Interview with Andrea Baer

Andrea Baer is the Undergraduate Education Librarian at Indiana University-Bloomington. 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’s work in libraries and education is deeply informed by her teaching background in writing and literature and by her interests in critical pedagogy and critical inquiry.

Andrea has designed and taught three different courses for Library Juice Academy thus far. They are: Information Literacy, Composition Studies and Higher Order Thinking; New Directions in Information Literacy: Growing Our Teaching Practices; and Backward Design for Information Literacy Instruction. We interviewed her about her background and about a couple of these classes last summer.

Right now Andrea is getting ready to teach a new class, Threshold Concepts in the Information Literacy Classroom: Translating the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy into Our Teaching Practices. If you’re an instruction librarian in the U.S., you know that this class is very timely. Andrea agreed to be interviewed about this class to give you an idea of what it covers and what you could expect to get out of it.

Andrea, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I’d like to start by asking you say a few words about the new Framework in order to lay out the context for the class. Most readers have probably followed this development to some degree, but I feel we should cover it briefly here.

Thanks for the interview, Rory. The new ACRL Framework has been a significant topic of discussion in each of the Library Juice classes I teach, and it’s been very clear from those classes that many librarians are thinking a great deal about what the Framework means for their own teaching practices and that many would like more opportunities to reflect more on the practical applications of the Framework.

In short, the Framework has been in development since 2013 and was just approved by the ACRL Board at the 2015 ACRL Midwinter Meeting. Though the task force that developed the Framework initially recommended that it replace the ACRL Information Literacy Standards, the Board ultimately ruled that for the time being the two documents will co-exist and that the Framework will be a “living” document open for revision. This decision comes after a great deal of heated discussion about the Framework and the Standards.

The development of the Framework came as a response to arguments that the ACRL Standards (adopted in 2000), while having been instrumental in establishing information literacy as essential to higher education, had become outdated. In June 2012 the ACRL board approved the recommendation that the Standards be revised, and a Task Force was formed to create the new Framework. The Task Force developed and solicited feedback on three versions of the Framework. Unsurprising, there were strong reactions to the Task Force’s plan to sunset the Standards, which have been key to many academic libraries instruction programs and which have helped many to gain support for information literacy education as an institutional priority.

Common critiques of the older Standards have been that they focus heavily on skills while giving too little attention to conceptual understandings, the social and recursive nature of research, and students as producers of information. Many have also argued that changes in digital technologies, knowledge production, and scholarly communication have led to a need for re-envisioning how our profession conceives of information literacy. The Framework, in contrast, centers on “threshold concepts” (conceptual understandings that are considered to be initially difficult to grasp but essential to engaging critically in a discipline). Each of these threshold concepts is associated in the Framework with specific “knowledge practices” and “dispositions.”

While many librarians have welcomed the Framework’s emphasis on information literacy as a complex range of integrated skills, most have understandably struggled with how to translate this into our teaching practices (particularly when most library instruction still takes place through the traditional “one-shot” session). Another common concern has been the challenges the Framework presents to assessing student learning. This class is intended as an opportunity for participants to grapple with such concerns while also developing at least one concrete instruction plan that relates to the Framework. Participants are invited to think critically about the Framework in light of the specific contexts in which they work while they share ideas and feedback on their instructional approaches.

Thanks for that explanation. The course runs for six weeks. How is it structured?

Throughout the course participants will reflect on their understandings of and potential applications of the Framework. At the same time each person will develop and receive peer feedback on an instruction plan that relates to some aspect of the Framework. Like the other Library Juice classes I’ve taught, the course draws heavily on principles of backward instructional design (considering learning outcomes and potential evidence of student learning before planning instruction). Within this broader course structure, we’ll engage with themes and issues that emerge from our conversations.

Each week is focused on a particular course theme and on related course readings, discussions, and assignments. First we’ll discuss our understandings of and questions and concerns about the Framework. Participants will then identify a teaching scenario they’d like to work with over the coming weeks and will incrementally build and get feedback on their related instruction plan.

That sounds good. I think of you as one of the strongest teachers we have. I wonder if you could say a few words about your experiences in teaching your other courses for us?

Thank you. To me the most exciting part of these classes is the sense of community that develops as people draw connections between pedagogical theories and their actual teaching. In our everyday work we generally don’t get enough time to come together and to think deliberately about our instruction. These courses hopefully create more of those opportunities.

Most class participants come from different institutions. This seems to help everyone gain new perspectives on how we approach both our individual and our collective work. At the same time, sometimes several librarians from the same institution take a course together. In those cases, it’s been fun to see how these groups work together on larger departmental goals.

I think there’s a creativity and a playfulness that often comes with these kinds of interactions among colleagues. Those experiences open the possibilities for our teaching and our profession.

That’s good to hear. I am glad the courses have been working well. Thanks again for teaching them and thanks for the interview.

Thanks for the conversation, Rory. It’s been a pleasure.

One thought on “Interview with Andrea Baer

  1. Lenore Arent

    Thanks for doing this work. Creating community in the midst of so much professional change and challenge…a gift to us all.

    Reply

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