iLab January 2014


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A presentation about my fieldwork and research so far given to the Computer and Information Sciences department at the University of Strathclyde.

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iLab January 2014

  1. 1. Critical Information Literacy and Political Agency iLab Presentation: 20th January 2014 Lauren Smith Department of Computer and Information Science
  2. 2. What’s Changed • • • • • • • Methodology planned; Literature review nearer completion; Presented at Umbrella and LILAC conferences; ESRC internship with Scottish Government; Paper in Journal of Information Literacy; Fieldwork conducted; Data being processed and analysed.
  3. 3. Scottish Government Internship: Threatening Communications Understanding hate speech and harmful communications on social media Understand the extent to which social media presents new opportunities for researching the impact of interventions. Using social media data to explore the impact of the OBFTC Act. Understand the scale and nature of social media based crime and risks to public safety. For example: hate speech, offensiveness, bullying, fraud and other crime. Understand how hate speech may harm individuals and communities. What are the social media risks from a Community Safety point of view? Who commits offences? What is the extent of hate speech online? How can social media be used by authorities to improve or support public safety? What can be done to minimise harms? Understand the mind-sets of offenders and their understanding of the illegality of their behaviour. What is the harm of online hate speech? What kind of language is used? Who are the people most affected? Why do people post hate speech online? Do people understand the potential impact of their actions?
  4. 4. COLIS 8 and Doctoral Forum Lund and Copenhagen The Doctoral Forum is intended to provide a setting for discussion of doctoral students' research projects with invited senior researchers and other participating students. The discussions will take place in a constructive spirit and a friendly atmosphere taking into consideration the diversity of contemporary LIS. A further objective is to act as a platform initiating international contacts between doctoral students as well as researchers that may enable future collaboration.
  5. 5. Research Problem It is hypothesised that gaps exist in the UK education system, which means that schools focus on skills-based technical aspects of information literacy. As a result, critical aspects of information literacy are not addressed. Young people are not adequately supported to develop critical information literacy skills, which would help them to develop political agency.
  6. 6. Can critical theories relating to critical literacy be applied to the concept of information literacy in order to create a better understanding of how we can help young people to develop skills which will enable them to meaningfully participate in political processes?
  7. 7. Research Questions 1) How and through what sources do young people develop their critical literacy? 2) What are the qualitatively different ways young people conceive of political information? 3) When encountering political information, are young people applying critical thinking/literacy? a) If not, why not? If so, how? 4) Is there a link between young people’s political knowledge, critical literacy and political agency? 5) How can critical information literacy contribute to political agency?
  8. 8. Context • Decline in political participation; • Lack of political knowledge and critical literacy linked to political participation; • Young people focus of concern; • Criticisms of a lack of critical element in information literacy theory and practice.
  9. 9. “While young people are interested in social and political issues they do not focus their concerns on engagement with formal political systems. Many hold negative views about politics, such as feeling that they have little control over what the government does.” (Grundy and Jamieson 2004, p.237)
  10. 10. “It is not possible to assess whether young people are more disenchanted with politics than their predecessor generations.” (White et al. 2000, p.44)
  11. 11. Literature Review • Framework for most relevant issues; • Identifying themes encountered during fieldwork; • Theoretical and methodological approaches; • Learning from others’ research problems; • Considering inclusion of previously unconsidered themes.
  12. 12. Emerging Themes • • • • • Political participation; Types and levels of participation; Problems with conceptions of participation; Political agency; Political knowledge in relation to information literacy; • Young people and participation.
  13. 13. • • • • • • • • UK education system; Citizenship and cultural literacy; Criticisms of education system; Literacies; Information literacy; Phenomenographic and critical approaches; Critical pedagogical theory; Critical literacy and critical information literacy.
  14. 14. Young People as Political Agents Need to consider the “importance of considering young people as political agents in their own right, rather as citizens-in-themaking who develop into actual political actors and engaged citizens only when they reach adulthood.” Gordon (2008)
  15. 15. Relevance to LIS • Develop more meaningful vision of information literacy; • Provide a real-world example or case study of the research phenomena; • Position librarians as critical educators; • Address social responsibilities of librarianship and information science.
