Keynote Speeches

‘There could be trouble ahead’. Threshold Concepts, Troublesome Knowledge and Information Literacy – a current debate.

Ray Land

The American Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) has recently produced a Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. This document, the ACRL emphasises, ‘is called a framework intentionally because it is based on a cluster of interconnected core concepts, with flexible options for implementation, rather than on a set of standards, learning outcomes, or any prescriptive enumeration of skills. At the heart of this Framework are conceptual understandings that organize many other concepts and ideas about information, research, and scholarship into a coherent whole’ (ACRL 2015). The Framework draws upon the educational notion of ‘threshold concepts’ (Meyer and Land 2003) and has provoked considerable discussion and debate in the North American community of practice in its endeavour to identify such concepts for Information Literacy.

This presentation will outline the Threshold Concepts analytical framework, which is at the heart of this debate and which can be considered as akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about a topic. It represents a transformative view of learning, without which the learner cannot progress to a fuller understanding, and involves an ontological shift. As a consequence of comprehending a threshold concept there may thus be a transformed internal view of subject matter, subject landscape, or even world view. This transformation may be sudden or protracted, with the transition to understanding often involving encounters with ‘troublesome knowledge’. Depending on discipline and context, knowledge might be troublesome because it is ritualised, inert, conceptually difficult, alien or tacit, because it requires adopting an unfamiliar discourse, or perhaps because the learner remains ‘defended’, resisting the inevitable shift in subjectivity that threshold concepts initiate. Difficulty in understanding threshold concepts may leave the learner in a state of ‘liminality’, a suspended state or ‘stuck place’ in which understanding approximates to a kind of ‘mimicry’ or lack of authenticity.

Further information on this topic with papers catalogued by discipline can be found at: http://www.ee.ucl.ac.uk/~mflanaga/thresholds.html. The ACRL IL Framework is available at: http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework.

The Liminal Library: Making Our Libraries Sites of Transformative Learning

Barbara Fister

Librarians have devoted a great deal of time, passion, and creativity to helping students understand their place in the world of information, as can be seen from the archives of this conference. We believe that information literacy matters, not just to complete a course assignment or to earn a degree, but for personal growth and social engagement. Our libraries are places where we hope to nurture in students a sense of belonging, a tickle of curiosity, and a growing sense of confidence that they have a voice to add to the conversations that give rise to meaning and an active role to play in shaping society.

This kind of learning is complex and involves many moving parts: student motivation, social pressures on universities and the communities they serve, faculty assumptions and expectations, and rapid changes in the information environment itself. We’ll unpack the recent debate in the United States over the new Framework for Information Literacy, we’ll explore the results of a small-scale study of what faculty from multiple disciplines felt were threshold moments their students experience as they learn to navigate knowledge, and we’ll discuss how to make a case for the practical and long-lasting value of critical information literacy not just for our students but for the world that they are entering.