Collaborative Professional Development for Librarians who Teach

Map showing CIC institutions

Three of us (Doreen, Angie, and I) met at the Faculty Exploratory to participate remotely in this meeting of CIC instructional librarians.  There was a good virtual turnout, with almost all CIC institutions represented in the chat window.  Despite some technical difficulties during setup, the event ran smoothly with presenters from four different states.  The speakers were very responsive to questions from the audience. All and all, the virtual meeting seemed an appropriate and effective venue for this kind of sharing.  Many participants signed off looking forward to meeting like this again.

In many ways, each of the four presenters described local programs similar to our U-M Instructor College.  For instance, Illinois partnered with its Diversity Committee to develop a series of opportunities around "Cultural Competency in the LIS Classroom." Their efforts to partner with other committees felt familiar from our recent conversations among Instruction Steering. Instead of competing with the Diversity Committee, Assessment Group, or Analytics avengers for limited professional development time, the Instructor College is looking to coordinate and collaborate with those teams.

For Illinois' main event last year, they invited Clara M. Chu of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to present a guest lecture and lead small group conversations.  Inclusion is a theme we are also focusing on this year, thanks to our revised librarywide goals.  Our recent session, "Teaching with Technology: How can I include all students" featured presenters from the Center for Research on Teaching and Learning (CRLT).

Leslin Charles of Rutgers described their current efforts, including a close collaboration with the university writing program.  She also described their local Teachmeet program. As a member of the Teaching and Technology Collaborative (teachtech) here at U-M, I was tickled to see the Teachmeet logo highlight the all-important "A" that distinguishes "teach" from "tech."  I found myself wondering during Leslin's presentation whether we can perhaps dial down the focus on technology.  Is it so ubiquitous, even as it continues to change, that we can now re-focus our attention on the teaching part?

Penn State's presentation was like no other.  Their collaborative professional development challenges hinge on geographic location since they're spread far and wide across Pennsylvania.  They have formed a dedicated leadership group to give structure and an outlet to their virtual community of practice around instruction. Like Illinois, Penn State organizes an annual keynote address given by an outside speaker.  It reminded me of our bi-annual Michigan Instrutional Exchange.  Of course, MIX librarians represent various colleges and universities, but the idea of sharing state-wide felt familiar.  I wondered if their annual event was promoted/supported equally across their many PSU campuses.  With MIX, that's impossible (and almost certainly counter productive) to control.  Their annual event made me wonder if we were missing an opportunity to gather U-M Ann Arbor, U-M Flint, and U-M Dearborn librarians who teach.  Might there be special value in meting as U-M, or is the larger MIX community of practice the right platform for collaborating beyond our Ann Arbor campus?

Anne conceded that their blog, "Penn State University Libraries Instruction Community of Practice,"  isn't getting much traffic or generating the kind of community that they had hoped for -- not yet at least.  Like us, they plan to continue posting and see what happens.  Listening to Anne, I was glad that our blog is now part of the larger U-M LIbrary Blog environment.  Maybe people will be more likely to stumble upon us here.  I started wondering what resources we aren't yet using to get our message out.  We know people who study this sort of thing, right on our own campuses. We work for institutions, probably even libraries, that have a dedicated social media coordinators.  Can we better take advantage of local or collective marketing expertise in service of  library instruction?

For me, the University of Maryland presentation offered the most food for thought.  They offer a four-topic workshop series for Library Sciences grad students apart from the standard teaching practium class.  Grad students who complete the four workshops then go on to teach one-off's in first-year undergraduate classes like English 101.  The four workshops currently cover ACRL Standards, classroom management, the information literacy curriculum, and active learning and assessment.  I didn't hear anything about program evaluation -- maybe it's too early for results, but how are they planning on evaluating it?  Questions I might ask include:  To what extent are Y1 instructors satisfied with the arrangement and the quality of the experience for their students?  The Y1 students would have little to compare with this experience, but perhaps benchmarking them against their future information-literate selves could serve informative.  Compared to students who attended librarian-led one-off's, are students who attended a Y1 one-off led by a Library Sciences graduate student more, less, or differently engaged with  librarians and library resources in Y2 and beyond?

This U-Maryland approach feels to me like the flip side of current efforts at U-Michigan to deliver the standard one-off curriculum through self-guided online activities.  In both approaches, the Y1 student is less likely to attend a face-to-face class led by a librarian.  What's lost by not presenting ourselves ¡in person! as accessible and valuable human resources may be balanced by the benefits of scalability, flexibility, and, in the case of Maryland, recognized positive outcomes associated with well designed and implemented peer-teaching programs.

If it works, why stop there; why limit the program to Library Science graduate students?  What about  grad students across the university who are passionate about information literacy and best practices for academic research? Well-developed, this might be a kind of Library Ambassadors program, modeled loosely on the UM Sustainability Ambassadors program.  Could we pay qualified/certified grad students from whatever corner of The Diag to teach one-off's?  Might they even volunteer as community service?  To be determined, but Maryland seems to be figuring it out how to mobilize the masses, and I'm interested to learn more.

What do you think?  Could something like I've described work for the undergraduates you currently teach?