thing 15: Collaborating with Writing Programs


Johnson, B., & McCracken, I. M. (2016). Reading for Integration, Identifying Complementary Threshold Concepts: The ACRL Framework in Conversation with Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. Communications in Information Literacy, 10(2), 178-198.

NOTE: Thanks to Caroline Hopkinson for recommending this reading! 🙂


Choose ANY of the questions below to respond to in a comment, or respond to the component of the article that most stood out to you:

  • Johnson and McCracken suggest that it may be helpful to view the Scholarship as Conversation frame as “the driving threshold concept in information literacy.” How might introducing students first to the concept of the scholarly conversation change, enhance, or otherwise impact the way you teach information literacy?
  • Which frame stood out to you as illustrating the most connections to associated threshold concepts in writing?
  • In Naming What We Know, authors identified components of concepts that may be particularly “troublesome” for students. What components of the frames do you feel may be most “troublesome” for students, and why?
  • Johnson and McCracken point out the the Information Creation as a Process frame focuses primarily on “other people’s products,” rather than addressing students’ role as content creators. How could this frame be adapted in order to address what students need to learn in order to effectively act as information producers?
  • This article highlights the need for instruction that helps “student understand research as inquiry, not as a reporting on sources as a means of ‘satisficing’ an instructor.” What kinds of learning experiences, resources, and assignments can help students shift their view of the purpose of research?




  1. In working in first year programs in the past, as I read over students writing I couldn’t help but notice the style of conversation students used in their writing. The Johnson & McCracken article stated:

    …students must understand both the language of a discipline or field and the methods used by those scholars to engage in conversation. Students need to know how scholars are talking, which involves understanding the genres and what counts as evidence and meaning-making (or the accepted methodologies). (p. 185)

    I thought this really hit the nail on the head: students were not asked for creative writing style, nor a book report, nor a blog post. How do they come to understand how to become part of a disciplines community and its conversation? That should be part of our job in introducing them to how go about the discovery process in their subject matter and the issues that were historically important and are currently relevant.
    Consider this illustration of a group of people standing around chatting about an issue and you walk up to the group and try to understand what they are discussing. Can you understand the issue, their language or vocabulary, references to the past or current issues? Does it sound more like a foreign language or something you actually know something about? Have you ever entered such a group and said something that was quite uninformed and were embarrassed? I think most first year students would have to agree with trying to enter a conversation and not being prepared is not something they want to repeat. In the context of their writing, we are asking them to read and research about a field so they can understand the issues, who are the prominent figures, and how research is conducted. We are asking them to become engaged in a field where they have been standing on the outside of the circle of conversation yet we also want them to join in that conversation but with knowledge and practice in their form of conversation.

    There are several other interesting points made in the Johnson & McCracken article that support the ideas of the Framework that I found interesting, including research-based writing as a way to contribute to a discipline, key terms and their relationship to disciplinary conversations, understanding that writing is sending a message and the context of the message are just a few that resonated with me. As a result of this reading I have a different motivation in working with first year inquiry seminar students this semester. This was one of the best articles I have read as part of the 23 things.


  2. Johnson and McCracken point out the the Information Creation as a Process frame focuses primarily on “other people’s products,” rather than addressing students’ role as content creators. How could this frame be adapted in order to address what students need to learn in order to effectively act as information producers?

    I really found this issue interesting, as it was something I had not really thought about before. I do agree that the frame seems to think about information creation from the perspective of the consumer – who created the information? Why? How? Etc – in order to get students to think critically about where information comes from and how it is created. However, I also agree that we can easily turn this around and ask students to think more about their creative process. One way to do this is to offer more freedom in the end product students use to convey information. Instead of requiring a paper, allow students to choose a format. A series of blog posts, a podcast, a video, or a traditional paper, for example. Ask students to reflect on why they chose the medium that they did. How did that medium choice effect how they conveyed the information? Did it effect what they chose to include and to leave out? Did it effect the type of information they collected in the first place? Etc. This would not only prompt them to think more deeply about their choices and their own processes for creating information, but it also might help them think about how other authors are making similar choices.


  3. I first encountered Johnson and McCraken’s article back on Thing #2, Threshold concepts, when I started investigating connections between threshold concepts in writing composition and information literacy. It led me down a really wonderful path that resulted in my working with campus stakeholders (Deans and Coordinators) to link writing instruction in our first year seminar to IL instruction using threshold concepts (Posted to Sandbox here: ) Working through this process I was surprised, and a little embarrassed, to realize that Information Creation as Process was not linked to students’ as content creators as I had always imagined. In my one credit IL classes I spend time with students asking them to consider the research process, and I model concept mapping as a means of organizing information around a research topic/question. I had always linked these activities to “Information Creation as a Process”, but as I reexamined the frames I realized that this frame is much more oriented to the production of information and different formats (genres) and that these activities are actually more aligned with “Research as Inquiry” and “Searching as Strategic Exploration” (both of which refer to the iterative nature of research). While concept mapping and research process do have a home elsewhere in the frame, I think there was still a missed opportunity to make explicit the overarching idea that research is a PROCESS, and like any process, it can be studied, applied, and adapted. Embracing the idea of research as a process, students can then work out for themselves how THEY best move through the process and can seek to make changes and improvements to their own practices as researchers and writers.