  16. 16. Model of Multiple Literacies “Critical literacy is at the core of all the other literacies. The concept of critical literacy is tied to traditional literacy, but has evolved along with technology. It’s essential for participating in a digital culture. All the other literacies in the diagram are dependent upon critical literacy.” (Hovious 2013)
  17. 17. "It is timely…for teachers and school media specialists to recollect how rote learning, memorization, and functional literacy were used to produce a passive, noncritical labor force for the industrial economy. Information literacy, as an inadequate and exclusionary approach to learning through research, could well be repeating that injustice." (Kapitzke, 2003)
  18. 18. “Critical pedagogy currently offers the best, perhaps the only, chance for young people to develop the knowledge, skills, and sense of responsibility needed for them to participate in and exercise the leadership necessary for them to govern the prevailing social order.” (Giroux 2012, pp.116-7)
  19. 19. Information Literacy • Information seeking • Decision-making • Cognitive elements • Identifying information need • Locating, evaluating, using information Critical Literacy • Critical thinking skills • Analysis and critiquing skills • Identifying underlying power structures • Acquisition of agency
  20. 20. Critical information literacy would aim to “reverse trends of exclusion from political participation and enable people to participate in the decisions and events that affect their lives.” (Whitworth 2009, p.118)
  21. 21. Planned Methodology Questionnaires Repertory Grids Diaries Focus Groups / Interviews • Background picture of levels of political knowledge • Whole year group, voluntary • Sample of student volunteers (c.40-50) • Structured interviews to get idea of concept frameworks • Recording encounters with political issues/information, thoughts and sentiments • In-depth • Based on content of interviews and diaries
  22. 22. Problems encountered • Student participation - reaching required number for valid study (Limberg 2000, p.57); • Reliability of participant attendance; • Timing of school year and student schedule; • Communication of research topic; • Explaining specific phenomenon to participants; • Concurrent data collection and analysis.
  23. 23. Actual Methodology Questionnaires • Trialled on Year 11s (15-16yo) - very low participation • Changed to Year 10s (14-15yo) – 32 initial participants • 22 participants with approx. 1 hour interview + grid Repertory Grids • No participation – abandoned method Diaries Class-Based • Teacher-led class activity • Observations • 4 one-hour focus groups with 4-8 participants each. Focus Groups
  24. 24. Research Approach Phenomenography Smith and Hepworth (2012) used a phenomenographic approach to “elicit and describe the qualitatively different ways in which young people experienced information”. “…the combination of serious endeavours to reach an empathetic understanding of research subjects' experiences and the focus on capturing and describing variation allow…new insights” (Limberg, 2000).
  25. 25. Research Approach • Investigating and describing phenomena through the variation of people's experience; • Want to find out about how individuals experience phenomenon (i.e. awareness); • Highlighting interesting features for further discussion; • Must attempt to isolate self from preconceived ideas.
  26. 26. Questionnaire Based on quiz to measure political knowledge (Martin et al. 1993) • • • • • • Avoiding long questions; Avoiding double-barrelled questions; Avoiding very general questions; Avoiding leading questions; Avoiding questions that include negatives; Avoiding technical terms. (Bryman 2008, p.239)
  27. 27. Questionnaire • How often are general elections usually held in the UK? • Can you vote if you are in prison? • Who is allowed to see reports, accounts, and records of decisions made by the local council? • What kind of mayor does Doncaster have? • What voting system is used in UK General Elections? • Who places limits on how much bankers can give themselves in bonuses? • How much of the national budget for welfare goes to people on Jobseekers' Allowance? • Are you allowed to hold a protest in a public space without telling the police first? • Who is the current Prime Minister? • Does a citizen of the European Union have the right to live or get a job in any country in the European Union? • Which political party was Margaret Thatcher the leader of? • How interested in politics would you say you are? • Do you think that the voting age should be lowered from 18 to 16?
  28. 28. General Findings • • • • • • Some awareness of political process; Limited awareness of rights; Little understanding of political parties; Very inaccurate conception of welfare budget; Moderate interest in politics; Little desire for voting age to be lowered.
  29. 29. Repertory Grid • • • • • • • • • • • Family Friends Teachers Wikipedia Google Online news Apps Youtube Facebook Twitter Radio • • • • • • • • • • Lessons TV News Other TV shows Books Magazines Newspapers Billboards Banners Village meetings Local newsletters
  30. 30. Elements Elicited Where do you get information about politics and current events? 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 Number of times elicited
  31. 31. Elements Elicited Where do you get information about politics and current events? 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 Number of times elicited
  32. 32. Elements Elicited Where do you get information about politics and current events? 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 Number of times elicited
  33. 33. Elements Elicited Where do you get information about politics and current events? 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0 Number of times elicited
  34. 34. Constructs Elicited • • • • • • Easy to understand/difficult to understand; Biased/not biased; Truthful/not truthful; Agree with/disagree with; Accessible any time/certain times; Parents provide it/don’t provide it.
