Bad timing for Covid

Today was the big day! I’d been planning it for months. I was going to meet in the classroom of the cohort that I’ve been following for 3 years, and bribe them into taking my last survey by offering pizza!

But instead, I got COVID. Talk about bad timing… Thankfully, my loyal supervisors Torstein and Tove went in my place, and survey results are now ticking in. 🙂

There aren’t many longitudinal studies in information literacy, so this aspect of my research is one of the things that makes it unique. Few researchers have the opportunity to conduct long-term projects like this one, but since I had 4 years to complete my PhD, I had the chance.

The pandemic, however, has taken its toll on the cohort that I’ve been following. They started just half a year before the lock-down, at which point their classes went online for nearly 2 years. For many students, this made it (understandably) less appealing to continue their college education. At the start of their Bachelor in psychology in the fall of 2019, there were 98 students. Now, at the end of the program, there are only 32 left. To make matters worse, only 14 of those 32 are from the original cohort. That’s an 86% attrition rate! (The other 18 that are finishing their Bachelor degrees now have most likely transferred from other programs or universities.)

The small sample size represents a challenge for my research design and data analyses as well. I’d planned on following individual students over 3 years with a repeated measures (within-group) design. However, since there were only 14 of students remaining in the end, the sample size would be quite small. But luckily, with repeated measures, statistical inference can be made with fewer participants. Alternatively, I could analyze data from the original 98 and the final 32 participants with an independent measures (between-group) design. With an independent measures design, more participants are necessary in order to make statistical inference than with a repeated measures design. So, once I see how many students have responded to the survey, I’ll weigh the pro’s and con’s of both designs before making the decision of which to use in the statistical analyses.

So, as we say in Norwegian, det var dagens hjertesukk – “that was today’s heart sigh” (today’s worries). I’m thankful in any case for the data that we have managed to collect (and for that my COVID symptoms are negligible!).

My last half-year

Today is March 1st and my plan is to submit my thesis on Sept. 1st – in exactly 6 months! In that time I need to interview several students, collect data from 3 surveys and 2 assignments, analyze all that data, finish writing the extended summary (kappa), and write the fourth article! There won’t be many vacation days for me in the near future.

I’m still on track though and I’m now nearly finished with my duty work. 25% of my time (1 year of the 4-year PhD scholarship) is spent teaching and contributing to various work-groups, tasks that have been relevant and rewarding. This means that I can use the next half year to concentrate exclusively on my thesis. (Plus presenting at a conference or two…)

Since I last blogged everything has been going smoothly. There’s been time for reading, writing, collecting my thoughts and making sense of everything, preparing data files, outlining the final article, designing the new survey, testing myself with flashcards, and finding a research assistant to help me assess the assignment data. A hectic phase with the final data collections for the longitudinal study is starting now in March, and I’m as prepared as I can be.

My biggest fear now is that I’ll get very few survey responses. Or that I’ll get COVID with brain fog! I need every neuron I have, plus more!

After I submit my thesis, an appointed committee will have about 3 months to evaluate it. If it’s approved, I’ll then get a date for my defense. I’m hoping that this will be in the end on November, which is when my stipend ends, so that I’ll be totally finished with my PhD before the money supply runs dry.

At this point, I’m thinking of my research day and night. I dream about it and wake up with ideas that I try to write down before they dissipate. Total absorption. What a process!

The importance of information literacy is constantly growing worldwide, as seen now in the war between Russia and Ukraine. I’ve heard it called both an “Information War” and a “Disinformation War“. In countries without a free press, citizens don’t necessarily have access to information that isn’t controlled by the government, making it hard to know what the truth is. But also in other countries it’s becoming increasingly difficult to know when written information, pictures, and videos are real and when they’re false or manipulated. We need guidance to help us determine what’s true so we can form justified opinions, take a stance, and take action. Also, we need to avoid spreading dis- and misinformation – think before you click Share!

Being information literate helps us these things, as it involves the ability to think critically.

Facts matter! Information literacy matters!

Scary e-mail from journal

After our article about measuring interest in Frontiers in Education was published last month, Tove and I noticed that the title was wrong. The world Development in the middle of the title shouldn’t have been there! Our clever acronym TRIQ would have become TRIDQ!

We thought that it would be simple to get the journal (which is electronic, not printed) to delete that one word, but the process was actually complicated, and quite frankly, a little scary!

They wanted us to submit a formal “corrigendum” to correct the error, but then it would have included a statement saying that the authors apologize for their error. However, since the error was actually the fault of the journal, we didn’t think that was accurate.

