Info Lit Summit 2015: What’s the Big Idea?! Incorporating Threshold Concepts into Your Teaching Practice

Written by: Emilia Marcyk

Primary Source: Information Literacy Resources

I attended the 14th Annual Information Literacy Summit this past week and heard an excellent keynote from Amy R. Hofer, Silvia Lu, and Lori Townsend. (A link to the keynote will be posted here when available).

Some of the key ideas from the presentation were:

  • Conceptual teaching is increasingly important because information doesn’t just live in the library anymore. Students need to be able to apply the same analytical thinking to information they find anywhere. Threshold concepts for information literacy provide lens through which to focus instruction.
  • Not all students come to the library at the same point in relation to the threshold concepts. Some might be right at the door, some might be blocks away, and some might never make it over the threshold. An instructor cannot teach a threshold concept in a one-shot instruction session, but she can plant a seed.
  • There is still room for procedural skills in library instruction. Students still need to know about the mechanics of database searching to produce successful assignments. But threshold concepts can make this kind of instruction more engaging and help students understand why they need to learn procedural elements.
  • Engaging with threshold concepts acknowledges the tacit knowledge of our discipline that students are just supposed to “pick up.”

Some lingering questions:

  • How do we assess whether students have crossed a threshold?
  • How do we scale “deeper” information literacy instruction options, such as credit courses?

The presentation helped clarify some of my own thinking about threshold concepts and how to engage with them in my day to day job. I’m already doing some of the things they suggested, but looking forward to revising even more over the summer.

Lovingly written by Emilia Marcyk

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Emilia Marcyk
Emilia Marcyk is an Instructional Technology & Information Literacy Librarian at the MSU Libraries, where she develops instructional content, leads information literacy sessions for the First Year Writing program, and works at the reference desk. She is especially interested in developing new tools and strategies to help undergraduate students acquire information literacy skills, especially as they transition from high school to college. She received her MSLIS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her BA from Bryn Mawr College. In addition to her work in libraries, Emilia has been an environmental educator in Portland, OR, and Philadelphia, PA.