Students enter our classes as disciplinary foreigners. They may know some things about disciplinary content, but they are not at home in the cultural setting of the discipline. First, you are the professor and they are not. This creates a power imbalance that works against a sense of belonging, no matter how friendly you are. Second, they do not understand what cultural norms define your discipline and serve as its heart. Without enculturation, students cannot hope to do research in the discipline except through a process of pale and uniformed imitation. They are essentially outsiders looking in.
A 2022 study (see "Readings" below) from salesforce.org found that only 11% of graduated university students felt prepared for work. Just 58% of students felt some sense of belonging to their institutions and only 12% felt they totally belonged. Enculturation, I believe, is key both to belonging and to developing research and information skills that will prepare our students for the workplaces of life.
This module will look at how to enculturate your students into your disciplines. Before that, have a look at this introduction to scholarship in general (click on image and open to full screen):
Adapted from Disciplinary Enculturation - Theory and Praxis.
Epistemology (how we know what we know) relates to the knowledge base which has formed over time. Why does it include what it does, how did the various pieces of knowledge gain acceptance over time, and what is central as opposed to outlying knowledge? Epistemology is well described by the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education's threshold concept, "Authority is Constructed and Contextual." By this we mean that information produced in a discipline has to go through rigorous criteria to gain recognition both as reliable and as relevant to the community of practice. The authority of any one piece of research or information is not a given.
Metanarrative (the explanations for the narrative) involves the cultural understanding of a discipline. Who are we? What do we value? What guides our narrative (our practice)? Who are our alternative voices, and how do they help shape our culture? How do we discourse with one another around our scholarship? Metanarrative interacts with epistemology in that a discipline's values and culture help determine what sort of a knowledge base it affirms and which scholars it finds most authoritative.
Method describes how a discipline advances itself. Every discipline has a rigorous methodology that determines how its research is carried out. Its members adhere to these set methods, though some researchers may adopt more experimental methods. Method is informed by metanarrative, because a discipline's culture helps shape the methodology. Similarly, method interacts with epistemology in two ways: 1. The knowledge based used in research comes from the body of work recognized by disciplinary practitioners. 2. The method, when applied according to disciplinary principles, adds to the knowledge base.
[For more detailed questions, go here.
For learning objectives, go here.]
When students participate in exchange programs, a key element in their growing understanding of their new culture is being housed with a family of that culture. Students do something of the same in your classrooms, but it works best if you personalize it by doing something you hesitate to do - talk about yourself:
Students who want to understand the culture of a discipline need to read in that discipline, not just for content but for values and for process. A key way to accomplish this, while sharing content, is to do close readings with students (or assign close readings) that look at an author's structure, method and any sense of underlying values. Help your students read for how scholars do it, not just what they say. How do they present the essential problem? How do they shape their structure? How do they use evidence? How do they shape their conclusions?, and so on.
Read Alison J. Head, Reading in the Age of Distrust. Project Information Literacy, 2021.
1. Are your students tourists in your courses?
2. What signs would you look for in a student who is becoming a citizen in your discipline?
3. Explain the nature of your discipline's knowledge base, how it developed, what is important, and who some key scholars were or are.
4. If you viewed your discipline as a culture, what would be its features?
5. What is the essential research methodology in your discipline?
6. Have you done close readings with your students, focusing on a scholar's method rather than just content? Do you think this could help to enculturate your students?
2. Review the Elements of Disciplinary Culture and The Foundational Questions. Examine your own history of entering and becoming enculturated into your discipline. When did you believe that you were now a citizen of your discipline rather than a foreigner? Can you articulate the elements of your own disciplinary culture?
3. Describe the key elements of your own epistemology, metanarrative and method using foundational questions.
Disciplinary Thinking in Research Processes (Badke; Google Slides)
Badke, William. "Framing Information Literacy within the Disciplines of Theological Education." In Information Literacy and Theological Librarianship: Theory and Praxis. Ed. Bobby L. Smiley, 59-82. Chicago: Atla Press, 2019. Available open access: https://books.atla.com/atlapress/catalog/book/33. Individual chapter: Chapter4.pdf
Badke, William. Disciplinary Enculturation - Theory and Practice. https://libguides.twu.ca/DisciplinaryEnculturation
Badke, William. "Student Theological Research as an Invitation." Theological Librarianship 5, no.1 (2012): 30-42. https://serials.atla.com/theolib/article/view/2252/2620
Farrell, Robert and Badke, William. "Situating Information Literacy in the Disciplines: A Practical and Systematic Approach for Librarians." Reference Services Review 43, no.2 (2015): 319-340. [Final submitted manuscript available:
salesforce.org. Connected Students Report, 3rd ed.: Insights into Global Higher Education Trends from Over 2,600 Students and Staff (2022). (Free registration required for download)
Trinity Western University (Langley) is located on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the Stó:lō people. We are grateful for the opportunity to live, work, and learn on this land.