Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Threshold concepts and Information Literacy

I've talked about threshold concepts on the blog before and have also written about them, so I was delighted to be able to listen to Ray Land, one ot the originators of the concept, talk about them in Newcastle yesterday. For those who haven't come across the idea before, Meyer and Land suggest that in order to progress in our learning we need to cross thresholds, moving from our old way of understanding or perceiving something, to a new way. Once we've crossed that threshold, we can't go back to the old way of understanding. They suggest that threshold concepts involve "troublesome knowledge" (Perkins) - a great term for expressing the fact that accepting a new idea can be challenging and that learning may not be comfortable. Ray emphasised that crossing a threshold implies moving from a safe to a riskier space so learning requires stepping into the unknown. We may exist in a state of liminality for a while, oscillating between known and unknown, old and new. "Getting it" can be instant, or can be a gradual process.
As I've said before, I think this concept is very relevant to information literacy. We have endless debates about the meaning of the phrase and use of terminology, when actually it's often the underlying concept which folks need to grasp, in many cases crossing the threshold from perceiving it as skills and training to understanding it in a more holistic way. Ray also talked about the importance of language and how changes in language can affect threshold concepts, very pertinent to the way in which we have developed lenses for the Seven Pillars model.
I've always thought that in terms of IL, there are different communities to be considered in terms of threshold concepts. It's not just about challenging students to become more information literate, academicstaff,  library staff and university leaders all have thresholds to cross so that we all have a similar understanding. I've talked about doing some research into this for ages but just never got round to it. I'm feeling inspired again now!
Ray mentioned a useful website maintained by Mick Flanagan at UCL, which brings together all the references to threshold concepts that he has found. Sadly, he has classified Information Literacy under Library Studies, maybe a threshold concept for Mick there! However, there are some useful papers listed and it's great to see the topic being applied to IL.I'm sure this book: Meyer, J.H.F., Land, R. & Baillie, C. (2010). Threshold Concepts and Transformational Learning. Sense Publishers will also be worth reading on this topic

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