Interview with Maria Accardi, Instructor for Our Course on Critical Pedagogy in Library Instruction

I’m interviewing Maria Accardi, who will be teaching an online classfor us next month titled, “Changing Lives, Changing the World: Information Literacy and Critical Pedagogy.” She is also the co-editor of a book published by Library Juice Press in 2010, Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods (a copy of which is given to each participant in the class).

Hi, Maria – thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. To start off, I thought people might like to know a little bit about you. What brought you here, what got you interested in the subject matter of the course
and what qualifies you to teach it.

Hi, Rory, thanks for the opportunity. I’m looking forward to teaching the course. I am Assistant Librarian and Coordinator of Instruction at Indiana University Southeast, a regional campus of Indiana University Bloomington. I have held this position I have held since August 2007. As the Coordinator of Instruction, I schedule, teach, and assess course-related library instruction information literacy sessions for undergraduate and graduate students. I develop information literacy learning outcomes for all levels of library instruction and design and implement outcomes-based instructional activities and strategies for the classroom and program. In addition to analyzing assessment feedback and implementing classroom and program changes as indicated, I provide professional development learning opportunities for teaching librarians, train and mentor new librarians in instruction program, keep up with professional trends and best practices, and introduce program changes accordingly.

Before earning my MLIS at the University of Pittsburgh and entering librarianship, I completed an MA in English and taught first year composition and tutored in the writing center at the University of Louisville. This is when I first encountered the concept of critical pedagogy, and I was intrigued by its possibilities. The tenets of this educational approach were in alignment with my own political inclinations and instinctive leanings as a teacher.

This interest was then reignited through reading the works of James Elmborg and Troy Swanson when arriving in librarianship and through discussing the concepts with my then-colleague, Emily Drabinski. Together with Alana Kumbier, we conceived of the collection that became Critical Library Instruction: Theories and Methods. In addition to co-editing that collection with Emily and Alana, I am in the process of writing another work on critical pedagogy and librarianship, Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction, a primer on feminist teaching strategies in the library instruction classroom.

For the benefit of readers who aren’t familiar with the critical pedagogy, could you briefly explain what it is?

Critical pedagogy is a theory and framework that envisions education as a site for social change. As originally theorized by Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), the traditional “banking method” of education, where students are passive vessels waiting to be filled with the instructor’s knowledge and wisdom, is rejected in favor of empowering students to play an active role in their own learning. The ultimate goal of critical pedagogy is for students to achieve critical consciousness about societal oppression and then become equipped to change the world.

Critical pedagogy has, in recent years, been brought into conversation with information literacy and library instruction theory and practice. Instruction librarians have been exploring how progressive pedagogical practices not only serve to teach students information literacy skills, but also to equip learners with an understanding of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and other forms of oppression, and how they, as learners, can change the dominant culture that perpetuates these forms of oppression. This workshop continues and participates in this conversation by providing participants with an overview of critical pedagogy, contextualizing it in library instruction, and empowering participants how to enact it in their own educational settings.

Thanks, that seems like a good summary. So what will students in the class learn about applying these ideas to library instruction?

These are the learning outcomes for the course: At the end of the workshop, students will be able to:

  • Define critical pedagogy in order to identify implications for library instruction theory and practice
  • Identify ways in which critical pedagogy might be employed in the library setting in order to enrich instructional practices
  • Design critical pedagogical learning activities and assessment tools in order to deploy them in the library instruction classroom
  • Describe the importance and significance of liberatory, progressive, and critical approaches to education in order to serve as an agent of change in the library instruction classroom

As a way of achieving these learning outcomes, I attempt to model critical pedagogical tactics in order to show what they look like and how they might be used. For example, in the first week, rather than defining critical pedagogy for the group, I ask for the learners to come up with their own definition, based on the readings for that week. This decentering of the teacher’s authority can then be translated into the library instruction classroom. For instance, instead of relying on teacher demonstration of databases, the teacher can have students provide the database demonstrations while providing guidance along the side. Similarly, by empowering students in the workshop to collectively build a body of knowledge, this empowerment can then be enacted in the library instruction classroom through teaching students about keyword searching and controlled vocabulary. The librarian instructor can put students in charge of exploring the power of language to describe the world and people and their experiences.

It sounds like the way you teach this class, the lessons from it will always be a bit different, since participants are all bringing something different to it. You have taught the class before, so I am wondering if there was anything that you learned from the experience that you could share specifically, maybe something that gave you new ideas about the way critical pedagogy can be applied or interpreted.

Yes, everyone brings his or her own context to the learning environment, so the lessons from it will indeed vary from person to person. If I could identify one thing I’ve learned from the experience of teaching this before, I’d point out that while critical pedagogy sounds like this big, weighty concept with significant ramifications, it can be enacted in small, subtle ways with just as much impact. Something as simple as teaching students about the impact and power of language to describe–or marginalize–people or the world via a discussion of keyword selection can be critical pedagogy. So can using a female historical figure as a search topic in a library instruction session for a history class, rather than relying on the typical male standbys. The key is to help students achieve some sort of enlightenment or critical consciousness, or as Freire put it, conscientização, about the world and his or her place in it.

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