Tuesday, January 27, 2015

“Sunrise, Sunset”: A Reflection on Assessment and the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education [ACRLog]

This piece is cross-posted at ACRLog.

Photo by Moyan Brenn on Flickr

When I first learned about assessment at the very beginning of my professional work as a librarian, there was one aspect of the process that made complete sense to me. I was instructed that an assessment plan is just that--a plan--and that it is not only OK but expected for the plan to change at some point, either during or after it’s been put into action.

Now, the specifics on how these changes happen, what are best practices in altering an assessment plan, and the relationship between the integrity of the assessment data gathered and any changes made, are all complex questions. I am in my seventh year working as an instruction librarian in an academic library, and I consider myself at best an engaged learner-practitioner when it comes to assessment--I am by no means an expert, and I offer this as a disclaimer as I share some thoughts on assessment and the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education [pdf].

In the years since I was first trained in basic assessment practices, I still find the recursive, cyclical nature of assessment to be the aspect of the process that legitimizes the rest. Learning is a messy process, and as instructors we understand that there are multiple ways to reach the same goal--or learning outcome--and that different learners learn differently. It could mean our approach to teaching (i.e., our pedagogy) needs to be adapted--sometimes on the fly!--to meet the needs of the students in front of us. Or, maybe the way I articulated one of the learning outcomes for an instruction session turns out to be way too ambitious for the scope of the instruction, and ten minutes in I realize I need to change the formulation of the outcome in my mind in order for my teaching and the students’ learning to harmonize.

What I love about the principle that an assessment plan is meant to be changed (at some point) is that it means the above scenarios are not failures, but part of an authentic teaching and learning process. This is empowering for teachers and students alike.

Now, it is my understanding that all assessment plans change eventually. In the case of an assessment plan that from the outset is harmonized perfectly to the learning context to which it is applied, it isn’t changed until the end of the assessment cycle, but it still changes and develops in response to the information (call it data if you’d like) gathered throughout the process.

At the end of this week and after almost two years of development and review by the profession, the Framework will be considered for adoption by the ACRL Board of Directors during ALA Midwinter. The Framework is not conceived as an assessment document, as it “is based on a cluster of interconnected core concepts, with flexible options for implementation, rather than on a set of standards or learning outcomes or any prescriptive enumeration of skills” (Framework [pdf], p.2).

This begs the questions: What is the relationship between the Framework and assessment? And how does this in turn relate to the revision task force’s recommendation that the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education be sunsetted in July 2016 (Board of Directors Action Form [pdf], p.3)?

Before I share some ideas in response to these questions, Megan Oakleaf offers to the profession “A Roadmap for Assessing Student Learning Using the New Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education” [pdf] (JAL 40.5 2014). I highly recommend reading Oakleaf’s roadmap, as my own ideas touch on many of the same points found in her “Ok, So Now What?” section, though I want to fold into the discussion the relationship between this process and the proposed sunsetting of the Standards.

Here I offer just one of many possible paths toward incorporating the Framework into your local information literacy instructional practice. It is a theoretical model, because it has to be at this point: the Framework is not yet adopted. As will hopefully be made clear, not enough time has passed for this model to have been fully implemented, though some libraries have begun the process. (1)

The first step I would recommend, based on evidence from libraries that have taken this approach and found it fruitful and impactful on both student learning and programmatic practices, is to read the Framework, both individually and as a group with colleagues in your instruction program, and through reflection and discussion identify intersections between the Framework and the information literacy instruction work you are already doing. (2) Rather than feel pressured to overhaul an entire instruction program overnight, instead use the Framework as a new way to understand and build upon the things you’re already doing on both the individual and programmatic levels.

If your current practices are heavily situated within the Standards, I think this exercise will surprise by unearthing the connections that do in fact exist between the Standards and the Framework, even as the latter represents a significant shift in our collective approach to teaching and learning. (3)

The next step would be to review your learning outcomes for individual instruction sessions in light of the Framework, to be inspired by the connections, and to be challenged by the gaps--and to rewrite these outcomes based on both your engagement with the Framework and your recent assessment of your own students’ learning using these outcomes. The cycle of assessment for learning outcomes tied to individual instruction is short--these outcomes can and should be reviewed and revised in the period of reflection that immediately follows each instruction session.

