By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

“The Role of the Library in E-Learning” was the topic of a keynote address presented by Megan Oakleaf, Associate Professor and Director of Instructional Quality at the School of Information Studies (iSchool), at the Workshop for Instruction in Library Use (WILU) conference at Western University in Ontario recently.

Dr. Oakleaf’s talk referenced a new framework for assessing the teaching of information literacy in higher education to one that is based on new threshold concepts. Though metrics for determining the success of learning by college students have been around for some time, the transitions in the field of academic librarianship call for learning assessments and value determinations to adapt as well, she told the audience.  In the past, library professionals had more concrete ways to gauge the value of their help teaching information skills to students. “A couple decades ago, teaching was all very tools-focused; after that it was about building skills; now it is about big concepts,” she explained. Today, however, it is ideal for academic librarians to assess how their offerings of library services, librarian expertise, and library resources align, support and improve e-learning for students, she said.

Today’s learning standards focus on five threshold concepts, she said, referencing the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, which has been undergoing extensive revisionby the Association of College & Research Libraries. They are: (1) authority is constructed and contextual; (2) scholarship is a conversation; (3) research as inquiry; (4) format as process; and (5) research is strategic.

 “This is a more rigorous approach, and libraries have to begin to do performance assessments rather than surveys and tests to perform assessments of their work,” Dr. Oakleaf said. “The challenging part for librarians is trying to take those new concepts—and the correlation of library services, expertise, and resources as the value that academic libraries provide to students—and determine how to operationalize them.”

“It’s a new world but it’s a good world because these are important concepts students need to understand to be good information consumers,” she continued. “Still, it’s a little daunting because librarians are going to need to be more hands-on, deal with the subjective nature of assessment by using rubrics, and work to get access to student work in order to make those assessments.”
E-learning actually helps with the question of how to perform those assessments, Dr. Oakleaf added. That is because learning management systems provide built-in learner analytics, data that librarians can use to view student activity (such as participation levels and assignment submissions) to use in their assessments, when they are able to gain access to those records. “While it sometimes is a hurdle for academic librarians to be able to access student records,” she said, “at least the data is there.”