A Giant Journal Club Talks About Collaboration

A forthcoming article about librarian involvement in first-year instruction is well worth reading - together. 

December 4, 2014

Earlier this week I participated in an online conversation about an article that is forthcoming in College & Research Libraries that looks at how a group of librarians at the Claremont Colleges conducted a multi-faceted assessment of information literacy in their first-year seminar program. They collected 99 first year writing samples and analyzed them using a rubric based on one developed at Carleton College (and similar to one we’ve used at my library for years). Basically, the Claremont librarians learned that having quite a lot of librarian involvement in courses made a difference. We've found the same thing, both in first-year seminars and in a methods course, which my colleague Julie Gilbert has documented. More involvement leads to more learning.

Here's what the Claremont Colleges librarians reported.

  • Having a one-time guest spot or a single visit to the library didn’t accomplish much - a finding that will not surprise any librarian, ever.
  • Spending some time together when still drafting research assignments and the syllabus and having more than one encounter with a liaison librarian during the course of the semester makes a significant difference. There wasn’t a statistically significant difference between being fairly involved and being totally embedded, which is a relief when you think about how to scale things up. 
  • Post-session evaluations don’t really tell us much. There was no difference between student and faculty attitudes toward the less effective one-shot instruction sessions and the more intensive collaborations.  
  • Faculty, unsurprisingly, find data based on direct assessment more persuasive than evidence-free appeals.
  • Librarians who used the rubric to evaluate papers as part of the project learned a lot about students’ experiences and capabilities. We don't otherwise get much of an opportunity to see what students actually do.
  • There’s a good chance somebody else on your campus is collecting student work for assessment purposes. You might be able to work together.

In the discussion that followed, Char Booth suggested that scaling up and incorporating similarly extended instruction in upper-level courses isn’t impossible so long as you think strategically. To have more effective instruction you need to do less of it – or rather, figure out where in the curriculum the learning experience is likely to be most effective and put your efforts there rather than in dozens of random one-shot library sessions. This is an issue we’ve been working on (seemingly forever) at my college. It turns out to be much easier to develop partnerships with individual faculty than to have an entire department develop consensus about where this kind of learning fits  best into the program. But these are necessary conversations. 

This may be another place where holistic assessment and information literacy programs fit well together. Departments have to agree on some basics about what students should be learning and how we know if it’s working because accreditation bodies expect it. Those discussions can provide a platform for asking, in terms that make sense for the discipline, “where are students learning the practices and habits of mind that will help them engage with and create knowledge?” Then it's not an add-on. It's one facet of a general conversation about what the program is trying to accomplish and what kind of learning matters in the long run. 

It’s easy for this collaboration thing to seem like an asymmetrical relationship. Librarians want to muscle in on courses to teach students how to use the library, which not only is invasive (hey, that’s my course!) but also likely to take valuable time away from what the course is really about. I worry that when we advocate for something we call “information literacy” (which isn't a phrase widely used except by librarians) it sounds like we're talking about a library thing, one more burden faculty are expected to take on. What I found encouraging about this article and the discussion we had about it is that librarians can make a positive contribution without displacing the goals course instructors have. Not news, but still reassuring. Basically, in these first-year seminars librarians wanted the same thing as the course instructors: students who can tap into the scholarly conversations going on about an issue, make good judgments about available evidence, and support their claims effectively as they compose their thoughts. These goals are shared. Some of the instructional labor can be shared, too - and we have solid evidence that it works.

This was the first time I'd tuned into one of the College & Research Libraries article discussions. Kudos to all those who pulled it off in spite of an interruption when Claremont's Internet service got cut off thanks to some construction on campus. (Oops!) We kept going on Twitter and elsewhere. It was like having a journal club with over 100 librarians, and was a model for how to share research findings in a novel way. I'll be tuning in again, I'm sure.  



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