CUA LIS Practicum Diaries are bi-weekly blogposts showcasing current student experiences at their practicum site.
In the second installment of CUA LIS Practicum Diaries, Elizabeth Lieutenant, recaps her experience working in Georgetown University’s Lauinger Library:
Assessment can appear to be a mysterious concept for some new LIS professionals, as it isn’t a major focus in LIS curricula (Askew and Theodore-Shusta, 2013). Academic librarians have a number of resources to address this oversight in their education, including participating in ACRL’s Immersion Program or partnering with campus units dedicated to supporting and sustaining academic cultures of assessment. Fortunately, I’ve gained a highly developed knowledge and skill set through my various research and work experiences, which has been greatly enhanced through my Library Instruction practicum. Under the supervision of Sandy Hussey, Research Instruction Coordinator & Senior Reference Librarian at Georgetown University’s Lauinger Library, I’ve worked on a variety of assessment-related projects that have allowed me to apply my knowledge of and experience with assessment within a library setting.
In my teaching, I experimented with various methods of assessing student learning. Sandy and I co-taught two library instruction sessions for Flourishing in College and Community and created a feedback form to record student’s indirect assessments of their learning, identify strengths and weaknesses in our curriculum and teaching, and follow-up with students who needed additional support. The Academic Skills Workshop I solo taught was more difficult to prepare for, since these sessions are open to any students interested in improving their research skills. I elected to forgo preparing a formal assessment tool and instead incorporated a background knowledge probe and solicited formative feedback throughout the workshop. While the workshop garnered only a few students, I tailored my approach to meet each of the students’ individual needs and interests and allowed them to guide the content of our workshop.
Besides teaching, one of my final projects at Georgetown is also one of the most exciting. The librarians are developing a plan to revise its curriculum objectives and learning outcomes to align with the new ACRL Framework. Once these new objectives and learning outcomes are implemented, they will develop a process for analyzing their assessment data and using the results to inform developments and improvements to their curriculum and instruction activities. Based on my research for an ALISE poster and journal article I’m currently writing on LIS student engagement in systematic program planning, as well as my work for the LIS Department to develop, refine, and improve our systematic planning process and outcomes assessment plan, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to participate in this project. Although my practicum will be over before these plans are implemented, I’m grateful for the invitation to contribute my knowledge, ideas, and perspectives to plans that will improve student learning.
In addition, the librarians also implemented a standardized research consultation survey to measure their collective progress in achieving one of the library’s yearly goals. Crafting assessment questions is a particularly enjoyable and reflective exercise for me to engage in with others and my discussions with Sandy were as fruitful as the conversations I held while leading one of the first major assessment projects. Finally, I attended an excellent presentation by an assessment librarian job candidate. Not only was I impressed by their articulated connections between the library’s mission, goals, and objectives and those of their parent institution, their presentation included a number of figures I’ve used in the assessment presentations I’ve developed. It’s little indicators like this that strengthen the connections between my “non-library” work and future library career.
While I am personally a strong proponent of assessment, I am compelled to acknowledge the inherent tension in defining the purpose of assessment. As many academic librarians know (Fister being, in my estimation, one of the most insightful), improving student learning and services to an academic community while also demonstrating value to administrators can be a difficult prospect. I believe assessment undertaken in an honest, intentional, ethical, and reflective manner has the potential to do both. Even so, I will always champion student learning outcomes, ideally constructed in collaboration with students and flexible enough to meet a variety of diverse needs and interests, over value demonstrations. My conversations with Georgetown’s librarians indicate that they’re aware of the need to balance these two interests and committed to bridging the gap between them. With an assessment librarian soon joining their staff, I’m confident that the librarians will continue the good work I’ve had the privilege of participating in.
In many ways, my practicum at Georgetown has been an assessment of my assessment skills, one in which I have hopefully “exceeded expectations.” The challenges associated with transferring my knowledge of systematic planning and program-level outcomes assessment to these various library instruction activities has strengthened my understanding of library assessment and improved my flexibility, creativity, and critical thinking skills. As my practicum comes to an end, I’m confident that is has, as many librarians and educators have told me, made me a strong candidate for an academic librarian position. -Elizabeth Lieutenant