February Update: Dispositions

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We are now ready to start cognitive interviews to get students' feedback about Module 3: Research & Scholarship.  We are also starting to write items for our final module, Module 4: The Value of Information.  That means we're more than half way through with test development.  And we just keep getting more intrigued with the depth of the Framework the more we work with it.

One of the exciting things about the Framework is the way the writers identified the “dispositions” that constitute the affective facets of information literacy. From the beginning of brainstorming about a new IL test way back in spring 2014, we’ve known that we wanted to address dispositions, as well as knowledge, in any new instrument we created. We found a way to do that with scenario-based problem solving items. And we’ve continued to deepen our understanding of dispositions by searching the education literature.

If you’re interested in learning more about dispositions and the role they play in students’ ability to transfer their learning, you should consider getting this book chapter by Carl Bereiter, a long-time education researcher.

  • Bereiter, C. (1995). A dispositional view of transfer. In Teaching for transfer: Fostering generalization in learning. Eds. A. McKeough, J. Lupart, & A. Marini. Mahaway, NJ: Erlbaum. 21-34.

Just like most of us, Bereiter believes that education is only successful when learners eventually transfer what they’ve learned in one context into a new one. Bereiter is especially interested in dispositions, which he defines as “ways of approaching things” and he defines teaching for transfer as the hope that the desired way of approaching things will “carry over into other situations” (p. 23). In his chapter, he proposes that we cannot expect students to perform “heroic transfer,” which he says is the common view that learning transfer is “something inside the head of the individual that is carried from one situation to another” (p. 30). Instead, he describes an alternative version of transfer in which students will develop the disposition “to seek out and to create situations” similar to the ones where they have engaged in the reflection, perseverance, or disciplinary analysis, etc., that is the target “way of approaching things” (p. 31). He calls this idea “transfer of situations, rather than transfer across situations” (p. 31).

We can apply this conception of dispositions and transfer to undergraduate research/IL by extrapolating from Bereiter’s idea. When students write from sources in courses where they get the guidance and support they need, they are practicing all of the dispositions we consider central to IL: mindful self-reflection, self-determination, responsibility to community, and toleration for ambiguity. Because they are so shaped by students’ own motivations, the challenge of forming a question; locating, evaluating, and synthesizing evidence; and assimilating new knowledge into one’s knowledge base are opportunities for students to, in Bereiter’s words, seek out and create situations where they are engaging their dispositions. The more often they are asked to rise to these challenges, the more likely they are to find value in bringing their dispositions to bare. We can all cultivate students’ IL dispositions by highlighting the connections between their information behaviors, their beliefs about information and themselves, and the outcomes of their work.

For more information on “writing from sources” check out:

  • Brent, D. (2013). The research paper and why we should still care. WPA: Writing program administration, 37(1). 33-53.

(h/t to our Rhetoric and Composition Consultant, Richard Hal Hannon, for the recommended readings.)

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