Building Teaching and Learning Communities: Creating Shared Meaning and Purpose

ACRL announces the publication of Building Teaching and Learning Communities: Creating Shared Meaning and Purpose, edited by Craig Gibson and Sharon Mader. This unique collection asks each of the authors to address this question: What do we as educators need to learn (or unlearn) and experience so we can create teaching and learning communities across disciplines and learning levels based on shared meaning and purpose?

Learn more in this excerpt from the introduction by Gibson and Mader, published under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-SA license.

The role of librarians in teaching and learning has been reexamined and reinvigorated by the introduction of the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, which offers a conceptual approach and theoretical foundations that are new and challenging. As we become more involved with the Framework, we are inspired to learn more about pedagogical theories and practices, and the list is long, including topics such as threshold concepts and stuck places; the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL); disciplinary approaches to pedagogy; the role of signature pedagogies; inclusion of student voices; metaliteracy; reflective practice; affective, behavioral, and cognitive aspects of learning; liminal spaces; and faculty as learners.

Apart from the various philosophical and theoretical discussions about the Framework, much of the initial work around the Framework has addressed the call from librarians for instructional materials to adapt for immediate practical classroom needs and for learning how to teach in new ways. These efforts have been valuable, but they have been largely by and for librarians. How can we learn more to better prepare ourselves as teachers and also to answer the call of the Framework for us to pursue the essential role of conversation and collaboration with faculty and students?

To expand our capacity as educators, we realized that we need to look outside the library community to learn about pedagogical innovations and join the broader discussions about teaching and learning in higher education. This has been the impetus of this collected volume, which goes beyond the library profession for inspiration and insights by inviting leading experts in higher education pedagogy and educational development across North America to open a window on the wider world of teaching and learning. In this unique collection, we have asked each of the authors to address this question: What do we as educators need to learn (or unlearn) and experience so we can create teaching and learning communities across disciplines and learning levels based on shared meaning and purpose?

We find that we are not alone in asking such questions. There is an increased focus on improving teaching and learning across higher education. A new focus on improved pedagogical practice means a new focus on faculty and professional development and the creation and sustainability of a culture of teaching and learning on campuses.

One of the most effective ways to improve pedagogical practice is through teaching and learning communities. Teaching and learning communities are communities of practice in which a group of faculty and staff from across disciplines come together voluntarily and regularly to discuss topics of common interest and to learn together how to enhance teaching and learning. Since these teaching and learning communities can bring together members who might not have otherwise interacted, new synergies can arise. Teaching and learning communities can take many forms to suit many purposes. Faculty learning communities (FLCs), pioneered by Milton Cox at Miami University in the 1970s, are a particular kind of community of practice, which he defines as “a cross-disciplinary faculty and staff group of six to fifteen members…who engage in an active, collaborative, yearlong program with a curriculum about enhancing teaching and learning.”[i] As agents of Introduction individual and organizational development, teaching and learning communities use the strength of a collaborative approach not only to improve individual performance but also to sustain and scale change at the institutional level.[ii]

Librarians have always been dedicated to creating and using professional development, but we can expand our capacity and offer contributions by participating in these larger institutional efforts to improve teaching and learning. Through that alignment, we can structurally and strategically redefine the role and recognition of librarians as educators.

Librarians can also benefit from an expanding definition of faculty development. The Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network states that the term educational development is now preferred, as it represents the breadth of this endeavor, including the levels (individual, program, and institutional) and the range of participants (teaching faculty, librarians, educational technologists, administrators, students).[iii]

Teaching and learning centers have been established in many colleges and universities to support the formal implementation of teaching and learning communities, and librarians have much to gain, as well as much to offer, in becoming involved in these endeavors. In a recent large-scale study of the evolution and current state of faculty development, the broader definition of faculty development to meet individual and institutional needs was reinforced as “everyone’s work.” The authors concluded that “faculty development communities might include not only teaching center staff but also librarians, information technologists, and professionals in assessment and student affairs.”[iv] This study also provided data on collaboration with and services offered by other campus units. Libraries rank third, after technology centers and deans, assistant deans, and associate deans in colleges. However, it is noted that this level of collaboration with libraries is less extensive than expected. How can we join this institutional-level work?

The most recent revision of the ACRL standard on the role of instruction librarians includes a language shift from “instruction librarian” to “teaching librarian” to reflect a broader and more participatory approach “which is indicative of the importance of teaching and the broader educational goals held by librarians.”[v] If we take advantage of the broader definition of partners in educational development, we can make progress in realizing recognition and reality for this redefined role as educators. We can also impact the creation of a campus culture of teaching and learning by ensuring a critical mass of librarians participating in teaching and learning community initiatives and collaborations.


[i] Milton D. Cox, “Introduction to Faculty Learning Communities,” in Building Faculty Learning Communities, ed. Milton D. Cox and Laurie Richlin, no. 97 of New Directions for Teaching and Learning, ed. Marilla D. Svinicki and R. Eugene Rice (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 8.

[ii] Adrianna Kezar, Scaling and Sustaining Change and Innovation (New York: Teagle Foundation, 2015),; Anne V. Kelsch, “Shifting How We Think about Faculty Work,” Peer Review 19, no. 3 (2017),

[iii] Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, “What Is Educational Development?” POD Network, June 2016,

[iv] Andrea L. Beach et al., Faculty Development in the Age of Evidence (Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2016), 7.

[v] Association of College and Research Libraries, Roles and Strengths of Teaching Librarians (Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, 2017),