Hey, ready for another round of “let’s revisit the Framework?” Like I wrote last time, I never got around to seeing how the final version of the ACRL Framework stacks up against the draft I originally reviewed. So, over the next few weeks I’ll be revisiting the frames one at a time. Last time was “Authority is Constructed and Contextual;” today it’ll be “Information Creation as a Process.” Let’s dive in.
The Draft Framework: Format as a Process
Oh my. This one was fun when it first came out. I remember lots of discussion about how bizarre that phrase was: format as a process. Should it have been format “as” process? Format “is” process? It never sounded right. But, anyway, here’s the frame as I reviewed it:
Format is the way tangible knowledge is disseminated. The essential characteristic of format is the underlying process of information creation, production, and dissemination, rather than how the content is delivered or experienced.
A print source is characterized by its physical structure (e.g., binding, size, number of pages) as well as its intellectual structure (e.g., table of contents, index, references). A digital source is characterized by its presentation, intellectual structure and physical structure (e.g., file format). In many cases, the way that information is presented online obscures not just the format, but also the processes of creation and production that need to be understood in order to evaluate the source fully. Understanding what distinguishes one format from another and why it matters requires a thorough knowledge of the information and research cycles, scholarly communication, and common publishing practices, especially for those who have never experienced the print version of formats.
The expert understands that the quality and usefulness of a given piece of information is determined by the processes that went into making it. The processes of researching, writing, editing, and publishing information–whether print or digital–can be highly divergent, and information quality reflects these differences. From tweets to magazines to scholarly articles, the unique capabilities and constraints of each format determines how information can and should be used. The expert learns that the instant publishing found in social media often comes at the cost of accuracy, while the thorough editorial process of a book often comes at the cost of currency. Whatever form information takes, the expert looks to the underlying processes of creation as well as the final product in order to critically evaluate that information for use as evidence
This is another frame that I was sort of alright with. Probably my biggest complaint was that the frame made the mistake of confusing format for medium. This frame started by talking about formats, but ended with the process of creating information. These are just different things. But, otherwise I largely agreed with this frame. In fact, it seemed so obvious that I had to stop and ask whether it really was a mind-blowing “threshold concept.” Wasn’t it infantilizing to assume that students struggled to understand this frame? Is there evidence to back up the implied claim that this is “troublesome knowledge” for college students?1 Really, this frame seemed like a simple and obvious point trumped up in overwrought academic language.
Anyway, once you read past the obfuscating technical language, it was a fairly straightforward frame that only made a slight and forgivable mistake in confusing format and medium. Let’s see how it’s evolved…
The Official Framework: Information Creation as a Process
And here’s the official frame:
Information in any format is produced to convey a message and is shared via a selected delivery method. The iterative processes of researching, creating, revising, and disseminating information vary, and the resulting product reflects these differences.
The information creation process could result in a range of information formats and modes of delivery, so experts look beyond format when selecting resources to use. The unique capabilities and constraints of each creation process as well as the specific information need determine how the product is used. Experts recognize that information creations are valued differently in different contexts, such as academia or the workplace. Elements that affect or reflect on the creation, such as a pre- or post-publication editing or reviewing process, may be indicators of quality. The dynamic nature of information creation and dissemination requires ongoing attention to understand evolving creation processes. 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. Novice learners begin to recognize the significance of the creation process, leading them to increasingly sophisticated choices when matching information products with their information needs.
Well, they changed the title and stopped talking about format. So that’s a good thing. They even explicitly reject the draft version when they write that “experts look beyond format.” Clearly, the feedback they received was taken to heart. Or, at least most of it. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the writing in the official frame is actually worse in the final version. It’s like I keep reading it over and over again and just about every sentence is saying the same thing in different language: when evaluating information, expert researchers consider how that information was produced. Really, at a conceptual level, what’s in this frame other than that? Why make it more difficult? Also, why make it a threshold concept? I’m still not seeing how this is thresholdy. Yes, experts consider process, but what do novices do? What does a student who hasn’t understood this look like? Because the students I work with all seem to get this. I think my students just haven’t been exposed to the full range of types of processes, like peer-review and scholarly publishing and so on. I don’t introduce students to the concept of “indicators of quality.” I introduce students to “indicators of quality” that they aren’t familiar with. There’s a big difference: the threshold concept only says that process matters, it doesn’t say anything about actually understanding process.
Honestly, this is maybe the number one reason I won’t look to the Framework for guidance. You see, the Framework is based in threshold concept theory, under which threshold concepts are few and far between. These concepts are the gateways into and between disciplines, but within disciplines are “core concepts.” 99% of what we teach are core concepts; the thresholds are just the concepts that prevent learners from being able to learn the core concepts in a discipline. The concepts prime the pump, so to speak. For example, in mathematics the concept of a variable is a threshold between arithmetic and algebra: you can’t do algebra until you’ve grasped the concept of variable. But simply grasping the concept variable doesn’t mean you know algebra. You’ve got another couple of years of study ahead of you. Thresholds are gateways into a field, they don’t describe mastery of the field.
Back to this Frame. Let’s say we have a student who grasps every frame except this one and we get that student to grasp that information creation is a process. They’ve passed the threshold. But, that doesn’t mean the student is now information literate or some sort of an expert. It means they are now capable of talking about and learning about information creation processes. Broadly speaking, a student who has grasped all six frames is not information literate; a student who has grasped all six frames is now ready to learn the core concepts of information literacy. Put another way: the ACRL Framework doesn’t actually tell us what an information literate student looks like. The Framework describes the Frames as “conceptual understandings that organize many other concepts and ideas about information, research, and scholarship into a coherent whole.” Great. Organizing concepts. But what is being organized? What are these concepts of information, research, and scholarship? Figuring those concepts out is the key to figuring out information literacy…
In my humble opinion, “Information Creation as a Process” describes something very simple and intuitive and I fail to see how it is a threshold concept for higher education. Even if I accepted threshold concept theory, I would place this concept in, maybe, 6th grade. 5th grade even. In higher education, I think our students already totally understand that different types of information are produced in different ways. They know that a tweet and a book are made in different ways; they just aren’t familiar with all the means of information creation out there. They know that some sources are better than others; they just may not know which ones are which. So we teach them about those things. In higher education, we get students after they’ve grasped this concept and crossed through the threshold and are capable of discussing information creation processes. So, in higher education, I don’t see how this Frame is of any use.
Final Grade: C-
The Frame isn’t wrong, it’s just too remedial for higher education and it exposes the deeper problem that grasping threshold concepts does not equate to expertise.
 This is one of my general, overarching complaints about the Framework: it makes descriptive claims about what “novices” do and what “experts” do, but offers no research to back up those claims.