Michael Stephens, Gail Matthews-DeNatale, and I recently conducted a proof-of-concept research project on perspectives of higher education academic support staff. We’ll present a poster on the topic at the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. in mid-February, 2011. A brief overview and the fifteen emergent key themes are posted here; you can also see a more detailed overview document.
The “Academic 15:” Emerging Roles in 21st-Century Learning Support
We interviewed 24 library and I.T. professionals serving in positions that directly supported teachers, learners, and researchers, to understand their perspectives on curricular change and the ability of library and I.T. organizations to deal with that change. The project is on file with the Dominican University Institutional Review Board as “Perceived Changes in the Context of Teaching, Research, and Scholarship.”
We felt the experiences of academic support staff would provide a valuable insight into evolving curricular change in higher education. We also felt that a qualitative research project collecting and analyzing those experiences would be a beneficial supplement to existing instruments gathering wide-scale perspectives of higher education constituents, such as NSSE, FSSE, LibQual+, MISO, the ECAR Student Survey, and others.
We see this project as evidence that such an undertaking is feasible and valuable, and that it will return information that can help library and I.T. organizations in conceptualizing service provision, reconsidering their structure, and making strategic plans.
In a second phase, planned for Fall 2011, we will recruit sponsorship from library and I.T. professional organizations; hire professional ethnographers to interview and analyze responses; review and strengthen our methodology; and expand our scope to 50 participants.
II. Key Themes Emerging from Our Interviews:
1. Fundamental reconsiderations of pedagogy are having a dramatic impact on the curriculum and challenge us to rethink our strategies for supporting learning.
2. Cloud-based and consumer-oriented, third-party services create user expectations we struggle to meet in an era of limited staff budgets and funding.
3. We’re challenged to balance generalist support of basic services with the advanced technology and information needs of increasingly sophisticated faculty.
4. We find it difficult to staff and fund the support of established services while also investing resources in research and development and innovation.
5. The redefinition of the academic library in the digital age is a point of tension for library staff and the academic community.
6. We need to evolve from providing tools for users to the more demanding work of forming communities with users to collectively understand evolving curricular needs.
7. We need to communicate better within our organizations and between our organizations and our community.
8. We need to redefine our staff roles to promote people-focused, flexible, creative, entrepreneurial, community-integrated work groups.
9. As our roles change, creating meaningful opportunities for professional development becomes crucial.
10. Managing the effects of change on people is perhaps our most salient challenge.
11. We’re rebuilding library and I.T. organizations to thrive in the post-”sole provider” era.
12. We’re engaging the community and building relationships with other academic support units, attempting to be visible, and to communicate well. We’re increasing collaboration with peer institutions.
13. We’re turning to a re-working of the traditional library “liaison” role as one way we’ll integrate with the community.
14. We’re also beginning to advocate for a climate that can encourage and reward risk-taking.
15. An increasing desire to better understand our users is leading towards incorporating qualitative research in our ways of knowing. We’re rethinking the evidence we gather for decision-making.