Making personal learning and professional development meaningful


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Research Application in Information and Library Studies, June 2012
University of South Australia
Co-written with Sarah Fearnley and Liz Stokes

This paper reflects on the linear ‘career progression’ model of industry specific and organisational continuing professional development (CPD) programs. We propose to extend and innovate current developments in Personal Learning Network (PLN) models through the consideration of non-traditional, informal professional development activities.

Formal professional development programs are endorsed by both institutional employers and professional organisations in the Library and Information (LIS) sector. Drawing on previous research into LIS PD programs (Brooker 2010, Dalby 2008) we argue that these programs are delivered top-down and reflect a linear based career progression model. More recently PLNs have been suggested as alternatives or enhancements to these formal PD programs (Howlett 2011, Bennett 2010). However, these alternative models are still focused on career progression and measuring ‘success’ in a professional context.

This paper reports on an experimental case study undertaken to interrogate the efficacy of a formal LIS industry PD program in addressing the CPD needs of university based information professionals. A modified PLN model was used to critically reflect on a series of examples (activism, community engagement and personal practice) which trouble the traditional scope of these formal programs. We argue that these examples, whilst not part of a formal (or informal) professional development program, reflect the passion and pleasure that information professionals develop through their study and work practices. These examples take place outside of the formal programs, without recognition, and enable a space for critical reflection and innovative application.