  35. 35. Class Activities • • • • Questions developed by researcher and teacher; Activities led by teacher; Notes taken; Informed focus group content.
  36. 36. Emerging Concepts • • • • • • • • • • Role of parents; Ways participants view newspapers, TV and radio differently; Acknowledgement of bias; Negative feelings about benefits and immigration; Thoughts about teachers as neutral; Some interest in local issues; Concern about making the wrong voting decision; Not understanding political parties, left and right; Different levels of trust for different kinds of information; Very different levels of awareness.
  37. 37. Focus Group Questions • • • • • • • • • • • • • • What issues concern you? Locally, nationally, in your everyday life? Do you intend to get involved in voting etc. when you can? How do you feel about taking part? (Important, not important?) Do they feel like you learn enough about political system and how to get involved at school? Can you tell me a bit about what you learn about in school? A few of you mentioned lessons like PD, RE and tutor period in school – what do you think about these? Do you like discussing things? Is school the place you’d want to learn things relating to this? Do you think your parents have any influence on what they think? What about how news makes you feel? Does it have an impact on what you think things are like? Quite a few people mentioned trusting BBC – why is that? Do you think there are any drawbacks to tv news? What do you think about facebook? Do you think the news is biased or unbiased?
  38. 38. Analysis: what does it mean? • • • • • • Transcribing; Coding; Phenomenographic analysis; Applying critical theory; Finding meaning; Developing theory and recommendations. Participant responses elicit their interpretations My interpretation of data through coding My application of theory to create meaning
  39. 39. Freire argues that Western education…is guided by the ideology of capitalism, and that consequently, schools have developed a “banking concept” of education in which knowledge is treated as cultural and economic capital, and accruing knowledge equates to accruing wealth.” (Elmborg, 2006, p.193) In a political knowledge context, young people may not see political knowledge as a particularly strong currency – they can’t do anything with it – no matter how much they spend, it doesn’t have any impact. This kind of education trains people in the capitalist ethic, and they become passive receivers rather than active agents with a “critical consciousness”.
  40. 40. Work Plan • January 2014 – April 2014: Transcription and beginning analysis • April 2014 – September 2014: Analysis and findings • October 2014 – April 2015: Writing up • April 2015: Submission
  41. 41. Outcomes • Application of novel research methods; • Suggestions for further research; • Application of critical theory to information literacy – firmer academic footing and engagement in social and critical theory; • Development of information literacy theory and understanding of the field, adding weight to the argument about value of libraries; • Suggestions for developments to be made to information literacy practice.
  42. 42. Contribution to Knowledge 1. A unique contribution to library and information science, directly applying a well-established academic field of social science to an area of information science that has not fully engaged with critical theory; 2. Application of novel research methods to information literacy research; 3. Development of information literacy theory and understanding; 4. Suggestions for developments to be made to IL with the specific goal of increasing young people’s political agency.
  43. 43. References • • • • • • • • • • Bryman, A. (2008) Social Research Methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Giroux, H.A. (2012) Education and the Crisis of Public Values. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. Gordon, H.R. (2008) Gendered Paths to Teenage Political Participation: Parental Power, Civic Mobility, and Youth Activism. Gender & Society, 22 (31), pp.31–55. Hovious, A. (2013) “Promoting multiple literacies (principles of new librarianship.” Available from: <> [Accessed 20 January 2014]. Kapitzke, C. (2003) (In)formation literacy: A positivist epistemology and a politics of (out)formation. Educational Theory, 53 (1), pp.37–53. Limberg, L. (2000) Phenomenography: a relational approach to research on information needs, seeking and use. The New Review of Information Behavior Research, 1. Available from: <>. Martin, J., Ashworth, K., Heath, A. & Jowell, R. (1993) Development of a Short Quiz to Measure Political Knowledge. Smith, M. & Hepworth, M. (2012) Young People: A Phenomenographic Investigation into the Ways They Experience Information. Libri, 62 (2). Available from: <> [Accessed 15 January 2014]. White, C., Bruce, S. and Ritchie, J. (2000) Young Peoples’ Politics. Political Interest and Engagement amongst 14-24 Year Olds. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Whitworth, A. (2009) Teaching in the relational frame: the Media and Information Literacy course at Manchester. Journal of Information Literacy [Online] 3(2), pp. 25–38. Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2013].