Category Archives: Library Instruction

First Review of “Learner-Centered Pedagogy”!

Our publisher just sent over a link to the first review of Learner-Centered Pedagogy and it’s … a good one!

An excerpt:

Fusing theory with practice, this handbook is exceptionally organized and presented, making it a valuable and very highly recommended resource to help every practitioner connect with learners more effectively. Enhanced with the inclusion of a eight page bibliography (Directions for Further Reading) and an eleven page Index, “Learner-Centered Pedagogy: Principles and Practice” is an unreservedly recommended addition to college and university Library Science collections and community library staff in-service training supplemental studies reading lists.

Here’s where you can read the whole review in full, Mom.

(*Small correction to the review, if anyone cares: I’m not, as the review suggests, currently a lecturer in moral and existential philosophy at Virginia Tech – that was a past life. I’m the Instructional Design and Assessment Librarian at the University of Southern California Libraries).

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The Importance of Librarian “Congruence” for Learner-Centered Reference & Information Literacy Instruction

In my relationships with persons I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something that I am not. It does not help to act calm and pleasant when actually I am angry and critical. It does not help to act as though I know the answers when I do not. It does not help to act as though I were a loving person if actually, at the moment, I am hostile. It does not help for me to act as though I were full of assurance, if actually I am frightened and unsure. even on a very simple level I have found that this statement seems to hold. It does not help for me to act as though I were well when I feel ill.

What I am saying here, to put in another way, is that I have not found it to be helpful or effective in my relationships with other people to try to maintain a facade; to act in one way on the surface when I am experiencing something quite different underneath. It does not, I believe, make me helpful in my attempts to build up constructive relationships with other individuals. I would want to make clear that while I have learned this to be true, I have by no means adequately profited from it. In fact, it seems to me that most of the  mistakes I make in personal relationships, most of the times in which I fail to be of help to other individuals, can be accounted for in terms of the fact that I have, for some defensive reason, behaved in one way at a surface level, while in reality my feelings run in a contrary direction.

-Carl Rogers, from “This is Me” in On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy, pp. 16-17. Full chapter available here.

The third core condition of humanistic counseling is called congruence, which we understand as being authentic and genuine in our relationships with learners.  In the psychological literature, this state is often described as when what individuals are experiencing on the inside is in harmony with their outer expressions. For example, you would be congruent if you expressed joy over a Dodgers victory when you were really excited, but not if you pretended to be happy that the Dodgers lost because you were trying to impress a Yankee fan. When individuals are congruent in their relationship with another person, there is a sense of emotional realness present in the relationship, which is lacking in relationships where individuals act on either an internal or external pressure to put on a facade […]

The revolutionary American photographer Walker Evans spoke about his time teaching at Yale University, saying that his attitude toward students was, “I don’t really know a hell of a lot more than you do except I’ve been around longer and I do have experience and if I can articulate it some of it will rub off and do you some good.” Evans was straightforward with his students about his role as a facilitator of learning rather than a “sage on the stage,” positioning himself as a partner rather than an all-knowing expert. This congruence of feeling and action requires a certain amount of vulnerability, which Rogers locates as integral to learner-centered pedagogy. In “Questions I Would Ask Myself if I Were a Teacher,” Rogers states that one of the central applications of humanistic counseling to education leads him to ask himself if he has the courage to risk himself emotionally in his relationships with his students: “Do I dare to let myself deal with this boy or girl as a person, as someone I respect? Do I dare reveal myself to him and let him reveal himself to me?”Though Rogers recognizes that this may be difficult – it requires courage to reveal your true self in any interaction with another person – he nevertheless concludes that “if the relationship between myself and my students was truly a relationship between persons, much would be gained […] I could step off the pedestal of ‘teacher’ and become a facilitative learner among learners.”

