Authority + Format = … Crossing the Threshold: Workshop #2

Librarians from Ryerson, York, and all three campuses of the University of Toronto came together on July 8th in the second of a series of workshops exploring the ACRL’s threshold concepts for information literacy. The workshop was led by John Bolan of the Bora Laskin Law Library at U of T, and Silvia Vong of the John M. Kelly Library at St. Michael’s College at U of T. Both librarians are currently seconded to the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation (CTSI) at U of T, and have been working extensively with the threshold concepts since the draft framework was released. Like most of our cross-institutional events, there was a lot of collaboration and practical ideas generated from the discussions.

The workshop covered the third and fourth threshold concepts: “Authority is Contextual and Constructed” and “Format as a Process.” In groups of 4-6, we began the workshop by working through what each threshold concept meant to us, and the challenges that each presents in developing and delivering information literacy programming.

A number of themes emerged from these discussions. There were concerns that authority is constructed, but not contextual. That is to say, perceptions of authority are constructed, and often do not change. For example, authority in peer-reviewed publications should not equate with authority in social media and blogging, but often does. Similarly, our group agreed that for faculty members and students, the concept of authority in academia is often an all or nothing perception – you are either authoritative in your discipline, or you are not, regardless of context.

Our group then moved on to discuss how the concepts of authority and format are intertwined and difficult to consider separately. There are also tensions between the two. In one instance, we claim that authority is contextual and can change. Then we claim that the format (arguably the context) should not dictate our evaluation of the content. Since information creators use formats to express themselves (and by extension, become authoritative), these two threshold concepts are in direct contradiction of each other. We grappled with these issues knowing well that others will interpret these threshold concepts and their relationships to each other, differently.

There were a couple of group exercises to help us work through some of our discussion points. In the first activity, we assumed the role of students in an information literacy class. We were faced with a number of different formats to evaluate for a particular purpose, and tasked with choosing the most appropriate source. Each group had book chapters, journal articles, news articles, primary sources, and more, but each had a different assignment. Ours was to select the best source to support our academic research paper, so we chose the book chapter that was closest to our assigned topic.

After some debriefing, we moved on to a second activity where we applied the two threshold concepts to a teaching scenario. One of our group members works in an academic departmental unit, rather than a library, so we chose to apply the threshold concepts to one of her upcoming sessions for faculty members.

As always, the session was productive and helped us work through some of our concerns about the draft framework. I’m looking forward to another great session to explore the remaining two threshold concepts!

Courtney Lundrigan, MA, MLIS
Instructional and Reader Services Librarian
John W. Graham Library
Trinity College in the University of Toronto


Scholarship as a Dinner Party? : Exploring the ACRL IL Threshold Concepts

On June 3rd I attended the first in a series of workshops focused on the ACRL’s Draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, and how the threshold concepts proposed in the document can be translated into practice. This first workshop was focused on two threshold concepts: “Scholarship is a Conversation” and “Research as Inquiry.” 23 librarians participated in the event, including one from York University and four from Ryerson University. UTM Librarians Mindy Thuna and UTSC Librarian Whitney Kemble guided us through group and individual exercises, discussions, allowing for opportunities to offer feedback to them and our fellow workshop participants.

The workshop was a great success with lots of lively conversation and light bulbs going off. Mindy and Whitney started off the activities with some introductory remarks and group discussion about the threshold concepts. We were asked to define the two concepts: “Scholarship is a Conversation” and “Research as Inquiry” to provide context and scaffolding for the rest of the exercises.

We were then directed to choose one of the two threshold concepts and to engage in an individual reflective exercise, brainstorming how we would apply our chosen concept to an information literacy teaching situation through the creation of learning objectives or strategies. This could be a one shot or year-long course, or even an online module or tool like a libguide. The individual component did not last long, at least for the group that I was sitting with! Since the concept that I was brainstorming about was “Scholarship is a Conversation,” this now seems entirely appropriate.

