Information literacy: a phenomenography

Information literacy: a phenomenography

By: Christine Bruce, PhD Thesis, 1996, University of New England, Armidale.

(This thesis has been reproduced in full in the book The Seven Faces of Information Literacy, available from Auslib or your university library.)

Information literacy: a phenomenography examines the varying experience of information literacy amongst higher educators and proposes a relational model of information literacy as an alternative to the behavioural model that dominates information literacy education and research. After establishing the importance of information literacy in higher education, the metaphor of an information literacy wheel is used to examine problems associated with the behavioural model and to propose the adoption of a relational approach. The three spokes of the wheel analysed are descriptions of information literacy, information literacy education and research.

Following discussion of these three aspects are details of an empirical study into information users’ conceptions of information literacy. The study was conducted to form an initial hub for the relational information literacy wheel – a detailed picture of the different ways in which information literacy is experienced, or conceived amongst a group of experienced information users, in this case higher educators. The resulting conceptions, represented by `categories’ describing them, provide a picture of the phenomenon of information literacy, that is a picture of information literacy as it appears to people. This picture becomes the centrepiece of the relational information literacy wheel, in the same way that lists of attributes are central to the behavioural model.

This new picture of information literacy was obtained using a phenomenographic research approach. In using this approach the study continued a tradition of merging information needs and uses and educational research. Data gathered from lecturers, librarians, counsellors and staff developers were subjected to an iterative analysis resulting in categories of description representing different conceptions of information literacy. Each category is distinguished by a particular way of focussing on the world which correlates with a particular meaning associated with information literacy. The categories represent people’s subjective experience of different parts of the phenomenon which are logically related. These relationships are graphically represented in an outcome space.

The picture of information literacy derived from examining variation in users’ conceptions provides a deeper understanding of the phenomenon and completes the proposed relational model. The outcomes also pave the way for new approaches to information literacy education and research.

Keywords: Information literacy, conceptions of; higher education; phenomenography; information users.