Category Archives: TTW Contributor Dr. Troy Swanson

Success is Emergent: What Gamers Can Teach us About Collaboration by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

During my recent commutes to work, I have been enjoying the audio of Jane McGonigal’s 2011 book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World . This is one of those titles that I have always meant to read, and I am just now getting to it. McGonigal’s general thesis is that the compelling aspects of game-play (especially online gaming) can be applied to many areas of life (social problems, routine tasks, etc) in an effort to make life more engaging.

While McGonigal has much to offer the library community, her discussion of collaboration and coordination caught my eye. I have written about these topics in the past (see Library Management and Entropy: The Information as Management Text and Your “Library” Doesn’t Participate in Social Media, but Your People Do).

McGonigal notes that online games are particularly good at collaboration. She outlines three components of successful collaboration:
–Cooperation. Players must agree to work together and partner together.
–Coordination. Players much align efforts to work together.
–Co-creation. Players cooperate and coordinate as they produce something new (whether it is a creation in an online world or a shared experience).
She emphasizes the third in this list. True collaboration produces something new. It is a creative process.

McGonigal notes that elite gamers build high-level collaboration skills. She calls them “extraordinary collaborators.” These extreme collaborators built their skills through years of online gameplay. They have the following attributes: First, they are extremely outgoing in an online environment. Even if they are introverted in the F2F world, they must be extremely outgoing in the networked world. Second, they not only easily connect with others but they also have a good sense about whom to connect with. They are not connection spammers. They recognize when to connect and when NOT to connect. Third, they are very good at working in chaotic environments where the situation is emergent or outcomes are impossible to predict. In massive game environments, it is impossible for one individual to grasp the entire world around them. Extraordinary collaborators can engage their segment of a larger, game world while remaining calm and making decisions.

As I listened to this, I was struck by its applicability to the work of librarians. Her description of successful collaboration applies to much of what we do (not just game playing). Cooperation, coordination, and co-creation can be applied to how our staff members work together, programming we may offer our communities, and the “big-picture” impact our services have. The creative, collaborative process that focuses on making things, ideas, or experiences is increasingly (has always been?) at the heart of librarianship.

McGonigal’s description of gamers as “extraordinary collaborators” reads as if it was written for librarians. She is talking about online gamers, but this description has broader implications. All areas of librarianship require some degree of collaboration and coordination
but we are in a period of time where “extraordinary collaboration” brings great benefits. Whether this is an instruction librarian partnering with many faculty members, a programming librarian working with community organizations, a library fundraiser reaching out to donors, or a library administrator strategically building partnerships, librarians no longer have the luxury of single collaborations at a time. We must connect widely, outline shared goals, and create a plan to reach those goals. McGonigal describes the events in massive online games as “emergent” where small interactions result in larger, complex systems (see Steven Johnson’s Emergence). Like gamers, librarians must learn to manage the chaos of a collaborative enterprise. For us, success is emergent.


Troy SwansonTroy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the upcoming book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at@t_swanson.

Dyslexia, Sorting, Organizing, and the Availability Heuristic

Writer Jay Stringer wrote a piece on about how comic books helped him deal with his dyslexia and increased his reading skills (see Dyslexia and Comics by Jay Stringer 10|24|14). He notes,

“We all combine information in different ways, and at different speeds. Some can add story and plot together in a mathematical equation that leads to narrative. Dyslexics like myself can’t learn anything without a narrative to hold on to. Why am I being given this information? What does it do? What is it relevant to? What similar thing should I store it next to in my head?” (italics his)

One idea (among several) that stuck with me was the idea of sorting information. Stringer explains that dyslexia is often not just about the mechanics of reading, letters, words, and grammar. It is also about the ability to process information and thereby connect letters, words, and grammar to new and existing ideas. He sees this as a mental sorting process.

I am not dyslexic but reading Stringer’s piece gave me a unique perspective on understanding people who are (or at least Stringer’s experience). He provides an interesting perspective on information processing and how the mind handles new ideas and existing idea by connecting them to the tools of literacy.

Naturally, this got me thinking about information literacy and the research process. There are many times when we discuss information literacy that we discuss “synthesizing” information. Synthesis becomes this magical process where we take our own ideas and beliefs and mix them up with the ideas and beliefs of others which we gather through a search process. We talk about synthesis but we do not often talk about how it works and what it is.

Sorting and Organizing
Searching, evaluating results, reviewing sources, and taking notes from sources are essentially sorting processes. Our sorting takes the form of evaluations that help to separate what is (potentially) useful and what is not useful. We sort out the things that work best for us and save them for further review. When we read and take notes on sources themselves, we move to the level of ideas. We sort ideas that connect with arguments, understandings, and worldviews. It is not enough to simply sort. We must organize. Sometimes this happens through taking notes. Sometimes this happens through making outlines. Sometimes we just write and then we edit, re-edit, and the organization process happens as a draft forms itself.

