All posts by carolynlouise

Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction

During the month of July, I took an online course offered via Library Juice Academy entitled, “Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction” taught by Maria Accardi. Each week, we read a chapter of Accardi’s book, helpfully titled Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction, posted to a discussion board, and interacted with other students’ posts.

I found the book eminently readable: educational, personal, and entertaining. I highly recommend it for anyone remotely interested in this topic. I (gleefully) found that I already had some feminist pedagogical instincts and that it was a short step to infusing my regular teaching practices with a few tweaks to make them more feminist.

Everyone in the class had one learning outcome in common: to better understand feminist theory in terms of pedagogy and what that means for our own library instruction practices. I took it one step further and tacked on being able to explain feminist pedagogy and why it’s important in my own words. As I learned, a big part of feminist theory is making things your own and appreciating different ways of knowing. This is a departure from lecture-style delivery and quantitative assessment that were my go-to techniques.

The major elements of feminist pedagogy that popped out to me are as follows:

  • De-centering the classroom: moving from a traditional, patriarchal, authoritative “sage on the stage” delivering lecture-style lessons to students who are viewed as empty vessels toward more of a “guide on the side” approach who puts the students at the center of the lesson
  • Privileging marginalized voices and ways of knowing: a feminist classroom makes room for alternate ways of knowing, which could take many forms; for the library classroom it raised my awareness of the need for a variety of input mechanisms, not just students raising their hands and giving factual answers on the spot, but perhaps allowing for written answers, story-telling, etc. to make sure voices are heard that may be lost in a conventional classroom
  • Consciousness-raising about societal injustice: considering it a duty to infuse the class with social issues; one excellent example was using search terms that would elicit thought-provoking search results in databases (like “women in engineering”)
  • Ethic of care: “feminist teachers demonstrate sincere concern for their students as people and as learners.” In librarian work, we already talk about our role in creating lifelong learners and equipping students with the skills to interpret information in their daily lives. This one was a no-brainer for me.

The book covers many other issues, for instance Accardi’s critical take on the ACRL framework, feminist approaches to assessment, classrooms and libraries as “neutral” places (spoiler: they aren’t neutral), limitations of feminist pedagogy, what happens when students don’t want to be active participants in their own learning, and how to sell coworkers and faculty on this approach. It also has a healthy dose of encouragement for any librarians/feminists/instructors who want to try something new and feel like they are going out on a limb.

It was really nice to interact with the other students (there was an AD, a public librarian, and a variety of others), but the book is short and engaging and you will certainly feel empowered just by reading it, in lieu of taking the class. Highly recommended! And I’d be more than happy to talk with you about any questions you may have about this post.

Research Skills and College Readiness

I have been thinking about how academic libraries are starting to bring more non-library people into our organizations to help us with our thinking about how to best serve students. Librarians have always looked to education professionals to understand pedagogy and adult learning, and I hope this trend continues as we fine-tune our roles in the wider academic landscape.

I came across an interview with David Connelly, a policy analyst and professor of educational policy and leadership at the University of Oregon. The interview was conducted by Project: Information Literacy (PIL), a large-scale, national study about early adults and their research habits, conducted in partnership with the University of Washington’s iSchool. PIL has a whole series of Smart Talks, interviews with professors, authors, and others involved in education who are not necessarily librarians (though there is one with Char Booth!). Very interesting perspectives for us to consider.

Read the interview here:

David Conley: Deconstructing College Readiness

I will try to hit the highlights here and we can discuss further in person. The first thing that jumped out at me is his definition of college readiness. He takes umbrage with how the current admissions system rewards eligibility over readiness. Eligibility here means grades, courses taken, and admissions test scores. Readiness is much more comprehensive:

  • A college and career ready student possesses the content knowledge, strategies, skills, and techniques necessary to be successful in a post-secondary setting.
  • Not every student needs exactly the same knowledge and skills to be college and career ready.
  • A student’s college and career interests help identify the precise knowledge and skills the student needs.

From our perspective, it seems like students would need a lot more information literacy before college to meet this definition.

The next thing I found interesting is that Professor Connelly names “research skills” a key competency for college readiness in his latest book. Students will not learn how to define a research problem and solve it by following predetermined steps. Real research and real workplace problem-solving are often unstructured and fuzzy. He sees librarians in the role of helping students and teachers understand this new “paradigm.” One way is to help teachers design assignments that require formulation of a problem before solving it. That formulation step itself requires exploration and research skills.

