Re-Framing Instruction: A new approach to information literacy - Spring 2015

Accessible Version

By Kim Mcphee, Teaching & Learning Librarian, Western Libraries

The winter term is wrapping up at Western and the spring tulips are starting to make their appearance – while the Instruction Librarians at Western Libraries are busy re-thinking their upcoming fall instruction. Big changes are coming to the way we teach, and these changes are exciting!

Since 2000, librarians have based their instruction on a set of standards set forth by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). In recent years, the standards were deemed out-of-date. So over the past two years, a dedicated taskforce has worked to develop a new Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education that takes into account the dynamic nature of information, technology and scholarly communications. The framework was approved by the ACRL Board in February and we are now ready to put it into action.

What does this mean to you? First, it means that librarians will generally be moving away from teaching point-and-click classes. While a traditional database demonstration class might seem helpful for students who need to write an essay, the associated learning outcomes are often easily achieved by leveraging technology. It also means that we will be starting conversations with you about how we can better align our work with the learning outcomes for your course and program. The end goal is to work more closely with students to engage them in deeper understandings about information, scholarship, and research.

The new framework is built on the disciplinary threshold concept, which “represents a transformed way of understanding, or interpreting, or viewing something, without which the learner cannot progress, and results in a reformulation of the learners’ frame of meaning” (Meyer, Land, & Baillie, 2010, p. ix). It also focuses on metacognition, empowering students to be aware of their thought processes as they move through the information landscape as both consumers and creators of information (Mackey & Jacobson, 2011).

Each of the six frames includes a detailed explanation of the frame as well as knowledge practices and dispositions of those who are developing their information-literate abilities. By structuring the framework in this way, instructors will be able to develop meaningful rubrics to assess student behaviours, attitudes and work, thus helping to inform student self-awareness as they tackle each threshold concept.

The new frames (presented alphabetically) are:

  • Authority is Constructed and Contextual
  • Information Creation as a Process
  • Information Has Value
  • Research as Inquiry
  • Scholarship as Conversation
  • Searching as Strategic Exploration

Let’s look at one of these, ‘Searching as Strategic Exploration’. This frame is explained as, “searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a broad range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding develops” (American Library Association, 2015, “Searching as Strategic Exploration”, para. 1). A novice searcher might try one search strategy in only one or two sources; having found a small handful of useful information, this searcher concludes the search process. On the other hand, the expert searcher thinks critically about who might produce information – both supporting and contradictive – on the topic of interest, try many search strategies, engage in learning how the information source is constructed and work to effectively manage search results. Those who are developing their information literate abilities demonstrate various dispositions, including mental flexibility, seeking guidance when needed, recognizing the value of browsing and persisting when the information search is difficult.

As you can see, demonstrating a database to a group of students does very little to actually move students across the threshold to understanding the concept of ‘Searching as Strategic Exploration.’ This is where the librarian enters the picture, to work with you to develop meaningful learning activities and assignments that will help students develop these important understandings.

What are some practical things you might do? How about:

  • Assigning a bonus mark or two to flipped classroom activities designed by your librarian in order to boost student participation and, ultimately, learning.
  • Use OWL to take advantage of your librarian’s online research guides and his or her willingness to create custom content and lessons to meet your students’ learning needs. We are happy to be added to your OWL site, engage in online conversation with students, and create and mark assignments.
  • Meet with your librarian to discuss in-class strategies to get students thinking more deeply about the information and research landscapes. Together, we can design class debates, reflective writing assignments, or group presentations to engage students.
  • Team teach with your librarian to demonstrate your information literacy skills and processes to your students and give real world examples of how these concepts are important in your own research.

Are you excited about the upcoming changes and the potential they hold for your students? To learn more, please be in touch or plan to attend the Spring Perspectives session, “Faculty-Librarian Collaboration: Past, Present, and Future” on May 13. I’m looking forward to our conversations.

American Library Association (2015, February 9). Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. Retrieved from

Mackey, T. P., & Jacobson, T. E. (2011). Reframing information literacy as a metaliteracy. College and Research Libraries, 72(1), 62-78.

Meyer, J., Land, R., & Baillie, C. (Eds.). (2010). Threshold concepts and transformational learning. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.