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Teaching is changing. What was once a solo pursuit has increasingly become a team sport.

I’m not talking about co-faculty taught courses. Rather, the team that I’m thinking about includes a mix of faculty and non-faculty educators.

I’m here to make the case that a librarian is a key member of a course development and teaching team.

First - before we talk about librarians - let’s talk about teaching teams. My experience with building a team of faculty and non-faculty educators to design and run courses comes out of online learning.  

I started my career as a faculty member, and for years I created, delivered, and evaluated my courses all on my own. Sometimes I would have teaching assistants, but mostly I was a solo operator. An educational sole proprietor.

It wasn’t until I started to work on online programs - first as an online course faculty member, and then as someone managing an online program - that I was introduced to the team educational model. As a faculty member I started to work with an instructional designer. Later, I started working as an instructional designer - shifting my role from teaching the course to partnering with the professors to develop online courses that they would later teach.  

Over the years I been part of an effort to expand the membership, and the skills, of online course development and teaching teams.  We started to include media educators (visual instructional designers), assessment experts, developers (for simulations), and yes - librarians.  

Recently, we have started to take the course team model developed (in my experience) for online learning to residential (and blended) courses.  This team model may not be appropriate for every course - but for larger enrollment introductory courses this team model works really well.  

Let’s get back to librarians.

There are 3 immediate and obvious reasons that a librarian should be included on every faculty / non-faculty educator course development and teaching team:

Reason 1 - Experience:  

The reality is that librarians have been partnering with faculty on their teaching for decades. Long before the job of instructional designer was even created, librarians have been working with instructors on courses.  The role that academic librarians have been playing in course development and teaching is varied.  Sometimes, librarians worked with professors on developing the curriculum for the course.  Sometimes, the partnership was around assignments.  Often, a librarian worked with an instructor to design the research projects that the students would complete in the course - and would then spend time both in the classroom teaching research techniques - as well as working directly and intensively with the students in the class on their research projects. (More on this below).  

There are lots of ways that librarians have been partnering with faculty for decades on teaching.  The point is that librarians have a great deal of experience in this team model.  Librarians have strong relationships with individual faculty members.  Librarians enjoy the respect and esteem of their faculty colleagues.  New team members (the instructional designers, media educators, developers, etc.) can learn a great deal from the experience of our librarian colleagues in our efforts to improve the quality of our collaboration with faculty.  

Reason 2 - Working Directly With Students:

Librarians do something on course teams that instructional designers and media educators rarely do - they work directly with students. In my experience as an instructional designer I rarely had opportunities to develop deep educational relationships with the students who enrolled in the courses that I worked on. This is not true of librarians. A librarian will often work with the faculty member to design student assignments that require research - and then work intensively with the students in the class on their research projects.  

Many students report that their relationships with librarians, relationships developed in the context of doing research for their courses, is amongst the most important and formative of all their educational experiences. The opportunity to work closely with a librarian has many benefits for students. The librarian is usually not the person who is grading the student work. Rather, the only motivation of the librarian is to make the student as successful as possible. The librarian will take all the time that is necessary to make sure that the student has the tools, knowledge, materials, and confidence needs to succeed. 

Having a librarian on a course team is one way to connect the work of course development and teaching. A librarian is an educator who, along with the professor in the course, sees the whole course process through. They will learn first-hand how the course design translates into student learning. This knowledge can then be brought back into the process of course re-design, as a course is never really done.  

Reason 3 - Content, Quality, and Open Educational Resources:

The third reason that I want to call out as to why librarians are an essential team member for the creation / running of high quality (online and residential) courses is content.  Librarians have always played in essential role in partnering with faculty to  select, secure, procure, and make accessible (in every sense of the word) the content (articles, chapters, videos, datasets, etc.) that end up on the syllabus.  Librarians have always been a bridge between the teaching goals of the professor and the resources available through the institutional library that professors use to teach, and that students use to learn.  And of course, librarians have always worked directly with students on their class related assignments and research.  

What is different now is that in an age of information ubiquity, the opportunity to collaborate with an expert on information science (a librarian) is an essential ingredient if students are to create quality work.  In the age of Google, the value of a librarian has never been greater.  Students are good at finding information.  They are not good at judging the quality of the information that they find.  Learning how to evaluate the veracity of information is a hard-fought skill.  There is no better educator for this task than a librarian.  

The other area where librarians are becoming essential in the course development process is in fulfilling our growing commitment to utilize open educational resources.  We use open educational resources for many reasons.  We want to ensure that all of our students have access to the course materials.  We are concerned about the costs of course materials.  We think that learning how to do research is a lifelong skill, and we want to use materials in our teaching that is also accessible to learners once they graduate.  Librarians are the indispensable partner in the open educational resource revolution.  The extent in which we are committed to evolving our courses and programs to take advantage of open educational resources will determine the extent in which we invite librarians on to our course development and teaching teams.

Can you help round out the story of how librarians are currently working - and should be working - with faculty and other non-faculty educators (instructional designers etc.) on course development and teaching teams?

How have you seen the role of librarians change as teaching and learning has changed?

Can you make an economic argument (productivity) in addition to a quality argument for investing in librarians as members of course teams?

What do you see as the roadblocks and the challenges involved in integrating instructors, instructional designers, media educators, assessment experts, developers, and librarians into course development and teaching teams?

How do you make the case for librarians as educators - essential partners and collaborators in today’s high quality residential and online courses?


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