Then when the problem has been identified and placed in context, students must know which type of material they will need, and be able to evaluate the quality. For us, this seems like a no-brainer, but it is nice to know that someone who studies education policy sees the role of the librarian in this process.

The last bit I will point out are findings from Connelly’s research related to students seeking assistance when they need it. Students most in need of seeking help are the least likely to ask for it because:

  • Many believe doing so indicates they don’t really belong in college in the first place, so they attempt to do it all by themselves.
  • Some students simply have little experience asking for help, and colleges are far more complex institutional environments than high schools, which it makes it more difficult to get help.
  • Some students do seek help only to be rebuffed or frustrated when a professor or campus advisor does not do what the student wants.

This seems like an important finding to keep in mind as we fine-tune our services and build partnerships across campus units.

Finally, another no-brainer for us, but I really liked what he had to say about librarians helping students in the long-run:

Librarians can guide students toward materials that cast light on the big questions of the subject, and the organizing concepts necessary to connect and unite the specific competencies. They can suggest extensions and ways for students to get more deeply involved in what they are learning. And they can, of course, help the struggling student find resources that break down course content into simpler pieces that can be digested and integrated to reach the level necessary to demonstrate a competency.



What are some strategies for following the “new research paradigm” that Connelly lays out, wherein librarians help students explore and formulate research problems before solving them? How can we fit this into a one-shot, if possible?

How can we move teachers away from creating assignments where research problems and solutions are predetermined?

What can we do in and outside the library to help students who don’t ask for help, or conversely, to get those students to start asking for help (from us or others)?

RIOT: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in Library Instruction

This RIOT post looks at an article by Ying Zhong that applies principles of Universal Design for Learning to library instruction course design.

UDL is a set of principles meant to be followed during course design that gives “all individuals equal opportunities to learn.” Developing curriculum that can be processed by a diverse student population is important as millennials, international students, and students with different learning styles come together in the classroom. Zhong’s article discusses the history of UDL, applies nine UDL principles to a library instruction lesson on Boolean searching, describes a survey given to students who received a UDL-infused class, and discusses directions for future research.


UDL originally comes from the concept of Universal Design (UD), which mostly applies to architecture. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act required that public buildings be retrofitted with ramps, elevators, and wider doorways. These changes accommodated wheelchair users and others with mobility impairments, and the idea caught on because other groups benefited. Curb cuts and closed captioning are examples of accommodations made for certain populations that ended up benefiting a variety of groups. Educators took notice of regulations that required accommodations for different kinds of students. The Center for Applied Special Technology extended UD to education by creating models that applied core principles to course design.

UDL Principles

I. REPRESENTATION: Provide content in different modes such as visual, graphic, or auditory

II. EXPRESSION: Provide students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned

III. ENGAGEMENT: Provide a variety of ways to involve students in learning

Faculty are legally required to provide some accommodations, which is usually done after the course is developed. UDL best practice has instructors apply these principles in the initial phases of course design, rather than retrofitting existing courses.

Applying UDL to Library Instruction

This is a new direction for UDL. The way in which UDL principles are most often applied in libraries is through providing assistive technology and services. In this article, Zhong goes further by applying nine UDL principles to a library instruction session that presents Boolean logic. This topic was chosen because it is an essential element of performing research, and is often presented graphically, which can be a difficult mode for some learners.

To get the full effect of applying these nine principles to a Boolean logic lesson, its best to read the article and check out the table. I will recreate the Representation section (provide content in different modes such as visual, graphic, or auditory) to give an idea of how much the preparation increases when thoughtfully applying UDL principles.


Traditional Instructional Methods
Instructor uses:

  • powerpoint presentation
  • lectures
  • notes
UDL Instructional Methods
Instructor uses:
  • accessible powerpoint to facilitate all students, including those with visual and hearing challenges
  • powerpoint has audio, video, and brief notes
  • powerpoint slides checked with LecShare software to meet ADA standards
  • syllabus, notes, handouts, and grading rubric are presented in both print and on webpage (both created as ADA accessible documents)
  • if video is used, synchronized, equivalent captions or transcripts should be provided
  • reading materials are online so that students with diverse needs can access materials with use of various technological supports (screen reader, text enlarger, online dictionary, etc.)

