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Archive for July 29th, 2014

UPDATE: 17 August 2016. This post reviews the draft Framework. For a review of the final frame, “Searching is Strategic Exploration” please visit this link: https://senseandreference.wordpress.com/2016/08/17/revisiting-the-framework-is-searching-strategic-explanation/

Kazimierz_Nowak_in_jungle_2

So, I’ve been going through the ACRLs new information literacy framework, and I’m up to the penultimate frame:

  1. Scholarship is a Conversation
  2. Research as Inquiry
  3. Authority is Contextual and Constructed
  4. Format as a Process
  5. Searching as Exploration
  6. Information has Value

Right now, it’s time to ask if “searching is exploration” and I’m not going to beat around the bush here: I think this frame is the weakest of the bunch. Allow me to explain:

Overview

The framework gives us the following explanation as to how searching is similar to exploration

Locating information requires a combination of inquiry, discovery, and serendipity. There is no one size fits all source to find the needed information. Information discovery is nonlinear and iterative, requiring the use of a broad range of information sources and flexibility to pursuit alternate avenues as new understanding is developed.

The search for information is ignited by inquiry, the pursuit of which is rarely linear and requires the knowledge and use of a range of source types. It is also a process of discovery, and experts realize that methods employed may be fluid and that any element (including inquiry) of an overall approach can change based on increased understanding of a subject; discovering one source can lead to other sources or avenues of inquiry. Experts also recognize that there are boundaries for research, such as the context of the initial inquiry and time available to pursue it, and that part of the process is determining project scope based on these boundaries.

A novice researcher may rely on one or two familiar resources while an expert surveys the breadth of information sources to determine where to best obtain the information sought within the project scope. These sources include more than Internet resources, databases, social media, books, journals, etc. They include the knowledge, observations and expertise of people as well. For example, it may become necessary to conduct a formal interview or stop somewhere to ask for directions. Experts use resources that make the most contextual sense to satisfy an inquiry ethically.

Further, effective use of selected resources is predicated on understanding them. Just as understanding how a system is constructed and works will empower the expert to uncover more relevant results, an understanding of people and effective communication can enable access to their knowledge. The very best interviewers are more effective at teasing out details than beginners, for example. Experts will also spend time learning about their selected resource to better understand it and access needed information as different resources require different methods of access.

“Flexibility to pursuit alternate avenues?” Passive voice? Split infinitives? Unnecessary commas? Awkward phrasing? Run-on sentences? Yep. This was clearly written by committee. Let’s hope a proofreader gets to the Framework before final approval.

Grammar aside, I’m just not sure what to make of this frame given the frames we’ve already looked at. From “Research as Inquiry” we already know that finding information requires inquiry, iteration, and a willingness to change search strategies. From “Format as a Process” we already know that understanding “how a system is constructed” empowers research and that experts seek out a broad range of information sources. From “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” we already know that experts seek out information sources in the context of their particular need. Really, if you cross out the parts of this current frame that are repeated elsewhere, you get something like this:

Locating information requires a combination of inquiry, discovery, and serendipity. There is no one size fits all source to find the needed information. Information discovery is nonlinear and iterative, requiring the use of a broad range of information sources and flexibility to pursuit alternate avenues as new understanding is developed.

The search for information is ignited by inquiry, the pursuit of which is rarely linear and requires the knowledge and use of a range of source types. It is also a process of discovery, and experts realize that methods employed may be fluid and that any element (including inquiry) of an overall approach can change based on increased understanding of a subject; discovering one source can lead to other sources or avenues of inquiry. Experts also recognize that there are boundaries for research, such as the context of the initial inquiry and time available to pursue it, and that part of the process is determining project scope based on these boundaries.

A novice researcher may rely on one or two familiar resources while an expert surveys the breadth of information sources to determine where to best obtain the information sought within the project scope. These sources include more than Internet resources, databases, social media, books, journals, etc. They include the knowledge, observations and expertise of people as well. For example, it may become necessary to conduct a formal interview or stop somewhere to ask for directions. Experts use resources that make the most contextual sense to satisfy an inquiry ethically.

Further, effective use of selected resources is predicated on understanding them. Just as understanding how a system is constructed and works will empower the expert to uncover more relevant results, an understanding of people and effective communication can enable access to their knowledge. The very best interviewers are more effective at teasing out details than beginners, for example. Experts will also spend time learning about their selected resource to better understand it and access needed information as different resources require different methods of access.

