Variation theory as a basis for designing a module on teaching information literacy


Published on

This was coauthored with Stuart Boon and Bill Johnston. It was presented at the Special Interest Group Phenomenography conference, held in Kristianstad, Sweden on 22 May 2008. This is a slightly edited version - I have inserted a couple of slides explaining a little about phenomenography (obviously not necessary at the actual conference!) and taken out a couple of slides at the end. We present some of the conceptions of teaching information literacy discovered in our phenomenographic research project (carrie dout 2002-5) as a basis for the discussion of my proposed use of variation theory for currculum design of a new module "Education for information literacy" (core to the new MA Information Literacy at Sheffield University, UK)

Published in: Technology, Education
  • Thanks Shiela. Very interested in any use phenomenography. I really like what you have done here. I am quite keen to understand more about the practical ways you are planning to provide variation about a phenomena in a learning situation. How do you alter the variation. Can you give me an example. I am fimiliar with information studies, phenomenography and learning. Alex Bell
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
  • Yes, well I was giving this presentation in front of the leading experts in this type of research approach, so they'd have thought I was some kind of idiot if I'd tried to explain it from first principles ;-) So - that's the kind of presentation it is - I do say where it was presented in the 'About' bit. It's an interesting issue, though - whether I should put all my ppts on slideshare when some of them are very geared to a specific audience. I think there are people in this field out there who could be interested (I hope ;-) Perhaps I should emphasise this kind of thing more in the 'about' section.
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
  • If you are an academic in a related area with an immediate grasp of the language then this presentation is probably very useful. If not, you are likely to find the material largely impenetrable.
    Are you sure you want to  Yes  No
    Your message goes here
No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Variation theory as a basis for designing a module on teaching information literacy

  1. 1. Variation theory as a basis for designing a module on teaching information literacy Sheila Webber University of Sheffield Department of Information Studies Stuart Boon & Bill Johnston, Centre for Academic Practice and Learning Enhancement, University of Strathclyde 22 May 2008 Webber, Boon & Presented at the SIG Phenomenography conference, Kristianstad, May 2008 2008 Johnston, 20 May
  2. 2. Outline • Basis for the approach: project on conceptions pedagogy for IL • Variation theory • Thoughts on applying variation theory in a module on Education for Information Literacy Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  3. 3. Our project Bill Johnston Stuart Boon Sheila Webber Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  4. 4. • Three-year Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) - funded project (Nov 2002- Nov 2005) To explore UK academics’ conceptions of, and pedagogy for, information literacy • Sheila Webber; Bill Johnston; Stuart Boon • Phenomenographic study: interviewing 20 academics in each of 4 disciplines to identify variation in conceptions (visited 26 universities to collect 80 interviews) • Marketing, English, Civil Engineering, Chemistry Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  5. 5. quot;Phenomenography is the empirical study of the differing ways in which people experience, perceive, apprehend, understand, conceptualise various Marton (1994) phenomena in and aspects of the world around us.” Qualitative research aiming for insights Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  6. 6. Insights Interviewee Us What is key focus of Interviewee’s conception ? of IL? Information Literacy Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  7. 7. Information literacy? Mastering a chemist's information skill set Accessing information Creating, and Using quickly and easily to be incorporating aware of what’s going information information into a on professional literacy to knowledge base solve real- Accessing and retrieving textual world information problems Becoming confident, An essential part of autonomous the constitution/ Some of the conceptions in English, learners and construction/ Marketing, Engineering critical creation of & Chemistry that our research discovered thinkers knowledge Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  8. 8. Key research questions 1. What conceptions of information literacy are held by UK academics? 2. What are academics’ conceptions and reported practice in educating students for information literacy? (today’s focus) 3. Do differences in conception correspond to differences in discipline? Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  9. 