Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Student perspectives: redesigning a research assignment handout through the academic literacies model

Next discussion: Thursday 2nd February at 8pm UK time (3pm EST, 9pm Sweden).
Article: Hicks, A. (2016). Student perspectives: redesigning a research assignment handout through the academic literacies model. Journal of Information Literacy, 10(1) 30-43 http://dx.doi.org/10.11645/10.1.2049

Thank you to Alison for her article and for writing this kick-off post for our discussion.

Alison Hicks
Alison is a PhD candidate at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science as well as a research librarian at the University of Colorado, Boulder and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Denver where she teaches the library instruction course. Originally from Somerset in the UK, her works centres on sociocultural approaches to information literacy. She is very good at wrangling time-zones…

How does this discussion work?
Anyone can join this discussion!  Participants aim to read at least some of the article in advance, then come along at 8pm BST and join in the discussion by adding comments to this blog post. You can see how this works by looking at previous discussions (just scroll down the blog for previous posts). 

I first came across Academic Literacies research as part of my PhD reading. Frustrated by  the focus on skills and competencies within information literacy research and practice, I had turned to the field of literacy studies for inspiration and almost immediately came across the New Literacy Studies work of David Barton (2007) and Brian Street (1984). Centered upon the idea of what people do with reading and writing, Barton and Street’s research positions literacy as multi-purpose and multi-functional rather than as a series of neat steps that will automatically lead to social good. It was these same precepts that influenced Lea and Street’s work into academic literacies over a decade later, or the idea that academic reading and writing practices are as situated and contextual as more everyday literacy practices - to say nothing of opaque to most new learners. Further highlighting that conventions and values are often made explicit through academic documentation (such as syllabi), Lea and Street’s two articles inspired my own exploration of how these ideas played out within research education and more specifically, research paper assignment handouts.
Librarians have a long history of using supplementary paper and digital materials to support face to face teaching- from the pathfinder to the handout and the now ubiquitous LibGuide. Yet, while these resources serve a variety of pedagogical purposes, there has been little research into either the design of these tools or how they can scaffold the disciplinary values that drive and are driven by community knowing. In exploring how situational (or the purpose of research) and disciplinary (such as ways of knowing) context can be used to structure a handout, this paper aimed to both provide a model for the design of this type of instructional material as well as to draw librarian attention to the need for this work more broadly. Most importantly, in basing this research around an exploration of student experiences with the handout, this paper positions students as experts of their experiences, and aims to encourage the inclusion of student voices within future information literacy research studies.


  • While not all librarians are able to get access to class syllabi or assignment handouts, LibGuides have the potential to form a similar purpose. How do we translate Academic Literacy ideas into the use (and abuse) of LibGuides?
  • Information literacy research often tends to focus more on testing students rather than listening to them. How can we integrate more student voices into our research and practice? 
  • This paper was directly inspired by findings from the field of literacy studies. Recognising that literacy studies suffers from many of the same issues as information literacy (eg political rhetoric around falling standards, skills-based agendas), how else can we draw from their research (successes and mistakes) to develop information literacy research and practice?

Reference List

Barton, D. (2007) Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language, Malden, MA:Blackwell.

Lea, M. and Street, B. 1998. Student writing in higher education: an academic literacies approach. Studies in Higher Education 23(2), pp. 157-172. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03075079812331380364

Lea, M. and Street, B. 2006. The “academic literacies” model: theory and applications. Theory into Practice 45(4), pp.368-377. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/s15430421tip4504_11

Street, B. (1984) Literacy in Theory and Practice, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press