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Putting theory to work into practice - Ola Pilerot (LILAC 2018 keynote speaker)

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Putting theory to work into practice - Ola Pilerot (LILAC 2018 keynote speaker)

  1. 1. Putting theory to work in practice Unpacking information literacy with a conceptual toolbox from library and information science ola.pilerot@hb.se
  2. 2. Inspiration Pilerot, O. (2016). Connections between research and practice in the information literacy narrative: a mapping of the literature and some propositions. Journal of Librarianship & Information Science, 48(4), pp. 313-321. "Information Literacy: From Practice to Research and Back Again" (IFLA) 10th anniversary issue of Journal of Information Literacy – “reflective opinion pieces [on] how the field has evolved” “[A]n understanding of theoretical concepts is empowering for information professionals. Theory allows us to see and understand the world in different ways; it allows us to move beyond our habitual ways of doing things. ...the real power of theory is its ability to explain and inform practice” (McNicol, 2016, p. XII).
  3. 3. Different ways of using the concept of information literacy “Label” Political Empirical Analytical/ Theoretical “Information literacy” “Information literacy” “Information literacy” “Information literacy” IL as a field of research or the professional practice of teaching for IL IL as a political and rhetorical device IL as something that can be observed through the study of what people do IL as an analytical and theoretical tool; IL as a lens Pilerot & Lindberg, 2011; Pilerot, 2016
  4. 4. Different focus-points in the IL narrative Professional practice Policy-making (Rhetoric) Research “The information literacy movement” IL as a goal for educational activities IL as goal and means for politics IL as a study object Pilerot & Lindberg, 2011
  5. 5. Core activities in IL? We do things with information
  6. 6. Information behaviour Information seeking Information searching the totality of human behavior in relation to sources and channels of information, including both active and passive information seeking, and information use.... (Wilson, 1999)
  7. 7. Initiation Selection Exploration Formulation Collection Presentation Assessment Feelings (Emotions) Thoughts (Cognitive) Actions (Physical) Uncertainty Optimism Confusion Clarity Sense of direction/ Satisfaction or Sense of Frustration Confidence Disappointment accomplish- Doubt ment Vague Focused Increased interest Increased self- awareness Seeking relevant information Seeking pertinent information Exploring Documenting Kuhlthau’s model of the Information Search Process (1991/2004)
  8. 8. External context Internal context Cognitive approach Core processes Opening Orientation Consolidation Foster’s nonlinear model of information-seeking behavior (2004) …analogous to an artist’s palette, in which activities remain available throughout the course of information seeking…
  9. 9. Bates’ Information Seeking Modes (2002) Searching Monitoring Browsing Being Aware Active Passive Directed Undirected
  10. 10. Approaches to teaching for IL (Sundin, 2005/2008) Information User Subject/context- dependent Subject, context- independent Source approach Communication approach Process approach Behavioural approach group individual
  11. 11. The communication approach Information seeking as imbedded in other social practices in institutional contexts Interaction between users in information seeking The relation between cognitive authority and source evaluation Social navigation
  12. 12. An example
  13. 13. Swedish university students’ information literacy, a comparison of two academic disciplines (Pilerot, in press)
  14. 14. Students in nursing and product engineering design Three year bachelor degree programs Preparatory for further studies on masters’ level Located in the behavioural sciences: interest in human behaviour as demonstrated by patients, users and consumers in various contexts Conduct studies of human activities or peoples’ experiences or perceptions of various phenomena Credit bearing course entitled Information literacy aimed at information seeking in an academic context Nearly identical directives and guidelines use “scientific methods”; be “theoretically aware” “critically questioning”, “research-based”; “be able to search for information and acquire knowledge”
  15. 15. Reference analysis of 9+9 theses Nursing Design Monographs 96 29 Peer-reviewed articles 108 1 Web sites 11 44 Other sources * 31 30 Total number of refs. 246 104 * E.g. Course material, Daily newspaper articles, Product catalogues
  16. 16. Sociocultural perspective in line with the communication approach Conceptualizing the two groups as communities of practice (CoP’s) which are infused by certain discourses (ways of viewing and talking about the world) The culture of a discipline, including its epistemological assumptions, its specific problems and research questions, contribute to shape the ways in which information is searched for and used
  17. 17. Findings Students write different theses and use information sources in different ways even if they work under seemingly similar conditions When students are studying and writing in different communities of practice, the theses they write and the information they use also becomes different That the design engineering students do not seek and use as much scientific information as the nursing students does not mean that they have not developed information literacy. It indicates that their information literacy is of another kind
  18. 18. Findings Students develop information literacy to a great extent through participation in communities of practice and, perhaps to a lesser extent than what the organizers of the education expect, through formalized and standardized information literacy training Design engineering students’ thesis writing should adhere to instructions that are not primarily characterized by an academic discourse Learning objects for information literacy that are too general may hinder certain groups of students to develop information literacy
  19. 19. Conclusion Not a matter of right and wrong, good or bad information literacy It is a matter of different purposes and goals, interests and ambitions Problematic to start out with a predefined notion of IL People (including students) develop different kinds of information literacies (or “literacies of information” (Lloyd, 2017))
  20. 20. (Merging) different focus-points in the IL narrative Professional practice Policy-making (Rhetoric) Research “The information literacy movement” IL as a goal for educational activities IL as goal and means for politics IL as a study object
  21. 21. References Bates M (2002) Toward an integrated model of information seeking and searching. New Review of Information Behaviour Research 3: 1-16. Foster, A. (2004). A nonlinear model of information-seeking behavior. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 55(3), 228 – 237. Kuhlthau, C.C. (2004). Seeking meaning: a process approach to library and information services. (2. ed.) Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited. McNicol, Sarah (Ed.) (2016). Critical literacy for information professionals. London: Facet. Pilerot, O. & Lindberg, J. (2011). The concept of information literacy in policy-making texts: An imperialistic project?. Library Trends. 60(2), 338-360 Pilerot, O. (2016). Connections between research and practice in the information literacy narrative: a mapping of the literature and some propositions. Journal of Librarianship & Information Science, 48(4), pp. 313-321. Pilerot, O. (in press). Information literacies in higher education: A Swedish perspective. Éducation compare: Revue de recherche internationale et comparative en education, 15 Sundin, O. (2008). Negotiations of information-seeking expertise. Journal of Documentation, 64(1), 24-44 Wilson, T. (1999). Models in information behaviour research. Journal of Documentation, 55(3), pp. 249-270