Availability Heuristics
Sorting and organizing processes are deeply wrapped up in our beliefs about how the world works. Our beliefs tell us what is important and what to ignore. Most people are somewhat knowledgeable in a few subjects. But, most of the time, we are making due with poor knowledge. We are really bad at judging what evidence is missing. We use what we know but it is difficult to see all evidence and evaluate it appropriately. Many times, we use heuristics to make decisions. A heuristic is a simplified set of procedures developed to handle a problem. It is generally accurate but not perfectly accurate. When our mind takes action on information, it draws on the information that is available to it. Availability is greatly impacted by experience.

Here’s an example used by Daniel Kahneman,

Mr. Brown never picks up hitchhikers but yesterday he made an exception and picked up a hitchhiker. He was robbed by this hitchhiker.

Mr. Smith always picks up hitchhikers. He picks them up on a regular basis every chance he gets. Yesterday he picked up a hitchhiker and he was robbed.

How would Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith seems things differently based on their experience? Experience and existing knowledge plays games with the availability heuristic. Individuals who are experts (like Mr. Smith in the case of hitchhikers) with deep knowledge on a topic posses a broad foundation of knowledge to judge individual experiences and individual sources. In other words, they are better able to sort knowledge and experience into meaningful categories. swansonphotoThe challenge arises when individuals have superficial or a minimal knowledge about a topic. In these cases, we often act on our feeling and beliefs. We are more susceptible to the influences of availability and our narrow experience.

It was Springer’s discussion on dyslexia and the need to sort and organize information that took me down this information literacy rabbit hole. We can use many metaphors to understand (frame?) the research process. I found the sorting and organizing metaphor worth considering.

(For more information on the availability heuristic take a look at Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.)

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the upcoming book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Teacher, Librarian, Tinker, Spy: Expect More by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

The book at the top of my “Books I Wish I had Written List” is R. David Lankes’ book the Atlas of New Librarianship (written for librarians).  Second on that list may well be his derivative book, Expect More (written for non-librarians). In these works, Lankes challenges us (librarians, community members, administrators, government officials) to re-envision libraries and the roles they play in society. His thinking is rigorous and his writing is crisp. Expect More should be required reading for all library trustees, campus provosts, local mayors, and anyone else interested in the future of libraries.

Thus, I was excited to see that Lankes was making an audio version of his book available, and that Steve Thomas was helping to distribute it via his podcast Circulating Ideas. They are releasing a chapter every two weeks and are currently up to chapter 5 (see links below). As a bonus, Lankes does a nice job reading the text. It is well-done, and each chapter is the perfect length for commuting (at least from my house to my library). This audio version may be a useful way to get this text into the hands of librarians and non-librarians alike.

From the Circulating Ideas Podcast Page: David Lankes decided recently to record an audio version of his book Expect More (more info here) and chose two podcasts to serialize it: Circulating Ideas (for the librarian audience) and Nerd Absurd (for the non-librarian audience). You can also buy the complete audiobook on Amazon and elsewhere.

Circulating Ideas: Expect More Chapter 1
Circulating Ideas: Expect More Chapter 2
Circulating Ideas: Expect More Chapter 3
Circulating Ideas: Expect More Chapter 4
Circulating Ideas: Expect More Chapter 5

By the way, the third book on my “Books I Wish I had Written List” is probably Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut…but, of course, Vonnegut makes the list for different reasons than Lankes’ books.


Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the upcoming book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Self-Protection, Your Brain, and Bigfoot by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

I did a presentation today for a speech class that is part of our honors program. They are doing deep research into a range of topics. The faculty member asked me to do a session for them about bias and approaching new topics. It was a fun session, so I thought I’d share my slides. Naturally, this session ended with a conversation about the Illuminati, which, I guess, comes with the territory (not a part of the slides below).

Self-Protection: Your Brain, Experience, & Bigfoot

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the upcoming book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Comics, Games, Art, Literature at Graphic Novel Symposium by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

Since I have shared some of our planning on my library’s Graphic Novel Symposium in TTW posts (seeBehind the Scenes of the Graphic Novel Symposium & Grahpic Novel Symposium–#comicculture), I want to share our final video that summarizes our event.

