What I Think of This Whole Annoying IL Framework/Threshold Concepts Debate

A friend just pointed out this piece by Jacob Berg on “Scholarship as Conversation: The Response to the Framework for Information Literacy,” both because they thought it was a nice piece, also because it cites a paper I wrote with my esteemed co-blogger, Dani Brecher, on the importance of education training for instruction librarians.

I’ve been thinking of writing a short post on what I think of this debate,  because I don’t want to give the wrong impression of my views. I’ve said a few things on the blog about not particularly liking the new framework, and people have interpreted it in the wrong way. Jacob’s piece inspired this post in part because something he says helps me articulate my actual feelings about the whole thing. So here it is, in case anyone on this planet cares, the official views of Kevin Michael Klipfel, Rule Number One blogger, former philosopher, current instruction librarian,   Carolina-basketball-fanatic, prepped-out-punk-rocker, loafer lover-extraordinaire, on this whole annoying IL framework/Threshold Concepts debate.

If I had to give the pithiest possible statement of my views it would have to be this: I don’t really care.

In some sense, I feel like this new framework is just irrelevant to my life. I know this sounds nihilistic, and that I’m not sympathetic to what’s going on in the profession, but I don’t think this is the case, at all. I just, as Jacob says, “I think we can do better.”

What does that mean, though? Does it mean that I think I could, personally, go ahead and draft a better set of standards?

Not really. Because, like Jacob says, I think that “absent a set of Standards, or a Framework, strong work in information literacy will continue to take place.”  Why? Because strong information literacy work has nothing to do with a standard or a framework.

I’ve been having a hard time articulating this, but I feel like Jacob hit what I was trying formulate in my mind for a long time right on the head in his first paragraph:

it was possible to do an excellent job of teaching information literacy (IL) under the old Standards, and that remains the case. It was also possible to do a lousy job. Nothing has changed. The same is true of the Framework; some campuses will thrive under it, while others will not. In all these instances, neither the Standards nor the Framework was or is sufficient or necessary to successfully teach information literacy.

This is exactly what I mean when I stay I don’t really care about the standards. I don’t think good work is done just by applying the old standard, or a new framework. The entire premise of this blog, and almost everything I’ve written or done as a librarian, is that good work in information literacy will be done by applying actually scientifically relevant educational psychology, motivational psychology, and cognitive science of learning, to the information literacy instructional context. I”m glad to see Jacob agree on this point, and really hope this is where the profession is headed. In our own little way, we hope the blog contributes to that discussion, and I hope my scholarship and outspokenness in defending my views does as well.

Now – and this is a really, really important point – I’ve been at pains to demonstrate how I think this stuff applies to, say, the “old” ACRL standards. I did a whole study that took a year of my life showing how applying educational, motivational, and counseling  psychology to information literacy instruction improves student engagement and information literacy in the academic library context. So I’m not saying that the standards are stuff to be ignored by instruction librarians. I’m saying that they are not at the heart of what’s going to make you a good or bad teacher who actually helps students learn something. They’re just things to take as guidelines, I guess, for what info lit might sort of be, and what that learning might look like as an outcome (which I think you can then use to make your own standards at your own institution.) But they  don’t tell you how to get there. No standards or framework ever will.

I’ve said some stuff in the past about why I don’t like threshold concepts as a basis for the framework. My view is that there’s just no scientific evidence in favor of threshold concepts as a successful way to teach students anything, and people who defend the theory online seem to miss the point entirely. As Jacob puts it,

Writ large, their defenses of localized learning and the role of theory in library and information science inadvertently expose Threshold Concepts (TCs), mentioned only once in their article, for what they are: a loose collection of pedagogically unsound and empirically untested practices.

This is the thing: what really, really baffles me is why on earth we’d base a set of professional standards (or inform a framework of professional standards) on such a thing, when, in fact, there’s information galore available in easily digestible formats for actually scientifically sound pedagogical practices librarians could use to inform their instruction. That is what ultimately baffles me. How does this make any sense?

In spite of that, here’s something I want to say. I actually think the paper on which the threshold concepts stuff in libraries is based is a good paper. I met one of the people who wrote it before I knew anything about the new standards, or that they were even part of writing that paper, and they couldn’t possibly have been nicer to me, and I thought they were very savvy about thinking deeply about instruction. My problem is just as I said above: wait, how does that one paper – which, yeah, posits what could be an interesting idea – become a basis for a framework that is now a profession wide thing, especially when that paper posits some tentative (but maybe interesting ideas), when there’s so many not tentative, and much more proven pedagogies out there? WTF is up with that?

This is actually part of the reason I’m really surprised that, according to data reported in Jacob’s article, apparently “91% [of librarians] were satisfied with the opportunities to provide feedback to the Task Force on drafts of the Framework.”

Really?  Do you not think that’s at all strange?

I feel like I had absolutely no say whatsoever in any of this. At the end of the day, whatever goes ahead in terms of this  framework, as far as I can tell, is going to be decided by a super-small number of people I’m going to have no influence over whatsoever, no matter how evidenced my views are. Here’s one reason to think this: Lane Wilkinson has utterly destroyed the framework in every possible way, but they still exist, and still warrant defenses that entirely miss the point.

My view is that, until librarians actually receive education training that’s sound, stuff like this framework will continue to exist. I’ll be super-duper-nice to the people that like it, and deal with it and try to tie my stuff to it as much as possible. But my work will be informed by stuff that’s actually important: how students learn, what motivates them, and how I can bring that understanding to the information literacy context to help students think critically and develop their curiosities about the world.

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Filed under Education, Library Instruction, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, The Library Game

One response to “What I Think of This Whole Annoying IL Framework/Threshold Concepts Debate

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