Metaliteracy and the Problem of Metacognitive Miscalibration

With the ACRL Framework, librarians have a couple of new buzzwords to work with — namely metaliteracy and metacognition. While metaliteracy is definitely a new term, the concept of metacognition has been around for a long time (about as long as information literacy). More importantly, metacognition has long been recognized as an important component of critical thinking and problem solving skills, so by default also an important component of information literacy.

However, there is a slight problem with metacognition that is not getting much press in the library world. Actually, it’s a pretty big problem. The problem is called metacognitive miscalibration. What is that you ask? Well, as you have probably heard more than once, metacognition is frequently described as “thinking about thinking.” Metacognitive miscalibration then can be thought of as “inaccurate thinking about thinking.”

It turns out that students are pretty bad judges of their own ability, and often overestimate their capability in many learning situations (with adults, I call this “not knowing what you don’t know”). This has been evident in studies about information literacy that date back to well over a decade ago. In other words, when it comes to information literacy, students are often far too overconfident about their capabilities. This is the very definition of metacognitive miscalibration.

So what happens now with this new emphasis on metaliteracy and metacognition? In reality, students are not going to become more accurate in their metacognitive abilities just because it has become the word du jour in the world of information literacy.

As I see it, two things need to happen. First of all, librarians need to become keenly aware of the fact that accurate metacognition is a tough nut to crack. Secondly, librarians need to learn about the strategies that provide students ample opportunity to metacognitively recalibrate  as they enter into the world of academic information literacy.

The idea of communities of practice (CoPs) is vitally important to this goal, as  CoPs are inherently metacognitive. Improving metacognition through CoPs would look something like this:


The keys here are scaffolding and feedback. Scaffolding information literacy means providing just-in-time supports for students as they go about the research process of finding, interpreting, and using information in a variety of disciplinary contexts. Feedback provides students with an expert’s analysis of their progress so that they are able to recalibrate accurately and make revisions effectively. Both these strategies need to take place through a combination of peer collaboration and mentor modeling.

More so, CoPs that foster IL practices need to go beyond the classroom and beyond the library to become a natural extension of students’ everyday academic literacy practices. In other words, the metacognitive aspects of IL become a habit of mind. And that is where IL dispositions and metacognition cross paths.


One thought on “Metaliteracy and the Problem of Metacognitive Miscalibration

  1. “Not knowing what you don’t know…” Dunning-Kruger effect. Melissa Gross and Don Latham have applied to this information literacy and undergraduate students. I think it’s something that we definitely tend to overlook.

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