Down the Metaliteracy Rabbit Hole

Cover images from two Metaliteracy books by Thomas Mackey & Trudi Jacobson

The concept of metaliteracy as envisioned by Thomas Mackey and Trudi Jacobson takes our good old, trusty (if a bit dusty) Framework for Information Literacy and expands it.  It grows to include a component of critical self-reflection on our leaning processes and a variety of different literacies.  Mackey & Jacobson specifically mention the ones in blue below, but in addition to these, I submit that the ones in green also have a role to play.

information literacy, visual literacy, digital literacy, media literacy, plain old literacy, multicultural literacy, critical literacy, science literacy, numeracy, data literacy

Metaliteracy seeks to avoid creation of a new literacy type each time our technology landscape changes.  It makes room for all the literacies above while placing information literacy at the center.

“Rather than simply respond to the latest technology with a new literacy type, we need to identify connections to related literacies within an expanded framework.”

Metaliteracy: Reinventing Information Literacy to Empower Learners, p. 27

Related Concepts

This isn’t the first time someone has noticed that our current media and information environment require new and more skills.  Mackey and Jacobson discuss a variety related concepts including, multiliteracies (embracing a multiplicity of ways of conveying meaning), multimodal literacy (synthesizes several literacies, but information literacy isn’t central), connectivism (networked approach to learning – PLNs anyone?), and transliteracy (fluency with a variety of technologies and media).  Ok, those are gross oversimplifications of a slew of fascinating and useful concepts, forgive me.  Also, I made an ngram, because librarians.

Relative frequencies of “metaliteracy” and related terms in print books since 1990

Four Domains of Metaliteracy

A group at SUNY, (including Jacobson and Mackey) developed a set of metaliteracy goals and learning objectives that fall into four domains:

  • Behavioral – what we should be able to do, skills, competencies
  • Cognitive – what we should know
  • Affective – changes in our emotions or attitudes through engagement with learning activities
  • Metacognitive – what we think about our own thinking

I’ll spend a lot of time with the goals and objectives later on, but the addition of these domains to the existing information literacy models is an important step forward.  It doesn’t exclude the skills that librarians have long focused on, but neither does it place all the emphasis there.  It doesn’t ignore that there is important knowledge we need to successfully navigate our information environment, but it suggests that having these skills and knowledge have the same level of importance as having a strong understanding of ourselves. 

As you might expect, the concept of metacognition predates metaliteracy by decades (ok, one more ngram) but it has so much to offer metaliteracy.  Polarization, cognitive biases (I’m looking at you confirmation bias,) logical fallacies, information nihilism, (ok I made that phrase up, but I think there is a real problem with folks thinking it’s not possible to know what’s true so why both trying – if you know the real name for this please tell me,) are all real obstacles to information literacy and metaliteracy that require an understanding of our own thinking to be overcome.

Relative frequencies of “metacognition” & metaliteracy related terms in print since 1970

Jacobson and Mackey describe the affective domain in terms of changing our emotions, but I think another interesting take on it is that it’s useful to understand the ways our emotions and attitudes can get in the way of objectivity and of productive behaviors.  While we’re at it, bringing some empathy to the discussion could help us entertain perspectives different than our own.  And it might be useful to have compassion for ourselves (as well as others) as we learn about the very human mistakes we all make with our very human brains. I expect that contemplative practice could tell us a lot about how to proceed in the affective domain.

Active Participation in Information Systems

The fundamental change in our information environment is that anyone can produce and share information, there is almost no barrier to entry, no gate keeping.  Whereas previous information literacy standards emphasized these actions:

Determine, Access, Locate, Understand, Access, Use

the metaliteracy framework acknowledges this change by adding:

Collaborate, Participate, Share, Produce

We are in a networked information environment now and metaliteracy is about empowerment in that environment.

However, as a lifelong lurker and someone who has neglected and then deleted more blogs that I can remember, I feel cautious about this.  I understand that participating online is not easy for everyone and that it has risks, (online abuse, for example, that is directed at some demographics more than others.) But I can’t deny that it’s useful to know how to participate and that we all have an obligation to use whatever power we have, in whatever way we feel able, to make our information environment better. 

Where to Next

I’m still working my way through the later chapters of these two books and I’ll share my takes on some of those chapters as I go.  I’m planning to read the papers below next to strengthen my foundations in metaliteracy and metacognition.

I’m also working my way through Mackey & Jacboson’s Coursera MOOC and John Green’s Navigating Digital Information video series to see what these learning materials are like.

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