Monday, May 16, 2011

Commencement and Assessment

Saturday was Hope’s spring 2011 commencement ceremony. The faculty gathered in the staging area to don our academic regalia and then processed into the pavilion where we took our places in the reserved seating across the aisle from the graduates. I had a front row seat to watch the graduates, including five former student library assistants, walk across the stage.

I promise that was following the program and listening intently, but I confess that we occasionally whispered to one another. On my right, as the masters degrees in ministry were awarded, Dr. David Timms leaned in to boast, “These are my students.” On my left, fellow librarian, Terri Bogan, commented about a familiar face, “That guy lived in the library.” I replied, “I know! Where is he going to live now?”

We are proud of our newest alumni. After all, we have partnered (or conspired) together to prepare these people for this moment. The professors have crafted lectures, developed exercises, devised assignments, created exams, and arranged for a variety of learning experiences intended to bring out their best. The library sought to support the learning objectives of the curriculum by providing the information resources and services necessary to complete their assignments.

But our mission is not to prepare students for graduation. The library’s main contribution to the curriculum is to teach information literacy in every subject area to prepare them for lifelong learning. We do this without the benefit of a classroom or required course credit. There is no place on their transcript that indicates that library use or information competence is achieved. Information literacy is infused throughout the curriculum and we try to catch students at their point of need.

At that point of need we are not satisfied with simply giving students a quick answer to a query or making sure books listed on their syllabi are available on the shelves for them to check out. Our goal is to teach them how to find their own answers – not only in our library but in life after graduation.

But how do we know if we are successful?

If the three student addresses were representative of the class of 2011, I feel we have been successful. But that is not enough to determine if the library’s resources are adequate and our services are effective.

The library does not give grades or receive end-of-course student evaluations to indicate its effectiveness. We measure our value in the educational process in a variety of indirect ways.

Today, the library staff has its annual Assessment Breakfast. We don’t open our doors until noon and go off to a local restaurant for an extended breakfast meeting. We take this time to look back over the past year at what has happened outside of our control and what we have accomplished. We look at any data that may help us understand how things have changed, stayed the same, or how they should change. We look to the future and ask what next?

This kind of assessment helps put our day-to-day business into perspective. Why are we doing what we are doing? What is the point of learning how to integrate new ways of doing things and technologies when the old ways are working fine? …or are they?

In his commencement address, Gene Appel, talked about how our days are numbered and every day counts. We take this morning to stop, look, and assess in order to help us make every day count as we prepare to commence with the next academic year.

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