ILBP Exemplary Programs Interview with Melissa Bowles-Terry

Exemplary IL Program Interview

Submitted by Nicole Brown, on behalf of the ACRL’s Information Literacy Best Practices (ILBP) Committee

ILBP recognized the The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) Libraries as an Exemplary Program in the following categories: Mission, Goals & Objectives, Planning, Pedagogy, and Collaboration. In this interview, Melissa Bowles-Terry, Head of Educational Initiatives at UNLV Libraries, shares insights and advice to help instruction librarians improve their practice.

ILBP: Since being recognized in Spring 2014 as an Exemplary program, what is an accomplishment that your instruction team is proud of?

Melissa: We are proud of the way we’re integrating Peer Research Coaches in the library instruction program. Coaches are undergraduates who are hired during their first year of college and work at the libraries throughout their undergraduate career. We have six to eight Peer Research Coaches at any given time. They represent the library at university orientation sessions and participate in our co-curricular outreach program. In the last few years they’ve also been trained to teach alongside librarians in our first-year composition program. This is a great opportunity for librarians with heavy teaching loads to co-teach some sessions. In documenting the different questions asked of librarians and of peer coaches, we’ve found that students are more likely to ask their peers clarifying questions (such as “Could I get a worksheet?” or “Where’s the website?”) and to ask librarians for help developing keywords or refining research questions. The assessment we’ve done with our peer coaches suggests they are gaining valuable and transferable skills from this experience, including confidence in public speaking, flexible thinking, research skills, and collaboration.

ILBP: What is one goal your IL program has for the next few years, and what steps will you take to achieve it? Additionally, thinking about a long-term goal, say five to seven years out, what steps are you taking currently to accomplish it?

Melissa: One of our short term goals is to plan and implement a faculty institute for developing creative research assignments, in partnership with the office of general education, coordinator of instructional development and research, online education, and other campus partners. We’ll offer that institute this May, and the goal will be to enrich students’ experience with course-integrated research and form librarian-instructor relationships on assignment design.

A long-term, ongoing goal is to document our impact on student retention and student success. We’ve collaborated with other libraries in the Greater Western Library Alliance (GWLA) to define our instructional interactions and to correlate student enrollment in courses that have a library interaction (such as a class visit, online guide, tutorial, assignment co-designed with a librarian, etc.) with 1) student credit hours earned, 2) GPA, and 3) fall-to-fall retention. In our first year of the study, we saw positive correlations in all three of those areas, and we’re interested in pursuing that study over the next several years to see our impact on student graduation.

ILBP: The UNLV Libraries Faculty Institutes (www.library.unlv.edu/faculty/institute) look like a great model for collaborative endeavors. What makes this model successful?

Melissa: The UNLV Libraries Faculty Institutes are multi-day workshops designed and delivered by librarians to help teaching faculty create courses and assignments that are research-rich and aligned with the university’s general education learning outcomes. They have been successful for a couple of reasons:

  • The interdisciplinarity and specialized skills of librarians make us well-poised to be leaders of curricular transformation. At UNLV, the Libraries and librarians are seen as leaders in terms of instructional design and assessment. We’ve been thoughtful about engaging campus partners and being inclusive in our planning and outreach.
  • Institute participants are recognized and rewarded in a few ways: a stipend for participating, a feeling of interdisciplinary community that emerges from the institutes, and support and collaboration with a library professional. Also, good food! We always feed our participants well during the institutes.

One recent success was an institute for faculty members designing a capstone class in their discipline. A year after the institute, after faculty members taught the course, we collected student work and, along with colleagues from the office of academic assessment and general education, evaluated it using the AAC&U VALUE rubrics for critical thinking and inquiry. This was another chance for us to add value to the university while contributing to institutional priorities.

ILBP: What advice would you give to librarians seeking to increase collaboration with campus partners?

Melissa: Learn about real issues and concerns that your partners have, and then frame library services to meet those needs. Is there a push for student retention? General education reform? Writing across the curriculum? Find out what the campus priorities are and then come up with ways the library contributes, and offer library services that meet those needs. Last year, I gave a workshop for advisors on how career exploration can be enhanced with research skills and library tools. They were excited to learn about our resources for career exploration, and to consider how their work with students could be enriched by encouraging the research process. Hearing advisors articulate how they wish students would engage more deeply in the information-seeking process prompted me to consider ways we could work together.

ILBP: What teaching practices or pedagogies most impact your program, and are there any new approaches you are implementing?

Melissa: We are doing quite a bit of peer learning, which has been valuable for all involved. We use our suite of video tutorials (www.library.unlv.edu/tutorials) to flip the classroom and have students watch a video before class. Many of my colleagues are doing critical reading activities in the library classroom, which is really important.

ILBP: Melissa, thank you for sharing your expertise!