After some frustration with the corrigendum procedure, Tove finally got in touch directly with the editor, who helped us. Despite the editor’s assurance that the title would be corrected, we still got this automatically-formulated e-mail response, which we found disturbing and scary:

Unfortunately, I have to inform you that your manuscript "Corrigendum: "Here’s the TRIQ: The Tromsø Interest Development Questionnaire based on the Four-Phase Model of Interest Development"" cannot be accepted for publication in Frontiers in Education, section Educational Psychology. The reason for this decision is: This manuscript has been withdrawn on behalf of the authors and is no longer under consideration for publication in this journal. This corrigendum is no longer necessary. Our production office will update the article to ensure the correct title is included.”

Before I got to the last sentence my heart was racing. Were they going to retract our article because of this tiny error?! Luckily this wasn’t the case, of course, but what a scare!

Tove let the editor know that the automatic response was a bit disconcerting, so future authors don’t have the same unpleasant experience.

By the way, the title is now corrected and the article has had nearly 2000 views . 🙂

Ah, the joys of doing research…

On that note, I wish my loyal readers a wonderful holiday, free from COVID and corrigendums!

Third article published today!

When it rains, it pours!

(I know that the photo doesn’t match the text, but I couldn’t resist, since this was last night’s display of northern lights!)

After working hard on my PhD for a little over 3 years, the three articles that I’ve written so far (together with co-authors) were all published within the last 6 months! The latest was published today – here’s the reference:

Nierenberg, E., & Dahl, T. I. (2021). Is information literacy ability, and metacognition of that ability, related to interest, gender or education level? A cross-sectional study of higher education students. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 1-13.

If you’d like to read it, just click on the link in the reference.

Thank you, Tove (on left), for your co-authorship!

This article was not originally planned as part of my PhD, but seemed to be an easy one to write at a certain point, given the data that we had collected. Well, it turned out to not be as easy as expected!

The first version was sent to a journal in January 2020, just after the storming of the US Capitol, when the abundance of misinformation regarding the presidential election in November 2021 was having catastrophic consequences. (This, by the way, underlines the importance of being information literate – knowing how to critically evaluate your sources of information, including certain presidents!) Anyway, the journal rejected the article on the grounds that it was not appropriate for its audience.

We then made some minor changes and sent it off to another international peer-reviewed journal for consideration. After several months, the article was also rejected by this journal.  You can probably imagine how discouraging such rejections feel. 🙁 The reviewers, however, wrote 7 pages (yes, 7!) of comments and suggestions for how to improve and focus the article. So every cloud has a silver lining!

While reading their remarks I contemplated scrapping the article, since extensive changes would be necessary and it felt hopeless to continue. But since I’d already put so much effort into it – and thanks to Tove’s more-or-less constant encouragement – I decided to revise it.

After making revisions – which basically meant rewriting most of the introduction, and other sections as well – we submitted it to a third journal, the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. This time, the article was accepted for publication, with only minor revisions. So after only a few rounds of further editing, the article was finally published today. 🙂

Jeez, what a lengthy and demanding process! But I’m glad now, since the hard work finally paid off. And since the article improved with each revision, the end result is quite good, I believe!

Unfortunately, it can sometimes feel like the goal of working in academia is solely to get published – “publish or perish” as they say. This is a shame, since the goal really should be to learn, make discoveries, share results, and make a contribution to the field.

Here are some things that I learned when doing the research and writing this article:

  • students who did poorly on an information literacy test, estimated higher scores than they actually received
  • students who did well on the IL test, estimated lower scores than they actually received
  • men tended to estimate higher, and more accurate scores, than women
  • students’ interest in becoming information literate was correlated to their likelihood to invest effort into learning more IL skills

The first 2 points above are evidence of the Dunning-Kruger effect, a well-known psychological phenomenon which can be explained by the fact that people who don’t know much, don’t really know what they don’t know. (If that didn’t make sense, read it out loud a few times. 😉 ) But the more people know about something, the more they admit that they don’t know everything, and believe that others might know more than them.

If you’re interested in more of the findings, just read the article! 🙂





Second article published!

The second article for my PhD has just been published! My main supervisor, Tove Dahl, is the first author and I’m the second. Here’s the reference:

Dahl, T. I., & Nierenberg, E. (2021). Here’s the TRIQ: The Tromsø Interest Questionnaire Based on the Four-Phase Model of Interest Development. Frontiers in Education, 6(402), 1-17.

Tove and I began collecting data for this “interest article” already in February, 2019, so it’s been a long time in the making.

Here we are, not collecting data.

