Information Literacy, Threshold Concepts and Disciplinarity

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  • Information Literacy,

    Threshold Concepts, and


    Sheila Webber, Information School, University of Sheffield

    Bill Johnston, University of Strathclyde ECIL, Prague, October 2016

  • Threshold Concepts

    Transformative concepts within disciplines

    Identified by experienced teachers in their discipline

    Enable learners to conceive the subject in a new way & experience possibilities for deeper disciplinary thinking and practice

    Mayer & Land (2005: 386) identify ways for educators to use TCs to facilitate epistemological transitions, and ontological transformations

    They note danger of structuring teaching mechanistically, which might encourage mimicry rather than understanding

    Sheila Webber & Bill Johnston, 2016

  • Threshold


    Thinking &

    Practising in the


    Variation Theory



    Part of wider landscape of pedagogical research

    on disciplines teaching and learning

    Approaches to

    Learning Entwistle &


    (2007) Marton,




    (1984) Meyer &





    Environment Akerlind,


    Lupton, and





    Biggs & Tang (4th ed.) (2011)

    Sheila Webber & Bill Johnston, 2016

    Key strands

  • Weaving the strands of

    pedagogical research threshold concepts are used to

    determine areas of the curriculum that require focused design attention;

    phenomenographic action research is used to identify what it is about these concepts that students find difficult to understand and

    variation theory is used to guide the design of teaching and learning activities to address these difficulties. (Akerlind, McKenzie & Lupton 2014: 228)

    Sheila Webber & Bill Johnston, 2016

  • TCs disconnected:

    consequences & anomalies of


    Sheila Webber & Bill Johnston, 2016

  • Sidestepping the question of disciplinarity: focus on

    librarians teaching IL to learners of other disciplines

    No study of TCs in IL for people studying IL as a

    discipline in its own right

    TCs fixed within the ACRL Framework project, not

    acknowledging that IL is experienced differently in

    different disciplines (though note that librarians are

    exhorted to develop framework in own context)

    ACRL Framework has been criticised, but often seen

    as issue with TCs, rather than issue of not

    approaching TCs in way originally intended

    Some anomalies

    Sheila Webber & Bill Johnston, 2016

  • Consequences of transplantation

    Issues arising from appropriating TCs to a

    situation constrained by the barriers which

    librarians face in developing IL education

    Evidence that there is pressure to incorporate TCs

    in reductive ways (e.g, Oakleaf, 2014)

    This can negate transformative possibilities and

    lead to mimicry and surface learning

    Sheila Webber & Bill Johnston, 2016

  • Reconnecting with the

    pedagogical research

    for the IL discipline Sheila Webber & Bill Johnston, 2016

  • Applied pedagogical research:

    the case of IL

    Teaching IL to those learning IL as a discipline currently, mainly trainee librarians

    Akerlind et al. 3-strand approach plausible and productive


    Problem of discipline-denial within the LIS community

    Epistemology of the discipline vs. body of knowledge of the profession

    Sheila Webber & Bill Johnston, 2016

  • TCs in the discipline of IL ACRL provides an experiment in the application of TC theory

    to IL

    Also need to reflect on context from which pedagogic theories arise & and the context in which you are going to use them

    Given that librarians are central to teaching IL, it is important that trainee librarians engage with the complexity of the discipline of IL

    You discover the TCs by asking those who are teaching IL to people who are studying IL

    This has yet to be done: need investigation of IL as a discipline, to inform the next generation of librarians and educators

    Sheila Webber & Bill Johnston, 2016

  • Sheila Webber

    Information School

    University of Sheffield

    Twitter & SL: Sheila Yoshikawa

    Orcid ID 0000-0002-2280-9519

    Pictures by Sheila Webber

    taken in Second Life (a trademark

    of Linden Lab)

    Bill Johnston

    Honorary Research Fellow

    University of Strathclyde

  • kerlind , G., McKenzie , J. and Lupton, M. (2014). The potential of combining phenomenography,

    variation theory and threshold concepts to inform curriculum design in higher education. In J.

    Huisman and M. Tight (eds.) Theory and method in Higher Education research II . (pp.227-247)

    Bingley, England: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

    kerlind, G., McKenzie, J., Lupton, M., Trigwell, K. (2010) Threshold Concepts and Variation


    Biggs, J. and Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university. 4th ed. Milton Keynes,

    England: Open University Press.

    Entwistle, N. and Tomlinson, P. (Eds.) (2007). Student learning and university teaching. (pp. 73-

    90). Leicester, England: British Psychological Society.

    Marton, F., Hounsell, D. and Entwistle, N. (Eds.) (1984) The experience of learning. Edinburgh,

    Scotland: Scottish Academic Press.

    Meyer, J. and Land, R. (2005). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (2):

    epistemological considerations and a conceptual framework for teaching and learning. Higher

    Education, 49, 373388

    Meyer, J. and Land, R. (2003). Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: linkages to ways

    of thinking and practicing within the disciplines.

    Oakleaf, M. (2014). A roadmap for assessing student learning using the new framework for

    information literacy for higher education. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40(5), 510-514.

    Sheila Webber & Bill Johnston, 2016