“Communities of Practice as Space for Instructor Support and Development” (Interactive)

Monday, June 7, 11am EDT

Presenters: Melissa Wong (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) and Laura Saunders (Simmons University)

Instruction has long been a central aspect of academic librarianship, yet many librarians report feeling underprepared for teaching roles, and many may feel isolated in their work. Recent events, including anti-racist protests and a pandemic that forced most library services and instruction online, have emphasized the need for librarians to have robust instruction skills and highlighted the importance of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) practices such as inclusive pedagogy, empathetic teaching, and principles of universal design for learning in the classroom. Even seasoned instructors may feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of issues impacting their practice and many instruction librarians seek professional development opportunities and support for improving their practice.

Many professional development efforts utilize an expert-led approach in which an invited speaker presents a combination of background information, best practices, and professional advice. While such offerings increasingly incorporate opportunities for active learning and discussion, these models replicate a traditional classroom with an expert speaker in a position of authority while attendees are cast into the role of learners. While these models can offer new knowledge and skills, they do not provide support for the emotional labor and affective aspects of teaching. This support can be especially important for instructors of color, women, and instructors from other marginalized communities who might also be affected by implicit biases in the classroom.

In contrast, communities of practice emphasize shared expertise and mutual learning. Communities of practice are participant-led and operate in a space in which everyone is simultaneously both a learner and a valued professional with expertise to share. While the structure of communities of practice will vary based on participants’ interests, in higher education they often incorporate collegial discussions on topics of interest, exploration of relevant research and literature, and supportive and constructive conversations about pedagogical challenges. A community of practice can offer instruction librarians an opportunity to build pedagogical knowledge; identify classroom practices that support equity, diversity, and inclusion; and find support for their role as teachers. In addition, the community itself can function as an EDI space by recruiting and centering diverse voices; modeling the process of applying a critical lens to disciplinary content; and acknowledging, hearing, and respecting the expertise and experience of colleagues of diverse backgrounds.

Building on lessons learned from launching the LIS Pedagogy Chat (https://www.lispedagogychat.org), an online learning community for LIS instructors and instruction librarians, the presenters will introduce the community of practice model and share steps for designing, launching, and sustaining a local community of practice. The presenters will then mirror the community of practice model and lead participants in a discussion of how the selection of topics and identification of discussion moderators can facilitate the development of a culture of learning focused on EDI topics.