How is information literacy related to social competences in the workplace?

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This article reports on a work-in-progress research on media and information literacy in teamwork and distance work environments. We introduce a theoretical framework that articulates the social and informational dimensions of media and information
  How is information literacy related to social competences in the workplace? Anne-Sophie Collard 1 , Thierry De Smedt 2 , Pierre Fastrez 2 , Valèria Ligurgo 2 , and Thibault Philippette 1   1 University of Namur, Center in Information, Law and Society, Namur, Belgium,, 2 Université catholique de Louvain, Groupe de Recherche en Médiation des Savoirs, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, {thierry.desmedt,pierre.fastrez,valeria.ligurgo} The final publication is available at   Abstract.  This article reports on a work-in-progress research on media and in-formation literacy in teamwork and distance work environments. We introduce a theoretical framework that articulates the social and informational dimensions of media and information literacy in the workplace. Based on this framework, we  propose a method for investigating the relationship between information literacy and work organization in distant teamwork. This method is illustrated by prelim-inary data from our ongoing research project. We conclude with a necessary re-definition of the concept of information. Keywords:  information literacy, digital and media literacy, teamwork, distance work, social organization. 1   Introduction The digital turn in work environments involves changes in workers’ media and infor-mation competences. Although competences are often linked to ideas of efficiency and  performance, they also touch upon diverse dimensions of the digital turn. First, being competent is commonly seen as a factor of (e-)inclusion, not only within the organiza-tion, but also in the broader work environment, as today’s collaborations within and across organizations are sustained through diverse information and communication technologies (ICT). Media and Information Literacy (MIL) [1] also has implications for well-being at the workplace: a lack of competence can create stress and frustration, and ultimately demotivation and isolation. Furthermore, ICT-supported work practices such as teleworking tend to blur the boundaries between work time and leisure time,  professional life and private life, workplace and home. These new conditions also re-quire a range of competences in order to be handled in an efficient and meaningful way. In this context, the LITME@WORK research project, funded by the Belgian Science Policy Office, proposes an interdisciplinary approach to study MIL in teamwork and  distance work environments. The research team brings together sociologists and media and communication scholars to investigate the social and the individual dimensions of MIL. Our research aims at providing deep knowledge on the informational, technical and social competences of workers in team and distance work environments. Within the context of this project, this article proposes a theoretical and methodo-logical framework for the analysis of the relationship between digital media uses and competences in new distant teamwork practices. Specifically, we examine how infor-mational and social competences related to digital media and technology form an inte-grated literacy, and participate in the social construction of work organization. This work-in-progress framework is based on the literature on information literacy, digital literacy, media literacy and computer-supported cooperative work. Taking inductive approach, it is fed by data collected from interviews and observations on workers prac-tices. This paper first explores the notion of media and information competence through a specific focus on the concept of information literacy. After presenting our method, it introduces a model crossing the different activities encountered in workers’ practices and the dimensions of technology-supported distant teamwork. 2   Information Literacy 2.1   The Evolution of the Concept of Information Literacy The concept of information literacy appeared in the 1970s in the field of library science and the context of US educational reforms [2, 3]. It was first described as a set of skills to identify one’s information needs and to locate, evaluate and use information for prob-lem-solving or decision-making [4]. Even if the concept referred broadly to work envi-ronments involving information resources, its initial application was mostly limited to libraries or private sector initiatives, such as information databanks and publishers [2]. In the 1980s, with the advent of personal computing, the concept of information literacy was used to describe the gap between the individuals who could manipulate those tech-nologies efficiently to process, store or transmit information, and those who couldn’t [2]. It therefore began to compete with others such as  Digital Literacy  or Computer  Literacy  [3], and to be used not only by librarians, but also by industry spokesmen, educators and communication researchers [5].   In the business field, information management became an important topic with the advent of information technologies [6] although, the first focus on information in this context was often limited to data management. With the development of multimedia networked information technologies, the requirements regarding traditional infor-mation skills (selection, interpretation or synthesis) extended to a broader range of data organized in systems designed to hide cues of its structure or its production context [6]. Gradually, within and outside libraries, the focus shift from specific text-based contents to a variety of sources [7, 8]. Information literacy also evolved beyond issues of infor-mation access, management or transmission, to include content creation skills [1]. Gradually, from being able to use various existing information systems, the information literate users came to be defined as capable of adapting themselves to their changing information environments. Considering information literacy as a set of survival skills  feeding a lifelong learning process, some authors stressed the necessity to link infor-mation literacy to understanding, meaning and (learning) context [3, 9]. More broadly, mass media analysts started to use the concept as well, to point to people’s ability to liberate themselves from the institutionalized discourses of mass media [2]. In brief, the evolution in the use of the concept suggests a transition from procedural capacities in specific contexts (such as libraries) towards more general and adaptive competences and social participation or citizenship [3]. 