The “3 I’s” of Information Literacy Design

With the ACRL Framework and metaliteracy and metacognition on every academic librarian’s mind, what does good information literacy design look like now? Actually, not much different than before the framework, but I think there is more awareness that the “old way” of doing things was not all that effective. In today’s post, I will lay out my thoughts on the matter.

In trying to come up with a way to simplify the discussion of good information literacy design (and make it easier to remember), I’ve categorized it into three areas — what I will call the “3 I’s.” The “3 I’s” of good information literacy design encompass elements that should be present in all information literacy programs. They are as follows:


Information literacy is always practiced within the context of something else, so it makes sense that it should always be integrated or anchored within the context of a course or discipline. Otherwise, transfer becomes problematic (this conclusion comes from the research about transfer in critical thinking, which shares many similarities). That is why I do not recommend standalone information literacy courses, unless they are anchored within a discipline (e.g. nursing, teacher training) or integrated into a learning community.

Integrated information literacy reflects the community of practice concept that is central to the ACRL Framework. While anchored courses and learning communities may not be feasible in all academic settings, integrating information literacy within courses across the (core) curriculum is a reachable goal for most institutions.

Well, isn’t that already being done with one-shot sessions?

Not really. One-shots don’t represent integration in any meaningful way. Integration is a holistic and seamless part of a course. In one-shots, information literacy is usually shoehorned into a course.

There are a number of strategies that I have written about in previous posts for holistically integrating information literacy into courses, including the interactive syllabus, Google Docs, and embedding the library (not just the librarians).  Another approach is through the development of a dispositions rubric based on the ACRL Framework. This kind of rubric can easily be shared with students as a core reference in any course that requires the practice of information literacy skills. By creating a rubric that identifies the dispositions of an information literate student with examples of associated actions (knowledge practices), students are provided a metacognitive tool for gauging their own information literacy progress. In addition to the rubric, librarians can provide scaffolds that help students achieve the goals of the rubric. Such a tool would also be invaluable for classroom instructors, who would then be able to intentionally plan the course’s projects and assignments with the rubric in mind.


Inquiry is at the heart of information literacy. We have a question, we seek out information on the topic. And information literacy skills help us sift through the world of information to find the good stuff.

In a perfect world, students would always be motivated to find the good stuff, but sometimes things get in the way of that. Like metacognitive miscalibration and self efficacy and self regulation. Addressing those issues is essential to improving students’ success (not to mention habits of mind) when it comes to improving inquiry skills.

Engagement in scholarly pursuit is also a necessary component of developing strong inquiry skills, and engagement can depend on approaches to inquiry. There are four types of inquiry: confirmation, structured, guided, and open. There is a tendency in higher education to focus on open inquiry, where students ask a question and then find the answer. But, is open inquiry really the best approach, especially for first- and second-year students? My thought on that is no (in most cases). Why? If we are serious about teaching students a set of specialized knowledge practices to develop their information literacy dispositions as laid out in the ACRL Framework, they are going to need a bit more guidance. Besides that, most students at the lower undergraduate level are not developmentally ready for open inquiry, at least in terms of their reasoning skills. In other words, open inquiry may lead to loss of student engagement for the developmentally unready student who lacks the metacognitive and self regulated learning skills that are necessary for information literacy (maybe that’s why so many fall back on the comfort zone of Google).

I think that a better approach to inquiry in lower level undergraduate students is guided inquiry, where more support in the planning and design of the research process for a shared question or goal provides the scaffolding that many students still need to become information literate. Guided inquiry is more common in K-12 environments, but when used with first- and second-year students, it provides a nice entry point into the ways of thinking and ways of doing that go on in a scholarly community of practice. Kulthau’s approach to guided inquiry is a great place to start.


Interaction reflects the very essence of communities of practice. In an information literacy community of practice, there are three types of interaction: student-student interaction, student-librarian interaction, and student-content interaction.

Student-student interaction takes place with peer teaching, peer modeling, peer review, and discussions. Peer teaching and peer modeling can be supported by librarians through such means as library-sponsored study groups or peer research assistant programs. Peer review of the various steps in the research and writing process (outlines, bibliographies, synthesis) should be encouraged. And discussions, whether in-class or online, allow students to share what they are learning about the research process with each other.

Student-librarian interaction provides students with insight into the expert ways of thinking and doing that are so important in learning information literacy habits of mind. An ever-present connection to the library, one that ensures student awareness and access to library resources (including librarians) both off and on campus, is a necessary step in making this happen. And it is more likely to happen when integrated approaches to information literacy design are utilized (see above).

Student-content interaction includes all the ways in which students interact with library resources, including library instructional resources. This includes, but is not limited to, easy-to-navigate library web sites, resource guides that avoid information overload, and library tutorials that reflect the principles of multimedia learning.


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.