This year I joined an amazing team that is working to form a learning community around information literacy (IL) in the Lehigh Valley. We are grant-funded through the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges (LVAIC), which includes six institutions of higher education. Participation in this team has been a highlight of my year. I love working with these individuals and we have made significant progress in creating an LVAIC IL learning community.
A learning community, or community of practice, is an opportunity for individuals (mostly faculty and librarians in this case) to come together and learn in a social context. It is a constructivist endeavor, where people engage in a shared interest (Wenger & Snyder, 2000, p. 139). Our team put together two events this year – a reading group for librarians and a symposium where individuals across each campus were invited to participate around the theme Inquiry in the Information Age: Information Literacy as Critical Thinking. Both of these events were engaging, fun, and informative.
The February 2017 reading group was focused on problem-based learning and application of this instructional theory to practice. We had a difficult time finding a recent article on problem or inquiry-based learning that gives a clear definition of the theory and discusses implementation in a higher education environment during our literature review. So, we gave participants a choice between two articles when preparing for the group: Smith Macklin’s (2001) “Integrating information literacy using problem-based learning” or Golding’s (2013) “The teacher as guide: A conception of the inquiry teacher.” These articles are very different. Smith Macklin (2001) is to-the-point, but the text is old. Golding’s article (2013) is theoretical and includes some hypothetical classroom dialogue, which is a bit strange. However, together I believe that these articles complement each other very well. The planning team prepared questions to direct participants in discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of problem-based learning and pedagogical actions that could be used to help students improve their inquiry. My own participation resulted in new connections with colleagues and changes in my own practice based on techniques that were shared.
The Information Literacy Symposium in May was also a great success. It is challenging to put together an event schedule and so I am sharing it here. The goal after each panel presentation was to engage the audience with brainstorming questions and help them to identify related applications specific to their own practice. Though time limited us and some of these plans did not play out, we still managed to create community. Participants were excited about the local efforts in IL across campuses that engage students in the critical thinking process and the student panelists blew us away with their articulate expression of ideas about the way they engage in the world of information and in their college experience.
The planning team received continued support from LVAIC and will continue to work to increase interest and participation in an IL learning community in the Lehigh Valley area. We want to have an online presence so that individuals can communicate and share materials without meeting in person. We also are considering having a fall reading group and a spring reading group for librarians. The symposium will be an annual event as well. Do you have any experience developing a learning community? What activities or events really brought people together? Do you have any advice for the planning team? I’m sure that each time I help to plan an event like this I will learn something else about scheduling, higher education, and teamwork. It’s a formative and amazing experience! I’m lucky to be involved in such a great group in an area that commits so much time, energy, and resources to IL.
Golding, C. (2013). The teacher as guide: A conception of the inquiry teacher. Educational Philosophy & Theory, 45(1), 91-110.
Smith Macklin, A. (2001). Integrating information literacy using problem-based learning. Reference Services Review, 29(4), 306-314.
Wenger, E. C., & Snyder, W.M. (2000). Communities of practice: The organizational frontier. Harvard Business Review, 78(1), 139-145.