9. Whole purposive sample • 80 interviews, 20 per discipline • 26 universities: 69% from pre-1992 (“new”) universities • 61% male, 39% female • Ages in ranges 21-30 to 61+ • Years of teaching in ranges 0-5 to 31+ • All taught undergrads, 93% taught Masters, 54% PhDs • 48% course/programme coordinators • Research Assessment Exercise ratings from 2 - 5* • Teaching quality grades from Satisfactory - Excellent Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  10. 10. Marketing: Pedagogy for Information Literacy as… 1. Someone else’s job 2. Upgrading students’ information toolbox at an appropriate point 3. Facilitating access to a variety of resources 4. Showing students how and when to use information skills 5. Helping students understand how information literacy is critical to them, for marketing & life Key factors: 1) Academics' conceptions of information literacy 2) Their approach to pedagogy Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  11. 11. Chemistry academics' conceptions of pedagogy for IL as … 1. Implicit in teaching students to understand chemistry. “we teach them to find chemical data and structures for their assignments” (Chem 2) 2. Designing a path for students through a chemistry course “So we do make sure that we’ve assessed them and we introduce them to all the different databases throughout the four years, em, but we will always ask them to do stuff outside of that to widen their understanding.” (Chem 4) Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  12. 12. Chemistry academics' conceptions of pedagogy for IL as … 3. Challenging students to respond independently, critically and creatively with information “… to be able to question, to disagree, to… really to have fun with information as well.” (Chem 11) Key factors: Pedagogic approach; Outcomes for learning IL Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  13. 13. Approaches to teaching • Compatible with other quot;conceptions of pedagogyquot; research, for example as reviewed by Samuelowitz and Bain (2001) – Knowledge conveying categories (e.g. transferring knowledge, explaining curriculum) – Intermediate categories (e.g. focus on student-teacher interaction) – Facilitation of learning categories (e.g. facilitating conceptual change & understanding) Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  14. 14. Factors for variation • Approach to teaching and/or outcomes for learning emerged as factors in each discipline • Relationship of information/ IL to discipline • As hypothesised, were variations within and between disciplines • See Webber et al (2006), Webber and Johnston (2005) Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  15. 15. Variation theory Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  16. 16. • That people learn through experiencing variation • Build up awareness and understanding through discerning object of study in different ways • Using discoveries from phenomenographic investigation may provide variations that can be taught/ discerned Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  17. 17. “The point of departure for variation theory is that learning is characterized in terms of the learner’s dynamic structure of awareness, and is related to discernment, variation, and simultaneity …. Learning is associated with a change in discernment, which entails a change in the aspect(s) of the phenomenon in the focal awareness of the learner.” (Pang and Marton, 2005; 162) Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  18. 18. “In using variation theory, the role of the teacher is to design learning experiences in such away that helps students to discern the critical aspects of the object of learning with the use of variation. … By consciously varying certain critical aspects of the phenomenon in question while keeping other aspects invariant, a space of variation is created that can bring the learner’s focal awareness to bear upon the critical aspects, which makes it possible for the learner to experience the object of learning.” (Pang and Marton, 2005; 164) Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  19. 19. The module: Education for Information Literacy The “Object of learning” for the module is: approaches to learning, teaching and assessment of information literacy Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  20. 20. Basics • Core part of new (for 2008/9) MA Information Literacy (IL) at Department of Information Studies, Sheffield University, UK (we think 1st internationally) • 30 credits (half of teaching in Semester 1 of this 12 month programme) c. 3-4 hours per week contact • Other core modules: IL & resources; information retrieval; Educational Informatics; IL research • Also available as stand-alone for professional development • Blended learning – face to face plus use of WebCT etc • Constructivist/ Inquiry Based Learning approaches amongst faculty in the Department Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  21. 21. Background • Small cohorts anticipated: librarians, teachers etc. who want to make IL core part of their job • Teaching seen increasingly as a role of the library & information professional internationally • Challenge is that librarians may be obliged to fit in with teaching approach of lead educators (schoolteachers, faculty etc) • Librarians may perceive teachers’ problems in teaching IL as arising out of teachers’ lack of information literacy Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  22. 