The only completely original parts of this frame are that finding information requires serendipity and that expert researchers consider their time when setting project scope. Neither of these observations strike me as particularly insightful.

Now, maybe you’ll disagree with a line I’ve crossed out and you can offer an interpretation to distinguish it from the other frames. That’s cool. But, when it comes to official guidelines for professional practice, I’d think that the bulk of the cognitive work of clarifying and interpreting these concepts should fall on the ACRL, not on us. I certainly don’t want the Framework to follow the rigidly descriptive format of the current ACRL standards, so I’m open to allowing for some interpretation. But there comes a point when things get so vague and open to so many potential interpretations that a frame runs the risk of losing its helpfulness. All I’m getting out of the “Searching is Exploration” frame is that searching and exploring are things I should think about when I’m thinking about information literacy.

Basically, I’ve read this frame so many times that I’ve lost count and I still can’t get a handle on it. Maybe I’m just dense. It’s like I can see certain concepts floating around in this frame, but they feel disjointed and imprecise. If I’m not seeing something in this frame (i.e., I haven’t crossed the threshold), please, please let me know in the comments. I just can’t hep but read this frame as a vague rehash of ideas from other frames. Maybe this frame is meant to point out some synthetic understanding that comes from grasping the previous frames? I really have no idea.

by stewdean on FLickr, CC-BY 2.0

by stewdean on Flickr, CC-BY 2.0

Knowledge Practices

Learners who are developing their information literate abilities:

Determine the scope of the question or task required to meet one’s needs.
This is really important. One of the biggest problems first-year students face is “right-sizing” their research. Your research question is “gun control”? That’s it? That’s not even a question! Students don’t get scope.

Identify interested parties that might produce information about a topic and how that information might be accessed.
In other words, “seek out conversations that are taking place in their area of research” and “identify which formats best meet particular information needs.”

Demonstrate the importance of matching information needs and search strategies to appropriate search tools.
Seems like good advice.

Recognize that some tools may be searched using both basic and advanced strategies, and understand the potential of each.
And now we’re back to database mechanics. I’m actually down with teaching students where to click and how to use a database. But I know a lot of library instructors absolutely hate the idea of teaching mechanics, so it’s interesting to see this skill included.

Are inclined to discover citation management and sharing features, moving them from searching for information to information management strategies.
First, this is an inclination, not a skill, so it should be moved to the dispositions section. Second, this is the first of only three mentions of citing sources in the document. We’ll see the other two when we get to the last frame. Finally, how did we get from “searching as exploration” to information management strategies? Info management is important, but I don’t see the connection to the original threshold concept.

Dispositions

Learners who are developing their information literate abilities:

Show through their searching that they value persistence, adaptability, and flexibility.
From the “Research as Inquiry” frame: “Value persistence, adaptability, and flexibility, and recognize that ambiguity can be beneficial.” Of course the same disposition can come into play in multiple frames. Just pointing out the similarity. Also, what’s the distinction between adaptability and flexibility?

Understand that first attempts at searching don’t always pay off.
This seems more like a knowledge practice, not a disposition. But I agree that it’s important that students are persistent and able to handle a failed search.

Are willing to analyze needs at the beginning of information searches.
Where does the Framework talk about needs? I have a great discussion/activity that frames research in terms of five needs (background, current events, data, research, analysis) but I might be totally off-base. It would be nice if the ACRL included something about analyzing information needs.

Recognize the value of browsing and other serendipitous methods of information gathering.
Good advice.

Reevaluate needs and next steps throughout the search process.
Searching is iterative and reflection is important. Got it.

The verdict: Is searching like exploration?

In one sense, it’s trivially true that searching is exploration: just look up “searching” in a thesaurus: this frame establishes that synonyms are a thing. In a slightly different sense, this frame seems to want to say something more interesting about the need for persistence and adaptability. But, like I said earlier, I have trouble figuring this frame out. Perhaps one of my stumbling-blocks has to do with the difference between search and research. I use those terms to mean different things, but I can’t tell if the ACRL does; the overlap between the search and research frames is so great that it almost seems they are talking about the same thing and that searching and researching are largely synonymous.

So, I’m going to decline to make a ruling on this one. To me the frame seems to be a combination of vague ideas mostly covered in more detail in other frames. If anyone can help me out, feel free to share in the comments.

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