The Communities of Practice (CoP) framework guides my evolving model of teaching/learning for professional development. The foundation for CoP learning is building relationships through participation. This means being engaged, imaginative, and respectful of and accountable to the learning objectives, to standards of professional behavior, and to each other. My aim is to facilitate learning conversations that help build individual and group knowledge and expertise, as well as nurture the growth of professional identity and leadership. I seek opportunities for motivating learning, exploration and serendipity, expression of diverse viewpoints, sharing expertise, and building long-term professional relationships. Approachability, experience, expertise, listening ability, responsiveness, and prompt follow-up are equally valuable in the classroom and in professional library and information service settings. Classroom interactions can be a model for future reference work and teaching.
I have distilled the CoP framework into four creative tensions that structure the learning environment: negotiating meaning, negotiating practice, negotiating expertise, and negotiating identity and leadership.
The core LIS concepts are the basic building blocks of knowledge. Negotiating their meaning involves a creative tension between frames of reference from prior experience and new concepts considered, critiqued, and practiced. Students engage with core concepts through the syllabus, course readings, interactive lectures, and structured and open discussions to encourage collaborative questioning and synthesis around issues relevant to their lives. The students and I also exchange ideas via wiki page creation and comments, email exchanges, feedback on assignments, and responses to student blogs. Reflection and co-reflection are essential for refining the raw material of experience into understanding and values. Almost all assignments require written reflections about what students have learned about the course content and about themselves as learners and future professionals.
Putting conceptual understanding into practice involves a creative tension between one’s own mental models of an area of practice and those valued by LIS professionals and experts. The process of negotiating practice focuses on developing serviceable models and patterns of behavior through exposure to practice, constructing one’s own models from experience, and reflection on practice. Assignments that require putting core concepts into practice include: (1) Introduction to LIS: case studies and panel discussions of key issues affecting the information environment for libraries and information services; (2) Reference & Online Services: search exercises, a library pathfinder, a bibliography plan, simulated reference interviews face-to-face and using chat software, and reference observations; (3) Internet Fundamentals & Design: developing a website for a library or information service and panel discussions on key internet issues affecting libraries; (4) Library User Instruction: teaching demonstration and best practices paper based on principles of teaching and evidence-based practice; (5) Library 2.0 & Social Networking Technologies: a critical issue research paper and accompanying web portal, and a prototype of a new or improved library or information service using social media; and (6) Information Seeking Behavior: a literature review, pilot research study, research proposal, and scholarly presentation related to a research question of the student's choice.
Negotiating expertise involves a creative tension between one’s existing expertise and that of LIS professionals and experts. Exposure to professionals in action - guest speakers, informational interviews, observations - provides access to real world practices, while multimedia presentations provide vicarious experience. Monitoring LIS listservs, sharing personal experiences, and linking class discussions to current events raise awareness of issues in the field. These experiences are discussed in class and online to probe and deepen understanding related to the discourse and patterns of practice. Through collaboration on group projects, students develop shared standards, practices, and values around centers of expertise within the group. Blogs, discussion boards, chat, personal pages, and spontaneously created new pages on class wikis support online sharing of experiences and expertise and add to the community knowledge base.
Negotiating Identity & Leadership
Negotiating identity and leadership is encompassing and challenging; it is a creative tension between individual identity and professional identity and between adapting to a community and taking leadership based on expertise, influence, and relationships built over time. I believe that engaging students to find personal meaning in the course focus and to commit to collaborative learning are the most critical early tasks. I try to build an atmosphere of trust to encourage confidence building, risk taking, and relationship building. Enthusiasm for the subject and the learning process can stimulate knowledge acquisition, curiosity, exploration, and intrinsic motivation. Sharing both commitment to and critique of the goals and values of the profession encourages others to do the same. Reflections on personal philosophy related to the subject are discussed and integrated into assignments. Participation in online discussion forums and student blogs help foster identification with the class community and provide additional opportunities to reflect on and influence emerging meanings. Group work and team projects provide opportunities to lead, inspire, share expertise, persuade, and advocate for action.