The Importance of Case Studies for LIS Education

Article excerpt

Introduction

LIS education is grappling with a rapidly changing work environment for newly graduating librarians and information professionals. The management of information and services is in constant evolution; technologies and tools are changing at a furious pace; the competencies required for success in today's digital and data-driven workplace are very different from a generation or two ago. In this transformational context, it is important to consider the value of case studies as an instructional strategy that can be highly beneficial for effective learning outcomes in LIS education. In this article, the co-authors describe the educational theory, the relationship to adult learning, the core competencies, and the learning outcomes that can result from utilizing the case study approach. Over 80% of graduates of LIS programs will be expected to supervise or manage others in the world place at some point in their career. Graduates of LIS programs should expect, as professionals, to be prepared to lead and manage staff, formally or informally, to participate in the management process by helping recruit, train and mentor newcomers, by chairing meetings, forming committees, representing the organization vis-a-vis external bodies, and "managing" donors, along with other groups.

John Dewey and Active Learning

It is instructive to begin this investigation with the educational philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952). As early as the turn of the 20th century, Dewey advised pedagogues that the best way to learn is by "doing." Regardless of one's propensity to accept John Dewey's philosophy of education, sometimes dubbed, "Dewey-ing," he nonetheless continues to enjoy an outstanding place in the history of 20th century education, as well as philosophy, liberal thought, and reform of school practices.

Dewey outlines his basic theory on how learning takes place and the process which he believed is a "thinking process" just as a scientist approaches his/her craft. If one is to learn at all, one must learn to think: "the native and unspoiled attitude of childhood, marked by ardent curiosity, fertile imagination, and love of experimental inquiry, is near, very near to the attitude of the scientific mind." (Dykhuizen, 1973, p. 94).

In one of his most popular teacher-training books, Democracy and Education, Dewey describes the kind of democratic education system needed for the 20th century (Dykhuizen, p. 139). Dewey contends that schools should endeavour to form a continuum with the child's experiences outside of school. Subject matters should center on his/her current interests, and learning must be accompanied by doing in order for theory and practice to develop together. Opportunities should be provided in the classroom for projects & activities in which the child's interest can be tested. Dewey wrote extensively on the value of "experience" in the learning process and deplored the tendency to downplay its value in schools in favour of theoretical coursework. "Experience is too often seen as something different from and inferior to knowledge." (Dykhuizen, p. 178) "Experiencing in purposeful activity is a way of understanding" (Dykhuizen, p. 272) as doing and making are integral passages to knowing. Whether one agrees entirely with Dewey's philosophy as applied to school children or to the school curricula, when it comes to adult learners, who often enroll in courses equipped with an abundance of practical "experience," capitalizing on such rich mines can only enhance the learning process.

Courses in subjects such as chemistry, medicine, or engineering impart a specific, prescribed body of knowledge. However, when it comes to a subject as complex as management where a theoretical body of knowledge represents but a portion of the whole learning experience, how does one provide graduate students with challenging and practical learning opportunities? Theory alone regarding planning, directing, controlling, staffing, will not produce a good manager. …