ACRL Standards: Aligning the Current with the Proposed

Like many of you, I have been following the development of ACRL’s proposed Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. I think it is particularly important to listen to the voices of those who will actually have to apply these new standards when they are finally approved. There are a lot of concerns, especially because the new standards aren’t written like instructional objectives. They’re more principle than practical in terms of teaching.

Some may wonder how these new standards compare to the old, and whether they can be implemented in a similar fashion. So, I took a look at the new and the old, and created an alignment chart to show how they relate to each other. This should help clarify the commonalities between the two, and hopefully quell concerns that the new standards are a radical departure from the old (they’re not — in fact they share a lot of similarities).

ACRL Alignment Chart

PROPOSED STANDARDS CURRENT STANDARDS
Authority Is Constructed and Contextual

Authority Is Constructed and Contextual refers to the recognition that information resources are drawn from their creators’ expertise and credibility based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used. Experts view authority with an attitude of informed skepticism and an openness to new perspectives, additional voices, and changes in schools of thought.

Standard Three

The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.

2. The information literate student articulates and applies initial criteria for evaluating both the information and its sources.

Outcomes Include:

a. Examines and compares information from various sources in order to evaluate reliability, validity, accuracy, authority, timeliness, and point of view or bias

b. Analyzes the structure and logic of supporting arguments or methods

c. Recognizes prejudice, deception, or manipulation

d. Recognizes the cultural, physical, or other context within which the information was created and understands the impact of context on interpreting the information

4. The information literate student compares new knowledge with prior knowledge to determine the value added, contradictions, or other unique characteristics of the information.

Outcomes Include:

a. Determines whether information satisfies the research or other information need

b. Uses consciously selected criteria to determine whether the information contradicts or verifies information used from other sources

c. Draws conclusions based upon information gathered

d. Tests theories with discipline-appropriate techniques (e.g., simulators, experiments)

e. Determines probable accuracy by questioning the source of the data, the limitations of the information gathering tools or strategies, and the reasonableness of the conclusions

f. Integrates new information with previous information or knowledge

g. Selects information that provides evidence for the topic

Information Creation as a Process

Information Creation as a Process refers to the understanding that the purpose, message, and delivery of information are intentional acts of creation. Recognizing the nature of information creation, experts look to the underlying processes of creation as well as the final product to critically evaluate the usefulness of the information.

Standard Four

The information literate student, individually or as a member of a group, uses information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose.

1. The information literate student applies new and prior information to the planning and creation of a particular product or performance.

2. The information literate student revises the development process for the product or performance.

3. The information literate student communicates the product or performance effectively to others.

Information Has Value

The Information Has Value frame refers to the understanding that information possesses several dimensions of value, including as a commodity, as a means of education, as a means to influence, and as a means of negotiating and understanding the world. The flow of information through systems of production and dissemination is impacted by legal, sociopolitical, and economic interests.

Standard One

The information literate student determines the nature and extent of the information needed.

1. The information literate student defines and articulates the need for information.

2. The information literate student identifies a variety of types and formats of potential sources for information.

3. The information literate student considers the costs and benefits of acquiring the needed information.

4. The information literate student reevaluates the nature and extent of the information need.

Research as Inquiry

Research as Inquiry refers to an understanding that research is iterative and depends upon asking increasingly complex or new questions whose answers develop additional questions or lines of inquiry in any field.

Standard Two

The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently.

1. The information literate student selects the most appropriate investigative methods or information retrieval systems for accessing the needed information.

2. The information literate student constructs and implements effectively-designed search strategies.

3. The information literate student retrieves information online or in person using a variety of methods.

4. The information literate student refines the search strategy if necessary.

5. The information literate student extracts, records, and manages the information and its sources.

Standard Five

The information literate student understands many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses and uses information ethically and legally.

Scholarship Is a Conversation

Scholarship Is a Conversation refers to the idea of sustained discourse within a community of scholars, researchers, or professionals, with new insights and discoveries occurring over time as a result of competing perspectives and interpretations.

Standard Three

The information literate student evaluates information and its sources critically and incorporates selected information into his or her knowledge base and value system.

