In 2014, I attended the LOEX conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was a short trip – I went long enough to present and take in a few sessions. Little did I know that one of the sessions I attended would form the basis for one of the biggest projects our instructional team would undertake…
The room was packed for “Inquiry-Based Learning Online: Designing and Delivering a Blended and Embedded Information Literacy Program,” by Alan Carbery and Janet Cottrell from Champlain College. They told the story of the steps their information literacy program took to adapt when Champlain changed its entire gen. ed. program, a program the librarians had previously been fully integrated into. Alan and Janet talked about how the scope of their group’s work changed overnight, necessitating a drastic change in approach. They needed to take steps (quickly) to figure out the new situation at the university and then decide how they were going to (re)structure the library teaching program in order to deliver effective, in-time, teaching. It was a situation none of us envied but many of us could identify with; the room was glued to the speakers, excited to learn how this program had faced such a stressful situation and come out with an even better program one the other side.
And then Alan put up a slide that said, “DO NOTHING.” This was the portion of the presentation that caused my jaw to drop, and that I filed away in my brain as an incredibly valuable approach when applied in a timely and mindful manner. What he meant by “do nothing,” was not that the librarians shrug their shoulders and move on with things despite the changes. What he meant was that they should take one semester (for them it was a summer) to take a “teaching hiatus,” and focus on nothing but how to situate Information Literacy within the university’s new general education curriculum. So that is what the librarians at Champlain did. They put their teaching on hold, so that they could focus on their teaching. And they came back in the Fall with a new way forward that enabled them to reach their goals within the new curriculum model at the university.
So…I filed that idea away. It was incredible and inspiring…and I didn’t have any way to use it at that moment. Here at Penn State, things were growing and changing too, though. Library Learning Services, which had begun as a unit of two instruction librarians and two staff members, had reached a staff of twelve by 2018. The expertise of the group expanded as well – to areas such as open education, student engagement, learning design, and online learning. We had expanded our modes of instruction from just face-to-face teaching to include a growing digital badges program, engagement with the undergraduate research program, and many other modes and venues for inserting information literacy into the curriculum and experience for Penn State students. The curriculum landscape at Penn State University was changing as well, with general education having fully entered the scene in 2017. By early 2018, there was much to consider, and Alan’s advice to start by doing “nothing,” came back to me.
I spoke with my boss and our fearless leader, Rebecca Miller Waltz, who encouraged me to do more digging. I called Alan Carbery, who was kind enough to spend time on the phone with me even though he was about to leave Champlain for a post in Ireland. I assembled my own list of the programs, topics, and practices we might consider during our own “hiatus” from teaching; I pitched the idea to my colleagues in Library Learning Services. They, too, were fearless in their consideration.
In May of 2018, we began planning what we now call the Instruction Reboot, so that when the time came in Spring of 2019 to initiate things, we would be ready.
I will talk in more detail soon about some of our considerations for the Reboot, and I’ll discuss the path we took to determining our areas of focus. Suffice it to say that we held many thoughtful conversations, made many lists, compiled several brainstorms, and started pushing ourselves to think big about what is important to our program, and to our students. And let me also say that this isn’t just a story about Rebooting our library instruction program; it’s a story about how one idea- no matter when it’s gained -can spark inspiration in another place and time. I’m grateful to our colleagues at Champlain for trailblazing with disruptive program design and for sharing their story back in 2014. Penn State 2019 thanks you!