During her career, Tove has done a lot of reading and research on interest. For an educational psychologist, interest is – well, interesting 🙂 – because of its role in motivation and learning. One of the most important models of interest – the Four-Phase Model of Interest Development – was proposed by Hidi and Renninger in 2006.

In this model, the authors divide interest into 4 developmental phases, from triggered situational interest to well-developed individual interest, each with their own psychological states. No one had previously operationalized this model (i.e. devised a way to test if it was valid, based on its theoretical underpinnings), until now. In our study, Tove and I have created and tested the first self-report measure for measuring interest based on the Four-Phase Model’s underlying premises.

Our questionnaire, The Tromsø Interest Questionnaire (TRIQ), is composed of 7 subscales: general interest, situational dependence, positive affect, competence level, competence aspirations, meaningfulness, and self-regulation. You can find TRIQ on the TROILS website, together with other measures developed in my doctoral research.

So, how is this related to information literacy, you might be asking yourself? The interest measure that we have created can be used to measure any interest, including information literacy. In fact, we tested our questionnaire both with students’ self-chosen objects of interest (such as skiing or bird-watching), and with a prespecified interest, namely interest in being or becoming information literate.

Results are valuable not only in validating the Four-Phase Model, but also in (a) determining how students’ interest in being or becoming information literate influences their IL learning, and (b) following the development of students’ identities as information literate individuals. Both of these are major focuses of my doctoral study.

My PhD thesis is article-based (also called “thesis by publication”), as opposed to a monograph. This requires writing a minimum of 3 articles, and a synopsis/extended abstract (40-80 pages). I must be the first author of at least half of of the articles, and at least 2 of them must be published or accepted for publication in peer-reviewed journals. The remaining articles must be of sufficient quality to submit to journals. I plan to write 4 articles for my thesis. Two are now published, the third is accepted for publication, and the fourth will be much later, since it’s the culmination of my longitudinal study, with data collection as late as June ’22. So I’m on track, and working hard!

“Here’s the TRIQ” contains elements of both psychology and information literacy. It establishes that developing interest in IL is important for IL learning, and prompts us to ask questions about how to improve our IL teaching by taking interest into account.

Please read our article here:

Creating Knowledge Conference 2021

On June 3rd and 4th, several of us from the university library here at UiT in Tromsø organized the 10th Creating Knowledge conference! The theme is information literacy, and the conference has been held approximately every other year, since 1999, in one of the Nordic countries.  Creating Knowledge conferences are arranged by NordINFOLIT, a Nordic collaborative forum for information literacy.

The conference was supposed to be held last year, but along came corona, so we postponed one year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t safe enough to have a physical conference in 2021 either, so we made the tough decision to have a digital conference. We considered hybrid, mostly digital but with some physical participants, but realized that this would be too complicated. It’s a shame because we really wanted to welcome guests here to exotic, beautiful Tromsø during the magical summer with midnight sun!

I’m trying to think positive though… For the organizing committee, one advantage of a purely digital conference is that we didn’t have to organize hotels, meals, coffee breaks, activities or billing. Another advantage is that it was accessible to everyone, especially since we didn’t charge anything. We had over 600 participants, much more than the usual 150-200, and some from as far away as New Zealand. (These were the women that I was supposed to work with there on my 2-month research stay, but of course that didn’t happen either…)

A major disadvantage of a purely digital conference is of course that you can’t meet people in person. Networking is an important part of conferences. To compensate for this we had a digital “lounge” where people could chat together informally.

We had 4 wonderful keynotes:

1. Karen Douglas (Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kent, UK), who talked about the psychology of conspiracy theories. This is a very relevant topic these days, and quite controversial, so we weren’t permitted to record her talk.

2. Roger Säljö (well-known researcher of learning in Scandinavia), with an excellent keynote called “Learning in a designed world: Information literacy from rock carvings to apps”.

3. Jane Secker (Senior Lecturer in Educational Development at City University, London, and information literacy guru!), with her inspiring, informative keynote on “Frames, models and definitions: Rethinking information literacy for the digital age”.

4. Tove Dahl (educational psychologist at UiT, and most importantly, my main supervisor!), with her amazingly inspiring keynote called “What if being or becoming information literate were an adventure?”

The last three of these keynotes were recorded and will very soon be available on our conference website. If you’re feeling a little stuck or unmotivated in your teaching, be sure to see Tove’s keynote about tigers!

Many participants presented papers or held round-table discussions, and we had 2 or 3 parallel tracks to chose from during the two-day conference. This was all a bit challenging technically, but our competent organizing-committee members, together with tech support from RESULT, managed the Zoom-rooms perfectly. Everything worked!

