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Information Literacy: A Conceptual Framework

Research as Inquiry

Video from the Univ. of Washington Libraries

Research is as an iterative process of asking and exploring questions. (paraphrased)



From the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy:

Research as Inquiry: Research is iterative and depends upon asking increasingly complex or new questions whose answers in turn develop additional questions or lines of inquiry in any field.

Experts see inquiry as a process that focuses on problems or questions in a discipline or between disciplines that are open or unresolved. Experts recognize the collaborative effort within a discipline to extend the knowledge in that field. Many times, this process includes points of disagreement where debate and dialogue work to deepen the conversations around knowledge. This process of inquiry extends beyond the academic world to the community at large, and the process of inquiry may focus upon personal, professional, or societal needs. The spectrum of inquiry ranges from asking simple questions that depend upon basic recapitulation of knowledge to increasingly sophisticated abilities to refine research questions, use more advanced research methods, and explore more diverse disciplinary perspectives. Novice learners acquire strategic perspectives on inquiry and a greater repertoire of investigative methods. 

Assignment Ideas

  • In an upper level course, students trace the development of a scholar’s research agenda following a sequence of presentations, publications (perhaps starting with a dissertation topic), social media presence, etc. The students reflect upon the inquiry underlying these information packages in an e-portfolio assignment.
  • A researcher/guest speaker attends the class and describes a research project from conception to conclusion. Students attempt to diagram the steps reflected in the description, and then work with the speaker to develop a robust conception of the process (recognizing that the process varies from project to project and researcher to researcher). Students then journal about how their research process relates to that of the researcher, and what changes they might make in order to attempt more authentic, knowledge-generating research experiences.
  • Assign students to keep research logs in which they note changes in particular research directions as they identify resources, read, and incorporate new learning. Ask students in professional or career-focused programs to evaluate the role of evidence-based that may move toward changing practice. 

- From Draft 2 of the ACRL Frameworkp. 15

Questions about Your Discipline

  • What are common research methods, theories, or approaches in your discipline? How can you recognize these ideas when looking at materials produced in your field? (Do students learn to identify these ideas as well?)
  • Is there a major difference between library research and field research in your discipline? How do the these types of research interact? Do the questions you ask in field research differ from those you ask of previously created information sources?
  • Is there a researcher/practitioner dichotomy in your field? If so, what types of questions which require outside information sources would each of these roles ask in the course of their work?
  • Do typical research assignments that you see in disciplinary courses mirror or contradict these processes? How?

From Miller, S. D. (2016, May 20). Information Literacy in the Disciplines. Workshop presented at Thinking with Sources in the Disciplines, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI.