Information literacy minimizes the risks of studying abroad

New research on how information is used can change the way to plan education for people who come to a new country with another mother tongue in their luggage. Doctoral student Alison Hicks at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science, University of Borås, has investigated how students who, for a limited period of time, end up in a new environment in a new country, experience information in their daily lives, in their education or in the workplace.

"It is said that the best way to learn a language is to do it abroad, but it is often much more complex than that. I have investigated what the role of information literacy plays during the time abroad", explains Alison Hicks.

Alison Hicks has followed and interviewed students with English as a native language when they have been outside of their home countries to learn a foreign language. To the interviews, students were also asked to present photos of information that meant something to them or that helped them become comfortable in their new environment, to capture students' views on information in the new environment.

Limited time increases the risk

Her research shows that the time spent by students studying in another country means a risky period. It can, for example, mean physical risks, as they, do not know what safe areas in the new environment are, financial risk when they can be in a place where everything is much more expensive or unexpected expenses may occur. However, the biggest risk they take is the academic, since they have limited time to really improve their language skills before it's time for slots or set career goals.

"All these types of risks lead to different types of activities to minimize them by searching for information. These activities lead the students to build up knowledge of their new setting, and transform them from being language students in everyday or non-academic environments", explains Alison Hicks.

Encouraged or sidelined

The way to absorb and use information and interaction with new communities in the surrounding community encourages students and gives them informal opportunities to learn the language. But at the same time, research shows that interacting with new communities can have the opposite effect on learning as the students may be by sidelined by these communities or being treated as temporary students or residents, rather than competent speakers of the language in question.

"My research spreads new light on studies and other educational activities abroad, including the language learning. This may be of interest to both educational institutions who work with language and intercultural education, and for the entire industry for foreign studies", says Alison Hicks.

This research is the first of its kind to examine with language-learners the importance of the interaction of information in a transition from one country, culture or language to another; it also shows how information can change, for example, how to identify oneself and what understanding one gets in a new context of life.

Alison Hicks presented her doctoral thesis on 5 October at the University of Borås in the field of library and information science.

Read more

Read the doctoral thesis: The theory of mitigating risk: Information literacy and language-learning in transition

Read more about the research in Library and information science.

Text: Solveig Klug
Photo: Mostphotos
Portrait photo: Suss Wilén