Editor's Notes

  • In my presentation I will focus on the educational context of Swedish university students. The presentation is based on a study of students’ information use in connection to thesis writing. A basic assumption for my work is that information literacy comprises an understanding of, and a familiarity with, how information is sought and used in a certain practice. In line with this assumption, I relate the students’ information use to their enactment of information literacy.


  • The two groups of students whose theses I have investigated are students in nursing and in product engineering design. As we can see on this slide, the conditions under which the students write their theses are very similar. Both are in three year bachelor degree programs, which are preparatory for further studies on masters level. Both nursing and design engineering are located in the behavioural sciences in that they focus on human behaviour as demonstrated by patients, users and consumers in various contexts. In their theses projects the students often conduct studies of human activities or peoples’ experiences or perceptions of various phenomena. It should also be mentioned that both groups of students have taken the same information literacy course in order to prepare for the thesis writing. When they write their theses, they are supposed to adhere to nearly identical directives and guidelines, which are presented in the Swedish Higher Education act, the program goals, and the course goals and descriptions. The last item implies that the setting under study, when reflected in these documents, is infused by what we can refer to as an academic discourse, where “discourse” refers to “a certain way of viewing and talking about the world”


  • What we can see here is that there is a remarkable difference between the two students groups regarding what kind of information sources they refer to in their theses. Also the number of references differ quite radically.
  • In order to theoretically frame and discuss the results I relied on the notion of communities of practice, where the key idea is that people learn from and with each other by developing and maintaining shared experiences, interests and practices. Communities of practice tend to be infused by certain discourses which I think of as ways of viewing and talking about the world. Another aspect of the theoretical frame concerns the idea of academic disciplines developing and maintaining a certain culture, which contribute to shape the discipline specific ways in which information is searched for and used.


    “…the person whom I recognize as having cognitive authority is one whom I think should be allowed to have influence on my thinking, for I suppose he has a good basis for saying what he does” (Wilson, s. 14-15)

    ”…student is to develop a taste consistent with those of the teachers /---/ whose taste is to be emulated…” (s. 66)

  • We could see from the results of the reference analysis, and it is also visible in the discourse analysis, that students write different theses and use information sources in different ways even if they work under seemingly similar conditions. With reference to the theoretical perspective, it can be suggested that when students are studying and writing in different communities of practice, the theses they write and the information they use also becomes different. That the design engineering students do not seek and use as much scientific information as the nursing students does not mean that they have not developed information literacy. It indicates that their information literacy is of another kind.


  • In accordance with the sociocultural perspective on learning applied in this study it can furthermore be suggested that students develop information literacy to a great extent through participation in communities of practice and, perhaps to a lesser extent than what the organizers of the education expect, through formalized and standardized information literacy training. I also think it is reasonable to suggest that design engineering students’ thesis writing should adhere to instructions that are not primarily characterized by an academic discourse, but rather to the technological and marketization discourse that characterizes their theses. Since the design engineering students are torn between the formal guidelines and the norms and conventions in their community of practice, it seems as if we here can see an example of when too general learning objectives for information literacy tend to hinder this group of students to develop information literacy.


  • To conclude I want to highlight that we shouldn’t think in terms of right and wrong, good or bad information literacy. It is rather a matter of different purposes and goals, interests and ambitions that contribute to these two ways of seeking and using information. People (including students) develop different kinds of information literacies.


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