In many ways, this makes individual instruction the most immediately fertile context in which to use the Framework to be inspired and to transform your instructional practice, keeping in mind the complex concepts that anchor the frames require learners to engage them in multiple learning contexts throughout the curriculum in order to be fully grasped. Still, even a one-shot can incorporate learning outcomes that will help learners progress toward understanding of these concepts in a manner appropriate to the learner's current level of training in a discipline or disciplines.

But what of your programmatic information literacy learning outcomes? What about the places where information literacy has been integrated into curricular programs within or across the disciplines? And what about those (fortunate!) institutional contexts in which information literacy is integrated explicitly into the learning outcomes for the institution as a whole?

The beauty of assessment, as I suggest above, is that it is cyclical. Just as all ACRL guidelines and standards undergo cyclical review, so too do our local assessment and curriculum plans--or at least, they should. As each assessment plan comes up for review, librarians who have been engaging the Framework in their individual instructional practice can share “upwards” their experiences and the impact on student learning they observed through that engagement, and so fold the concepts underpinning the Framework into each broader level of assessment.

In this way, the Framework’s influence will cascade upwards within a local institutional context according to a timeline that is determined by the review cycles of that institution. While the revision task force’s recommendation to the ACRL Board is for the Standards to be sunsetted a year and a half after the Framework’s recommended adoption, I would argue that it is in the spirit of the Framework for local timelines to necessarily trump ACRL’s: as long as librarians are engaging the Framework, both individually (in instruction) and collaboratively (as local assessment plans and curricular documents come up for review), and doing so in light of the information literacy instruction work your library has been doing since (or even prior to) the adoption of the Standards fifteen years ago, (4) then the worry associated with sunsetting the Standards on the national level will be eclipsed by the particular, robust influence the Framework is having on your own campus, with your own students.

And anyway, we do our best work when we're focusing on the students in front of us. So, let's get to work.


(1) Nicole Pagowsky shares the first steps of a similar process underway at the University of Arizona.

(2) The first example of this I've encountered is at Trinity College; librarians leading in different areas of Trinity's information literacy instruction program presented at the 2014 Connecticut Information Literacy Conference their success with this initial approach to implementing the Framework (video and prezi).

(3) Amanda Hovious has created a helpful series of Alignment Charts for ACRL Standards and Proposed Framework, which represent one practitioner’s approach to connecting these two documents. I would argue that there are as many potential charts/models for connecting the Standards to the Framework as there are practitioners interpreting the meaning and content of each. It is for this reason I believe it was prudent for the revision task force to abstain from developing a model for alignment themselves, as such a model would run the danger of being wrongly interpreted as “canonical” because of its association with the task force that developed the Framework. That being said, Hovious’ charts are informed by her training as an instructional designer, and coupled with her notes for interpretation at the beginning of the document, represent a valuable perspective on how these two approaches to information literacy instruction relate. Another example that is equally compelling, in this case because the alignment is anchored to locally developed core competencies, is offered by Emily Krug, King University. It is compelling because it models (literally) the notion that information literacy is locally situated, by using King University's core competencies in the alignment of Standards and Framework. [NB: This last sentence is slightly different from the one included in my ACRLog guest post; the change was made in order to better reflect the contents of Krug's map.]

(4) Barbara Fister offers an historical perspective in which she recalls the anticipated reception of the Standards when they were first adopted in 2000, and the remarkably similar conversations we are having now in relation to the Framework.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tenure for Librarians on my Mind

...or, two big accomplishments at the end of 2014.

But first: Happy New Year!

I'm writing from the other side of a pretty lengthy holiday break from work. Christmas--the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord--is my favorite feast day. And Bookie, who is two and a half, is having a blast with her two favorite Christmas gifts: her new dolls, all of whom are named "Baby," and her new wooden blocks set.

