Hey there! Get ready for the final Frame and some fond remembrances. There’s still 6 years to go before we put together the inevitable task force to completely replace the Framework, so to kill some time, here are links to my other Frame reviews:
Let’s get to exploring!
The Draft Framework: Searching is Exploration
Back when they called it “Searching is Exploration” the ACRL described the Frame thusly:
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.
At the time I noticed that almost every single idea in this Frame appeared elsewhere in the Framework and that this Frame provided nothing truly original. Like, if you grasp the first five frames, then you automatically understand this one. At the same time, this frame seemed so trivial and obvious that it had me scratching my head and asking how this Frame could possibly be a marker of expertise. I basically had to give up on this one. So, let’s see what’s changed…
The Official Framework: Searching as Strategic Exploration
Searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding develops.
The act of searching often begins with a question that directs the act of finding needed information. Encompassing inquiry, discovery, and serendipity, searching identifies both possible relevant sources as well as the means to access those sources. Experts realize that information searching is a contextualized, complex experience that affects, and is affected by, the cognitive, affective, and social dimensions of the searcher. Novice learners may search a limited set of resources, while experts may search more broadly and deeply to determine the most appropriate information within the project scope. Likewise, novice learners tend to use few search strategies, while experts select from various search strategies, depending on the sources, scope, and context of the information need.
I mentioned the awkward grammar in the draft version but let it slide because, you know, draft. But, honestly, it hasn’t improved much. To take just one example, read that second sentence out loud: “The act of searching often begins with a question that directs the act of finding needed information.” Isn’t that just a terribly convoluted way of saying “searching begins with a question?” Yes. Yes it is. Go ahead and make a syntax tree if you don’t agree. Moving on…
Let’s play out a scenario. A novice and an expert both want to know what the weather will be like tomorrow. According to this Frame, the novice will probably just Google it and get the Weather Channel forecast. Or, more likely, the novice will look at a smartphone app. But the expert is different. She takes stock of the social context and understands that an accurate forecast is crucial if she is going to select the correct clothing tomorrow. She consults several meteorological services and compiles cross-tabulated reports comparing relative accuracies over a 10-year span. She searches repeatedly throughout the day to determine if the anticipated barometric pressure is going up or down…
Nah, just kidding, she checks the app on her smartphone like everyone else. For most of your everyday searching, novices and experts search in pretty much the same way. The key difference is that experts and novices differ in the credence levels they ascribe to the information sources they encounter. A novice will pick the first Google result out of convenience; an expert will look to balance convenience with trustworthiness.
But what about serious searching? Like, searching for articles for your research paper? To continue with a worry I brought up in the last post, we do have to consider how much of the Framework was constructed with first-year college composition papers in mind. And Searching as Strategic Exploration certainly seems like something that we want to get across to first-year students. We want them to broaden their horizons beyond Google. We want them to show more persistence when they use databases. We want them to get more creative and agile with their keywords. We want them to be familiar with a wider range of search strategies and a wider range of places to search. Because their papers suck otherwise.
But here’s the thing, all this Frame is really contributing to the Framework is the idea that experts tend to search more thoroughly and persistently than novices; novices search shallowly and look for whatever is convenient. That’s about it because, in fact, most of this Frame is just a rewrite of Research as Inquiry. Compare the first sentence of each:
“Searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding develops.”
“Research is iterative and depends upon asking increasingly complex or new questions whose answers in turn develop additional questions or lines of inquiry in any field.”
Iteration? Check. Pursuing new lines of inquiry as new understanding develops? Check. You can go through both Frames and see the similarities. So, just like in the draft, we’ve got a vague re-hash of other frames. Let’s just move on to the knowledge practices and dispositions. I’m just going to combine them and treat them the same because even through the introduction to the Framework talks about knowledge practices and dispositions as separate entities relating to cognitive and affective aspects of learning, respectively, as you may have noticed the Framework mixes up cognitive and affective all over the place. So here’s a comparison:
|2014 Draft Knowledge Practices and Dispositions||2016 Official Knowledge Practices and Dispositions|
|Mostly the same|
I’m not going to say anything about the ones that track the draft version; I just want to look at the new practices and dispositions. FIrst, that divergent vs. convergent thinking thing is way too open to interpretation. Sure, they just cribbed it from the AASL standards, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense there either. Whatever. The interesting thing is the way they’ve brought in database mechanics in a roundabout way. Understanding information organization, controlled vocabularies, keywords, and so on. Frankly, that’s a welcome change. I know that lots of instruction librarians think that teaching students where to click is somehow outdated or beneath a librarian’s dignity or something, so it’s interesting to see a document launching an “educational reform movement” make room for this particular tradition.
