On Becoming Legitimately Information Literate (Conclusion for Analyzing the ACRL Framework)

The last six posts explored the knowledge practices of the ACRL Framework through the lens of Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), a framework that describes the relationships between knowledge and knowers. LCT identifies four distinct specialization codes that define knowledge-knower relationships as illustrated in the figure below. Each quadrant in the figure represents a different way in which legitimacy might be defined within a social field of practice (i.e., discipline or profession).

Disciplines that define knowledge as the primary basis of legitimacy (see upper left quadrant) include science and math. In those disciplines, the possession of specialized knowledge reigns supreme, and the dispositions of knowers are far less important.

On the other hand, disciplines that emphasize “the right kind of knower” include art, literature, and the humanities, where specialized knowledge is defined by the dispositions of an exemplary knower (e.g., artist, writer). To become a legitimate knower means to cultivate one’s knowledge or skills through communities of practices, with the goal of reaching an apex of exemplary practice.

In the relativist range, anything goes, so I suppose that anything is legitimate.

The fourth specialization code is the elite code (upper right hand quadrant). This is where BOTH specialized knowledge AND the dispositions of knowers define legitimate practice. And this is where I see the ACRL Framework fitting. Why? Because the ACRL Framework defines both specific knowledge practices AND the dispositions of information literate students (the implications of that continue below).

Source: Slideshare presentation on the work of Karl Maton, epistemological access and social justice by Ria Vosloo (http://www.slideshare.net/brendauj/presentation-on-the-work-of-karl-maton-ep)

What are the implications of this analysis?

First of all, it revealed to me that the ACRL Framework needs additional work to fully define a legitimately information literate student. Many of the knowledge practices in the ACRL Framework really describe the knowledge itself rather than what can be done with that knowledge (knowing in action). While this indicates to me the importance of specialized knowledge in academic information literacy, it does not reconcile the knower with the knowledge needed. Perhaps we need to rename what is currently “knowledge practices” to “knowledge processes,” and then list a set of exemplary knowledge practices that better define the process and frames. That would certainly make the ACRL Framework a much more useful tool for practitioners (including classroom instructors).

Secondly, it is important to recognize that the addition of “dispositions” to the ACRL Framework is really what sets it apart from the old standards. That addition brings in the constructivist philosophy. However, to really emphasize the importance of knowers in the framework, I think it would help to make the dispositions and knowledge processes included in the framework more integrative. It would create that reconciliation I alluded to above.

Finally, by viewing the ACRL Framework as an elite specialization code (a combination of dispositions and knowledge), we must radically change the way information literacy is taught. It is no longer just the knowledge aspects that need to be addressed. It is also the dispositions. The question is, how do we foster these dispositions? This is where the library becomes a constructivist learning environment, where librarians aim toward developing communities of practice both informally (e.g., clubs, study groups, mentoring, peer tutoring) and formally (e.g., embedded libraries, integrated information literacy instruction) and where we begin helping students make connections between what they need to know and how they need to act to become legitimately information literate.


The Recipe for Successful Makerspace Design

I keep running into articles about makerspaces and maker programs that are written in a way that makes me wonder why so many people assume that by virtue of “making,” transformative learning is automatically taking place. While I’m all for the informal learning opportunities that makerspaces offer, and I do believe they have the potential to support learning, I also know that several key ingredients are necessary to give maker activities even a remote shot at actually transforming learning.

Ingredient #1: Makerspaces must be designed as constructivist learning environments (CLEs).

To discuss the details of designing CLEs is way beyond the brevity of this post. However, I can say that one particularly promising approach is the use of activity theory as a framework for structuring a CLE that brings the individuals, the tools, and the objectives together to foster a community of practice. The graphic below illustrates the concept of activity theory, where the individual is referred to as a subject, the object is the objective or learning outcome, and the instruments are the tools (e.g., maker tools, scaffolding) that allow the individual to reach the objective. The community includes all the players in the activity system, and the rules and division of labor reflect the norms of the community of practice.

To learn more about how this framework can be used in the context of designing a CLE, you can read Activity theory as a framework for designing constructivist learning environments by Jonassen and Rohrer-Murphy (Educational Technology Research and Development, March 1999, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 61-79).

Ingredient #2: Maker activities must be developed with an understanding of how people learn.

One of the ideas behind maker activities is that productive failure (in the context of an unstructured activity) will lead to greater learning outcomes. In other words, through trial and error and experimentation, participants in a maker activity will theoretically gain greater understanding of a concept than through a more structured approach. The more structured approach (i.e., carefully designed scaffolding) is sometimes referred to as productive success.

There is a problem with productive failure though. First of all, not a lot of empirical research exists on its efficacy, whereas a wealth of research supports the effectiveness of learning with at least some guidance and structure, aka productive success. Secondly, in studies of productive failure, successful outcomes have invariably included a two-step approach: unstructured learning (invention phase) followed by instruction (consolidation phase).

What does that mean for the development of maker activities? To start with, even with a productive failure approach, some instruction will be needed to promote successful learning outcomes. It should also be noted that motivation and self-efficacy play a crucial role in learning, so while some learners may thrive in an unstructured learning activity (certainly many gifted learners do), scaffolding is essential.

How does structured learning look in a constructivist learning environment? Start by designing a well-guided maker activity. During implementation, allow participants to choose their own level of structure. Provide the scaffolding resources and an expert who can intervene when necessary. And remember, not all participants will seek out guidance when needed, and not all participants will recognize that they need help. That’s where instructor intervention comes into play.

Ingredient #3: To really know if learning is taking place in a makerspace, outcomes need to be assessed.

This ingredient may not be as important in public library makerspaces, though it may provide the kind of evidence needed to acquire additional funding. In school libraries, measuring learning outcomes from maker activities demonstrates the central role of the library in supporting the curriculum.

How do you measure learning from a maker activity? The obvious answer might be the product that is created. However, there is such a thing as unproductive success, where a problem is solved or a product created without the learner actually learning anything. For example, through trial and error a learner might construct a bridge, but have no understanding of the underlying engineering concepts of what makes a bridge work. The possibility of unproductive success is why measurable learning objectives need to be set in the development of maker activities. Assessment of whether or not the learner met the maker activity objectives helps shape and re-shape future maker activities to ensure the success of the makerspace as a constructivist learning environment.