Tag Archives: practice mapping

Mapping Information Practices

Me delivering the talk about the importance of people to information practices

In May I gave a talk to the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges group for an information literacy seminar.  I was asked by the organizers to design and deliver an interactive piece for the talk.  Given my theme on the importance of relationships and human connections that take into account power and position, I wanted to give participants a way to reflect on their own information practices, as a way to thinking about not just what they do around information, and where they get their information from, but also with whom do they think about/process/evaluate/criticize/decide to reject various kinds of information?

At this point I’ve been working with various kinds of practice mapping for 10 years.    Visitors and Residents mapping was intended to be a way to get people to reflect on their digital practices, and eventually Lawrie Phipps and I came up with triangle practice mapping so that we could avoid the trap of people trying to pigeonhole themselves (or feel they were being pigeonholed) within value-laden labels.  

In the workshops I have facilitated, it becomes clear quite quickly that it is difficult to think about our digital practices without eventually arriving at a necessary conversation about which people we are interacting with in digital places and on digital platforms.  It is likewise difficult to think about the information we seek and trust (or distrust) without involving the people we associate with that information.  Who wrote the article?  Who is the story about?  Who is upset about that book? Whose interests are threatened by that exposé?  Whose priorities are being ignored?  Who do you talk to about the articles you read?  Whose social media feeds do you get trusted information from?  Whose do you avoid?

So, I tried to adapt the idea of triangle digital practice mapping to help people think about their information practices.  

It looks like this (the image is also available here):

Each edge of the triangle is a different domain in your life: Political, Professional, and Personal. The inside of the triangle is where you map the people you engage with in your information practices. The outside of the triangle is where you map the places you get information from.Some things will overlap. Some things will be mappable more than once. The point is the process, not any kind of perfection.

While the alliteration is fun, the domains Political, Personal, and Professional could be other things.  If you are working with students, you could have them map information they use for Studies, for Work, and for Private Life.  If you are working with faculty, you could have them map information they use for Research, for Private Life, and for Teaching.  As with digital practice mapping, the domains themselves matter less than the conversation and reflection that you are trying to provoke.  

When the LVAIC folks did this mapping, they went into breakout rooms and then came back into the main conference room to feed back on how it went.  Some were surprised at how few people there were in their information network.  Many had never taken the time to really think about the role that people played in their information practices.   They only had less than 10 minutes to do the exercise, so there was a lot left that we could have discussed that we just didn’t have time for.

I think there are many conversations that can emerge from this kind of mapping.  I’d be interested to see what it looks like when people get to be in a room together (physical or digital) and really spend time with their information practice maps, and comparing their practices and networks to those of other people.  What differences will they find?  What similarities?  

I’d welcome feedback from people who try out this mapping for themselves, or in a group.  I’m also trying to find places where we can experiment with this mapping in workshop contexts, so if you have ideas please let me know.

A haon, a do, a trí, a ceathair, a cúig….GASTA

The annual conference for ALT was last week in Manchester, and I was there (among other more social reasons) to 1) see Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom deliver the opening keynote, 2) to present on the recent research project that Lawrie Phipps and I are wrapping up for Jisc, and 3) to participate in a Gasta round, the lightning talks imported from the ILTA conference courtesy of Tom Farrelly of IT Tralee.  When Dr. Maren Deepwell invited me to deliver a Gasta talk, I was reminded of the perfectly crafted Pecha Kucha talks I witnessed at the EPIC conference in 2014, and knew I wasn’t going to be able to swing that.

Fortunately Tom has envisioned Gasta (“lightning” in Irish) talks as somewhat more loose than Pecha Kucha.  So, I thought I would start from a series of 5 images (one for each minute I had to talk), to ground me in what I wanted to say without scripting it out.  I was remembering my extemporaneous speaking experiences in high school, on a speech and debate team, and what a fun challenge it was to know what I wanted to say without having completely planned how to say it.

So, that was my Gasta.  A largely improvised 5 minute talk on what I want to see happen around reflections on digital practice and presence.

The entire Gasta session was recorded and is available for you to view here.  My 5 minute piece starts at about the 29 minute mark.

This post is my attempt to capture what I said.  Or, what I tried to say.


I am not a learning technologist, I am an anthropologist.  In the work that I get to do in the sector (while I am not of the sector) I am occasionally tasked to go in and talk to people about what they do when they go online, and why.  
And early on, I was working within the framework of Visitors and Residents, in part because we thought it would give people a way to push back against the problematic framework of Natives and Immigrants, give them different ways of talking about themselves and their practice that were less damaging.  What we found, though, was that people started to pigeonhole themselves in the different framework that we gave them, because they were still talking about identity, about who they were, rather than what they did.  So, this triangle is our attempt to give people a way to center themselves within their practice, to map themselves within a framework that does not try to pigeonhole them.

One thing that comes up when people talk about what they do online is that they very swiftly move to talking about the people among whom they do these things.  We start off with practice, and all of a sudden we are talking about people.  They talk about places they go online because there are certain people there, they talk about places they avoid online because there are certain people there.  They are talking about networks, the networks they have, the networks they want to have, and the networks they avoid because they are toxic and do not serve them well.    People don’t get enough of an opportunity to talk about this kind of thing.  There’s too much emphasis on “What are you going to do?  Where are you going to do it?”  and not enough emphasis on “With whom are you going to do it, and why?”

The other thing that happens when we have people map their practices is that they talk a lot about visibility, they talk a lot about people who are “stars” on social media, the people they see all the time.   “They shine so brightly, I see them all the time, so surely I know who that person is.”  And, you might know some things, but you don’t know everything.  You know what they show you, that doesn’t mean you know them.  They make choices, and you see what they choose to show, but that is not the same thing as knowing.  So when we talk about people’s practices, and when we talk about what people want to do, I think too often we get bogged down in concerns about “but who can see me”  and “look at that person over there, aren’t they amazing.”

I want people to think about the intimacy of their practices, to think with people who care for them.

One of the things my mother and I do together, when we have the chance, is to walk together at dusk, and we can peer in other people’s windows, because they haven’t put their blinds down yet, and the lights are on, and we can see in, and be opinionated about whether we like their choice of sofa, or wall color, or furniture arrangements.

One of the exercises I have started doing with Lawrie Phipps (online thus far, not yet in workshops) is based on an idea of a window, but instead of peering into the windows of strangers as my mother and I occasionally do, the idea here is that you invite people to your window, you open it so that others may see in.  You invite people to talk to you about what they see of your practice, and not just what is visible, but what they are aware of because they know you.  And you, in turn, can listen and learn from these people because you trust them to share with you what they really think, not just what you want to hear, because they care about you and will be kind even when they are disagreeing with you.

I don’t actually think a window is an adequate metaphor for what I’m trying to encourage people to do here.  I’m trying to encourage people to leverage their intimate networks of people who care about them, not random workshops of people you have just met, who can google you and think they know you if you are visible.  I want for you to talk with the people who you would want to invite into your home.  Who are the people who are already in your network, how can you open a door to the people you want to hear from about your practice, what it means, what it means to you, what it means to them.  How do we create the moments of reflection that come from a place of care, rather than from an abstracted notion of visibility and importance?  How can we create places of reflection that feel like home?