Indeed, often the best learning tools we have at our disposal are simply our own experiences. The challenge [for the librarian] is to take a risk and share them in a productive way that might be helpful to another person. For instance, a few years ago Kevin met a student who had been invited to work on a psychology research project with a faculty member while still a junior. It was a huge honor for the student but also came with pressure, so the student asked to set up a time to meet with Kevin for some research help. Kevin and the student met over coffee, and as is often his tendency, he engaged the student in a discussion about his life before getting into the nitty gritty of the research project. It turned out that the student was really struggling with feelings of fraudulence. Most of the kids in his research methods class were white students who he felt “really fit in,” so of course they’d be asked to do research! But why had this professor asked him – the student described himself as just a Mexican kid from the middle of nowhere – to be a research collaborator?

It was a true moment of rapport, not only because the student felt free to share a deeply vulnerable piece of himself, but also because Kevin had felt the exact same way so many times in his life. He too had felt like school was not a place for “someone like him”: a “bad” kid who never seemed to fit in. These feelings of fraudulence continued, and even increased, the further he progressed in his education. Kevin not only expressed that he related to how the student felt, but also shared some of his own experiences. He talked about his high school experiences of being told to drop out of school, his feelings attending schools where the vast majority of students were wealthier, and having grown up with a single mother who worked as a waitress while attending graduate school herself.

In this case, sharing certain elements of personal experience led to congruence of emotion for both of them and helped the learner feel unconditional positive regard from the librarian after sharing challenging feelings. They discussed how they didn’t have to change their innermost selves just because they were working on research in a college setting and that their backgrounds could even be an asset in imagining interesting research projects. In this way, revealing certain personal experiences helped to facilitate a significant learning interaction […]

We hope to make clear that being vulnerable with a student in a learning context does not require sharing either things you deem inappropriate to share (things that would be too personal, which are hard to articulate but, like with the test for pornography, you know it when you see it), or things you feel emotionally vulnerable with sharing (for whatever reason). In the above example, Kevin was comfortable sharing the facts about his educational life with the student, both because he felt no shame or embarrassment nor any questions about the appropriateness of the content, and also because it seemed to be, in that context, of pedagogical value to do so.

Addressing a similar point about congruence within the context of psychotherapy, Schneider and Krug set a litmus test for self-revelations based on the following principle: “The guiding therapeutic question is, To what extent does encounter build the therapeutic relationship … or, on the other hand, to what extent does [it] do the opposite, and defeat or stifle facilitative process?” Similarly, in the information literacy context, we can ask ourselves, To what extent would revealing oneself facilitate the process of significant learning? To what extent would it hurt it?

There are certainly cases where Kevin sharing how much he hated school when he was younger could have negative pedagogical consequences. For example, if Kevin had told the eleventh-grade English student [discussed in Chapter Two], “Look, I hated all my English class assignments and thought my teachers didn’t ‘get it’ when I was your age too,” it could have further undermined her teacher’s authority without making any gains toward significant learning in return. For this reason, Kevin didn’t abandon being congruent, he just found a more pedagogically productive way to be real in the relationship with that student [by helping her do research that she did personally connect with].

Sharing our stories and narratives with learners is not only an effective way to encourage authenticity in students’ own research, as we saw with the narrative modeling approach discussed in chapter three, but it is also an effective way to build rapport by presenting as real, individual people. The contributions this can make to learning may often be subtle but have the potential to be profound.

-experts from Chapter Four: “Relationships: The Heart of Learner-Centered Pedagogy,” from Learner-Centered Pedagogy: Principles and Practice by Kevin Michael Klipfel and Dani Brecher Cook.

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Vulnerability in the Classroom

It is an intriguing comment on our educational system that it is assumed that only under the most dire circumstances would a professor reveal himself in any personal way […]

I have almost invariably found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal, and hence most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many other people. It has led me to believe that what is most personal and unique in each one of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared or expressed, speak most deeply to others.

-Carl Rogers, from “This is Me,” in On Becoming a Person. (pp. 3 and 26, respectively).