Torstein and I presented research from our article about measuring IL on Friday. It felt really strange to sit alone in my office and present live to over 150 people! We presented right after my acquaintances from New Zealand, and since the talk after us was cancelled, the four of us used the opportunity to discuss IL-assessment for 30 minutes with anyone interested – and there were several of them – so that was great! I was a bit nervous – mostly for technical stuff – but everything went smoothly. It wasn’t as scary as presenting in person. As a PhD-student, I got 2 credits for presenting at an international conference, which was a nice bonus. 🙂

I was also chair for a session with four presentations – a first for me. I’d written down some questions for each presentation, just in case no one else wrote questions in the chat, and that was a good thing!

Between papers and keynotes were prerecorded performances from the choir TAKk. The women sang outdoors on a cold, windy “summer” day, in beautiful locations around Tromsø. Other cultural contributions were a presentation of a collection of old maps entitled “Creating Knowledge of the Far North: The earliest printed maps as icons of (mis)information“, a fun talk entitled “Tromsø: A likely city in an unlikely place“, and a slideshow (my photos) with beautiful scenery in the Tromsø area (interspersed with slides with conference info).

Although I didn’t do nearly as much as some of the other members of the organizing committee (especially Helene, Torstein, Mariann and Mark), it was a lot of work! It got especially intense the week of the conference – I didn’t do anything else.  And of course, there were plenty of last minute changes, including cancelled presentations, that we had to constantly deal with during the conference.

I was impressed with the quality of most of the papers that I heard, and with the enthusiasm of conference delegates. However, since I had several roles during the conference, including answering e-mails from delegates with various problems that needed a quick fix, I didn’t actually get to listen to many of the presentations. This was unfortunate, since I was interested in nearly everything. Papers in the parallel sessions weren’t recorded, and aren’t accessible. Oh well – it was exciting and instructive to help organize the conference, at least! And evaluations we’ve received from delegates so far have mainly been positive, despite the fact that the conference was digital.


First article for PhD published!

When it rains, it pours!

After not having much to report on the past several months, the last couple of weeks have been full of exciting events. I’ll start with getting the first article for my PhD published yesterday in the Journal of Information Literacy.  🙂 Here’s the reference:

Nierenberg, E., Låg, T., & Dahl, T. I. (2021). Knowing and doing: The development of information literacy measures to assess knowledge and practice. Journal of Information Literacy, 15(2), pp. 78–123.

As you can see, I wrote the article together with Torstein Låg (co-supervisor) and Tove Dahl (main supervisor) – what a team! 🙂 The work behind it was extensive, both intellectually challenging and time-consuming. I’m quite proud of the finished product. It feels good to have gotten this far! Thank you Torstein and Tove!

The article begins by describing the development and use of three tools for assessing IL in students. These explain why the article is called “Knowing and doing”:

  1. a 21-item multiple-choice test, covering seeking, evaluating and using information sources (what they know)
  2. an annotated bibliography to assess students’ skills in evaluating information sources in an authentic, graded assignment (what they do)
  3. a rubric for assessing students’ use of sources in their academic writing, again using an authentic, graded assignment (what they do)

In addition to describing the comprehensive procedures used to develop these measures (including evaluating them for reliability and validity), we also discuss the results we obtained when utilizing them to measure IL in undergraduate and graduate students.

The article continues with a discussion about the association between IL knowledge and skills – is what students know about IL reflecting in what they do in practice? Spoiler alert – it turns out that in some cases, there is a significant correlation between the two, but the correlation is not strong. This means that there are other factors, in addition to students’ IL-knowledge, that contribute to their skills.

We then discuss the dimensionality of the IL construct. Is IL actually a coherent, unitary construct, or is it heterogeneous? (In other words, is information literacy actually one thing, or several things?) Spoiler alert 2 – our findings show that it is heterogeneous, composed of many facets. (Perhaps we should call it information literacies?) This finding has many important implications – read the article to learn more! 🙂

Torstein and I presented the research behind this article 5 days ago at the Creating Knowledge conference, which we also helped to organize. My next blog post, which I hope will be posted very soon, will be about this wonderful conference, and what it was like to organize and host an international, digital conference with over 600 delegates.


Events in the US are proof of the importance of information literacy!

The violent storming of the US Capitol in Washington DC yesterday, during the electoral college confirmation of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice President of the United States, shows why being information literate is important. Disinformation being spread in the US, particularly by the current president, incited mobs in a dangerous and disruptive insurrection, the likes of which have not been seen since 1814.

