Radical Information Literacy Assessment

It happened over falafel.

Once a week, I work from one of my university’s distributed campuses. The primary reason that I work there is to work with the two subject librarians stationed there on a regular basis. Last week I went to lunch with one of the librarians and as usual, we talked a lot of shop. She asked me how assessment was going. I’m sure she heard more from me than she bargained. But then she asked, “What would radical assessment look like?” I think she asked it to herself as much as she asked me.

We spit-balled the first ideas that came to mind. What I landed on was this: Radical assessment removes assessment from the institutional accountability prerogative. In other words, I don’t think it’s possible as a singular form of assessment; however, I think it’s what assessment should aspire to be. Radical assessment is collecting evidence of student learning in order to improve instruction so that students are able to have a higher quality learning experience.

You might be saying to yourself, “but that is assessment.” I would argue that is what assessment is supposed to be, but not what it is in reality. Too often we assess because we’re told we must. We’re told by our accreditation agencies, our administrators, and by our assessment librarians.

Don’t get me wrong, we need to be assessing. Accountability, and whatnot. And so for me, radical assessment is designing assessments that are meaningful first, and evidence for institutional accountability second.

What does “meaningful” mean in this context? I get asked this a lot since my Library’s Student Learning Assessment Plan is based on the concept of meaningful assessment. Each librarian who teaches is asked to complete one meaningful assessment project over an academic year. Meaningful is at the interpretation of the librarian. I tell them: It should be meaningful to your instruction while applying to one of our learning outcomes (the institutional, non-radical aspect). How will it improve your instruction? How can you use it as evidence to teach more (or less)? How can it help your students learn? To me, if you start and build from there, you’re assessing radically.

I know there are plenty of different interpretations of what radical assessment looks like. One of my colleagues had some interesting thoughts. He has multiple interesting tweets, which I encourage you to read, but this one has me thinking. . .

What is radical assessment, particularly in context of information literacy, to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Building Opportunities for Shared Work

Why hello there, strangers. It’s been a while… over two years actually. We’re still friends though right? OK. Good. So…. Let’s talk about communication.

I’ve noticed that people tend to talk about communication only when it’s broken in some way. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “Oh yeah, we communicate really well here,” which makes sense. Systems, or parts of a system, often only come into focus when they are not working well.

While I consider myself a fairly optimistic person in the workplace and (often naively) believe that I can breakdown institutionally ingrained barriers and cultural attitudes, I am limited within my Library’s hierarchy on how much I can accomplish alone. My current conundrum is by no means unique – I’ve experienced the same tie up at other schools and I’ve heard many similar stories from peers across the country. How do we break down the walls that individual units, departments, and institutions unintentionally (and intentionally) create?

The classic example of these barriers is the public-facing vs. behind the scenes division, i.e. public services vs. technical services. But these barriers can exist within a discrete unit, such as public services. Institutional constraints are likely to impede how often, in what format, and degrees of transparency of traditional communication. What I would like to explore is how to circumvent these barriers through shared work.

What do I mean by shared work? Great question, and I don’t know that I have the full answer yet, but I certainly have a growing understanding. By shared work I am referring to the types of work that get us thinking beyond our individual positions and responsibilities. Not ignoring our jobs, but figuring out ways to leverage our skills, talents, and experience in conjunction with our coworkers’ skills, talents, and experiences.One could argue that in most libraries, mine included, this is already being done in some capacities.

So what do I feel is missing? I don’t think we do it enough, nor that we do it in meaningful ways that encourage cross-departmental communication and collegiality. Current venues for this type of work at my institution are committee work on Librarians’ Council, committee work at the University Libraries’ level, and search committees. These groups not only share work, but they also enable casual conversations about day-to-day duties; they afford members opportunities to share their joys, frustrations, and accomplishments in their work; they bring to light areas of overlap in job duties which hopefully leads to partnerships or collaborative projects. But the fact of the matter is that I have never heard someone say, “I really enjoy committee work.”

So what can we do to encourage these kinds of interactions outside the context of committee work? And what does this different kind of shared work look like? This is what I’m left wondering. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for almost two years. (Maybe that’s why I haven’t written a blog post in two years!) I clearly haven’t come to any solid conclusions. If you have an thoughts or suggestions, please share them in the comments.

In the mean time, I’ll continue to go to happy hours with my coworkers and see where that takes me.