Tuesday, 19 May 2015

An exploration of the information literacy experiences of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) learners (by Jess Elmore)

My research explores information literacy in the context of the ESOL classroom.  I am interested in finding out about the relationship between language learning and information literacy, and about how changes to learners' information literacy practice impact on their lives.  My working definition of information literacy is that it is a sociocultural practice; a set of shared activities rather than just individual skills that constitutes the ability to find, use and share information in a particular context or information landscape.

ESOL learners are typically people who have come to the UK for work, for family reasons, or to claim asylum; and are learning English as part of adult basic skills provision. They are a very diverse group but can be seen as disadvantaged by several measures; they are immigrants, they are less likely to be employed, they are generally female, and they often come from BME (black, minority and ethnic) communities. Information literacy and ESOL can be seen to have similar goals in terms of providing individuals with the ability to participate fully in society (however you choose to interpret this) but the relationship between the two has not been explored in detail.

I am planning a longitudinal case study of three community ESOL classes. My research is multi-method; I will use observation, one to one interviews, focus groups, group interviews and visual methods. My research is participatory and emergent so I will negotiate with participants what methods to use and hope to involve them in the research as far as possible. The multi-method approach is used because I am interested in rich, holistic information experiences, but also to help overcome the language barriers present when working with participants who have limited English.

I have completed a pilot study consisting of one observation of an ESOL and Art workshop and two focus groups which were held in existing ESOL conversation classes.  The findings from the pilot were local and limited, but suggested several areas for further exploration: in particular, the diversity of ESOL learners' information experiences, their use of digital technologies, the significance of religion, and the importance of place and people.  However the methodological findings were more interesting. The pilot identified the language level of ESOL learners who could talk meaningfully about their information experiences, but also raised important questions about my position as a researcher, the process of analysis and the need for sustained research relationships rather than single encounters.