Zhong describes giving this UDL-infused lesson plan to two ENG 110 classes at California State University, Bakersfield. Fifty students received this instruction and completed a survey. The participants self-reported their preferred learning methods, some demographic information, and impairments or learning disorders. The findings showed that students preferred hands-on learning over lecture-style. They did, however, rely on powerpoint slides for concise notes. Group activities benefitted students more than individual learning exercises. Also, the students gave a positive evaluation to the application of UDL principles to their library instruction session.

Zhong concludes that more research is needed, and future experimentation should include a control group along with the experimental group receiving the UDL-infused lesson.

My take on this idea is that accessibility is a necessary part of any time in the classroom and instructors should strive to accommodate different styles of learning. Depending on the class, these guidelines could possibly serve as inspiration, while not necessarily being a requirement. To fully implement all of the recommendations laid out in this article would be very time-consuming for librarians juggling multiple departments and job duties. It does make sense to me, however, to have someone in an organization who can provide consultation on accessibility in course design.

To kick off our discussion, think about the following:

  • How do you accommodate different learning styles in the classroom?
  • What has worked well for your students?
  • Do you see this as an element of instruction that should be required or institutionalized? Meaning, should the UT Libraries require that instructors use certain principles when designing library instruction?
  • What multimedia or other elements do you incorporate to help out different kinds of learners?


Discussion: What are our standards?

The RIOT discussion in response to Krystal’s post gave helpful context for the revision of the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards, ways to advance information literacy initiatives apart from the standards, and the current information literacy climate at UT. Krystal’s insightful post and informative explanation of the background of the revision process led to a discussion of how we might start to think outside the box when advocating for information literacy in curriculum.

Reporting on the recent presentation by Patricia Iannuzzi, Dean of Libraries at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Krystal laid out Iannuzzi’s and her own thoughts about why the standards are not an end-all, be-all roadmap for information literacy success on campus. It is our job to take those standards and find out how they best fit in the curriculum as we work with departments. Michele demonstrated that wording of the standards is not of utmost importance. Most discussants agreed that we refer to them occasionally, but do not constantly scour them. It was suggested by Iannuzzi and again in our discussion that instead of focusing on the wording of the standards, we should be creating and strengthening partnerships on campus in order to have a strong information literacy presence in curriculum.

UNLV underwent a process of curriculum mapping, and was able to identify and map information literacy learning outcomes in each department and figured out the sequencing to build on previously-taught concepts. Some specific differences were pointed out by Meghan. UNLV looked at required courses across the curriculum, not just for first years. Also, librarians have faculty status which would give them an automatic seat at the table for those discussions. Our group discussed how that would be a difficult process at UT because the culture of assessment is disjointed among departments. Everyone seems to do their own thing.

Laura Schwartz shared her experience of mapping information literacy learning outcomes to the curriculum in her departments a few years ago. Even with faculty buy-in, the program was not able to be implemented. By completing the process, though, Laura is armed with a tool when the departments revisit their curriculum. Kristen Hogan has also started looking at required courses in her areas and seeking opportunities to work with instructors on embedding information literacy.

One thing on campus that is progressing is assessment for UGS classes. Michele shared that the UGS Assessment Group is made up of support folks and faculty who are interested in assessment and how we are meeting the general education curriculum outcomes. One tool being looked at is the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) VALUE rubric. Michele shared this document with the group via email. This rubric measures things like information literacy and critical thinking. Michele would like to take the information literacy learning to the next level in the coming years by integrating these learning outcomes in the next QEP.

Although every undergraduate is required to take a UGS course, and syllabi are reviewed for the six required elements, information literacy doesn’t always happen the way we would like.

Some departments have their own assessment measures like peer evaluation or evaluation by the chair. There are other resources for faculty to examine themselves, apart from the elements of their tenure packets. Doris Adams works at the Center for Teaching and Learning as the head of the faculty liaison program. CTL liaisons are assigned to each college and work with faculty to improve classes and build communities of like-minded folks. The Provost’s Teaching Fellows program aims to enhance faculty collaboration across disciplinary boundaries and support faculty-led projects to improve teaching and learning:

It was clear that the librarians present at the RIOT are interested in continuing this discussion and their work with departments advocating for information literacy. Michele offered to provide LIS support to anyone interested in mapping learning outcomes to curriculum in their departments.