One of the main tenets of information literacy (IL) is that we should be critical to our sources of information, and use those that are reliable. But that’s difficult when the President of the United States (POTUS) – arguably the most powerful person in the world – spreads conspiracy theories and other disinformation about how the election “was stolen” from him. The internet provides multiple platforms for this disinformation to spread instantaneously, providing an echo chamber for Trump supporters to reinforce their beliefs.

POTUS’s followers get their information mainly from biased, conservative channels like Fox News and Breitbart News, social media, QAnon (supports fringe conspiracy theories), and from POTUS himself. Trump’s megaphones, Twitter and Facebook, have now locked his accounts for 12 hours to prevent the spread of his lies and his encouragement to those rioting. POTUS is being censored.

Trump calls media “thieves and crooks,” sowing distrust in reliable newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, and encouraging his supporters to rely on him for their information – an obvious characteristic of authoritarianism. This is dangerous for a democracy, where citizens vote for their government representatives based on the information they read and hear.

This sad chapter in American history can thereby be blamed on ignorance, caused by poor information literacy skills. Too many citizens have relied on biased sources of information. Perhaps, if people had consulted more reliable sources of information instead of believing blindly in a delusional president, the events of the past 12 hours could have been prevented.

First article accepted for publication!

The first article for my PhD has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Information Literacy! 🙂 I wrote the article, called “Knowing and doing: The development of information literacy measures to assess knowledge and practice,” together with Torstein and Tove.  It’ll be published in the June, 2021 issue.

You may remember my blog post from August 21 called “Peer review of my first (attempted) article,” in which I expressed how discouraging it was to receive a review that was several pages long, and required major revisions in this article. I’d thought at the time that it was quite alright as it was. However, the article is much better now, after the revision. So although it was a lengthy  process, it was well worth it.

The reviewers did a thorough job, and asked really good questions. We went through every comment, and either revised the article accordingly or argued for why we didn’t agree that the change was necessary. As we worked we wrote a detailed reply to the reviewers, so they could easily find the right spot, and see our reasoning.

The reviewers wrote that the framing of the article is now much clearer, and that the paper as a whole is “more consistent and focused, resulting in a much stronger article overall.” They believe that with this article, we’ve made a significant contribution to the conversation about how we think of the information-literacy-construct .




Midway assessment for my PhD

Today I had my midway assessment, a milestone for every PhD student. 🙂

This is how UiT describes it: “The midway assessment shall provide the student and supervisor with an independent assessment –
evaluating whether the student has adequate progression to complete the PhD education according to schedule. The student shall receive specific feedback on his/her work so far, and get suggestions for the further work. The midway assessment provides the department with an opportunity to discern students that need structured follow-up. It is expected that such an assessment will improve the progress of the project, and increase the likelihood that the student completes the course of study within prescribed time.”

I sent in several documents ahead of time, and presented my research today to a committee (one professor from UiT and one from the University of Oslo), and to my 3 supervisors. Because of the pandemic, everything was on Zoom.

After the presentation we discussed my research, and I received lots of useful feedback that will help with the rest of my project. The professor from UiO is an expert in quantitative methods, in the field of education/special education. She had several good arguments for why I should include qualitative methods in my research:

  • Information literacy, by nature, is a field that is also qualitative, and shouldn’t only be explored quantitatively (although this is also a useful contribution).
  • If I want to publish articles in more general, educational journals, with larger visibility and more impact than those in the information literacy niche, I should use other kinds of analyses. Not just quantitative. I could use “mixed methods.”
  • If I only use quantitative methods, everything I write will be peer-reviewed by statisticians, and they can be very demanding, and perhaps concentrate more on the numbers than on the implications of the findings.
  • The analyses and statistics involved in doing a longitudinal study (which I’m in the process of doing) are extremely complex, and it can take years to master them.

She also encouraged me to compare students’ scores on the IL tests/measures, to outcome measures such as grades and completion of college degrees. That would make my research more interesting and relevant.

This was good advice, and I really appreciate that she used so much time and effort to evaluate my work. 🙂 It was incredibly useful to get input from an external expert, who was previously uninvolved in my research, and who could examine it through a new lens.

Of course it was hard for me to hear that I’m slightly off-track, but it’s better to hear it now than even later in the game, I guess… Although it will be challenging to change my direction at this point, it’s probably wise. (And after I’ve digested this newest input for a little longer than 3 hours,  I’ll probably be even more convinced.) My study design has already gone through several revisions, so why not one more?

I’ve come to realize that doing a PhD means being constantly confronted with new intellectual challenges and continual revisions in plans. It often feels like my brain is doing somersaults, which somehow keep me on my feet. 😉

A big thank you to the two professors on my committee and to my three wonderful supervisors! 🙂 I feel privileged, humbled and grateful, once again.