Assessing iSchools

By Cox, Richard J.; Mattern, Eleanor et al. | Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Assessing iSchools


Cox, Richard J., Mattern, Eleanor, Mattock, Lindsay, Rodriguez, Raquel, Sutherland, Tonia, Journal of Education for Library and Information Science


Over the past decade, iSchools have emerged to educate the next generation of information professionals and scholars. Claiming to be edgy and innovative, how can and should these schools function in the spirit of assessment that now drives so much in the university? This essay, which explores how well we can assess iSchools, emerged from a doctoral seminar, Academic Culture and Practice, taught by Richard Cox and including four doctoral student participants and the Dean of School of Information Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, Ronald Larsen. The doctoral students, among other activities, were required to work on assignments to support a self-study for the University of Pittsburgh's reaccreditation by the Middle States Association. As we proceeded through the course, we found ourselves increasingly drawn to questions about how iSchools, in their nascent state, can assess themselves. Four major areas-reputation, evaluating productivity in scholarly publishing, student evaluation of teaching, and student satisfaction with their academic programs-that emerged based on student interest as the seminar proceeded are discussed.

Keywords: iSchools, LIS education, assessment, accreditation, essay

Introduction

Just a couple of decades ago, one controversy in the education of librarians and other information professionals was the loss of "library" in the name of some schools, beginning a conversation that links to the present iSchool movement. Half-a-dozen years ago the iSchool Caucus was formed, annual conferences started, and schools that were not former LIS schools began to join. Today, the focus of discussion about LIS education resides with these iSchools.

Ischools "address the relationship between information, technology, and people," elevating information and its management to a critical role in society (Larsen, 2010, p. 3018). While some wonder why older notions of L-Schools or LIS Schools do not fit within this definition, iSchools have a more complicated vision. Larsen adds, "an iSchool provides the venue that enables scholars from a variety of contributing disciplines to leverage their individual insights, perspectives, and interests, informed by a rich, 'transdisciplinary1 community" (p. 3021). The heart of the notion of "trans-disciplinarity" is creating new knowledge, but as Larsen points out, such collaboration is "not a natural act" and needs to be fostered deliberately (p. 302 1 ).

Change occurs slowly in universities, so how does this work for iSchools? Claiming to be edgy and innovative, how can and should these schools function in the spirit of assessment that now drives so much in the university? (Olson and Grudin, 2009). This essay explores how we can assess the recent iSchools, emerging from a doctoral seminar, Academic Culture and Practice, taught by Richard Cox and including four doctoral students. This seminar addresses a particular problem identified by Jonathan Cole in his important study about American universities, namely their lack of attention to preparing new faculty and leaders (Cole, 2009). This course immerses students into the history and culture of higher education, the context for the development of LIS education, and prepares doctoral students for academic careers.

We did not examine all iSchools, but focused on ones descending from older schools educating librarians and archivists, representing our immediate context (namely the school at the University of Pittsburgh tracing its origins back more than a century to the training of school librarians). We recognize that there are now iSchools lacking this lineage, emerging from other domains such as communications or computer science.

Given that our school was involved in preparing a self-study for the University of Pittsburgh's reaccreditation by the Middle States Association, doctoral students, among other activities, worked on assignments to support this self-study. As we proceeded through this course, we found ourselves increasingly drawn to questions about how iSchools, in their nascent state, assess themselves.

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