Really, though, this Frame just doesn’t have a lot going for it. Placing it next to Research as Inquiry brings forth an obvious question: what is the difference between search and research? While I had hoped the final version would have made things more clear, it really hasn’t. The Framework wants to treat search and research as different things, but then equivocates so much and blurs the lines to such an extent that it’s hard to figure out how searching is distinct from researching. And it’s a simple distinction: the OED tells us that research is “systematic investigation or inquiry aimed at contributing to knowledge of a theory, topic, etc., by careful consideration, observation, or study of a subject” and that search is “to peruse, look through, examine (writings, records) in order to discover whether certain things are contained there.” Searching is looking for the answer; research is looking for new questions. And they work together, so it’s just awkward to see the Framework split them into two concepts and then have them overlap so much. I would have much preferred to see a clear statement about the relationship between searching and researching. But, alas, it’s the Framework, and as we have seen over the past few posts, clarity isn’t exactly the name of the game here.
And that wraps up my revisit of the Framework. If you love the Framework, go right ahead and love it. If you hate the Framework, go right ahead and hate it. As I wrote not too long ago, in the grand scheme of information literacy and library instruction, picking sides doesn’t really matter. Personally, were I to bullet out my gripes with the Framework, it would go something like this:
- Based on unproven educational theories
- Under-researched and ad hoc
- Internally inconsistent
- Too obscure due to all the jargon
- Too remedial when you take the jargon away
- Not founded on a meaningful theory of information literacy
And let’s end on that last one. I really think that now is the time to ask ourselves if we’re approaching information literacy in the right way. Could there just maybe be people in educational psychology or media studies or sociology or information science or other fields that we can learn from? I feel like for the past 30 years or so we’ve been treating information literacy as an interdisciplinary concern but not actually using interdisciplinary approaches to explain what information literacy is and why it is important. Instead, librarians create new definitions of information literacy every decade or so. And it’s all done by fiat, more or less. I guarantee that in about a decade (maybe 15 years) there will be another ACRL task force convened to create a completely new librarian-centric take on information literacy. Maybe the ACRL Matrix of Information Literacy in Higher Education. Or the Map. The Timeline. The Hologram. The Breakfast Burrito. Whatever. We turned against the Standards once they seemed “outdated” and we’ll turn against the Framework once we think it’s run its course too. Maybe next time we should try to look at information literacy itself rather than try to come up with a new list.1
Whatever. At the end of the day all I can say with certainty is that the whole ACRL Framework affair has caused me to look elsewhere, outside of the library world, for guidance on which critical thinking skills librarians can help impart. Because that’s all information literacy really is: the narrow subset of general critical thinking skills that librarians can sometimes help teach. And even that is too charitable because so much of what passes for information literacy is parasitic on logic, rhetoric, mass media, and sociology. So when I see librarians using Standards and Frameworks to try to lay claim to their “discipline” of information literacy, it just feels sort of narcissistic and self-aggrandizing. Trying to keep that imposter syndrome at bay, I suppose. Now, I’m not saying that librarians don’t bring something special to the table. We totally do. And I want to explore that in future posts. But when I help faculty design assignments and curricula or when I help students find sources for a paper or when I stand for 50 minutes in front of an ENGL 1010 class, I’m never thinking about which Frame or Standard I’m teaching. I’m only thinking about what knowledge I can share that will help that faculty member or those students succeed now and into the future. Forced to choose between what the Framework says about information literacy and what my faculty and students say about information literacy, I’ll choose my faculty and students every time.
Overall Grade: F
Behind the jargon it’s just that experts are more persistent and creative than novices. That’s it? You could drop this Frame entirely and still fit all the same lesson plans into the Framework.
 I’m writing something now that uses social epistemology and Bayesian probability to recast information literacy. I’m still in the jargon stage, but it’s something like “a person’s ability to use external markers of validity to assign epistemically reliable credence levels to instances of semantic information.” I promise there will be an explanation eventually published out there somewhere and in normal language. 🙂