Academic Librarians as Online Teachers
ONLINE LEARNING 2019 > Faculty, Staff and Institutional Development
This presentation reports on the findings of a recent national survey of academic librarians across Canada who self-identify as having an online teaching role within their institution. The investigation uncovers the complexity and variation of online roles that academic librarians assume within their institutions, as teachers, instructional designers and leaders. This study also shows the prevalence of online teaching required from academic librarians.
The study also attempts to identify the specific technological and pedagogical skills required of academic librarians and assesses Canadian librarians’ reported preparedness to teach online. The findings indicate a growing involvement in online learning for Canadian academic librarians despite their reports of less than ideal opportunities to learn how to teach during professional librarian education. The librarians report that they often find themselves assigned to online teaching roles with insufficient background knowledge of pedagogy. This requires them to learn about online learning while they are teaching it.
A further complication is the proliferation of learning modes happening in academia, which often requires academic librarians to teach in both physical and online learning environments seamlessly. They are required to have an understanding of how to use technologies in the online teaching-learning process without the benefit of foundational training in pedagogy, or opportunities for practicum experiences that would build their pedagogical skills.
This study finds that there are multiple titles for the librarian roles specifically related to online learning. Titles such as eLearning Librarian, Digital Pedagogy Librarian, and Online Instructional Design Librarian are emerging, but online teaching is not limited to these specialized roles. Rather, the requirement to teach online is represented in multiple job categories. This requires academic librarians in teaching roles to have blended skills (Bell & Shank, 2004) that combine traditional librarian skills with technology and instructional design skills. This study finds, in addition, that librarians need to be able to apply these blended skills to work seamlessly across learning environments. For example, academic librarians increasingly have roles within learning management systems as embedded librarians. They are also asked to design learning objects and online guides for students to access just-in-time. Some academic librarians in Canada have e-learning and educational technology leadership roles within their institutions, driving institutional technology initiatives both within their libraries and campus-wide.
The survey for this study was distributed through the eLearning in Libraries Collective ListServ and the Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians ListServ. The study also analyzes recent academic librarian job posts in Canada to triangulate the data, showing that employer expectations are beginning to mirror the professional realities surrounding online roles. Many job posts acknowledge that instruction occurs across modalities and that academic librarians require blended skills for the online teaching role.
Based on the reports by Canadian academic librarians in online roles that they have not been well prepared for their online teaching roles, the study’s author outlines the technological and pedagogical competencies for academic librarians related to online teaching and learning. These include understandings of both asynchronous and synchronous environments for online learning content and delivery. It also makes recommendations regarding the future direction of the curriculum of professional librarian education programs in Canada to better prepare future librarians for emerging online pedagogical roles. This includes integrating practical teaching experience in varied learning environments into the curriculum and focusing on four key course areas: teaching and learning theory, instructional design, instructional technologies and information literacy instruction. Librarians also asked for more training in student assessment, so that they would know whether or not students are learning in the online setting.
This research is designed to inform the ongoing curriculum processes at universities. In turn, this research may help academic library administrators identify areas for the ongoing professional development of current academic librarian staff.