Wendy Traas, Susan Barker, and Eveline Houtman and I all excitedly discussed how to translate this theory into practice in a one shot classroom setting on teaching the difference between scholarly and non-scholarly articles for use in a research paper. Using the framework of “Scholarship is a Conservation,” we asked, whose voice has more authority in the conversation? Whose opinions or evaluation contributed to the publication of an article? Who is the intended audience for the article? Who is the publisher? What is the title of the article? We thought about possible exercises for students to develop a “profile” of an article, asking these questions to determine the authoritativeness and persuasiveness of an article. An article might be authoritative but poorly written and therefore not persuasive. Another article could be persuasive but not authoritative. Is the article an opinion piece? A blog post?  A newspaper article or a peer-reviewed journal article? Written by a leading authority or newly minted member of the field?

Next we were instructed to create a poster presentation of our strategy for teaching our objective. We puzzled over how to translate our discussion into a classroom activity and a poster.  Susan Barker suggested the idea of a dinner party. So “Scholarship as a Dinner Party” it is!  We drew a big table that included some of the different voices in the scholarly conversation, and off in the corner of the poster was a smaller table representing the student’s research paper. We asked the question: “Who do you invite?” We attempted to represent as many types of voices that may speak on a given topic with varying degrees of bias, persuasiveness, and knowledge represented by the heads around the table. After the posters were completed, one or two members of each group stayed with the poster to present it to the other workshop participants. It was great seeing the creativity, knowledge and experience that informed all the posters!

Poster of two dinner tables showing the main scholarly conversation and the student's essay. Figures represent the different types of articles and their varying quality and appropriateness.

It was a very rewarding, thought provoking, and collegial experience. Watch for information on the next two workshops here. Hope to see you there!



How to arrange an in-class observation of your teaching

In-class observations are an effective means to gather formative feedback on one’s teaching in a low risk context as well as to explore ways to strengthen institutional practices and achieve goals for student learning. Librarians can now request an in-class observation from a team composed of a CTSI team member and a librarian seconded to CTSI’s PASS program.

In-class observations typically involve an initial consultation, a one hour class visit from the observing team members, which may include a recording of the lecture if desired, and a follow-up consultation. In-class observations are conducted for formative purposes only, and should be requested at least three to four weeks in advance.

U of T librarians interested in arranging in-class observations are asked to contact Heather Buchansky, Student Engagement Librarian, at Heather will coordinate the next steps with CTSI and the PASS librarians.


Reflecting on Reflecting in the Trenches with Char Booth

As I prepared for my instructional sessions this semester, I went back to my notes and materials from ILU’s PD Day 2013, Reflecting in the Trenches, led by Char Booth. The day was a whirlwind agenda, packaged up perfectly. Char covered reflective practice, educational theory, teaching technologies, and instructional design. Each topic could have been an entire day in its own right, but Char’s pedagogy, modeled in her actions, brought the content together beautifully and provided many practical take-aways.

The first activity of the day was a reflection on what makes effective instructors. Char asked us to think back to the best and worst teachers we’ve had and what made them great or not… So, what did we say made the best teachers? Across the board, we said it was those who taught with passion, engagement, enthusiasm.

Wordle of the characteristics that made our best teachers. Summarized from activity #1 notes.

Wordle of the characteristics that made our best teachers. Summarized from activity #1 group responses.

Perhaps not surprisingly, our least favorite teachers were those we saw as boring and unprepared.

Wordle of our group notes on characteristics of our least favorite teachers. Summarized from activity #1.

Wordle of our group notes on characteristics of our least favorite teachers. Summarized from activity #1.

If you missed PD Day (or if you just want to enjoy it again) you can view/review Char’s presentation slides here: 

Char has also kindly shared her Learning Theories Summary Handout (PFD) as well as the Workbook (PDF) that provided the framework and activities for the day. These materials are also part of Char’s book, Reflective teaching, effective learning: Instructional literacy for library educators (

My favorite take-away from the day was Char’s 3QR, or Three Question Reflection (see Workbook link above). The 3QR is a simple and quick way to self-assess. After each of my sessions, I now makes notes on (1) what went well, (2) what bombed, and (3) what I need to improve/follow up on. I hope my 3QR notes, especially over time, will inform my practice result in better sessions for the students I teach.

So, in answer to the question of what makes a great teacher, I think it is also one who reflects honestly on his/her practice and endeavors to always, always make it better.

Thanks again to the ILU PD Day 2013 organizers Eveline Houtman, Richard Carter, Susan Barker, and Kathleen Scheaffer for a great day.

If you aren’t already following Char, do it now!

