Authority + Format = … Crossing the Threshold: Workshop #2

Librarians from Ryerson, York, and all three campuses of the University of Toronto came together on July 8th in the second of a series of workshops exploring the ACRL’s threshold concepts for information literacy. The workshop was led by John Bolan of the Bora Laskin Law Library at U of T, and Silvia Vong of the John M. Kelly Library at St. Michael’s College at U of T. Both librarians are currently seconded to the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation (CTSI) at U of T, and have been working extensively with the threshold concepts since the draft framework was released. Like most of our cross-institutional events, there was a lot of collaboration and practical ideas generated from the discussions.

The workshop covered the third and fourth threshold concepts: “Authority is Contextual and Constructed” and “Format as a Process.” In groups of 4-6, we began the workshop by working through what each threshold concept meant to us, and the challenges that each presents in developing and delivering information literacy programming.

A number of themes emerged from these discussions. There were concerns that authority is constructed, but not contextual. That is to say, perceptions of authority are constructed, and often do not change. For example, authority in peer-reviewed publications should not equate with authority in social media and blogging, but often does. Similarly, our group agreed that for faculty members and students, the concept of authority in academia is often an all or nothing perception – you are either authoritative in your discipline, or you are not, regardless of context.

Our group then moved on to discuss how the concepts of authority and format are intertwined and difficult to consider separately. There are also tensions between the two. In one instance, we claim that authority is contextual and can change. Then we claim that the format (arguably the context) should not dictate our evaluation of the content. Since information creators use formats to express themselves (and by extension, become authoritative), these two threshold concepts are in direct contradiction of each other. We grappled with these issues knowing well that others will interpret these threshold concepts and their relationships to each other, differently.

There were a couple of group exercises to help us work through some of our discussion points. In the first activity, we assumed the role of students in an information literacy class. We were faced with a number of different formats to evaluate for a particular purpose, and tasked with choosing the most appropriate source. Each group had book chapters, journal articles, news articles, primary sources, and more, but each had a different assignment. Ours was to select the best source to support our academic research paper, so we chose the book chapter that was closest to our assigned topic.

After some debriefing, we moved on to a second activity where we applied the two threshold concepts to a teaching scenario. One of our group members works in an academic departmental unit, rather than a library, so we chose to apply the threshold concepts to one of her upcoming sessions for faculty members.

As always, the session was productive and helped us work through some of our concerns about the draft framework. I’m looking forward to another great session to explore the remaining two threshold concepts!

Courtney Lundrigan, MA, MLIS
Instructional and Reader Services Librarian
John W. Graham Library
Trinity College in the University of Toronto


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!



Threshold concepts and information literacy

Interesting blog post by Brian Mathews re: threshold concepts and information literacy –

– with a link to this article published in the current issue of Portal (Volume 11, Number 3, July 2011), Threshold Concepts and Information Literacy (Lori Townsend, Korey Brunetti and Amy R. Hofer)

and this bibliography

(forwarded from Margaret Wall)