22. Already …. • With MA Librarianship & MSc Information Management cohorts – Introduce categories of pedagogy for IL in first session of Information Literacy class – Ask students (in groups) to see whether they can identify which category their subject lecturers fell into + identify implications – Mini presentations from students – Students able to categorise; and discuss their own learning experience Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  23. 23. Proposed “Education for Information Literacy” module learning outcomes By the end of the module, a candidate will be able to: • identify their existing capabilities, strengths and areas for development in teaching information literacy; • compare different approaches to teaching information literacy and demonstrate awareness of implications for adopting different approaches; • analyse different contexts (disciplinary, national etc) for teaching information literacy, and identify their own position within those contexts; • plan, design and implement an intervention to facilitate students’ learning of information literacy; • communicate effectively, orally and in writing. Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  24. 24. Assessment 85% Portfolio of evidence relating to development in learning, teaching and assessment of information literacy; including reflective reports, example material; reports and reviews on specific aspects of the class; 15% Individual presentation Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  25. 25. Approach to curriculum design • Key sessions focus on clusters of conceptions of pedagogy for IL (taken from 4 disciplines) • Students reflect on their own conceptions of IL and teaching IL at various points • Explaining/ exploring variation theory at start of module • Involve external teachers/ practitioners who – espouse a particular conception of pedagogy for IL, or – work with people who espouse it, or – experienced it as learners Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  26. 26. Conceptions of learners taking the module • Opportunities for these conceptions to emerge through reflection (e.g. reflective diaries) and explicit discussion • Thus hope to treat module also as collaborative research exercise “The opening of variation can be done by the teacher herself or by the teacher and the pupils jointly. The way the pupil understands that which is being taught, can sometimes contribute to opening dimensions of variation and thereby to the extension of the space of variation constituted” (Runesson, 1999: 9) Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  27. 27. Issues! • Involving colleagues in design • Variation theory will be a curriculum design principle – will this also give the message that it is a major approach to teaching information literacy? • Different critical aspects of the object of study (information literacy) are discerned along with different critical aspects of pedagogy – is this: an issue, inevitable, desirable? • Also disciplinary differences … sectoral differences Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  28. 28. Sheila Webber Stuart Boon BillJohnston Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  29. 29. References • Pang, M.F. and Marton, F. (2003) “Beyond ``lesson study'': Comparing two ways of facilitating the grasp of some economic concepts.” Instructional Science, 31 (3), 175-194 • Pang, M.F. and Marton, F. (2005) “Learning Theory as Teaching Resource: Enhancing Students’ Understanding of Economic Concepts.” Instructional Science, 33 (2), 159-191. • Marton et al. ( 2004) Classroom discourse and the space of learning. Lawrence Erlbaum. • Runesson, U. (1999) “Teaching as constituting a space of variation.” Paper presented at the 8th EARLI-conference, Göteborg, Sweden, Aug. 24-28 1999. • Samuelowicz, K. and Bain, J.D. (2001) Revisiting academics’ beliefs about teaching and learning. Higher education, 41, 299-325. Webber, Boon & Johnston, 20 May 2008
  30. 30. • Boon, S., Johnston, B. and Webber, S. (2007) quot;A phenomenographic study of English faculty's conceptions of information literacy.quot; Journal of documentation, 63 (2), 204-228. • Webber, S., Boon, S. and Johnston, B. (2005) “A comparison of UK academics’ conceptions of information literacy in two disciplines: English and Marketing.” Library and information research, 29 (93), 4-15. • Webber, S., Boon, S. and Johnston, B. (2006) quot;Comparaison des conceptions pédagogiques de la maîtrise de l’information chez des universitaires britanniques de différentes disciplines.“ [British academics from different disciplines: comparing their conceptions of pedagogy for information literacy] Actes des 5èmes Rencontres Formist: Lyon: 2005. Lyon: ENSSIB. (English version at: • Webber, S. and Johnston, B. (2005) “Information literacy in the curriculum: selected findings from a phenomenographic study of UK conceptions of, and pedagogy for, information literacy” In: Rust, C. (Ed) Improving Student Learning: Diversity and Inclusivity: Proceedings of the 11th ISL symposium, Birmingham, 6-8 September 2004. Oxford: Oxford Brookes University. pp212-224. Boon & Webber, Johnston, 20 May 2008