  4. Johnsons & McCracken state that “Research as Inquiry serves as [information literacy’s] underlying foundation–the Frame that can best situate the exploration of ideas and conversations in a field. . . . This process of asking questions, investigating, and exploring ideas is reflected in writing studies concepts” (186). I find that using Research as Inquiry is the most helpful framework with which to situate my information literacy sessions and still meet the goals the faculty desire (if they have provided any). If the stars align, the library session coincides with the start of a research-based, writing assignment. Focusing on Research as Inquiry helps frame my instruction and is useful as I model how using different search terms affects the results. Then I have students think about their respective topics and ask them to come up with possible research questions and search terms, so they understand that if one search is not successful, then they need to rethink their search terms and continue searching. As an adjunct writing instructor, I find using Scholarship as Conversation helpful in the writing classroom as I help students navigate their sources and understand where their point of view fits in with the existing conversation.


  5. When we read the Framework and start grappling with it as a tool for instruction, “Scholarship as Conversation” does rise to the top as the frame around which all of the other frames rotate. Without conversation, there is no context, process, value, inquiry, or exploration. The conversation gets things moving.

    How do I bring this overarching frame into my instruction when I’m supposed to be focusing primarily on two other frames (as requested by my faculty)? By making the instruction all about conversation – a sharing of ideas back and forth between the students and me, by encouraging the students to think through their thought processes aloud with me and with their peers as we learn about keyword searching, building citations, academic honesty and plagiarism, fake news, and everything else that gets piled into a one-hour, one-shot instruction. Once they start talking, they don’t want to stop; because if I affirm what they are saying, it gives them courage and the impetus to say more and stay on-target with the task at hand (whatever that task may be).

    Once they understand that they are contributing to conversations everywhere, ex. social media, and that their contributions can be considered a “source” by someone else, it changes the way they view themselves and what they are writing/contributing.

    I may not approach it or even teach it as in-depth as others, but for our students, it works to help them think about their place within conversations they have, with their professors, with me, with their peers, etc.


  6. I think the one aspect of the Framework that students would struggle with the most, especially undergrads, is the personal side. When I’ve taught various aspects of the Framework, students understand them conceptually but they don’t see themselves as part of the information process. They don’t see how what they write as having value. They don’t see themselves as part of the scholarly conversation. In their minds, the conversation is for people with more expertise. They don’t even feel like information gaps they discover might represent information/research gaps they could explore. Instead, they believe the information must be out there but they just can’t find it.

    So, if anything, I think that’s where students will struggle. I probably struggle with teaching it as well because I’m not immune to similar thoughts of seeing the information process as outside of me.


  7. I have found that engaging the students is easiest when they understand that what we are covering in this “library session”, a term we find in syllabi, will be immediately useful for other assignments and classes. The two Frames that come to mind are “Research as Inquiry” and “Information Creation as Process”. These two concepts in conjunction with the push for Problem Based Learning at all levels of education, and has allowed me to demonstrate that by fully engaging with the assignment immediately in front of them will allow them to learn skills that can be applied immediately to other assignments or situations. The trick is to plan well, and I have been using Collaborative Learning Techniques: A handbook for College Faculty, by Elizabeth F. Barkley, Claire Howell Major, and K. Patricia Cross a good bit this past year. Project Cora and the ACRL Sandbox have given me a good push as well, thanks to the exercises in 23Things.

    The challenge is that we sometimes do not have a clear assignment to work with or that the students have not been adequately prepared for their time learning about research and working with library resources. As others have discussed, timing is so important in working with students. Ideally, we see them just when they are starting the research process and have some deadlines they have to meet. For the times that this is not the case, I try to show that what I am teaching them, or ideally what they are actively learning through a lesson plan, relates to skills that are required for life outside of school or immediately to other assignments or situations. I have been using the Jigsaw exercise with some success and tried the “Send a Problem” or “pass the problem” with limited success.


  8. Johnson and McCracken (2016) talk about how research is not simply “reporting on sources as a means of ‘satisficing’ an instructor” (p. 187). In a literature review, though, researchers do report on sources.

    Recently I helped some students whose lit reviews did not have enough reporting on their sources. Since at least one of them is preparing for the thesis, these students were probably focusing on original contribution. You can’t make an original contribution, though, without knowing if it’s original. To use the conversation analogy, you join a conversation once you know what has been said to that point.

    I have asked faculty about their expectations for lit reviews. What is obvious to faculty may not be so obvious to students. The article reminds me to include the Writing Center in further conversations. If we’re all on the same page, we can offer better support.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s