Char’s blog:
Char on Twitter: @charbooth


Summary: Intersections of Scholarly Communication and Information Literacy: Creating Strategic Collaborations for a Changing Academic Environment

Below is a summary of the points made in the white paper: Intersections of Scholarly Communication and Information Literacy: Creating Strategic Collaborations for a Changing Academic Environment

We will be discussing the paper at the June 5 Librarians’ Information Literacy Practice Exchange.  In addition to the summary below, take 5 minutes to read Kevin Smith’s April 29 blog post, Meet Me at the Intersection, which brings together many of the key points using a recent, vivid example.


This paper argues that librarians need to realign their activities to integrate issues of scholarly communication into their support for teaching and learning.

“Every librarian in an academic environment is a teacher.” (p. 4) The need for librarians versed in information literacy principles and techniques to incorporate scholarly communication into their information literacy programs and cases extends to every level of student, from undergraduate to graduate.  Additionally, the paper contends that individual library structures, which are in many ways are still grounded in divisions of public service and collections services,  may benefit from redesign in order to foster librarians’ deeper knowledge and capacity in both information literacy and scholarly communication.

The facts:

  • Students are not just users of information but are becoming authors and editors of new knowledge, through avenues such as:
      • student journals, as authors of published articles
      • creation of blogs, Wikipedia articles, videos, social media and online content. Many students want  to publish their content online.
  • Publishing is in a state of turmoil. The existing model of scholarly publishing is unsustainable and no single replacement model has been found, resulting in much experimentation.
  • Digital technologies are extremely fragmented; users have much greater unmediated access to scholarship now; sharing of knowledge is commonplace and in many cases, expected.  With this comes new pressures to understand intellectual property, ethical use of copyright materials, appropriate application of fair dealing/fair use. Users need help navigating these complex pathways, and as librarians we need to understand the life cycle of scholarship, its environment, and the need to respond to specific questions on a case-by-case basis
  • Universities face increased materials costs but lower budgets; increased student enrollments; reduced library staff; and increasing pressure on universities to demonstrate value and student success.
  • The published item is no longer the ultimate and preferred vehicle for all things scholarly, e.g. multimodal journals, born-digital content
  • Boundaries between disciplines are shifting/blurring
  • Increasing openness allows additional, non-traditional voices to add to the scholarly dialogue.

Information literacy implies an awareness of the social, economic and legal conditions for scholarly communication within specific disciplines.

  • Librarians have come a long way from delivering “bibliographic instruction” and increasingly see themselves as essential partners in both student learning, and as driving forces in scholarly research. They seek to create high-impact teaching and learning experiences.  Issues of scholarly communication offer many “teachable moments”
  • Adapt our teaching approaches to support students working in the digital environment, integrating new types of content into our teaching.  Our challenges now go far beyond bibliographic and textual information.
  • Students — even early-stage undergraduates — can benefit from an understanding of “the forces that shape the information they consume” (p. 7)

Some ways this can be achieved:

  • Become involved with student-run journals and formal undergraduate research programs. These offer opportunities to consult with students on economic, technological, and legal aspects of publishing.
  • In research-based courses, create experiential learning opportunities that explore elements of the scholarly communication process
  • Consult with grad students on their dissertations beyond the lit search. Help them with publishing questions that inevitably arise (e.g. reuse of figures; repository selection, access issues)
  • Partner in open online courses (e.g. MOOCs) that require advice on copyright, access and use of content
  • Develop information literacy programs that are more fully integrated into the curriculum and include scholarly communication topics
  • Incorporate interesting case studies and “active learning” into class projects
  • Treat publishing as “course work”
  • Create learning opportunities where students gain knowledge/information from peers and their environment (ie not just literature searches)
  • Help students understand best practices in the use of copyrighted and free materials
  • Help students understand the causes of  barriers to information access after they leave university
  • Help student authors use Creative Commons licenses in their work
  • Support students wanting to add senior papers or honors thesis to the institution’s digital repository — in doing so learn about copyright, OA and digital publishing

  • Help students learn new ways of thinking about evaluating, using, citing many different kinds of media
  • Help students find and use data, incorporating this into assignments. Not just numeric, but also textual data.

    Help students understand how their choices as users and creators of data affect access, reuse and preservation.

