Mitigating risk: mediating transition through the enactment of information literacy practices

date09 September 2019
publishedDate09 September 2019
AuthorAlison Hicks
Mitigating risk: mediating
transition through the enactment
of information literacy practices
Alison Hicks
Department of Information Studies, University College London, London, UK
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to present the emergent grounded theory of mitigating risk, which
was produced through an analysis of the information literacy practices of English-speakers who are learning
a language overseas as part of their undergraduate degree.
Design/methodology/approach The grounded theory emerges from a qualitative study that was framed by
practice theory and transitions theory, and employed constructivist grounded theory, semi-structured interviews
and photo-elicitation methods to explore the information activities of 26 language-learners from Australia, Canada,
the UK and the USA.
Findings The grounded theory of mitigating risk illustrates how academic, financial and physical risks
that are produced through language-learner engagement overseas catalyse the enactment of information
literacy practices that enable students to mediate their transition overseas.
Research limitations/implications This studys theory-building is localised and contextual rather than
Practical implications The grounded theory broadens librariansand language-educatorsknowledge of
student activities during immersive educational experiences as well as extending understanding about the
shape that information literacy takes within transition to a new intercultural context.
Social implications The grounded theory develops understanding about the role that local communities
play within intercultural transition and how these groups can respond to and prepare for increasingly fluid
patterns of global movement.
Originality/value This paper contributes to an increasingly sophisticatedtheoretical conceptualisationof
informationliteracy while furtherproviding a detailed explorationof transition from an informationperspective.
Keywords Information literacy, Transition, International students, Practice theory, Everyday life,
Information practices
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
Transition constitutes an importantchallenge withina number of everydayand organisational
scenarios. Political interest in educational mobility, the continued need to migrate or to seek
sanctuary and the increasingly fluid nature of the workplace means that there is a growing call
to address how people mediate the complexity of change. Transition is further complicated
within intercultural settings, which refer to contexts where individuals from different cultures
interact (Baldwin and Hunt, 2002), where it becomes linked to social and digital inclusion
as well as to resettlement issues. The need to rebuild understanding whilst working across
languages and cultural practices means that transition forms a time of uncertainty as
newcomers are forced to deal with the pressures of unfamiliar demands and values. At the
same time, transition also forms a time of generative opportunity as people learn how to
connect with the sources of knowledge that will support this intensive period of change. The
emphasis on the ways in which people rebuild meaning within a new setting illustrates the
importantrole that information, which is defined in this paper as any difference which makes
a difference(Bateson, 1972, p. 459), plays within the mediation of change. The recognition that
learning forms the central pivot point of transition further positions information literacy, which
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 75 No. 5, 2019
pp. 1190-1210
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JD-11-2018-0184
Received 12 November 2018
Revised 21 March 2019
Accepted 19 May 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
The author wishes to thank her PhD supervisors, Professor Annemaree Lloyd and Dr Ola Pilerot, for
their support and guidance.
refers to a way of knowing the many environments that constitute an individualsbeinginthe
world(Lloyd, 2007, p. 182), as the means through which individuals develop the
intersubjective understanding that will enable them to navigate the shifts in social role and
identity that are necessary within a new setting. The unavoidable and everyday nature of
change also illustrates both the need and the impetus for this studys examination of transition
from a Library and Information Science (LIS) perspective.
This paper draws upon recently completed doctoral work that explored the information
literacy practices of English-speaking students who were learning a language overseas to
examine the question of transition through an information lens. This time overseas, which is
known as the Year Abroadin the UK and Study Abroador International Exchangein
the USA, Australiaand Canada, forms a critical point within a students academic study and
for their future career plans as they are forced to adapt from learning about to practising a
language. Theimportant implications thatimmersive learning has for theinternationalisation
of campus as well as within increasingly multicultural working and social environments
provide a furtherillustration of the needto explore transition from an information perspective.
To this end, the study was driven by the following research questions:
RQ1. How do language-students enact information literacy practices during time overseas?
RQ2. In what ways do language-students make sense of, transition into and come to
know their new information landscapes?
In responding to these questions, this study introduces the grounded theory of mitigating
risk, which offers an interpretive, constructivist grounded-theoretical (Charmaz, 2014)
understanding and conceptualisation of the ways in which an engagement with information
supports language-studentstransition to new information environments. The grounded
theory of mitigating risk illustrates how academic, financial and physical stress that is
produced through student engagement overseas catalyses the enactment of information
literacy practices that mediate student transition from acting like a language-learner to
becoming a language-learner within the structure of their new setting. Drawing attention to
the complex dynamics of this time, the theory of mitigating risk consequently has a number
of implications for the design of educational programming as well as for thinking about the
broader shape of transition within society.
2. Literature review
2.1 Information literacy within intercultural contexts
Information literacy research that has centred on intercultural contexts has taken a number
of different approaches (Hicks and Lloyd, 2016). The typical emphasis on teaching within
information literacy research means that the majority of studies have either focussed on
exploring information literacy through the lens of national standards and frameworks
(e.g. ACRL, 2000) or as the development of learner habits of mind(e.g. Bordonaro, 2006).
These studies, which recognise that learners develop creative strategies to work in
unfamiliar information environments, provide useful insight into the impact that working in
a second or third language has upon academic research practices (e.g. Bordonaro, 2006;
Han, 2012; Hughes, 2013). However, they can also be criticised for centring individual
processes rather than the broader social dynamics that structure learner engagement within
a new information environment. In contrast, the sociocultural perspective that is employed
within this study focuses attention on the situated ways in which people engage with
information within a specific context. For this reason, this review will centre on research
that explores how information literacy is shaped by the social site rather than how it is
achieved or taught (for a more complete review, please see Hicks and Lloyd, 2016).
A sociocultural approach to information literacy consequently moves the typical focus
Mitigating risk

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