What does your student-centered lens on library practice look like?

Perhaps you, too, have been following some of the recent instances of student shaming and blaming. I’m referring particularly to the piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education in which the author suggests a fictional student is lying about a grandmother’s death as a way to get out of finals. I’m also referring to the session at the 2017 ACRL conference in which a few presenters disparagingly referred to their students as “our sweet dum-dums.” Even just a sample of the incisive commentaries on these and similar instances of student shaming (check out, for example, pieces from Acclimatrix, Jesse Stommel, Jordan Noyes, Joshua Eyler, and Veronica Arellano Douglas to name a few) illustrate how incongruous this talk is with the very real empathy, care, and respect I know we have for our students.

We could dissect the problems that are at the core of these troublesome statements further. We could discuss what happens when we talk like this and why it’s imperative that we don’t. We could reflect on the times we’ve inadvertently said regrettable things ourselves. But what I’m more interested to think about now is how we exercise our empathy, care, and respect for students, and how we can do it better still. What does it mean to keep students at the center of our library practice?

I think it’s worth checking in with the significant history and usage of the term “student-centered” in pedagogical contexts. There, we might see the concept phrased as “student-centered learning,” particularly when contrasted against “teacher-centered learning.” We might sometimes see it called “student-centered teaching” or “learner-centered education.” While these terms might indicate slightly different philosophical orientations, they are essentially variations of the same.

Maryellen Weimer says that learner-centered education is about learning skills for learning, alongside content. It requires learners to reflect on the what and the how of their learning. It invites students as collaborators and leaders of their learning. Learner-centered education, or student-centered education, changes the balance of power and control. “The goal of learner-centered teaching,” Weimer writes, “is the development of students as autonomous, self-directed, and self-regulating learners” (p. 10). In the learner-centered environment, learners have a lot of responsibility and, as Phyllis Blumberg asserts, the instructor’s role “shift[s] . . . from givers of information to facilitators of student learning or creators of an environment for learning” (p. xix).

When we talk about student-centered, then, we’re talking about engaging students in high-impact practices and with skills and resources that contribute to their learning and help them continue to learn. We’re talking about helping students succeed and continue to be successful. We’re talking about empowering our students to be active agents in their own learning.

Student-centered is a guiding principle by which we chart our path. Student-centered is an attitude or a disposition, a way of working.

A student-centered way of working means practicing empathy for students. It means inviting students to co-construct meaningful learning experiences and environments. It also means challenging our students to think deeply, critically. It means challenging them to challenge their assumptions and themselves, and to go further.

A student-centered lens on our library practice means enhancing the role of assessment in our decision-making and improvement, asking what kind of impact we are having (or not having) on student learning and success. It means enhancing student voices in our decision-making, inviting their input in formal and informal ways. This way of working means cultivating an attitude of flexibility, innovation, and improvement. It means collaborating across a library, across an institution.

What does your student-centered lens on library practice look like? I’m eager to hear your thoughts in the comments.

2 thoughts on “What does your student-centered lens on library practice look like?

  1. Hi Jennifer

    Great post – an incredibly important thing for us to be thinking about – THANK-YOU!!!

    Understanding our own personal pedagogy is an important facet in this conversation, & I suspect that many of us would derive great value from undertaking some reflection & analysis in this domain – I definitely have. Basically our personal pedagogy is what we think learning is & what we think teaching is, & how these understandings influence how we actually teach & learn. And, if we think that lifelong learning is important to librarianship, it can also inform other aspects of our professional role.

    Just in case anyone is interested in seeing an example of someone unpacking their personal pedagogy, I’ve provided some of my own:
    * You can use an anecdote to unpack your personal pedagogy – https://reflectionsoflib.wordpress.com/2015/01/08/unpacking-personal-pedagogy-with-a-metaphor/
    * You can use a metaphor to unpack your personal pedagogy – https://reflectionsoflib.wordpress.com/2015/01/08/unpacking-personal-pedagogy-with-a-metaphor/
    * An example of reflection with a specific situation – https://reflectionsoflib.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/librarians-are-at-the-intersection-of-so-many-things/
    * An application to my liaison work – https://reflectionsoflib.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/how-my-personal-pedagogy-influences-my-academic-client-liaision/
    * You can express these in some visual format as well – https://reflectionsoflib.wordpress.com/2015/01/07/my-personal-pedagogy-its-stucture-expressed-in-a-diagram/

    There are also a few references in these posts. Markland & McGill are particularly useful. Elbaz is wonderful but it is a report on research that inspired lots of thinking in this area so not of the same practical value unless you really get into this & want to explore more – I loved it.

    I hope that personal pedagogy is useful to some of you out there 🙂 Sandra

  2. I so appreciate this post, Jen. For me, student-centered practice means acknowledging that students are first and foremost people. My goal of the day may be to “create an inclusive environment for learning” but theirs might be getting to work on time, figuring out how to pay tuition that semester, taking care of an ailing parent or being a single mother. So many of those student-shame-y “articles” and satirical pieces want to divorce the human from the student, as though they only have one identity that matters to the educator. We are here for the whole student, the whole human being, and should remember that!

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