  • Teach the economics of publishing:  e.g. the academic “gift economy” where faculty volunteer labour which is sold back by publishers

  • Help students understanding the life cycle or “social life” of information, including how impact is measured
  • Educate students and faculty about disseminating the results of their work for maximum reach

  • Help students understanding emerging concepts of “peer review” (e.g. crowdsourcing post-publication)
  • Make presentations to stakeholders — faculty, departments, research groups, grad student meetings
  • Create online instructional materials aimed at different audiences
  • Build expectations of basic scholarly communication knowledge into liaison librarian role descriptions

How can librarians develop our skills and abilities in this area?

  • While information literacy roles are reasonably well integrated into many librarians’ activities, scholarly communication is much newer.
  • Liaison or subject specialist models have focused mainly on collection building, reference and disciplinary instruction support.  The comprehensive liaison model affords new opportunities to become valuable partners in new initiatives and services to the communities served.
  • Share best practices in teaching across disparate areas. “All librarians regardless of job title need to learn, understand, and practice the best approaches to instruction in their many different environments.” (p. 16)
  • Collaborate with differently-skilled librarians to develop educational programs to support information fluency among students, faculty and staff (defined on page 14) Collaborations enable librarians to become transliterate  — understand the interaction across all literacies, digital, visual, textual, data
  • Partner with faculty to help students develop new skills and new habits
  • To be resilient in the face of changing roles, we need to be willing to practice and model innovation organizationally. Explore options for organizational change that break down barriers between information literacy and scholarly communication





Notes from the first Practice Exchange – examples of successful teaching practices

Tuesday January 15 2013 brought with it the inaugural Practice Exchange, a meeting of U of T librarians interested in exchanging ideas and information about their teaching. The first session focused on examples of successful teaching experiences.   Below are a few of the things participants mentioned and chatted about as things that have worked for them:

Grading and/or assigning a weight to library/research assignments

Quite a few participants have found that that grading library/research assignments boosts student engagement and aids learning.  Some mentioned that even a weight of 1% can guarantee attendance at instruction sessions, and a weight of 2-5 % of final grade worked well for one library.

UTSC reports very positive results using a sort of ‘pre-assignment’  assignment. In this scenario, a smaller research assignment precedes a larger one, and serves as an introduction to the research task and gets students to think about and get some feedback on their research before the deadline for their larger assignment. The instructor(s) devised a short assignment requiring some article searching and an assessment of students’ own research. Instructor feedback reports much higher levels of student engagement with their research using this structure.  Anyone interested in finding out more about this can contact Sarah Fedko,

One method of grading that has worked well is to grade on a completed/not completed score, rather than pass/fail.

Medicine has found that a shared rubric/marking template for the markers helps ensure consistency when a number of people are grading. They have had success with a fairly a detailed template.

Timing assignments for early identification/self-identification of students who need some research instruction to  allow them time to get ‘non-last-minute help’  works well.

Leveraging the authority and social connections of students :

Making and displaying videos of upper year students speaking about ‘what I wish I had known about the library when I started’. Rewards like a Tim Hortons card for the interviewees helps with participation.

Using student ambassadors to provide peer to peer library instruction. Students first receive training and are expected to produce reports on their experience/learning.

Student societies have proved to be productive resources for marketing library messages.

Talking to student reps from course committees and attending course committee meetings provided great information for sessions that might be useful and interesting to students

Assigning subject areas to residence dons and encouraging other students to approach them for help has worked for UTSC, the idea being that students are more willing to approach other students for help.


Video and photo contests to promote engagement with the library have worked well for UTM and others. Contests also produce a lot of corollary benefits like providing library website content, supplying the winners (and perhaps all participants) with something for their resume, and just generally promoting library good will.

One contest for undergrads on St. George required students to obtain faculty support for their proposal. The library ran related sessions to like “how to write an abstract” and “how to do a conference presentation”.  Benefits include skills training, promotion of library-faculty contact, library-student engagement, and faculty–student contact.  Structuring the contest to let students use work they had already completed lowered the entry barriers and helped encourage participation.

Involving faculty in contests by asking them to judge or vote has been successful.

Possibility: bring others schools into the competition.

One contest required the top 3 contestants to present ‘dragons den’ style to determine winner.

Student societies may be a source for prize money for contests.