This chapter is a great read – full PDF available free online.

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Filed under Education, Library Instruction, On Being Human, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel, Quotes, The Library Game, Uncategorized

Brene Brown on Charlottesville

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How Can We Make Information Literacy Really Matter to Learners?

Is a question we’ve been thinking about over here at Rule Number One for a real long time now, so we’re pleased that the press release for the UK edition of our book Learner-Centered Pedagogy touches on these issues. An excerpt:

More than ever, librarians are required to possess pedagogical expertise and are being called upon to design, implement, and assess robust evidence-based reference and instructional practices that contribute to student success. In order to achieve this, librarians must know how to teach information literacy skills that go far beyond one particular library context to facilitate lifelong learning. In addition to the traditional information expertise of the library professional, today’s librarian must also master evidence-based pedagogical practices that can help make learning stick.

Learner-centred Pedagogy offers librarians concrete strategies to connect with learners at all levels. The book covers cognitive principles for organizing information literacy instruction, how to establish rapport and build learners’ motivation, questions to keep in mind for inspiring autonomous learning, the science behind information overload, and a balanced framework for evaluating specific educational technology tools.

Klipfel and Cook said, “Our goal in this book is to introduce readers to a practical, evidence-based vision of learner-centred pedagogy that helps learners develop the skills required to use information to think well about what matters to them. We hope that librarians, after reading Learner-centred Pedagogy, will feel more prepared for the changing job market’s increased focus on evidence-based instruction, have more confidence in adapting their skills to the robust teaching and learning environments of today’s libraries, and be well-prepared to facilitate learning environments that result in lifelong learning.”

The book is now available in the U.S. as well, and can be purchased through Amazon or ALA.

We don’t have any autographed copies, but if you want to send me yours, we’re happy to personalize it for you, as I’m sure my cat would love to chew on the corner of your copy like he already did on mine.

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Great Articles in Library Science: “Lab-Integrated Librarians: Engagement with Unreachable Researchers”

Our friend Alex Carroll recently published an article with his North Carolina State University colleagues Bertha Chang and Honora Eskridge that I think is really great and wanted to draw our readers’ attention to. The paper, “Lab-Integrated Librarians: Engagement with Unreachable Researchers,” outlines a novel way that their team of STEM librarians has been able to embed themselves in live, authentic research situations at engineering students’ moment of information need. Rather than waiting for the engineering students at NC State to come to them, these librarians engaged in a learner-centered outreach project where they actually joined the research work groups of engineering faculty and students, thereby allowing them to assist with research questions students had in real time. I highly encourage you to read the entire paper, as I think it’s inspiring for how subject liaisons can work with their stakeholders in dynamic, learner-centered ways.

Though there are many things I think we can learn from this article, there’s two points that happen to strike my own fancy;  both transfer to lots of contexts aside from those specifically discussed in the article. One of the things I think is most interesting about the article is how clearly it demonstrates the openness and willingness of faculty members to collaborate with librarians on novel approaches to connecting with students for the purpose of facilitating successful research experiences. Over the years I’ve had many experiences, either hearing things anecdotally or having other librarians say to me directly, something to the effect that their experience with faculty is that they aren’t interested in substantial pedagogical support from librarians aside from the usual one-shot on pointing and clicking.  For example, early on in my career I had several colleagues tell me that all this pedagogy stuff I was talking about was well and good – it’s interesting and all that –  but faculty won’t want to hear it. This was, quite literally, the exact opposite of my experience to that point and it usually only took expressing a basic interest in pedagogy, collaboration, and evidence-based approaches to research instruction in order to initiate pretty robust campus collaborations.

So I really was interested in the authors’ statement that initiating this quite substantive collaboration was much less complicated than one might think:

Getting into research groups was surprisingly easy – in each case it simply involved asking the principal investigator, explaining why we wanted to do it, and what we were hoping to learn.

