Interview with Andrea Baer

Andrea Baer is the Undergraduate Education Librarian at Indiana University-Bloomington, as well as an Adjunct Lecturer for the University of Tennessee’s School of Information Sciences. She holds a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Washington and a Masters in Information Sciences from the University of Tennessee. Andrea teaches two classes for Library Juice Academy: Information Literacy, Composition Studies and Higher Order Thinking and New Directions in Information Literacy: Growing Our Teaching Practices. The first is a class she has taught for us a couple of times now, and the second she is scheduled to teach for the first time next month. Andrea agreed to do an interview here about these classes and about herself as an instructor.

Andrea, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. First I would like to ask you about your background – what got you into teaching on the topics of these two courses?

Thanks for the opportunity, Rory. Both of these courses are strongly informed by my background in teaching college writing and literature, as well as by my current work in integrating information literacy into undergraduate education. Each class reflects my interest in the connections between research, critical thinking, and writing, as well as in the many ways that librarians support teaching and learning.

The course on composition studies and information literacy came about because of my experiences as both a writing instructor and a librarian, and because of the tremendous potential but also the challenges I’ve experienced in further integrating information literacy into writing curriculum. This new course, “New Directions in Information Literacy,” also emphasizes critical thinking and touches on connections between writing and research, but it focuses more on evolving conceptions of and approaches to information literacy instruction and on the various ways that librarians support teaching and learning.

The new course is partly a response to the fact that both higher education and academic librarians are clearly in an historical moment of transition. The current development of ACRL’s new framework for information literacy and in the many conversations among librarians about our changing roles are one small reflection of this change. But while it’s clear that instruction is an increasingly significant part of librarianship, library science graduate programs and most of our workplaces have not yet caught up with this. (I don’t know of any library science programs that require students take an instruction course, though I know some graduate programs are beginning to talk about this.)

With the move away from tool-based instruction toward more concept- and process-oriented teaching, librarians need more instructional support than is currently being offered through graduate programs and through our individual institutions. This course is intended as one small way to help fill that need. The class is also inspired by work I recently began with my colleague Brian Winterman on supporting librarians in their teaching. This past semester we offered a workshop series on librarians as instructional consultants, in which librarians identified the unique expertise that they possess and may bring to teaching partnerships, while also exploring roadblocks to collaboration and concrete ways to address those challenges. The key here was acknowledging the strengths librarians already possess, and then approaching current or potential teaching partnerships with confidence in and appreciation of those strengths. For a long time our profession has emphasized a service model that often suggests we are servants to course instructors rather than equals, and this can get in the way of supporting meaningful learning and partnerships. This class, I hope, will push people to think about our teaching roles in diverse ways. The course also is an opportunity to develop a stronger foundation in instructional design, which I think can be quite powerful for both individual and collaborative instruction.

Would you summarize the content of the two courses that you’re teaching for us?

Both courses emphasize approaches to information literacy instruction that center on critical thinking, active learning, instructional design, and librarian-instructor partnerships. Participants in both courses explore relevant concepts and theories and connect those ideas to discussions about their teaching practice and to developing learning activities and learning sequences.

Though the two classes cover different content, each is structured around weekly introductions to course materials, weekly readings, online discussions, assignments to develop learning activities and learning sequences (the latter of which carefully apply instructional scaffolding), and peer and instructor feedback.

Information Literacy, Composition Studies, and Higher Order Thinking focuses on the intersections between writing and information literacy and how those can inform our teaching practices. Participants begin by reading and discussing articles and instruction materials written by composition instructors and librarians with varying approaches to teaching research and research writing. Participants simultaneously discuss their individual and collaborative teaching experiences and how those relate to the course materials. In week 3 participants begin developing learning activities and sequences which are shared and discussed through the online forums. The class is organized into these weekly themes:

· Week 1: Finding Common Threads: Intersections of Writing and Research

· Week 2: Commons Threads and Unravelings: Locating Opportunities & Challenges for Collaboration

· Week 3-4: From Theory to Practice: Applying the Rhetorical Dimensions of Research to Library Instruction

· Week 5-6: Building Our Praxis: Scaffolding Teaching & Learning

New Directions in Information Literacy, as the title suggests, focuses on current and recent changes in information literacy education. These changes include evolving conceptions of information literacy (which the new ACRL information literacy framework describes as more than a finite set of skills and instead as a complex range of knowledge, abilities, and dispositions) and the expanding roles that librarians play in teaching and learning (e.g. collaborative teaching, assignment design, instructional consultation, faculty workshops, creating learning objects). The course also introduces key concepts of instructional design (e.g. learning outcomes, scaffolding, assessment) which can inform library instruction in its many forms. The class is intended for librarians looking to deepen their understanding of IL instruction that centers of higher order thinking, as well as for individuals who are new to library instruction. It is organized into these weekly themes:

· Week 1: Evolving Conceptions of Information Literacy

· Week 2: Expanding Roles for Instruction Librarians

· Week 3: Key Principles of Instructional and Assignment Design/Designing Learning Activities

· Week 4: Designing Learning Activities Informed by Instructional Design

· Week 5-6: Applying Instructional Scaffolding to Create Learning Sequences

You’ve taught the first of those classes a couple of times for us now. Could you say a few things about what the experience has been like? Both for you and for the participants.

Sure, the course on information literacy and composition started out as a 4-week class, and I’m just now finishing teaching it as a 6-week course. For each course I teach, I ask participants for feedback through an anonymous mid-course survey. People in the 4-week course indicated they benefited especially from the online discussions and from the readings, which offered perspectives of both librarians and writing instructors. In the mid-course survey and other informal feedback, individuals also said they found the combination of theory and practice and the act of developing learning activities quite helpful. Some indicated, however, that the course covered a lot of material for four weeks and that they would benefit from more time to develop and revise learning activities and sequences. In response to this, the class was expanded to six weeks. The longer class gives participants more time and opportunities to develop, revise, and receive feedback on their work. It also allows us to look more closely as principles of instructional design like scaffolding.

For the 6-week course, individuals again have indicated that they find the readings and online discussions fruitful. One student asked for additional background on instructional design concepts like scaffolding, so materials on this have again been expanded. Based on my experience with the current 6-week class, I think these changes have had a positive result.

For me as an instructor it’s been exciting to see people engaged in sharing their experiences and ideas, including class activities and assignments that they have used or will use in their instruction. Participants have a range of teaching experiences, which I think has enriched the class on multiple levels. It’s also been helpful for me to learn that many participants would like more information and experience with concepts like instructional scaffolding. This feedback has informed the development of this new course, which places more emphasis on effective assignment design.

Thanks for doing this interview and thanks for teaching. Your class adds a lot to what we can offer.

Thank you, Rory. I’m grateful for the opportunity. And I appreciate how you and others at Library Juice are creating new ways for librarians to connect, learn, and collaborate.

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