A Year in Practice: Synthesis & Vision

The Cluster Pedagogy Learning Community filled my summer with readings, discussions, meetings, and the Academic Technology Institute, and now the CPLC folks want to know what my takeaways are.  That’s not a simple question.  This summer I was reminded that I have as much to learn as the students, and was engaged in the work of learning in a way I haven’t been in a while.  I found myself reading not only some of the books shared at the CPLC book fair, but finally getting to others that I’d long meant to read.  The confluence of all these books and conversations has set my brain on fire in a good way that hasn’t happened in a while.  Here is a first attempt to describe what I’m getting out of the CPLC.

I expanded my values horizon.

Both the values discussion we had in our first CPLC meeting and the books I read from the CPLC reading list invited me to think about my own role in identifying and embodying the values I want to see, not just in libraryland, but in higher education as a whole.  I read the New Education by Cathy Davidson and Generous Thinking by Kathleen Fitzpatrick and got to discuss them with my colleagues.  (Which, when we’re all “doing more with less,” did feel like a novel experience.)  These books provided some big picture context for the work that I do.  Before this experience I was primarily focused on my work as a librarian, focused on the specific values of that discipline, (info access for all, information literacy, intellectual freedom, privacy, lifelong learning.)  Sure I worked in higher education, but the larger issues around higher education weren’t front and center in my mind.  Now I understand the relationship between my work and the bigger picture and I’ve expanded my values and goals to include:

Cooperation and openness over competition and exclusivity

Individual student growth over the pursuit of institutional status

Strengthening the relationship between the university and the community

Working in the open to make our scholarly work useful to the public (ok, that one’s not new for me)

I finally found out what “student centered” means

While I’m not officially in the CPLC open track, I got to attend ATI again this year as a presenter.  Listening to the keynote presentations might have been the first time that I understood what it would look like to actually be “student centered,” a phrase that has been overused nearly to the point of meaninglessness.  The radically student-centered ideas like trusting students, making room for student contributions in the syllabus, and acknowledging all the parts of students’ complex lives that were present in these keynotes also came up again and again in the reading I did this summer.   Even though the work I do is not as teaching heavy as that of most faculty, the ideas below (paraphrased from my notes taken during those presentations) have stuck with me and are things that I want to incorporate into my work.

Start by trusting students

Purposefully leave gaps in the lesson plans, spaces for student contribution

Think about how to provoke confidence in students

Aim for imaginative outcomes: “for us to have an epiphany” or “for us to change our minds about something significant”

Explain why the work matters, expose our own thinking about the work we do with students

Encourage metacognition through process letters, self-evaluation, and discussing articles about metacognition, learning, grading, and outcomes.

Acknowledge students’ whole experiences, including non-academic issues (working full time while in school or basic needs not being met) that will hinder their growth.

The Year Ahead

I’m sure I can’t right now name all the ways that this values-oriented, student-centered, way of thinking will alter how I work, but I can guess at a few:

  • I already feel braver about trying more student centered approaches (student lead discussions, for example) in my one-shot information literacy sessions.  Achieving compatibility between what I want to do and what the instructor expects can be tricky.  But because the CPLC has given a large number of us a common vocabulary and is challenging us to try new things, I feel more able to go out on that limb.
  • Ungrading my copyright toolkit course.  It’s pass/no pass anyway – this is definitely happening.
  • Conversations with people in different roles helped me see unfilled needs I could do something about.  In particular I became more acutely aware of how TLs are often neglected.  New faculty get a 2-day orientation, TLs not so much.  I have already offered, and plan to repeat, a series of webinars for TLs on library services to help fill this gap.  Attendance wasn’t astronomical, but I did connect with a handful of TLs that otherwise wouldn’t have felt that they had an in with the library. 
  • Having been reminded that public higher ed should be a public good, I plan to continue experimenting with ways to make the work that I do accessible to a wider, public audience.  Even though I am chronically worried that I have nothing new to say, I will keep playing with this blog and keep attempting to find my place on Twitter [LINK].  I’m starting to feel that even when what I share isn’t groundbreaking, it can help build connections within and outside of the university. 
  • I’m also interested in exploring P2PU and seeing what I can learn from that about building connections with the local community.  (Shameless plug: join our OER learning community here.)
  • Even though I said I would not volunteer for the promotion and tenure guidelines rewrite group, after spending so much time thinking about what values should be reflected in our institution, I found I couldn’t not.  If I want to see more scholarly work published in open access venues and more creation and adoption of open educational resources, then I have to set aside my self-doubt, accept that I might have a useful level of expertise in scholarly publishing, OA and OER, and participate.  I think there is a small opening here to shift the kinds of work that are rewarded in the P&T process and therefore shift the incentives towards work that reflects the values we want.
  • This one is a reach, but I have started thinking about how to migrate our institutional repository to an open source platform.  Our current (Elsevier-owned) platform works well but cedes control of the priorities, goals and direction of our scholarly communication infrastructure to a commercial entity that does not have the same values as the academy.  The hurdles to this change are not small and would require internal resources, but still, I’m interested. 

Through the CPLC I have also found that I am part of a community. It has been so refreshing to find out how much interest other people had in the same things that interest me.  I feel much more synced with my community.  And yeah, I really needed that right now.  Every year seems somehow harder than the last, and the librarian role is different enough from that of teaching faculty and from staff roles that I do often feel separate.  But that feeling has lessened, and I now see myself as more connected to people and work going on outside of the library.  I want to keep this feeling of community and stay focused on the ways that all of the small decisions we each make about how to do our work contribute to an environment that reflects the values we all feel are important.

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