Analyzing Your Instructional Environment

Analyzing Your Instructional Environment: A Workbook

PDF Version


Instruction programs are not static and many factors affect their ever-changing goals and needs. Major initiatives such as an institution’s strategic planning, curriculum changes, and accreditation reviews greatly influence the instructional programs, services, and environment.

This publication was created to serve as a practical guide for instruction coordinators and managers to use in the environmental analysis of their own unique situations. Information provided here includes nationally-established guidelines, suggestions of possible local resources to consult, questions to ask, and sources for additional reading.

This document is intended to be a framework, depending on your institution and your needs, and should be adapted to your own situations. Using these checklists will help you to systematically analyze factors needed to plan, develop, and assess your instructional program. Completing the entire document will give you the most comprehensive approach to your program; however it is more likely that you will choose to examine only one portion at a time. Each section can serve as a stand-alone document to assist in focusing on that particular aspect of your program. Completion of the entire document will also provide you with the most comprehensive approach to your program in preparation for accreditation or other review processes. Some portions of this document may be updated continually, while others may only be updated on a periodic basis.

The primary objective of an instructional environment analysis is to lessen the randomness of information used in decision-making, and to alert managers and decision makers to trends and issues that may affect the organization. Environmental scanning in general assists educational institutions in understanding the changing needs of learners and in shaping how they market their programs and services to meet those needs. The goal is not to suggest that these efforts will predict the future; rather they are speculative about alternative futures and future scenarios, which allows for formulation of possibilities.

Libraries responding to these trends must plan to be more flexible, enabling themselves to be more mobile when changes occur, and must engage in recognizing, talking about, and preparing for the future. One way to recognize these future possibilities is to engage in environmental scanning. “In its simplest terms, it (environmental scanning) involves reading widely and evaluating various trends for their relevance to the library.” (Nichols 1995, 356) A second level, moving from the more passive scanning suggested by reading widely to a more active level, involves groups of people from within or across organizations who join to identify resources to scan, divide these up, and regularly review, and prepare reports on any trends of relevance to the institution. (Nichols 1995, 357) Another technique described by Shuman (1989) is to use alternative scenarios, which allows people to discuss and explore different alternative paths the development of the library could take. These more systematic studies of future trends allow individuals to be more proactive in problem-solving. Shuman ends his work with a quote from Pierre Elliot Trudeau: “If we don’t solve our own problems, other people will—and the world of tomorrow belongs to the people who will solve them.” (Shuman 1989, 126)

Regardless of whether the environmental scanning is done in a passive way by an individual, in a more active way by an organized group working together, or whether scenarios that incorporate these trends are created and discussed by a larger group, identifying these trends is an essential step in helping decision-makers.

Table of Contents   

I. Programmatic Approaches to Analyzing Instructional Programs
II. Learner Characteristics
III. Current Library Instruction

A. Statistics
B. Mapping the Library’s Information Literacy Curriculum

IV. Information Literacy Across the Curriculum
V. Resources for Library Instruction and Information Literacy
VI. Modes and Methods of Instruction
VII. Beyond the Library

A. Campus environmental scanning
B. Macro-level environmental scanning

See PDF version for Bibliography and Appendix: Regional Accreditation Agencies

I. Programmatic Approaches to Analyzing Instructional Programs    

A good first step in the environmental scanning process is to benchmark the institution’s instruction program against national guidelines. The Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) has created the following documents outlining guidelines and best practices for information literacy programs:

These two documents describe components of exemplary information literacy programs. These documents do not describe any single information literacy program; instead they compile successful elements from many programs. Use these guidelines as a benchmark to rate your institution’s information literacy program, or to gain ideas for developing or improving your program. Elements from the Characteristics and the Guidelines have been synthesized into the checklist below.

Programmatic Approaches Worksheets

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II. Learner Characteristics    

It is critical to determine the unique characteristics of your learners and learning environment to ensure a match between the needs of the students and the information literacy offerings provided at your institution. Every institution has its own unique mix of constituents comprising its learning community. How the learners are characterized and their needs identified will depend upon the goals and priorities of that institution. The categories in the chart, below, are intended to be representative but not necessarily comprehensive. Use them as a springboard for getting an accurate picture of your learners.