You can watch our faculty lectures from the Graphic Novel Symposium at: Moraine Valley Graphic Novel Symposium,

Graphic Novel Symposium at Moraine Valley

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the upcoming book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Behind the Scenes of the Graphic Novel Symposium: by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

Our college’s design team has been doing a series of videos on our library’s upcoming Graphic Novel Symposium. (I posted video 1 back in May and video 2 in June.) Our library is fortunate to have such talented individuals who make us look good. Learn more about the Symposium at our website.

Behind the Scenes: Graphic Novel Symposium Event Planning


Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the upcoming book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Information as a Human Right: A Missing Threshold Concept? by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

The discussion around ACRL’s new Information Literacy Framework for Higher Education is quickly growing and deepening. As a member of the Task Force that created the Framework, it is heartening to see. (As I have noted in the past, I am a member of this Task Force but I do not speak on behalf of the Task Force here.) One area of discussion that interests me has arisen from librarians interested in critical pedagogy and critical information literacy (the application of critical pedagogy to information literacy instruction). In response to the second draft, a group of librarians has issued a call for a stronger statement within the Framework on civic engagement and social justice.

I have written on critical pedagogy and information literacy several times over the last decade (starting with A Radical Step: Implementing A Critical Information Literacy Model, portal, 4:2, 2004). From my perspective, critical information literacy is a meaningful avenue for understanding information and connecting to the authentic experiences of students. Critical information literacy provides the opportunity to discuss the power structures behind the information ecosystem, the privilege that some voices have over others, and the existing possibilities to diversify participation in the larger scholarly and civic dialogue.

Thus, as I participated in the work of the Task Force, I kept the values championed by critical pedagogy in mind, and I know that many on our Task Force did the same. I believe that these issues came through in the draft document and I’d like to point out how the new Framework connects with critical information literacy in several places:

Information has value: by acknowledging the privilege of some voices over others and by noting some of the pitfalls of the commodification of information;

Authority is Constructed and Contextual: by noting that meaning forms around and through communities;

Research as Inquiry: by noting that inquiry can focus on society and personal needs;

Scholarship is a conversation: by noting that the scholarly record is not made up of uncontested knowledge but that meaning is negotiated and difficult;

Searching as Exploration: by recognizing that understanding search systems is a form of empowerment.

During our process in creating the Framework, the Task Force drafted a potential frame called, “Information as a Human Right.” The heart of this draft frame viewed information and access to information as necessities for freedom of expression, healthy communities, the right to education, and universal human rights. We spent quite a bit of time considering and debating whether this idea would count as a threshold concept for information literacy. Personally, I considered this frame as counter to the view of information as a commodity and as intellectual property which is emphasized in “Information has Value”.  However, as we worked on “Information as a Human Right,” it essentially vanished before our eyes.

While the Task Force recognized a degree of overlap within all of the frames, this frame heavily crossed over into the other frames (as named above). The recognition of “Information as a Human Right” echoes many of the philosophies and values expressed by ALA, ACRL, and IFLA. However, I am not convinced that this particular frame is as transformative in the way that the other frames are transformative. In other words, it is not clear that one must cross this threshold in order to grow toward information literacy. Threshold concepts define areas of knowledge required for mastery of a subject. This frame felt more like an application (knowledge practice) within the other frames. This seemed like an approach that one would use through assignments to advance the threshold concepts, “Information Has Value” or “Scholarship is a Conversation.”

Additionally, a frame that emphasized social justice issues would make (or appear to make) a political statement for the sake of being political. When compared to the other six frames, this one stood apart. It felt less like a definition of interaction within the information ecosystem and more akin to a values statement. Considering that its key components were part of the other frames, “Information as a Human Right” didn’t fit the Framework.

swansonphotoAs I noted previously on this blog, I believe that this Framework should be a living document and that part of its value is the opportunity to create a research agenda for information literacy. With this in mind, I would like to see librarians within ACRL take up “Information as a Human Right” (or a related concept) and write it as a frame. Perhaps, it exists and a broader conversation would better define it?

I (speaking for me and not the Task Force) would like to see this discussion move forward. How would such a frame be written? What are the knowledge practices and dispositions that would make up such a frame? This would be useful for the discussion and practitioners who could utilize it. The Task Force is recommending that an online sandbox be created to pull together examples of curriculum that use the new Framework. The online sandbox will provide an excellent opportunity for those working with critical pedagogical approaches to share their outcomes, sample assignments, and other materials.

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the upcoming book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

Being Bounded. Being a Discipline. Owning Information Literacy by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson

I have written several times on this blog about ACRL’s draft Information Literacy Framework that is set to replace the Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education. The new Framework has generally been well-received, and the Task Force is working diligently to address questions and concerns expressed by members’ responses to previous drafts. (As I have noted in the past, I am a member of this Task Force but I do not speak on behalf of the Task Force here.)