Collaboration/moving into non-traditional areas of instruction

Observed: Career advancement and job skills may not be areas we think we have expertise in, but nevertheless we have things to offer and things we can do that our users want in these realms.

Collaboration with other departments is often the linchpin of such sessions and it may be that much of the library effort for such sessions consists of outreach and organization more than instruction per-se. For instance a round robin resume workshop where participants broke up into groups and passed around their resumes to one another then had a group conversation about things they liked or thought worked well. The library’s input during the actual session was fairly light, most of the library’s work for the event was around organizing the event.

A class on “How to read a scholarly article” that proved very successful was another good example. A writing instructor was key to the session, and the library-writing center collaboration premised the session. Students read articles in class, and the library came up with questions for them to work on in groups of two or three. Most of the library input was on the organizing and preparation side as the session was led by a writing instructor.

Potential partners abound. Some examples include the career center, the writing centers, and student societies.


Communities of Practice (CoPs) best practices summary

Law librarian John Bolan, who is one of this year’s seconded librarians to CTSI, prepared this summary of best practices for communities of practice. The document was part of John’s research on how best to implement our practice exchanges for instruction librarians, which will start in January 2013. Thanks John!


Moving Forward on the Librarians Teaching Program and Practice Exchanges

CTSI’s seconded librarians — John Bolan, Angela Hamilton, Joanna Szurmak,  and I — have been continuing the tasks of developing a program of professional development for librarians who teach at the U of T.

Development of this program commenced in 2010, when the first group of CTSI-seconded librarians (Patricia Bellamy, Sarah Fedko, and Sheril Hook) developed several long term goals, and conducted a needs assessment for professional development of librarians who teach.  (You can read about those goals and review their final report.)

The results of this assessment revealed a need for a varied program of professional development, integrating formal learning, reflective practice, observations, and especially opportunities to share and learn from colleagues through communities of practice, also known as practice exchanges.

With a new group of librarians in 2011-12 (Patricia Bellamy, Whitney Kemble,Joanna Szurmak, and Rita Vine) our work focused on development of the formal learning aspect.  In the 8- week Fundamentals of University Teaching program offered each Spring through CTSI, 6 of the 18 participants were U of T librarians.  The experience was meaningful for all participants. We will continue to integrate a small group of librarians into future offerings of this program, and involve previous participants in break-out sessions for new librarian participants.

We also embedded librarians in CTSI’s popular Course Design/Re-Design Institute, as part of our continuing goal of building connections and partnerships between librarians, teaching faculty, and CTSI learning specialists.  Librarians continue to partner with CTSI staff to embed issues of information literacy into CTSI faculty workshops and the Teaching Assistants Training Program (TATP), and we intend to extend our work in this area in 2012-13.

We’re now ready to take the next step, that of implementing and assessing regular practice exchanges among librarians who teach at the University.  Interest in regular opportunities to share and learn from colleagues came up in the 2010 needs assessment, was reiterated as important by Fundamentals participants,  and has been an area of interest among members of the Instruction in Library Use Committee.  John Bolan of the Law Library will be coordinating and assessing a pilot of two semi-structured sessions, which will take place in January and February.  More information will be sent soon on dates and topics, and we hope that this will become a continuing forum to support the development of practice excellence in our organization.

By the way, if you’re interested in learning a bit more about communities of practice, there is a good brief summary in the latest issue of UBC’s Teaching and Learning Centre blog.


Addressing student problems in formulating research questions with PICO

In Time to re-evaluate how we teach information literacy: Applying PICO in library instruction, authors Ellen Welty, Sheila Hofstetter, and Stephanie Schulte make a compelling case for rethinking the basics of information literacy education.  Citing the data from Project Information Literacy, which reports that students don’t have nearly as much trouble finding information as they do creating a research question for their assignment, the authors make a compelling argument for shifting our focus to helping students create the question.

The method they suggest is the well-established PICO model used and taught almost universally by medical clinicians and medical librarians.  PICO — which stands for Population, Intervention, Comparison and Outcome — can be adapted to most disciplines and can help students narrow down their question and populate key concepts.

The PICO model is currently used by librarians in our VIC170 course, along with worksheets to help students create the PICO model on their own.

Do you use PICO in any of your library instruction sessions?