Archive for the ‘critical education’ Category

Asselin, M., & Kymes, A. (2007). A Critical Examination of Information Literacy Instruction During a Grade 9 Research Project. SIMILE: Studies In Media & Information Literacy Education, 7(4), 1-18. 

This excellent research article provides a clear, concise overview of the cognitive and critical views of information literacy in addition to a thorough study of the methods and outcomes of a collaborative information literacy approach to a grade 9 research project. This is the first real research-based paper I’ve found on critical information literacy and it is most welcome.

I’d like to share some key quotes from this paper:

“the conventional paradigms of information literacy disable students from engaging in authentic and sustained inquiry and from expanding their development of new literacies, particularly the critical new literacies that enable social change. Information literacy education needs to build on established frameworks to emphasize learning from not just about information processes.”

This last sentence really gets to the heart of things. Information literacy education needs to move away from the traditional skills-based approach that reinforces the idea that learning is all about finding the answers, to an approach that recognizes that the process of finding and selecting information is the most important part of genuine learning.

“In contrast to cognitive views of literacy as skills situated within individuals, a sociocultural view of literacy assumes that literacy practices are shaped by social contexts (Gee, 1991). From this perspective, information literacy is not an autonomous, neutral framework of processes, skills and strategies that can be learned by individuals, but is shaped by school discursive practices around research. Limburg (1999) found that dominant discursive practice in schools constructs research as a fact gathering task, rather than a genuine quest to learn. Other research shows that teaching information literacy is more about directing students through tasks than actually teaching information literacies (Leander, 2007; Limburg, 2005).”

From my experience, this is not, as you might hope or expect, any different in university than it is in the public school system. Actually, I’m amazed at how little importance or emphasis is placed on research at all. In many cases faculty simply provide students with a list of readings due to a perceived lack of time for research. This happens quite frequently in Master of Education courses where typically full term courses are offered in the space of 3-4 weeks.

“a critical perspective on information literacy draws from critical literacy studies and posits that information literacy is “not a framework but a standpoint, a way of being that treats texts … as an object of critical analysis as well as a source of learning and pleasure” (Kapitzke, 2005, p. 34). Learning to treat texts as critical objects of analyses is an urgent pedagogical issue as the majority of youth go online not only for pleasure but for school (Lenhard, Madden, & Hitlin, 2007; Media Awareness Network, 2005) and encounter unprecedented amounts of “unvetted” information. A central ability within this perspective is the deeper level of evaluating information that focuses on uncovering perspectives present and absent and identifying techniques used to influence readers. In accordance with New Literacies Studies, the larger purpose of information literacy in this view is transformative personal and social action and ultimately a means of redressing social inequities (New London Group, 2000).”

This is precisely why critical information and media literacy needs to play a central role in all levels of education. Education that relies on “experts” to provide vetted information to students does nothing to teach students how to think for themselves. Instead, it teaches students that they must rely on those in society who are seen as experts to tell them what is right and wrong, true and untrue.

“A critical perspective of information literacy instruction begins with the premise that a paradigm shift is necessary, not only in the meaning of information literacy but in the meanings of knowledge and pedagogy. In this view, knowledge is a generative process not a product; and knowledge creation entails uncovering and contesting socially powerful texts (Gilbert, 2005). “New pedagogy” means situating learning in authentic, complex and political issues, valuing all forms and modes of literacy and texts, and shifting the complete authority of the teacher to a more collaborative relationship among teacher, learner and text (Kalantzis, Varnava-Skoura & Cope, 2002).”

I’m in complete agreement, but I’m still left with the problem of how to make this a reality in my own teaching. I need to move beyond the one-time information literacy sessions to a course embedded model working in collaboration with faculty. Easier said than done.

“when we asked students why they thought they are learning how to do research their responses indicated vague understandings: “to help us learn” and “get us ready for being adults and having jobs.””

Not surprising really, but still depressing.

“A sociocultural perspective suggests that students in this study operated from a product, content driven view of research (Many, Fyfe, Lewis, & Mitchell, 1996; McGregor, 1995), suggesting a history of experiencing school discursive practices of research as fact gathering. They appeared to view school research as a job to get done and the teacher should smooth and speed that process along.”


“If schools are to prepare students for participating in a knowledge-based society then new ways of instruction in the literacies that are needed for building knowledge are essential (Lankshear & Knoebel, 2003). Expanding literacy instruction to include information literacy will be most empowering for students when it is conceived as a repertoire of flexible social practices and ways of thinking that enable productive lives and lifelong learning. It is particularly urgent that instruction in the new literacies of the Internet are provided for all students as neglecting these literacies perpetuates social inequities (Leu et al., n.d). All educators need to move towards a pedagogy of paradigmatic cases (Knoebel & Lankshear, 2007) of new information literacies and ensure that all students learn both the technical new literacies necessary to participate in a knowledge-based society, and the critical “ethos stuff ” of the how and why of knowledge creation.”

