threshold concepts, part 1: musing

Teaching computer literacy in Seattle to refugees and immigrants taught me to view the term world wide web as more reality than ideal. It occurred to me very quickly that teaching others how to use email or do a basic search on Google was not something that 2 two-hour sessions could accomplish effectively.

Showing the Internet to those who haven’t had both access to technology before as well as exposure to Western culture can be a dangerous thing. It can be a great equalizer when used properly, but otherwise–well, I often used the word “city” to describe it to my patrons. Being a part of it doesn’t mean that you’re running with the right crowds, using accurate information channels, or really “with it”.

To extend the metaphor, I often felt like teaching basic computer skills as we defined it was like showing someone how to use the subway system in the big city. They’ll know how to get around, but they won’t know which places to avoid or how to tell good people from bad. In the end, I wasn’t sure if I was doing my students any justice when our education program ended there.

At the time, I thought these obstacles were mostly due to cultural barriers. But after getting a graduate degree and teaching digital literacy in higher education, I see that the problems and expectations haven’t changed all that much.

I wonder if this is in part because institutional systems such as university web mail keeps faculty and students in a bubble. Regardless of the reason, it doesn’t change the fact that they still expect the same skill-based education from libraries rather than partnering with us to provide a more holistic presentation of the information ecology as it relates to their discipline.

To me, this is in part why threshold concepts in the emerging ACRL revised information literacy framework are so exciting. Whatever their flaws may be, they represent a sensible shift in direction – or at least significant in that it codifies better practices for the long-terms goals and understandings that students should strive for.

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