The new Framework is built upon a set of threshold concepts that define a continuum between novice and experienced researchers. Threshold concepts were developed by Meyer and Land and introduced to information literacy by Lori Townsend, Korey Burnetti, and Amy R. Hofer (see Townsend, L., Brunetti, K., & Hofer, A. R. (2011). Threshold Concepts and Information Literacy. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 11, 3, 853-869).

Most of the feedback submitted regarding the use of threshold concepts to reconceptualize and rethink how we approach the teaching of information literacy has been very positive. However, there has been one critique that I feel is significant, but misses the mark. Thus, I wanted to offer these thoughts.

The critique goes something like this:  The new Framework defines thresholds that are transformative, irreversible, and integrative, but the new Framework fails to meet the criteria of being bounded. Basically, the new Framework fails to meet the definition of a threshold concept as defined by the literature. Those making the critique note that information literacy threshold concepts can’t possibly be bounded because information literacy is developed within other disciplines. The critique states that information literacy and librarianship are not disciplines, and therefore, the dispositions of information literate individuals grow and develop across a range of disciplines (especially for undergraduates). Thus, information literacy cannot be bounded.

I disagree with this critique. I think that the new Framework defines a set of threshold concepts that are as bounded as concepts within other disciplines. The meaning of “boundedness” does not necessarily revolve around course prefixes, numbers of classes, academic journals, or scholarly societies. Threshold concepts define a “conceptual terrain.” This conceptualization is defined around an area of scholarship or practice.

Let’s consider what threshold concepts might look like in another discipline. We could define a set of threshold concepts for psychology, and these concepts would surely cross into sociology, philosophy, education, and many other disciplinary terrains. Psychological concepts are not only taught by psychologists in psychology classes. They will surely touch other areas of study, but, practitioners within those other areas of study may or may not care that they are teaching threshold concepts from an outside discipline. Threshold concepts in psychology only have meaning within a learning context for practitioners seeking to understand how knowledge develops within that bounded area of scholarship. I reject the notion that a domain of knowledge (as defined by a set of threshold concepts) is somehow not bounded because other instructors advance students forward on the continuum of learning. This notion fails to account for the interconnectedness of all disciplines of knowledge.

swansonphotoTo me, the new Framework is a statement for librarians in higher education that helps to define information science as our discipline and information literacy as our pedagogical (andragogical) approach. This does not mean that it is our goal to make students into librarians just like it is not the goal of psychology faculty to necessarily turn all of their students into psychologists. However, aren’t we working to inject our “abilities, practices, and dispositions” into the curriculum? Isn’t that our goal?  For quite a while, librarians have been saying that information literacy is not exclusively ours because we have wanted to push it into the larger agenda of higher education and to use it to foster partnerships. While these should remain our tasks, instruction librarians “on the ground” working directly with faculty members know that instructors are really focused on the learning outcomes of their courses (a sentiment Meridith Farkas echoes here). They are not as concerned with standards, and they are often less concerned with definitions of information literacy. They are focused on the nitty-gritty of keeping ahead of their students each week, and if librarians are able to engage in the instructional design process in meaningful ways, then faculty are often open to collaboration. The new Framework gets us out of the business of defining information literacy for everyone else and provides librarians with deeper understandings of the ways that information literacy connects to the curriculum. It provides definitions and knowledge practices but lets librarians define learning outcomes that are appropriate for their context.

I am ready to say that the threshold concepts as defined within the new Framework are bounded and by saying this, accept that we are a discipline. We should own information literacy. We should value our knowledge, our skills, and our impact on the curriculum as much as educators in other disciplines. But by owning information literacy, this does not mean that librarians exclusively teach it just as faculty in other disciplines do not exclusively teach ideas within their domains. By owning information literacy, we acknowledge our expertise, we can further define a scholarly practice, and we can set a research agenda that explores student learning around information literacy.

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the co-editor of the upcoming book from ACRL, Not Just Where to Click: Teaching Students How to Think About Information. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.

2014 Information Literacy Summit Keynote (post by TTW Contributor Troy Swanson)

On April 25th, we held our 13th annual Information Literacy Summit in Illinois. This event is a partnership between Moraine Valley Community College Library and DePaul University Libraries. We are excited to share the keynote address on metaliteracy, information literacy, MOOCs, and threshold concepts featuring Trudi Jacobson and Tom Mackey.

Changing Models, Changing Emphases: The Evolution of Information Literacy featuring Trudi Jacobson & Tom Mackey

Troy A. Swanson is Department Chair and Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. He is the author of the book,Managing Social Media in Libraries. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.