Thursday, 25 March 2010

Reframing Information Literacy as a Metaliteracy

I came across this preprint for College and Research Journal, by Thomas P. Mackey and Trudi E. Jacobson.

The abstract said :

"Social media environments and online communities are innovative collaborative technologies that challenge traditional definitions of information literacy. Metaliteracy is an overarching and self-referential framework that integrates emerging technologies and unifies multiple literacy types. This redefinition of information literacy expands the scope of generally understood information competencies and places a particular emphasis on producing and sharing information in participatory digital environments."

This proves to be a critically important article for taking the content of our book further.

They argue that social media (Web 2.0 tools like Facebook, Twitter, Delicious etc.) environments are transient, requiring comprehensive understanding of information in order to critically evaluate, share and produce content in various forms. Various iteracies such as digital literacy, media literacy, visual literacy, transliteracy and IT fluency have arisen to respond to this challenge.They prefer the development of a metaliteracy, within which information litracy plays a central part. They feel "Information literacy is more significant now than it ever was, but it must be connected to related literacy types that address ongoing shifts in technology,"
"Through this overarching approach to information literacy, we examine the term within a new media environment. Metaliteracy promotes critical thinking and collaboration in a digital age, providing a comprehensive framework to effectively participate in social media and online communities. It is a unified construct that supports the acquisition, production, and sharing of knowledge in collaborative online communities. Metaliteracy expands upon the traditional skills-based approach to understanding information as somehow disconnected from emerging technologies and related literacy types. Standard definitions of information literacy are insufficient for the revolutionary social technologies currently prevalent online."

There follows an excellent summary of the prevailing literacy frameworks : Informatin Literacy, Media literacy,Visual literacy, Cyberliteracy, Information fluency. These literacies were being challenged by the need to cover active individual creation and distribution. A further examination of literature in this area includes articles by Kimmo Tuominen where she suggests Web 2.0 technologies have led to an "erosion of information contexts" : a point I have made several times.

In developing the idea of an overarching metaliteracy the authors want to see a change from seeing IL as primarily skills-based toward collaborative production and sharing of information using interactive technologies. The discussion of metaliteracy in practice which follows is a very thoughtful analysis of the challenge of using social media. However, despite agreeing with so much of it I remain in doubt about the wisdom of creating another new term. The purpose would seem to be to ensure understanding of how content is developede and distributed in the various online environments. I would maintain that exisiting frameworks like the SCONUL 7 Pillars can already accommodate this changes and that the importance of certain pillars has shifted over the past 5 years : for example the type of information carriers in pillar 2 to include participatory envioronments like blogs, wikis etc. and the increasing importance of pillar 5 to compare and evalute material from a variety of sources and media.
My other problem with the concept of metaliteracy is that it is even less attractive as a term than Information Literacy. We want to engage our users, the public, the politicans (even) but how would they like metaliteracy?


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Thomas P. Mackey said...

Thank you for such a thoughtful response to our new article, to be published by College & Research Libraries. This is the kind of discussion we were hoping might emerge from this topic. Your point about the naming issue is a good one and I understand why this would come up. In our own thinking, however, we see this more about "reframing" information literacy than "renaming" (or replacing). In some ways the article is a challenge to IL and to the field of information studies (and to us) to rethink how we conceptualize information literacy in a digital age. As we point out in the article, this has been done very well by many others, and there are many ways to look at literacy, but we are hoping to unite some of the related literacy types, while viewing IL as a pivotal knowledge set that pulls it all together. This should build a stronger understanding of IL, especially related to new media environments. At the same time, this approach does foreground yet another term, but we hope that this is seen in support of IL itself. So, just a few quick thoughts-- thanks again for talking about our preprint in your blog. Your work in this area is very relevant to this discussion. Best, Tom Mackey

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