Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Communities of Practice for Blended Learning: Toward an Integrated Model for LIS Education

Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Communities of Practice for Blended Learning: Toward an Integrated Model for LIS Education

Article excerpt

LIS programs face the dual challenges of providing quality online education and preparing future professionals to work in blended environments. Blended learning in a classroom community of practice (CoP) supports professional development through active engagement and collaborative learning while simultaneously exposing students to the skills in librarianship, information technology, and instructional design that are needed by blended librarians. This paper presents a CoP model for blended learning as a guide for the design of effective learning environments to foster student growth related to core LIS concepts, practices, values, and leadership skills. The model's application to the design and implementation of one graduate level LIS course is described and discussed, with the aim of providing a basis for assessing its strengths, weaknesses, and value for replication. Student responses to the learning experience indicate that the approach was sufficiently effective to warrant further use and refinement.

Keywords: Blended learning, communities of practice, design based research, instructional models, library and information science education, professional development

Introduction

The ubiquity of the Internet in our daily lives and the array of tools from email to virtual worlds has spawned excitement about the possibilities and wariness about the quality of online teaching and learning. Haythornthwaite et al. (2007) believe that educators are moving away from the debate over face-to-face vs. online and toward a fertile period of new theories, methods, and approaches. Some argue that student demand makes online courses inevitable (Brooks, 2009).

LIS education faces the dual challenges of providing quality online education and preparing future professionals to work and provide services in blended environments. While activities combining face-to-face and online activities in libraries predate the use of the term, "blended librarian" dates to 2004 when Bell and Shank proposed this definition: "the blended librarian [is] an academic librarian who combines the traditional skill set of librarianship with the information technologist's hardware/software skills, and the instructional or educational designer's ability to apply technology appropriately in the teachinglearning process" (p. 374).

How can LIS curricula provide quality online education and at the same time provide students with opportunities to develop skills in librarianship, information technology, and instructional design? A potentially valuable approach is blended learning in a classroom community of practice (CoP). The CoP framework provides for an integrated model of inquiry learning and social learning within the context of professional community building. Coupled with the use of easy-to-learn technologies (low threshold applications; see Bell & Shank, 2007, p. 99), a CoP blended learning environment allows participants to focus on core knowledge and practices of librarianship (including information technologies) while simultaneously providing the experience of learning through technology-infused instruction.

This paper presents a CoP model for blended learning to guide the design of learning environments that foster student growth related to core LIS concepts, practices, values, and leadership skills. It begins with brief discussions of blended learning, theories of social constructivist and adult learning, Wenger's (1998) communities of practice framework, and a comparison of face-to-face and online communication as considerations in the development of the model. We then turn to a description of the model and its application in the design of one required LIS course, Reference & Online Services. The paper ends with an examination of the outcomes of using the model and implications for further research and refinement.

Challenges of Blended Learning

Blended learning brings benefits and challenges on many levels. …

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