Learner Characteristics Worksheets

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III. Current Library Instruction

A. Statistics

An analysis of the instructional environment is not complete without an examination of the current instructional program, especially in documenting the relationship between the program and the library’s and institution’s strategic plan. Statistics-gathering serves as a useful mechanism for tracking current practices, determining levels of curriculum integration, sequencing needs, trends, strengths, weaknesses, as well as serving to support budgetary and staffing needs. This information should be gathered in an ongoing basis. Many institutions have developed web-based forms that would allow the information to be entered at distributed locations by librarians, but collected in a format that would allow the instruction coordinator to examine the information in a centralized manner. Other libraries collect this information in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, or use a searchable database, such as Microsoft Access, to maintain and access this information.

Information that should be gathered includes:

  • Number of sessions offered
  • Number of unique individuals served including academic level
  • Individual classes served
  • Departments served
  • Locations used
  • Amount of actual instruction time
  • Amount of instruction preparation time
  • Research-based, or research assignment
  • Supplemental materials prepared (e.g., handouts, web guides, etc.)
  • Contact mechanism including contacted by faculty/contacted faculty/new contact
  • Instructional offerings not tied to specific courses
  • Learning outcomes
  • Core concepts covered
  • Information Literacy standards addressed
  • Frequency in the instruction program (New; Continuing; Intermittent)
  • Assessment methods used

B. Mapping the Library’s Information Literacy Curriculum   

A curriculum map provides a holistic view of the integration of information literacy into your institution. To create a curriculum map, list every course offered at your university, then track which courses have a research component, include information literacy, and the content and duration of the information literacy instruction. This process allows librarians and other members of the university community to identify where students are receiving information literacy instruction, the content that is covered, and where gaps exist.

A major benefit of curriculum mapping is the overall perspective it provides on the sequencing and overlap of information literacy at your institution. Once the map is created, the vertical and horizontal alignment of course content should be reviewed. Vertical alignment ensures that courses that are sequenced use an incremental or building block approach to information literacy instruction. Courses that are correctly aligned permit librarians to quickly assess what students mastered in the preceding course and to focus on building new skills and knowledge. Horizontal alignment, often referred to as “pacing guides,” assures that all librarians of a common course level address specific subject matter following the same time line. As a result, overlaps in content or major assignments to promote interdisciplinary connections can be identified. As librarians begin to build on interdisciplinary connections, students naturally begin to link information between and among courses, increasing the relevancy of skills and content in such courses. Additionally, librarians can verify skills or content addressed in other courses and alter their plans to a higher level, making learning more relevant.

While curriculum mapping is an intense and time-consuming undertaking, improvements to instruction such as vertical alignment, horizontal alignment, elimination of redundancies, and facilitation of interdisciplinary linking builds stronger curricula and improves overall information literacy instruction. It is recommended that your institution’s curriculum map be re-examined annually.

Based on the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, this curriculum map details where each of the eighty-nine suggested outcomes is taught in the institution’s information literacy program.

When using the map below, please delete the examples given before inserting your own data.

The map employs the following symbols:

Courses should be identified by their course numbers

F = Classroom Faculty (as distinct from library faculty). Outcomes so identified are assumed to be taught or reinforced by professors as part of their courses.

L = Library Faculty. Outcomes so identified are taught during library instruction activities.

I = Skills that are introduced in the designated course.

R = Skills that are reinforced in the designated course.

Curriculum Mapping Worksheets

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IV. Information Literacy Across the Curriculum    

In order to maximize the impact of information literacy instruction, it is important for librarians to be strategic in determining where to focus outreach efforts for information literacy. In order to determine whether a particular course should be targeted for instruction, search the course catalog for classes with a major research component, and ask teaching faculty when students typically take particular courses. Investigate how the information literacy program interacts with the curriculum by gathering additional information regarding departments not served, penetration in schools or colleges, instructional offerings not tied to specific courses, and departmental curricular documents.

This process should be part of a strategic planning process and re-examined every 3 to 5 years.

Questions to consider include:

  • Department
  • Course number
  • Required course for major
  • When is course typically taken (F,S, Jr, Sr, Gr1, Gr2, Gr3)
  • Currently part of instruction program
  • Amount of time allotted for information literacy
  • What are the major concepts addressed during the instruction session
  • Which Information Literacy Standard(s) are addressed (give standard, performance indicator and outcome numbers)

Research-based courses in the Academic Disciplines Worksheets

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V. Resources for Library Instruction and Information Literacy    

An essential consideration when analyzing your instructional program is the availability of local resources to support your program. Consider the criteria listed below when assessing your environment to determine the level of personnel, facilities, technology, support, and training allotted to library instruction at your institution.