5. The information literate student determines whether the new knowledge has an impact on the individual’s value system and takes steps to reconcile differences.

Outcomes Include:

a. Investigates differing viewpoints encountered in the literature

b. Determines whether to incorporate or reject viewpoints encountered

6. The information literate student validates understanding and interpretation of the information through discourse with other individuals, subject-area experts, and/or practitioners.

Outcomes Include:

a. Participates in classroom and other discussions

b. Participates in class-sponsored electronic communication forums designed to encourage discourse on the topic (e.g., email, bulletin boards, chat rooms)

c. Seeks expert opinion through a variety of mechanisms (e.g., interviews, email, listservs)

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The Information Literacy Threshold Concepts

In order to really evaluate the threshold concepts appearing in the ACRL’s draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, I had to wear two hats – my librarian one and my instructional design one (a good argument for blended librarianship!). Before I delve into them though, I’d like to say a few words about the process of identifying threshold concepts.

In my last post, I talked about the 5 characteristics of threshold concepts. ACRL is utilizing 4 of those characteristics (they’ve determined that bounded is not relevant to information literacy). I think only two are really necessary – transformative and integrative. In my opinion, the others are too ambiguous to really be useful since they are described in terms of probably, possibly often and potentially (confusing, not?). So for practical purposes, I only looked at those 2 characteristics for this post.

Now, back to the ACRL threshold concepts. Here are my thoughts:

Threshold Concept 1: Scholarship is a Conversation

Scholarship is a conversation refers to the idea of sustained discourse within a community
of scholars or thinkers, with new insights and discoveries occurring over time as a result of
competing perspectives and interpretations.

  • I like this one.
  • It’s transformative because it teaches students how to participate in the cultural and institutional practices of an academic community. It’s integrative because students will make connections to the concept across courses and within disciplines.
  • It’s vitally important for students to go beyond evaluating the development of scholarly conversation with this threshold concept — they must also practice scholarly conversation themselves through debate and discussion.
  • In addition to the possible assignments listed in the draft, students could, for example, debate the interpretations of competing academic arguments appearing in the literature (e.g. more guns, less crime vs. more guns, more crime).

Threshold Concept 2: Research as Inquiry

Research as Inquiry refers to an understanding that research is iterative and depends upon
asking increasingly complex questions whose answers develop new questions or lines of
inquiry in any field.

  • I’d rephrase this one as “Research as Problem Solving.”
  • In any academic research, the thesis statement is the problem statement. The objective of scholarly research is to explore problems, identify solutions and contribute to the scholarly conversation within a given discipline (or across disciplines).
  • Inquiry is inherent in the problem solving process.
  • “Research as Problem Solving” is both transformative and integrative in that students will come to understand problem solving as a process of inquiry and research both in their academic work as well as their daily lives.
  • Problem-based learning fits well with this threshold concept.

Threshold Concept 3: Format as Process

Format as Process refers to understanding that the processes of developing information resources originate from different needs, motivations, values, conventions, and practices, and result in different formats, but the underlying questions about value of the information and its potential use are more significant than the physical packaging of the information source.

  • I’d rephrase this one as “Information as Tool.”
  • I’m not a fan of the sole focus on format in information literacy, especially now that we are entering the age of information convergence. I’d rather focus on how information is used as a tool in scholarly or popular media. What is the underlying message and why was it delivered that way? Format is only one factor in that analysis.
  • This threshold concept is related to critical, media, digital and information literacies.
  • “Information as Tool” is transformative because it enables students to recognize that the purpose, message and delivery of information is deliberate. It’s integrative because it increases students’ critical understanding of the world of information — necessary for developing reasoning skills.
  • Instructional activities that are designed to examine the underlying decisions made in creating a particular information source would work well for this concept. Alternatively, role playing activities that require students to create media messages that serve a specific purpose would be effective.

One of the problems I think we’ll run into with threshold concepts was illustrated in this post. Differing professional opinions coming from different perspectives will make them hard to truly define. Information literacy is socio-situational in nature and any threshold concepts that are identified will have to attempt to transcend that. That’s quite an undertaking. Bottom line, if the ACRL’s threshold concepts don’t work for your students, identify your own. Anything that gets you thinking about student learning is a good thing!