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ePortfolios: What's a Librarian Got to Do With It?

Posted By Laura Kohl, Saturday, November 22, 2014
Updated: Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Changing Role of Librarians


When many of us made the decision to become librarians we had no idea that we would need to stand up in front of a classroom and actually teach!  This has been the trend, however, especially for librarians that work in higher education and have traditionally been known as reference librarians:  From “bibliographic instruction” to “information literacy instruction.”  This shift has come along with the advent of the internet and students gaining access to more and more information on their own.  The information used to be curated before being sought by patrons in libraries.  Today, librarians are no longer only the curators and gatekeepers of the information - we have become the Sherpa to guide students along their research paths.  


So what does this mean for the role of libraries and librarians in an age where so much doom and gloom is part of the popular rhetoric about the future of libraries?  Where libraries have gone “bookless”? Librarians’ roles are shifting but their expertise and skills are perfectly suited to the new roles in which they are finding themselves.  More and more librarians are taking leadership roles in various efforts on campus that have traditionally not been considered the realm of librarians.  Especially with the shift on many campuses from content centered to outcomes based and integrative learning.  Just think about it.  Librarians are by their very nature outcomes centered instructors (ACRL Instruction Librarian Proficiencies).  Yes, there are many librarians who may work with specific departments on campus, focusing on certain disciplines, but when we went to library school we were focusing on skill building ourselves rather than content mastery.  When we work with students we are focusing on teaching them research processes, critical thinking, questioning behaviors and more (ACRL Information Literacy Standards).


Who’s In Your Community of Practice?


I often think about the alignment of the stars that seemed to be just right that fateful day when I was asked if I’d like to take a leadership role in the development of the ePortfolio program at my institution.  A perfect storm had been brewing.  Major changes to the general education curriculum were taking place.  A pedagogical shift from content based to learner centered and outcomes focused instruction was at the heart of the new general education curriculum.  Recent collaborations between key players on campus had created an amazing new community of practice revolving around pedagogy and academic technology and I had just begun my instructional technology and design certificate program.


The size and culture of my institution was also a key reason that I was able to take on such a role.  Our institution has a small but amazing Center for Teaching & Learning that looks beyond their walls for partners to help them on new ventures.  We had no instructional designers or technologists (we still do not have anyone filling that role in a full time capacity - but I think we’re headed in that direction) but we have an amazing group running the Academic Computing department who are always willing to experiment with new tools.  The library at our institution falls under the Information Services division and this has caused much collaboration and strong relationship building.  What it also did was allow the librarians a huge resource when we wanted to use technology in our work.  


Much of the library’s mission revolves around instructional activities be they teaching in a classroom, one on one instruction at our research desk or creating instructional objects for those students who seek out research assistance online.  These activities allow us to experiment with teaching technologies, become experts in some of these technologies and finally share our experiences and expertise with other instructors on campus through a Center for Teaching and Learning, Academic Computing and Library partnership.  This partnership became our Community of Practice.


So What About ePortfolios?


The ePortfolios at our institution are learning outcomes focused – Student Success, Effective Communication, Critical Thinking, Ethical Reasoning, Diversity Awareness and Information Literacy.  The students create an ePortfolio from a template that provides them with pages categorized under each of the learning outcomes.  The students focus their portfolio work on the assignments they do across four courses their freshman year which are all aligned to the common learning outcomes.  The students will select certain assignments from their courses and upload them according to learning outcome and then write reflections on their progress on that learning outcome based on the assignment they had.  (For more than you ever wanted to know including some initial assessment information – check out this presentation from the 2014 FYE Conference)


Can you imagine the excitement of the librarians at discovering that our push for Information Literacy had been included as one of the learning outcomes?  Because of this inclusion we are able to take part in the assessment of the ePortfolios and have been able to provide our take on the instructional effectiveness of all the learning outcomes.  This has been an amazing and eye opening experience for us as we are able to read the reflections and see what kinds of assignments and classroom experiences have the most resonance regarding information literacy.  We are able to take the information we find and create student experiences that will provide more effective learning. Additionally, we have found our input to be appreciated and sought by our community of practice and beyond.  Many faculty members now seek out a librarian when creating and grading assignments that include Information Literacy as a learning outcome. 


Ask a Librarian


So when thinking about ePortfolio experts and communities of practice on your campus consider including librarians if you haven’t done so already.  Us librarians are a collaborative and experimental bunch.  We like new challenges and we are predisposed to skill building and learning outcomes based instruction.  We can also provide perspectives that may not have been considered.  And you may build some fantastic collaborative relationships in the process!


Further Reading

Hubert, D. A., & Lewis, K. J. (2014). A Framework for General Education Assessment: Assessing Information Literacy and Quantitative Literacy with ePortfolios. International Journal4(1), 61-71. 

Thamaraiselvi, G. (2009, October). Vision and the changing roles of the future academic library professional in the e-learning environment: Challenges and issues. In international Conference on Academic Libraries, Delhi, India 


Tags:  collaboration  community of practice  ePortfolio  information literacy 

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