Gee's Strategies & Information Literacy: Risk Taking

Gee’s also called this the “Psychosocial Moratorium” Principle where learners can take risks in a space where real-world consequences are lowered.

Ah, if only this could be the case with information literacy. This should be the case in our classrooms, labs, and campuses. We can create environments in our classrooms and at our reference desks, where students recognize that research is a messy process. Not passing the level or finding just the right material on the first try is natural. Students need to know they can take risks and fail within the research process. Now, granted those risks may not have the same impact as dying within a game, but the tension and frustration can be just as high. A student with a deadline or frustrated with a search feels just as much tension, if not more, than the gamer.

Creating this atmosphere is comes from both class structure and personal attitude. I’ve failed plenty of times in front of a class. When I started teaching information literacy a few years ago, I dropped canned searches for our instructions sessions. At the time it was done to increase the relevance of the material and engagement of the students. But what it has created is an atmosphere where failure is okay. Failure is a talking point. I welcome the unsuccessful search (unless it’s because I can’t spell and now the class knows). It provides the opportunity to talk about why searches fail or don’t get the desire results and how to adjust for additional searches. Failure in a search shows that the research process is messy and even libraries aren’t perfect. We try and fail just like them. I’ve seen it successful break down barriers for students asking for help. If I got stuck, and they got stuck, they are more willing to ask for help. Failure equalizes the power relationship.

Failure equalizes it, but it does not take power away from students. Creating an atmosphere and culture where failure is encourage doesn’t happen overnight. But it can happen and we should be modeling it in our classes and at the reference desk. Research is a messy process, taking risks, recovering from failure, learning, and risking again is an important information literacy skill. Failure is not always fun, and with “first page and done” search habits accepting failure can be too quickly judged.

Allowing students to take risks, fail, and modeling patience and learning through failure helps create successful information literate students.