This resonates directly with my own experience. I’ve typically found that if you approach a faculty member about a teaching strategy, approach, or intervention that you think can help support and improve their students’ research – especially when you can articulate pedagogical reasons drawn from previous literature, research data, or data you’re hoping to collect that seem to indicate that this will be so- it’s exceedingly rare that they aren’t interested in collaborating with you in a meaningful way. As the authors of this paper point out, literally all you have to do is ask.

A second point I really appreciated and wanted to draw attention to is the authors’ response to a question that people are often wont to ask whenever someone presents them with a new teaching idea: “But how does it scale?”

I know this question is supposed to, like, sound smart and all, but it’s never particularly seemed that way to me, and I think the authors get at the underlying reasons for this nicely in the following passage:

One question that many will ask is, does a program like this scale? The answer is that it doesn’t, because it isn’t meant to. We do not see this program as a service — library services (instruction, access services) attempt to scale to the whole campus population. Embedding in research groups is more akin to statistical sampling or user research methods, a means of getting some data on what users are doing that can help inform decisions and policy on library collections and services. Viewing this initiative as a needs assessment, rather than a service, informed our decision to use ethnography for capturing our impact. While our ethnographic methodology does not provide empirical measurements of whether we are altering our researchers’ information seeking behavior, it captures how services can be offer through this model of engagement, while also providing us with authentic needs assessments of our communities without subjecting our users to time-consuming forms or surveys.

In any case, the primary goal of this effort has always been community building, which involves developing relationships one-by-one. To put it more plainly, relationships don’t scale [KMK emphasis].

There’s a number of things I like about this passage, but let me start by saying that what I appreciate about this passage is the idea that lack of scalibility is not synomymous with lack of quality. In fact, I think that in many cases it may actually be the opposite. I think that most good reference or instruction with fundamentally be characterized by individual encounter: our ability to tailor our instruction to a unique individual or group’s needs. For example, it takes me way longer to read a particular syllabus, read that classes’ specific assignment, and design a tailored instruction session with a unique modeling scenario for each a particular class I teach, than it would to do a generic “demo” for the class.  But the former is good pedagogy that gets me invited back, integrates me into students lives, and helps me build relationships with other faculty, whereas the latter almost always bores students and makes us seem much less relevant to faculty. In other words, the demo scales, but it’s not really the kind of things that’s worth scaling. In short, I’d much rather librarians spent a ton of time doing “non-scaling” things (whatever that means, exactly) that are quality, than doing generic demos and then spending the next ten hours making a lib guide.

A second thing I really like about this passage is the importance of relationships for information literacy instruction and curriculum building. In our new book Learner-Centered Pedagogy, Dani and I devote an entire chapter to the research on the importance of positive student-teacher/librarian relationships for effective learning.

The same is true for collaborating with faculty. Just like we want to be student-centered in our practices, we want to be faculty-centered in our collaboration. That is, we want to build relationships of mutual trust with faculty members, by giving them innovative methods for helping them do the thing they care about and enlisted us to do: help students improve their research. When we can demonstrate our effectiveness in achieving this goal, it’s been my experience that we can take projects to a large level of “scale.” And my opinion of that has always been the following: as a manager, info lit coordinator, or just a person trying to teach info lit, I’d always rather devote librarians time, resources, and creative energies toward personalized teaching that makes a real difference to students, than do things of “scale” that take very little librarian time and resources but that … don’t really work all that well.  So though this point is not necessarily central to the outreach done in this particular article, I think their response to this possible objection makes a very important point that is worth paying attention to.

At any rate, these are just my takes on the article – I encourage you to take a look at it. I think there’s a lot to learn from it (and a lot that ties into Dani’s previous discussion of teaching librarians as well).

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What Does It Mean to be a Teaching Librarian?

This summer, my department is in the midst of an organizational transition, as we move from a traditional, disciplinary-bound reference department to a “Teaching & Learning” team. I’m excited to undertake this work alongside some really amazing colleagues (and you can bet your buttons that we’ll be writing and presenting on this process in the future), but this context is (for now) only to set the stage for why I’m thinking about the question in the title of this post.

