vol. 13 no. 4, December, 2008
In this summary I present the theoretical and methodological starting points of a study that will be conducted during 2008. The study is a part of my doctoral thesis which in general deals with information practices in an elementary school. The thesis is related to the research field within librarianship and information science called information needs, seeking and use (see Case 2007), as well as to the field of information literacy, which has emerged somewhat independently of the information seeking field (Limberg and Sundin 2006). The thesis also borders the field of educational science.
A basic assumption for the whole thesis is that the ways in which adults understand children and childhood is a prerequisite for how institutions for children, such as an elementary school, are designed (Mayall 2000: 120). Therefore it can be argued that a deeper understanding of children's lives in the contemporary society is always relevant. Two conditions, that is, the development of new information and communications technologies tools and new teaching methods, have influenced both educators and schoolchildren during the last decades. These changes can be seen as intertwined and they highlight questions regarding information seeking and use. The new tools have increased the possibilities to store and retrieve information and can also be said to have implications for the definition of literacy (Andersen 2006; Säljö 2005: chap. VII). The new teaching methods are characterized by a high degree of student activity, including students' own information seeking and use, as opposed to traditional ways of 'teaching the class' (comp. Macbeth 2000: 21ff). In Sweden, even the youngest school children are expected to work to some extent independently with problem-centred assignments. However, it has been shown that the implementation of ICT-tools in the lower grades is a complex process. For example, not all ways of seeking and using information are welcomed by educators (Davidsson et al. 2007). It has also been shown that problem-centred ways of working are not unproblematic, since they may collide with the traditional discursive practices of school (Alexandersson and Limberg 2003; Lundh and Limberg 2008).
The present study is based on the assumption that school is a new social and discursive practice for young school children, who are expected to become competent members of that practice (Macbeth 2000). To become a successful pupil you need to understand the discursive practices of school (Säljö 2000: 204f), which includes certain ways of seeking and using information. The aim of the present study is to create an understanding of the kinds of information activities that are regarded as appropriate or less appropriate in the social and discursive practices of elementary schools, from the perspective of the children.
The thesis will be built on a sociocultural perspective of learning; a school of thought that originates in the work of the Russian psychologist Lev Semenovich Vygotsky. My understanding of this perspective is mainly grounded in works by Roger Säljö (2000; 2005) and Wertsch (1998).
From a sociocultural perspective human beings are seen as social, cultural, and communicative and our use of cultural tools or mediational means are stressed (Vygotsky 1997; Wertsch 1998: 17; Säljö 2005: 25-34). Learning is also seen as situated in social practices (Säljö 2000: 128-156; Säljö 2005: 21). As a consequence of these theoretical starting-points information seeking and use is seen as a discursive action (comp. Tuominen and Savolainen 1997) through the use of mediational tools and as Sundin and Johannisson (2005: 38) put it "Communicative participation in social practices".
For this study the theoretical foundation implies that information seeking activities will be studied within a specific social practice. Furthermore, issues regarding the tools used in relation to problem-centred assignments will be addressed, and a special interest will be taken in negotiations between children and educators on which tools may and can be used (comp. Bomer 2003).
To fulfil the aim of the study, the following research questions have been formulated:
These questions will be answered through an empirical study of young school children working with problem-centred assignments and is presented below.
Methodologically, the study is informed by a visual ethnographic approach (Pink 2007; Fors 2006: 64-85) and interaction analysis (Jordan and Henderson 1995 ). Children in two third-year forms (where the pupils are 9 years old) have been observed while working with problem-centred assignments during the spring term 2008. The participants have been involved in a previous study which will be included in the thesis (Lundh and Limberg 2008) and therefore the whole thesis can be regarded as an ethnographic study with 'a selective intermittent time mode' (Jeffrey and Troman 2004: 540ff).
The observations have mostly been done by using a Palmcorder. Informal conversations, both during and after filming have been used as a way of complementing and contextualising filming in order to afford the children voices as well as images and thus avoiding the pitfall which Hart alludes to: children are "the most photographed and the least listened to members of society" (1992: 9; see also Qvarsell 2003).
The unit of analysis in the study, which guided the observations and conversations, is the children's interactions and negotiations with other children and educators, as well as the tools used for information seeking. From an interaction analytical point of view, interest lies in questions regarding choices, as well as ownership of tools (Jordan and Henderson 1995: 75ff; comp. Frohmann 2004: 396f).
In a third article, the focus will be on both the visual aspects of the practices studied and the production of representations within librarianship and information science. For example, the presentation of the empirical material will include sequential art; i.e., a comic strip format to use an everyday term (McCloud 1994). These issues will also be included in a final article where the theoretical concept of information literacy will be discussed.
The summary is a publication from The Linnaeus Centre for Research on Learning, Interaction and Mediated Communication in Contemporary Society (LinCS).
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