2.2   Information Literacy as Competences and Practices Lloyd [10] argued that being information literate is not limited to possessing a set of fixed information skills, but also include mastering the information landscape. There-fore, information literacy can be defined as a socially situated information practice [10], involving “lifelong learning and professional development, and the ability to in-teract in the information society” [11]. While we agree that information literacy cannot  be limited to a set of operational skills, we believe in the value of defining it as a set of competences. Shifting from skills to competences has the benefit of establishing a straightforward relationship between literacy and practices. The concept of competence emerged as an attempt to reduce a gap between qualifi-cations, defined as a set of techniques and know-hows recognized by a degree or a certification [12], and the reality of the job. The competent (as opposed to qualified) worker is able to “manage a complex professional situation” [13]. Rey [12] mentioned four inherent properties of the concept of competence: (1) the adaptability it confers to a person, allowing her to face unexpected situations efficiently; (2) its singularity which connects it to the personality and the history of the person; (3) the fact that one cannot observe a competence directly, but only its effects through the performance of an ac-tivity, and (4) the fact that it exceeds the simple possession of knowledge and know-hows to include the capacity to call upon them selectively to act in relevant ways in novels situations [14]. Based on this definition, the relationship between competences and practices can be described as follows. Practices are situated performances that are shaped by the af-fordances and constraints of the material and social resources of the site in which they unfold. Practices make the individual’s competence manifest: her ability to make rele-vant use of the material and social resources of the novel situations she finds herself in, along with her own knowledge and skills. In this sense, information literacy can be interpreted both as a set of competences and as a set of situated practices. 2.3   Information Literacy as an Individual and Collective Accomplishment In the analysis of complex socio-technical arrangements such as new work environ-ments, where technologically-mediated teamwork and distance work have spread widely [15], the concept of information literacy cannot be limited to individual compe-tences. While the ability to search, evaluate, produce, or organize information are often implicitly considered as skills of the individual, it is also necessary to take the collective  dimension of information literacy at work into account [16, 17]. Considering infor-mation as endowed with meaning by users, and their management as a process of knowledge creation [6], we include both the individual and the social construction of information in the definition of information literacy. 3   Research Goals and Method We consider information literacy as an integrated set of informational, technical and social competences [18, 19] that underpin workers’ collective activities. This theoreti-cal stance is complemented by a methodological position that leads us to unveil the (individual and collective) information literacy of workers by studying their distant teamwork practices, which we view as a set of socially constructed and situated collec-tive practices that make their competences apparent. Our research aims at highlighting how our informants’ informational work practices are not valuable in themselves but only in relation to the social organization they con-tribute to elaborate. We consider information literacy to be social in at least three ways: (1) it relies on social relationships and organization as resources for its expression and development, (2) it shapes social relationships and social organization, and (3) it is (at least in part) a collective accomplishment. Specifically, we intend to examine the interdependencies between information liter-acy (considered as individual and collective competences) and the functioning of the team in distant (technologically mediated) teamwork practices; and between the infor-mational and the social dimensions of the practices (and hence the competences). The objective pursued in the LITME@WORK project is the very definition of the competences called for and developed by ICT-supported distant teamwork practices from the perspective of workers, based on field observation. We interview office work-ers about their practices and make observations in their work environments [20–22]. We have selected ten case studies of Belgian organizations involved in projects chang-ing the way employees work in team and at a distance. Forty workers and twenty team managers will have been interviewed by the end of the study. The next section presents the structure of our main observation instrument: our interview guide. We will subse-quently use data from preliminary interviews to illustrate how this instrument allows us to pursue our research goals. 3.1   Data Collection Method Our interview guide is structured around a set of work activities related to distant team-work. These activities were identified by reviewing the computer-supported coopera-tive work (CSCW) literature [23–26], which provides abundant observational research on collaborative work practices, aimed at designing novel (or redesigning existing) tools to better assist users in these practices. All of these technology-supported collab-orative activities involve both social interaction between team members, and the medi-ation of technological apparatus, and are a potential venue for the expression of infor-mation literacy competences. We hypothesize the observed teams will vary in terms of  the relative importance and complexity of these activities, thereby determining how information literacy can affect teamwork practices and work completion (and vice versa). The selected activities are: 1.   Authoring a document collectively; 2.   Sharing a collection of documents; 3.   Managing outgoing information; 4.   Managing incoming information; 5.   Using others to find information; 6.   Making collective decisions regarding task distribution, team governance and roles, and overall team functioning; 7.   Managing one's tasks in relation with others; 8.   Planning a meeting; 9.   Planning the team's activity; 10.   Working synchronously in the distance with other team members; 11.   Organizing one's workspaces for collaboration. Each of these eleven activities is further detailed into up to eight dimensions of tech-nology-supported distant teamwork, which are systematically accounted for in our in-terview guide. These dimensions allow for a fine-grained analysis of how workers are able to perform these activities. The necessary redundancy between activities and di-mensions accounts for the intricate relationships between the technologically-mediated activities of distant teamwork. These dimensions are the following. 1.   Task management . At the team level, it consists in the technologically-mediated management of the distribution of work activities among team members and their articulation [27]. At the individual level, it involves the use of technology to adjust one’s task execution to the others’ activities. 2.   Time management  touches upon how team members make use of technology to manage the time allocation, frequency, scheduling, and synchronicity of both the team’s activity and the individual’s activity in relationship to the team [31]. It in-cludes the management of interruptions [32]: both when one interrupts others, and when one is accessible and can be interrupted by others [33]. 3.   Space and distance management  is the management of the spatial properties of one’s work environment at different scales: the spatial layout of one’s local digital workspace [37], the proxemics of one’s work place (for example who is working closest to whom), and the separation between work sites in teleworking [38]. 4.   Information management  includes collective digital information production, as well as individual information authoring for the team, and information sharing (in-cluding the timing of sharing, the organization of shared resources, and the man-agement of accesses to shared information). While the individual management of  personal information has been extensively studied [21, 22, 28, 29], the individual management of shared information has garnered less attention [30]. 5.   Awareness  is the understanding of the activities of others, which provides a context for your own activity [34]. Schmidt [35] highlighted how awareness was as a (too)  broad concept that spans from a general awareness of the respective knowledge,
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