Sara Seely is in her 3rd year as a reference librarian at Portland Community College (PCC). She came to PCC from Boise State University (BSU). At PCC—Rock Creek, she is liaison to Composition & Literature, Writing, Art, and Microelectronics & Technology departments. She is sociology liaison for the whole PCC district. We asked Sara some questions to provide context to her contribution to LART’s Oregon Library Association conference panel discussion of assessment in Oregon libraries, scheduled for Thursday April 17th, 11-12:30.
LART: Where do you take inspiration from in your assessment work?
Sara: Curiosity. I pay attention to what questions my colleagues have about our teaching, about what students are or are not carrying with them (onto the next class, onto the next college, into the workplace). I’ve found assessment to be most meaningful when it derives from genuine interest in asking questions and following our curiosities about our work in order to make real improvements in practice. Some of those questions are “What are the common themes or questions from a given discipline?” “How can my assessment work have value to another department?” I have questions about the overlap in learning outcomes, but also questions about our teaching or student learning.
L: Which authors and what approaches would you recommend to library staff read to learn more about assessment?
S: I definitely have some assessment heroes and they are the typical playlist: Deb Gilchrist, whose work showed me the value of having an assessment cycle, ongoing assessment practice. In terms of rubrics and thinking about library value, I look to Megan Oakleaf; I read ALL of her stuff. I’ve drawn inspiration from Char Booth’s work on reflective teaching practice. As an example of what I draw from her, I might do a quick and easy, throw-away assessment during a session — and what is valuable are my reflections afterward. Project Information Literacy is another great source. I also find it helpful to get to know what assessment looks like in other disciplines, so, for example, read the assessment reports published by other departments at the college to get insight into how they approach this work, and where the common ground might be.
L: Assessment is a daunting task for many of us. How do you deal with that?
S: It’s easy to fall into a top-down approach (this is what we need to prove so let’s design an assessment that gets us what we need) and not that that’s wrong, we do want what we learn to map to the greater goals of the institution. But I find that directly because assessment takes A LOT of work, and the work is usually on top of all that we do, it is most satisfying when driven by real questions. All that to say – don’t worry – it WILL map to the larger institutional goals and it’s then our task to articulate HOW.
Also, I can’t speak enough about collaborative assessment. It’s the way to go – we are ALL doing this work, across the college, and we can do it together. Many of the questions I have about my teaching occur to me when walking and talking with a faculty member after an instruction session. I was VERY lucky at BSU to do ongoing collaborative assessment with the first-year-writing program and it was the basis for the curriculum we developed – not the other way around! I learned so much from sitting in a room with writing faculty and looking at student work – they established trust (no assessment should be punitive) and open dialogue about program (not course) improvement – and it was a joy to watch the program develop and grow.
L: What are PCC librarians doing to use assessment as one way to position information literacy throughout the curriculum?
S: In Spring 2012 we received an internal grant to bring Deb Gilchrist to campus and provide a day-long workshop to help us develop vision for our assessment work and a concrete plan to measure success by. We have ongoing library representation on college committees; for example Pam Kessinger and Torie Scott have both served on the Learning Assessment Council and the Curriculum Committee, both of which do college-wide work and are important touchpoints for the library.
Pam’s curriculum mapping work is an amazingly effective communication tool that makes visual the skills related to finding and evaluating information sources across the PCC curriculum as a student moves through the college. She has mapped a critical thinking continuum from basic knowledge to complex understanding in terms of PCC classes in which librarians teach sessions, which shows faculty the value of sequencing information literacy instruction. For more information on the curriculum mapping, see http://www.pcc.edu/library/about/library-instruction-your-classes under Research Support Framework.
We have a communities-of-practice model at PCC and we’re moving the work out of the library; I’m starting to sit in on an assessment group in another department. We are creating a culture of assessment, mostly by engaging in assessment activities (big or small) and carving out time to have regular and open conversations. I think the most important thing we’re doing is simply engaging in assessment, which allows us to follow our curiosities and make the work of assessment meaningful.