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This is the second article in my growing critical information literacy bibliography. I was planning to cover one article a week, but have realised it would take me 3 years to finish the bibliography as it stands now. I’ll try to cover at least 3 a week and see if I can’t speed things up a little.

Alkan, N., & Ankara, T. (2008). The Importance and Influence of Philosophical Thinking for Librarians. Library Philosophy and Practice (e-journal), 207. 

This is where a critical practice of librarianship needs to begin. If we don’t take the time to seriously question what we do as a profession, we will never fully participate in changing society to the degree we are able. Overall, this article is a bit uneven and not directly related to critical information literacy, but there a few interesting things I would like to share. The authors present a number of reasons why philosophical thinking for librarians is important today. Here are a few of the more interesting:

PT maintains the connection of the librarian with theory and provides a means to strengthen the theory-practice relationship.

PT prepares the librarian for changes and innovations.

PT may motivate librarians to challenge problems that degenerate the society to which they belong.

PT equips the librarian with the discipline and habit of questioning why.

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Agada, J. (2001). Deconstructing the At-Risk Student Phenomenon: Can Librarian Values Salvage Education for the 21st Century? In H. Thompson (Ed.), Crossing the Divide: Proceedings of the 10th National Conference of the Association of College and Research Libraries (pp. 81-88). Association of College Research Libraries. 

From the introduction:

“This paper offers a critical perspective on the at-risk student phenomenon, and its implications for academic libraries. It contends that the focus of reform efforts on learner deficiencies, rather than inequities in the learning and social relations in society, position schools to reproduce, rather than eliminate risk factors in education. Educational practices, which sustain cultural dissonance and lowered expectations for at-risk students will be examined for illustration. These practices are then juxtaposed and contrasted with the librarian values of social equity, and cultural diversity. The enhanced instructional role for academic libraries offers the library profession an opportunity to impact the educational system with its values. Strategies for doing this are proffered.”

Agada does an excellent job of making his case against the education system’s efforts to address the needs of at-risk students. Strangely, though, he doesn’t mention the essential work on the issue of cultural and social reproduction in schools by Pierre Bourdieu. I would highly recommend reading the following articles by Bourdieu to supplement the material presented by Agada:

Bourdieu, P. (1973). Cultural reproduction and social reproduction. In R. K. Brown (Ed.), Knowledge, education and cultural change: papers in the sociology of education (pp. 487–510). Taylor & Francis.

Bourdieu, P. (1974). The school as a conservative force: Scholastic and cultural inequalities. In J. Eggleston (Ed.), Contemporary research in the sociology of education (pp. 32-46). Methuen.

Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. In J. E. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of Theory of the Research for the Sociology of Education (pp. 241-58). Greenwood Press. 

Agada does provide a very nice quote from Gordon and Yowell which sums up the problem succintly:

“The school learning environment affirms and rewards those who exhibit the dominant cultural capital, which the teacher often exhibits by virtue of her race, ethnicity or class. White middle class male students are therefore better socialized in the cultural capital espoused by the school. In contrast, at-risk students experience cultural dissonance due to the conflict between what is learned from the home environment, and the demands and expectations of the hegemonic educational system (Gordon andYowell 1994).”

In terms of the implications for academic libraries, Agada draws attention to the disconnect between the often stated values of the profession and its practices:

“The library profession shares with education, the contradictions inherent in its professional value systems and practice. For example, glaring inequities in access to library services in the society attest to unfulfilled promises of
democratic access to information and social equity.”

Agada questions the idea of library neutrality (which reminds me that I still need to get hold of a copy of Questioning Library Neutrality, Edited by Alison Lewis) and makes the case that academic libraries also play a role in reproducing the inequalities present in the dominant culture:

“In supporting the curricula needs of their patrons, academic libraries have focused on building collections of “quality” and “authoritative” resources that portray the racist, sexist and class interests of mainstream literature. Free and democratic access to such collections helps to sustain cultural dissonance for at-risk students and their communities, and further undermine their self-concepts and sense of self-efficacy.”

Agada challenges us to work against all obstacles to actively practice what we preach: “the librarian values of cultural diversity, social equity and democratic access to information.” He leaves us with a number of strategies.

“Academic librarians ought to educate themselves about at-risk students and their communities, and support research and documentation of knowledge about them. They should also advocate infusion of critical information literacy skills and culturally diverse content in all academic curricula and library resources. Secondly, as academic librarians engage in their instructional roles, they must provide opportunities to connect with every student in the class by using curricula content and teaching methods that draw on students’ cultural backgrounds, experiences, interests and learning styles, irrespective of subject matter being taught (Agada 1998a).”

