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    Information literacy: empowerment or reproduction in practice? A discourse analysis approach

    Walton, G and Cleland, J (2017) Information literacy: empowerment or reproduction in practice? A discourse analysis approach. Journal of Documentation, 73 (4). pp. 582-594. ISSN 0022-0418


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    Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to present a qualitative investigation into whether online textual postings, produced by undergraduate students as part of an undergraduate module, can demonstrate their information literacy (IL) capabilities as a discursive competence and socially enacted practice. It also asks whether these online postings embody power relations between students, tutors and librarians. Design/methodology/approach – Foucault’s notion of discursive competence and the separate but complementary concept of practice architectures (specifically focussing on “sayings”) devised by Lloyd were used as thematic lenses to categorise online discussion board postings from a formative online peer assessment exercise created for first-year UK undergraduate students. Online postings were the node of analysis used to identify patterns of language across online conversation. These postings were inductively analysed through manual content analysis. Subject’s responses were initially categorised using open coding. Findings – Postings appeared to embody student’s discursive competence and information practice in IL, especially their level of information discernment and what constituted a quality “reference” for an assignment. However, they also demonstrated that the notion of “references” (information artefacts such as a journal article) perform a certain function in reproducing the discursive practices of an academic discipline as an agreed construct between tutor, student and librarian. Practical implications – Students were engaged in the process of becoming good scholars by using appropriate online postings to create valid arguments through assessing other’s work, but what they did not do was question received meanings regarding the quality of information they used as evidence. Far from exhibiting the desired outcome of critical thinking (a cornerstone of IL) students who appeared most articulate in discussion tended to emulate the “strong discourse” put forward by their tutors and librarians. Originality/value – This research uses practice architectures and discourse analysis to analyse students’ IL capabilities and the context in which they are developed. An approach not employed hitherto. This has practical implications for the ways in which academics and librarians introduce students to the academic discourse of their discipline and the ways in which the production, communication and exchange of information in academic contexts is characterised.

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