Information lies at the center of Information Science and the information professions. Yet there are few agreed upon pedagogical strategies for engaging students in our central concept. In many educational programs the nature of information is considered obvious and therefore left uninterrogated. Here, we present the iSquares to educators in information science as a new approach for teaching about information itself. Drawings of information serve as a genial entry to an abstract and elusive topic, accommodate a wide variety of learning styles and intelligences, complement the scholarly literature about information, lead to lively class discussions, and generate a bespoke collection of images that can be tapped throughout the semester. The three pedagogical strategies outlined below have been tested in classrooms at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto by Jenna Hartel. They range in complexity as basic, intermediate, and advanced and may enrich undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral education in information.
Basic iSquare Activity
At its most basic, iSquares can be produced by students in a class utilizing the iSquare protocol. Within information science programs, this activity is an especially effective ice-breaker and introduction at the start of the school year and is equally productive for undergraduate, masters, and doctoral levels. As a classroom-based learning exercise rather than research, ethical clearance is not required. To begin, the instructor states that there have been many efforts to define information in words and yet the concept remains highly contested; then the iSquare protocol is implemented. Upon completion, the educator can have participants talk about their iSquares (in small groups or altogether). Alternatively, the iSquares can be collected, arranged on a table in the room, and serve as a source for discussion prompted by these questions, among others: How was information rendered? What are recurring themes and motifs? Which is your favorite and why? (See also my characterization of this group analysis process in the paper "iSquare Dancing.") How do the drawings relate to conceptions of information made of words? This activity, depending on the length of the discussion period, can occupy from 15 minutes to 2 hours.
Intermediate iSquare Assignment
An intermediate iSquare assignment entails the analysis of the existing corpus of iSquares on this website. It is ideal for masters and doctoral students, especially those enrolled in a foundations or theoretical traditions course. The assignment can be outlined on a syllabus or handout; engage students for 3-4 weeks; count for a substantial portion of a course grade (e. g. 30%); and result in a final paper of 8-20 pages along with an oral presentation. The assignment requires a working knowledge of social scientific research design as gained in an introductory research methods course, and exposure to the information science literature on information is recommended. Since an existing data set is used and no human subjects are involved, ethical clearances are not required. Essentially, students analyze the drawings (available on this website) and/or the written responses to "Information is...". They may perform rudimentary thematic analysis or more advanced forms of visual analysis such as those outlined in Gillian Rose's handbook, Visual Methodologies. Alternatively, students may explore a theme within the iSquares, such as "nature" or "branding;" or they may relate a set of drawings to existing written definitions of information such as Michael Buckland's "information as thing."
Advanced Collaborative Research Project
A class of advanced masters students or doctoral students of information studies can design and collaboratively implement a local iSquare study using the iSquare protocol. Since human subjects are involved, an ethical protocol is required. The iSquare primary investigator, Dr. Jenna Hartel, has done this twice, in the doctoral seminar INF3001: Information Research - Foundations (Fall 2013) and INF2332: Information Behaviour (Winter 2014). In both cases the project was a substantial component of the course; included multiple in-class discussions and hands-on workshop sessions; used convenience samples of students at the University of Toronto as research subjects; and gave students the freedom to analyze the data set with thematic analysis or another analytical strategy of their choice. Dr. Hartel found that students loved the process of original research; appreciated the novelty of arts-informed, visual methods; and happily collaborated on tasks such as gathering, scanning, and recording iSquares.