“When students come with diverse cultural backgrounds and life conditions, democratic (physical) access to information alone is unlikely to equalize opportunities for all. Rawls’ theory of social justice argues for going beyond provision of equal opportunities to ensuring diverse but optimal learning outcomes for each student (1971).”

“Although all meaningful learning must be contextualized within the cultural capital of each student, the educational system also needs to emphasize the acquisition of multiple perspectives— so that students can appreciate the perspectives of and empathize with the Other.”

“Working with a diverse staff would also help majority staff adapt to a multicultural patron body. Atrisk
students should therefore be hired as aids and trained to teach library use to their peers.”

These very welcome strategies should help prompt a discussion within academic library units about the best way to address the needs of all our users. Missing from this paper, however, are real strategies for incorporating these values into our instruction. This is something I’ve been struggling with for some time. I simply can’t seem to get away from the one-off library sessions in which I usually have no more than an hour or two (at most) to address every aspect of library use and information literacy. These sessions are seldom more than broad overviews and quick how-to’s. I’ve made very strong connections with many faculty members who are supportive of incorporating aspects of critical information literacy into their courses, but as of yet, I have been unable to bring these ideas to the classroom. Unless we are able to break through this barrier, the answer to the title question will be no.

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I’ve been silent on this blog for a long time, but I’ve continued to work on my research into information literacy and critical pedagogy. You can see my shared references here.

Feel free to add comments, make suggestions, and use as you see fit. I intend to make posts on every article in the bibliography as I work or rework my way through them. Hopefully, with this to keep me focused, I’ll be blogging here regularly again.

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This recent post on ACRLog, Authoritative Sources or Question Authority, gets to the heart of understanding the need for critical information and media literacy. Although critical literacy is never mentioned, this is obviously what is being discussed. We simply cannot tell people to use “authoritative” sources and leave it at that. If we don’t help people to ask questions about information and power, to help them look beyond the words on the page or the perceived authority of the author or publisher, they will always be passive receivers and distributors of information and never be involved in the construction of information.

If we can help people become critical users of information it can also open the doors to a much wider array of information resources than are currently being used in academic research. There is a huge body of valuable information available in alternative newsletters, magazines, and small independent presses that is simply not being used because we place such emphasis on the importance of peer-review and other “authoritative” sources. We do this because we don’t trust the students to recognize trustworthy and unbiased information on their own. The trouble is, if we don’t help them to make these decisions for themselves, we are treating them like children and keeping them in a position of weakness and dependency.

We need to empower students to participate in the world as active citizens capable of thinking critically and taking action based on their own understanding and not to be limited in their thinking and actions by the direction of what others have decided is authoritative.

Anyone with access to SpringerLink should read this new article by Douglas Kellner and Jeff Share, Critical Media Literacy is Not an Option for a very strong argument for the need for critical media literacy (which includes information literacy by their definition) in schools at all levels. I would also argue that it is particularly vital in adult education programs. We can also take a lot from Allan Luke and Peter Freebody’s work on the four resource model of literacy, described very well in, Further Notes on the Four Resources Model. This is a model of literacy that can be applied to multiple literacies and should not be ignored by proponents and developers of information literacy.

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“Critical theory is, above all else, a way to ask questions about power. Who has it? How did they get it? How do they keep it? What are they doing with it? How do their actions affect the less powerful? How might things be otherwise? (Finding Freedom in the Classroom, p.17, by Patricia Hinchey)

We need to ask ourselves some very serious questions about power and information. I’d like to look at information production, distribution, collection, organization, preservation, access, control, assessment, and use. Here are a number of questions I have:

Who produces information? Does power affect your ability to produce information? What relation does power have to the volume of information produced? or the quality or type of information produced? What types of information are there? Why is information produced? Who is it produced for? What types of information reinforce or increase the power of some over others? What types of information loosen the power of some over others? How is a person’s culture/background/class reflected in the information s/he produces? What are the barriers to information production?

How is information distributed? What is the relation between power and distribution? What types of information are pushed, who are they pushed on, and why? How do the distribution systems work? What is the difference between types of distribution? Does everyone have equal access to all methods of distribution? What are the barriers to distribution?

How is information collected, organized, and preserved? Who is responsible? Is all information treated equally? Whose categories are used? How do we categorize information? Why is some information more available than other information? Is some information lost?

How is information accessed? How is information controlled? Does everyone have equal access to information? When and why do people choose to seek information? How do we attempt to find it? How do people know when, where, and how to seek information?

How do we choose what information to use or dismiss? Are some people better at analyzing information than others? If so, why? How do people decide which information is reliable/trustworthy and which is not?

If anyone would like to add to this or discuss any of the questions I put forward, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

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