ILBP Exemplary Programs Interview with Silvia Lin Hanick and Ian McDermott at LaGuardia Community College

Interview completed by Michael Courtney, Outreach & Engagement Librarian, Indiana University Bloomington; Brianna Buljung, Teaching & Learning Librarian, Colorado School of Mines; Shane Roopnarine, Assistant Librarian, University of Central Florida Libraries; and Maya Hobscheid, Instructional Design Librarian, Grand Valley State University.

The ILBP Committee recognizes programs that embody best practices from the Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline. We recently interviewed Silvia Lin Hanick, First Year Experience Librarian, and Ian McDermott, Coordinator of Library Instruction, at LaGuardia Community College, whose program exemplifies Program Sequencing and Pedagogy.

Share some historical background on your program. How has it developed over time?

At LaGuardia Community College (CUNY), we teach 1-credit and 3-credit research strategies courses and between 680-790 one-shot library sessions in an academic year. Every part-time and full-time faculty librarian teaches, regardless of their primary assignment. ​The total number of instruction sessions has been rising overall in spite of declining enrollment at the College. English (ENG 101, 103) and First Year Seminar (FYS) instruction classes made up at least 75% of all classes in a semester. The remaining classes fall across the disciplines, including sessions for Introduction to Paralegal Studies, The Woman Writer, Organic Chemistry, or the Hospitality Club.

As a part of our effort to incorporate more conceptual learning in our information literacy instruction, we started conversations with the English Department about how best to deemphasize database demonstrations in their Library sessions. One small, but interesting change that resulted was an edit to the survey that we send out prior to the Library session. We ask instructors to select the aspect of information literacy that is most relevant to their current coursework:

  • Choosing Information
  • Analyzing Information
  • Incorporating Information

While sessions still typically conclude with an overview of, and exploration in a subscription database, the session is framed around a big picture concept that guides the class in a productive way.

Our FYS Library sessions have a more complicated history. In Fall 2014, a required Library session was introduced for FYS for the Health Sciences and Liberal Arts majors. By March 2020, there were fifteen different FYS courses. Each FYS course required a different disciplinary approach. The Library did not have a coordinated approach to this area of instruction until Fall 2017, when we created lesson plans that were aligned to the ACRL

Framework and LaGuardia’s General Education Core Competencies and Communication Abilities.

How is information literacy integrated throughout your institution’s curriculum?

LaGuardia Community College has identified three overarching Core Competencies to structure its general education framework:

  • Inquiry and Problem Solving
  • Global Learning
  • Integrative Learning

Students demonstrate Core Competencies using one of three Communication Abilities:

  • Written Communication
  • Oral Communication
  • Digital Communication

The Core Competencies and Communication Abilities are assessed, annually, via benchmark readings and ​rubrics​ adapted from the AAC&U’s VALUE rubrics.

As a part of our programmatic assessment, we went through the rubrics and connected dimensions of each rubric with the relevant information literacy topics. The rubrics may not use the phrase “information literacy,” but it is clear that our teaching content supports the competencies and communication abilities. For example, the Inquiry and Problem Solving rubric includes dimensions like:

  • Framing the issue to address a research question
  • Evidence gathering by assembling, reviewing, and synthesizing evidence from diverse sources of relevant knowledge
  • Analysis using evidence to address questions, test hypotheses, and evaluate claims and solutions

We connected those dimensions information literacy topics like:

  • How to turn a topic into a research question
  • How to expand or narrow a search using keywords, connectors, and filtering options
  • How to locate additional sources using a list of references from an article
  • How to locate appropriate sources in support of, or to challenge a thesis

This exercise allowed us to make explicit connections between our instruction content and the General Education curriculum.

How do you use the ACRL Framework to leverage the importance of information literacy in student learning?

In AY 2016-2017 the Library Department received a grant from the College to connect our FYS instruction with the ACRL Framework and the Core Competencies and Abilities. At LaGuardia, a one-hour Library class is built into every FYS. While this additional hour of Library instruction was a welcome opportunity to reinforce the information literacy lessons introduced in required sessions for English classes, it also introduced a content challenge. Each FYS was designed to introduce students to their chosen discipline; fifteen different FYS meant fifteen different disciplinary priorities. Even within the same FYS, content might vary—while one professor used Malcolm Gladwell’s ​Blink​ as a textbook, another used the principle of mindfulness to anchor hers. The Library Department, then, had to answer an important question: How can we teach meaningful library instruction sessions for each FYS course?