As I’ve been thinking about what a library department of teaching and learning looks like, I’ve been considering what makes someone a teaching librarian (as opposed to a librarian who happens to teach, or a teacher, or some other category of educator). What are the qualities that are unique to this group of professionals, that position us to engage in the work of information literacy instruction?

I started by looking at ACRL’s recently released Roles and Strength of Teaching Librarianswhich is pretty useful for thinking about qualities that teaching librarians need to have in order to be successful in their work. There’s a nifty little graphic in the report that shows the various roles that a teaching librarian may need to embody:

Hats off to the committee who put together this report, as it’s helped me to think through goals for a teaching and learning department, and areas where we might need to grow. I certainly self-identify with most (if not all) of these roles, but it still didn’t really help me get at the librarian part of the teaching librarian equation. Basically, if my professional identity is about being a librarian (hint: it is), then how can I view my role and strengths as an educator more explicitly through that lens?

School librarians in K-12 institutions are often explicitly “teacher-librarian” positions, and the Australian School Library Association has a nice breakdown of how those different identities play together. Librarians in these roles (both in the U.S. and elsewhere) typically are required to have training in both education and librarianship–something that academic librarians generally do not, which explains the emphasis in the ACRL document on developing competencies related to teaching and instructional design.

After sitting with this for a few weeks, I’ve come up with a few thoughts on what the specific strengths of teaching librarians might be, and I’d love to hear your ideas too.

  1. We understand the organization of information and hierarchies of knowledge. Basically, this is the bread-and-potatoes of the library school curriculum, and I’d argue the most important part of having an MLS. All those cataloging and metadata classes? Those ideas are transferable across disciplines, which means that we can usually figure out how information is structured in any given database (with enough time) and help people find the stuff they need with a little librarian magic. Sometimes, even people immersed in a discipline don’t quite understand how or why information is organized in these repositories. Shedding a light on that is what we do.
  2. We understand the pedagogy of research. On a broad level, we understand what goes into the research process across a variety of disciplines. Librarians contributing to a reference service or leading library instruction have seen hundreds of research assignments–some excellent, some not-so-good. After a few years on the job, we can spot assignment pitfalls from a mile away, because we’ve seen how a large number of people approach this process. I’d argue that even if we don’t have formal pedagogical training, most librarians have some sense of what works and what doesn’t in student research assignments. The challenge is to tease out that knowledge and apply it to our work as educational partners.
  3. We’re really good at asking questions about things we know very little about. A.K.A. the reference interview. Most people don’t have this skill, because it’s uncomfortable to admit that you don’t know about something and ask a zillion questions to get to the precise knowledge you need to help someone find what they are looking for. But that’s what we are trained to do as reference librarians, and we can put that skill to work in thinking about consulting on research assignments, which could lead to interesting opportunities involving the collections, or a more scaffolded assignment structure, or something equally exciting. Bonus: This is also a student-centered approach, because students might be nervous or afraid to ask questions about something that’s unclear in a research assignment, but we can use our positionality to ask those “stupid questions.”
  4. We continually bring a beginner’s mind to our work. Again, because that’s the basis for reference. Librarians are trained not to make assumptions, and we can use that same mindset for approaching research assignments, thinking about what students might already know (and what might be confusing), etc.

Of course, we also have idiosyncratic expertise in research tools, disciplinary knowledge, etc. based on our individual unique experiences, and I want to acknowledge those as well.

The more I think about it, the more I think that reference experience (or perhaps a general ethos of reference?) is crucial for the role of teaching librarian. I don’t know that we have to “do” reference, but many of the ideas and approaches that we cultivate in that sphere seem entirely important for teaching work.

What do you think? Are there other things that you would add to this list?

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Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Education, Library Instruction, Posts by Dani Brecher, The Library Game