Bookie, "Baby," and "Baby"
Wooden blocks FTW

Prior to the two and a half weeks I was away from the office for the holiday, I had reached the end of a very busy Fall semester. I experienced two accomplishments during that semester which I wanted to chronicle here, and which are in fact related.

First, at the end of October I submitted this for review.

What #libtenure looks like
That's a 20-page narrative documenting my accomplishments in librarianship, scholarship, and service since being appointed to the library faculty at my university in 2008, accompanied by a 3ish-inch binder of evidence of said accomplishments. As I write this, the Board on Rank and Tenure, a committee made up of eleven of my faculty colleagues across the university, are reading through my materials and determining if they meet the criteria for tenure laid out in our Faculty Handbook. Later this month, I meet with the Board and answer any questions they may have about my application...and immediately after that meeting, they vote on whether or not to grant me tenure.

Put another way, they vote on whether or not I get to keep my job.

No pressure or anything.

And though my case is solid, and I have the evaluative support of my department colleagues, chair, and dean (which is all included as evidence in the review process), and I was awarded promotion to the rank of Associate Professor last spring (which is a more rigorous application process than that for tenure)...this is most certainly a process fraught with anxiety because of what is at stake.

I will find out mid-spring the outcome of the vote, and the university president's final determination based on that vote, as to whether or not I will be granted tenure. Your thoughts/prayers/good vibes are welcome!

Second, and most certainly related to the above, in December I had an article published in the Journal of Creative Library Practice!

My article is titled "Academic Librarians as Knowledge Creators," and addresses the question of how both faculty status and tenure for librarians relate to the practice of creating new knowledge in the field of librarianship through doing and publishing scholarly research. It's what I've dubbed a "personal case study" because it not only situates that question within the literature, but measures it against my own experience as a librarian on the tenure-track who is required to be successful at doing and publishing scholarly research. In it, I share the narrative of my collaboration with my research partna', Teresa, through the lens of the question the article is addressing. I hope you'll click on over and give it a read if you haven't yet, and do let me know what you think if you do!

This article was originally written as a book chapter for an edited collection that never got off the ground--though it still may. I blogged almost two years ago while I was doing the research for the piece, which also gives insight as to how I decided on the title. I decided to pull it from the collection and offer it to the professional community sooner than I would have had I kept it in the traditional publishing cycle it was going through as a book chapter. Since a publisher hadn't been found at the time I pulled it to seek publication elsewhere, I knew there was no guarantee my piece would even remain in the final collection, whose final publication was still months-if-not-years away. The kind of researcher I am growing into just cannot deal with that kind of timeline, unless I am entering into it knowingly and intentionally with a specific aim in mind. Lesson learned for the future.

But JCLP has been just awesome to work with, and it meets all the criteria for openness and timeliness of publication that my experience with the traditionally edited collection did not. (I can't recommend highly enough this journal to other researchers in the field of librarianship as a possible space to publish your work.) I chose to request peer review for my article, and while it slowed down publication a tad (a whomping three months<sarcasm>--that's a blink compared to most publications), I am so glad I did. It was a case of peer review doing what it's supposed to--i.e., make the work better than it would have been otherwise. One of the reviewers responded positively with no substantive feedback, but the other reviewer engaged the piece thoroughly and offered criticism with an eye toward the article's potential. If I were to sum up the second reviewer's feedback in my own words, it would basically be:

"Make this article more #critlib*."

I was more than happy to oblige.

And so, I did my best to #critlib a piece I had first written over a year before ever encountering the critical library community. It was published at the beginning of December, and I'm so excited it is out there for folks to read and engage with.

So, those are my two big accomplishments from last semester, with some pictures of a very Bookie Christmas thrown in for good measure.

What did you find were your biggest accomplishments at the end of 2014?


*The reviewer did not use the #critlib hashtag in the feedback offered. I'm using it to encapsulate all of the reviewer's major points and suggested improvements.