The ACRL Framework gave us a starting point for this conversation. It gave us the vocabulary and structure to be specific and ambitious about our teaching content. Working together, librarians mapped each FYS course to a frame. Business FYS students, for instance, were introduced to the “Information Has Value” concept via conversations about the role of high-cost information in gaining or protecting market advantage. Then, we worked together to write lesson plans for each FYS based on the assigned frame.

What excites you most about the future of your program?

It will be exciting to build upon the work we’ve done over the last few years. As the FYS program at LaGuardia has expanded to include new courses, from computer science to fine arts, the Library has provided course-integrated instruction. It is always exciting to work with Library faculty colleagues to develop new lesson plans–we are all engaged with and invested in library instruction. We love working with faculty in other academic departments, who are more often than not eager to work with us.

Teaching online during a global pandemic is challenging but we are motivated to support students. It has been exciting to create and share teaching materials that address our current situation; the Library has been closed since mid-March 2020. This situation has exposed our need for concise modules focused on skills (e.g. developing keywords) and basic information (how to chat online with a librarian). Other materials require updates due to access. Some vendors expanded access early in the pandemic, increased access to online textbooks was especially useful, but that’s no longer the case. On the other hand, we can now tell students they can pick up books from select public libraries across the five boroughs. These modules also need to work in synchronous and asynchronous situations! We teach many sessions in addition to the required ones for FYS, ENG 101, and ENG103. Similar to our work with the English Department described above, these courses have heterogeneous needs.

Even so, it’s fair to say that our efforts are almost always focused and coordinated. Programmatically, we think about how instructional materials fit into the big picture of our information literacy instruction. We also take these opportunities to create instructional materials that reflect Laguardia students’ lived experience, or that incorporate the work of BIPOC authors, artists, and thinkers.

What about your program’s development has most surprised you?

We were ill-equipped for online teaching. From teaching materials (slides, handouts, videos) to experience with instructional technology (Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate, the two primary programs used at LaGuardia), we were underprepared for the transition to remote learning. This new reality forced us to change the way we teach, and to teach each other. Our program was designed for in-person instruction, with students sitting in front of computers.

For example, it was surprising how quickly we reverted to demo-based instruction. We may have been concerned that students would only have one library session to access the skill-based instruction they may encounter more frequently via in-person Reference, or we may have opted for what felt easier for everyone, us included. These changes were also driven by the preexisting inequities and injustices foregrounded by the pandemic. Do students learning at home have access to a computer or are they using a phone? Do they have a quiet place to do their school work? Are they forced to attend school while they are at work? A database demonstration had to, suddenly, account for many more variables.

We need time, without a pandemic raging through New York City, to develop meaningful, effective information literacy instruction. Still, as we have moved away from the worst moments of the pandemic, it is surprising to feel confident about where we need to improve, and where we need to focus our efforts. We are finding ways to re-incorporate creative, active learning into synchronous or asynchronous online instruction; this is an opportunity to think about how online instruction fits into the broader instruction program when we get on campus. This year forced us to learn together, more than usual, and to confront our own gaps in knowledge. It has been impactful and left us feeling somewhat hopeful.

What advice can you provide for other programs that are looking to develop in those areas?

We have been working with the ACRL Framework since Spring 2016; the lesson plans written then have been revised, and revised again. As the Framework reminds us, Information Creation is an (iterative) process! Committing to, and prioritizing continuous revision of our teaching has been crucial.

At LaGuardia, full-time Library faculty meet twice each year to discuss and update our instruction content. Recently, we’ve decided to introduce a standing Instruction agenda item for our Department meeting; we’ll take turns sharing new activities, tools, or stories about our teaching. Our progress in this area is a reflection of departmental collaboration and consensus about what we teach when we teach information literacy. The Framework does not have to be everything for everyone; it does not have to replace or usurp the parts of your instruction program that already work. It can, however, offer a path into building a supportive practitioner community.

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