Resources Worksheets

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VI. Modes and Methods of Instruction    

Library instruction is provided in a variety of formats, both formal and informal, in person and online. The goal of the environmental analysis is to determine the instructional needs of your audience and the best methods/products to meet their needs. The following questions should be asked:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What will be the method/product?
  • How will it be employed?
  • Why is this method/product being considered?
  • How will its effectiveness be determined?

Other aspects to consider in the decision-making process include:

  • What are the cost factors in money and time?
  • Where will the method/product be used (all possible sites)?
  • How long will the method/product be used before revision or abandonment (lifespan)?
  • How often will the method/product be revised over its lifespan?
  • What are the patterns of method/product use (sporadic, scheduled)?
  • What are the training needs for method/product providers/administrators/users?
  • Who will provide/produce the method/product and what are their capabilities?
  • Are the proper tools and equipment available at sites to deliver the method/use the product?
  • Who will manage and monitor the method/product after implementation?

The worksheet lists possible methods of instruction. Because user communities encompass a variety of learning styles and needs, a combination approach will work best. When using any instruction method it is of paramount importance to include opportunities for active learning as a way of reinforcing the concept and skill building. Opportunities for feedback/assessment are also necessary. Recording the audience, number of sessions offered, participants, and online hits serves as a means of documenting the methods that are utilized most frequently and also demonstrates the importance of your program.

Methods of Instruction Worksheets

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VII. Beyond the Library    

A. Campus environmental scanning    

Institutional responses to national trends in technology, lifestyle, population, global awareness, and emphasis on employability instead of employment security have led to campus initiatives that have manifested themselves as learning communities, service learning projects, online learning environments, excellence in teaching centers, community engagement, and curriculum changes. These responses can develop from various campus sectors and it is only through institutional analysis of the foci of these projects that these groups can be identified and monitored.

The following chart is a sample of the kinds of groups that are typically found at academic institutions and whose activities may have an impact on library information literacy programs. The categories are intended to help librarians monitor the activities of that particular group.

Leadership: Use to indicate when librarians take an active role in leading these groups as Chair, subcommittee chairs, or project leaders.

Participatory: Use to indicate when individuals from the library are actively involved in the work of these groups, either as members or participants.

Informed: Use to indicate when minutes of these meetings are available and scanned on a regular basis, or when an individual from the library attends these meetings, or there is some other mechanism to maintain awareness of this group’s work or discussions.

Target Groups for Improved Communication: Use to indicate when minutes of meetings are not available or when individuals from the library do not attend meetings; however, the group has an impact on library information literacy programs and efforts to improve linkages with the group are considered desirable.

Evidence: Use to note why the category was chosen. For example, if “Informed” is checked, indicate where the minutes are located or how they are distributed, and the individual in the library who is monitoring this activity. Similarly, if “Participatory” is checked, indicate the name of the individual who serves on this committee.

Environmental Scanning Worksheets

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B. Macro-level environmental scanning    

Renfro and Morrison (1984, 49) suggest that emerging issues in the outside world have had greater impact on an organization’s future than internal factors. Macro environmental aspects such as social, technological, economic, environmental, and political changes should be kept under consideration. Financial trends for local, state, and federal government, fees, and private funding directly impact the financing of libraries. The state of the economy suggests that financing of libraries will keep pace with inflation at best, and will lag behind inflation or result in actual cuts in many locations. The loss of discretionary income or a decline in the American standard of living impact the priorities that individuals place on libraries, particularly in light of the increasing availability of information in electronically digitized formats, and the availability of this information from alternative sources. Breakthrough developments in technology, which most people cannot envision except in terms of the technology or medium to be replaced, cannot be accurately forecasted, but may have major implications for libraries.

It is impractical for individual libraries to sustain a macro-level scanning project that would encompass all the factors that might have an impact on libraries, including, but not limited to demography, geography, economics, politics, and technology. Available resources for macro-level environmental scanning include:

  • Within the American Library Association, the LITA Top Technology Trends group monitors emerging technologies and sponsors a discussion group.
  • For political factors, the American Library Association’s Federal Library Legislative and Advocacy Network keeps abreast of current federal legislation and political discussions.
  • Individual state libraries and state library organizations often track political and economic trends within their state.
  • See the bibliography section below on national surveys and studies for further resources of information about macro-level environmental scanning studies.

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ACRL IS Analysis of Instructional Environments Task Force, 2004-2007: Beth S. Woodard (Chair), Barbara Mann, Stephanie Michel, and Terry Taylor.

Revised 2010 by IS Management & Leadership Committee

Updated December 2010