaller table representing the student’s research paper. We asked the question: “Who do you invite?” We attempted to represent as many types of voices that may speak on a given topic with varying degrees of bias, persuasiveness, and knowledge represented by the heads around the table. After the posters were completed, one or two members of each group stayed with the poster to present it to the other workshop participants. It was great seeing the creativity, knowledge and experience that informed all the posters!

Poster of two dinner tables showing the main scholarly conversation and the student's essay. Figures represent the different types of articles and their varying quality and appropriateness.

It was a very rewarding, thought provoking, and collegial experience. Watch for information on the next two workshops here. Hope to see you there!