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  • Sef Michel de Certeau (1984) describes the act of walking through a city, and the subsequent transcription of the walk onto a map of the city. As you walk through the city you do many things as you pass by - you wander, you walk, you window shop, you have affective responses. But when you track the route you took on a map, all that is recorded is the path taken - what de Certeau calls the ‘trace’. He argues that this trace (or the line on the map) is then ‘substituted for the practice’ (97), transforming action and experience into some legible (quantifiable) and ‘causes a way of being in the world to be forgotten’ (97). In this paper we draw on this notion of de Certeau’s to argue that there’s more to an experience than the trace left behind, or the PD points recognised by an institution. Instead we propose that a combination of formal and informal professional development activities, and an ongoing desire to explore and apply the skills of the field of library and information work. We present the preliminary findings of an ongoing project investigating non-traditional and informal professional development activities, and suggest implications from these findings for the LIS sector. Liz We are a group of three friends who actively come together regularly to socialise, discuss our current work situations, and provide support and advice on everyday work and life issues. I was attracted to this group because I was hoping to build something useful from our shared history of the underground queer anarchist activist scene in Sydney. Our mutual friends recommended us to each other. My ex who is part of an anarchist bookshop collective said “oh yes, you should meet Jessie, she does Librarianship at UTS”. Another friend said “you remember Sef with the long dreds? Yeah, she’s been studying libraries in the UK, she’s back now”. In this short presentation today we will firstly outline the methodology undertaken for the experimental case study that forms the basis of this paper, and provide a brief definition and overview of professional development and personal learning networks, including our own. We will then describe four key themes that have emerged from the case study, illustrated with examples, and finally we will outline the key implications from these for the LIS sector more broadly.  
  • Sef We want to acknowledge that what we’re doing in this project something that is probably part of most of your everyday practices; you have friends in the field, and you meet up and talk about (or gossip, or bitch) each other's situation. And you still also take on the professional development activities required of you either by your employer or your professional association. By putting our activities within a research framework, however, we’re hoping to open up more conversation about the importance of these practices, and to address a lack of discussion in the literature about the value of non-institutional activities to LIS professionals. In part, we’re drawing on our activist backgrounds to argue for a place at the table of LIS practice for these activities that take place outside of the traditional framework for learning and experience. We found that this type of practice isn't discussed much in the literature, and that the main focus of PD literature, and the structure of professional development activities, is couched in a career progression model. As a consequence of this project we argue for a reimagining professional development as not always quantifiable not focussed on a linear career path as a space for pleasure and that it's adaptable to an individual's situation  
  • Sef So, we have formalised these motivations into the following research question. PAUSE Can LIS professional development and personal learning be meaningful outside of the bounds of a career progression model?  
  • Sef This question came out of the discussion group we’d formed. We decided to use our group as a case study, and this case study forms the basis of our methodology. We undertook a literature review which is still ongoing, and we meet semi regularly to discuss our personal and professional lives and the state of the LIS sector. We go on excursions together, and attend LIS related events, and we are presenting our preliminary findings here today. Taking part in a conference like this is often recommended as a PD activity, and as our findings will explore, we have come to recognise the value of both informal and formal PD, and so this paper also forms part of the case study. This is an ongoing project – with an emphasis on the experience on the final outcome (or line on a map).
  • Liz What makes somehting meaninngful? First we addressed our needs as university based info professionals, which we identified as something that keeps us engaged in the LIS field and is interesting reflects our interests build confidence in recognising our diverse skill set tapping into where we’re all at develop professionally without the need for measurement extend capacity to reflect on personal/ professional growth We knew we were doing a case study, and we knew that we were looking at professional development and personal learning networks, about we didn’t know what to call ourselves. It wasn't until a eureka moment around affinity group that we felt we’d found a term to describe what we were doing. Finding this motivating description that fits with our sense of self and community made these activities meaningful to us.   Don’t know what an affinity group is? Over to sef …
  • Sef We’ve drawn on wikipedia for this definition, because it reflects the non-hierarchical and communal decision making process: An affinity group is usually a small group of activists (usually from 3-20) who work together on direct action . Affinity groups are organized in a non- hierarchical manner, usually using consensus decision making , and are often made up of trusted friends . They provide a method of organization that is flexible and decentralized. Affinity groups can be based on a common ideology , a shared concern for a given issue or a common activity, role or skill (thanks Wikipedia!) Having started with this difinition, we’ll clarify some of the other key concepts that we’re examining in this research question. Liz -
  • Liz Make it brief We’ve found Hard to find a consistent & detailed definition – lots of talk about the function of PD and and its But generally, it is agreed that it is: Measurable by employer and industry (ie only 14% of ALIA members are enrolled in the PD scheme (Brooker, 2010)) Career-oriented pursuit Linear path to success Signpost the current debate whether there should be a PD standard for different levels of LIS practitioners.
  • Liz For example We examined the framework ALIA offers for PD activities.
  • Liz It’s clear from this that PD has a wide scope, and could be a to lot undertake for LIS practitioners,. We found a recent spate of literature discussing personal learning networks as a model for how practitioners are managing their PD activities. A personal learning network is An alternative or accessory to formal PD programs Focus on 'web 2.0' technologies to enhance networks Relies on personal networks and relationships S till has a Career-progress focus There’s a big emphasis in PLNS on problem solving – technology becomes a tool to ask questions and get answers through. As discussed earlier, the best description we have for our group is an affinity group. We didn’t feel that a PLN adequately described what we are doin g- we don’t rely heavily on technology, we have social connections outside of our professional practice and we emphasise the importance of reflection in our activities.
  • Sef: Thanks for those definitions Liz. This slide is a brief summary of some of the activities our affinity group has done this year, either individually or together. You can see from this table that the scope of activities is very broad, and ranges form workplace based certification through to going to an exhibition opening. This exhibition is worth describing. It was a presentation of work by a local Sydney zine make and writer, Vanessa Berry, who undertook a project to visit libraries in Sydney and write about them NEXT SLIDE
  • Sef Her major piece was a wall sized, hand drawn map of Sydney with the different libraries on it and her reflections. Going to the exhibition was great – we got to drink wine and catch up with each other, but also spend time considering the work. The artwork really highlighted for us the ability for libraries in particular to inspire creativity and curiosity in people, and reinforced some of the reasons why we ourselves are part of this library and information world.
  • Liz So, based our affinity group’s activity, and discussions the following preliminary findings have emerged Need for critical/reflective space Look outside the box Identity issues Importance of institutional frameworks We’ll discuss these briefly now.
  • Liz New for critical and reflective space away from our colleagues and work environment – this is one of the strengths of our project. for newcomers Lave and Wegner comment “the purpose is not to learn from talk as a substitute for legitimate peripheral participation. I t is to learn to talk as a key to legitimate peripheral participation. L earning how to be is more about how to talk about the challenges and practical nature of things through having a go at describing the process, reflection a nd relating past matters to future events. T he very act of trying that becomes peripheral participation in the broader activity of the information profession
  • Sef The second finding reflects the non-career path focus of our research question. Looking outside the box encourages a reflection on your existing skills and experience, and your own context. It is important to remember that our specialist LIS skills can be used in other contexts. For example, the three of were invited to join a project within a Sydney based artist run initiative called ‘The Librarium’. The project is based around a collection of small press publications, and features discursive events around it. M embers have a penchant for cataloguing, and want to propose radical filing methodologies as a way of making the world a better place.   We also found that the non-LIS experience each of us brought to the group really directed our activities and the way we organized ourselves. So for us, our mutual backgrounds in activism and community organizing has lead to us naming the group an affinity, and drawing on similar principles such as space based on trust motivated by DIY principles building confidence to work with bigger issues But, we are not suggesting that the affinity group model is suitable for everyone. Instead, we argue that through reflection LIS practitioners can look outside the box to shape their own model.
  • Liz The third theme we identified was one that reflects contemporary issues around the identity of LIS professionals. tensions between 'librarian' and 'information professional' 'librarian' creates a coherent identity (a beacon) broader identity reflects changing practices (Paltridge et al 2011) but can be vague and abstract A particular limitation of pd within the Australian university environment means that often university based PD programs are split between programs directed at developing an academic career path and office skills programs designed for professional staff. W ithin the professional staff stream this is forked again between leadership skills for managers and productivity skills for everyone else. \\ A central question remains – how does an information professional at a university develop professionally as a librarian (or data analyst, or archivist, and so on)
  • Sef This final finding was surprising to us, because we initially started the group looking for alternatives to the institutional frameworks, such as ALIA or even our own work based PD programs. But, what we have discovered is that the affinity group has allowed a curated engagement with these institutional PD programs, and this has in fact enhanced their efficacy. For example, as a PhD student, Jessie didn ’ t feel that these activities were relevant to her current project or career path. She was resistant to engage with, for example, ALIA events. But, once the affinity group formed, and another member joined the ALIA Sydney committee e , the group went along to events initially in support of the group member’s event. Although Jessie’s original motivation was to support the affinity group member, the experience was independently engaging and stimulating, igniting further curiosities about the sector for her.
  • Liz In conclusion, our preliminary findings suggest that it is possible that LIS professional development and personal learning can indeed be meaningful outside the bounds of a linear (institution-offered) career progression model. Implications for the LIS sector: look to other models/practices for inspiration make space for critical reflection R ecognise the personal and social value of PD. We shouldn’t characterise practitioner needs as solely career focused. Keep troubling the tension: means that there is value in twanging the dischord between "librarian" and "information professional". in one respect they are quite separate realms, but they have much to offer each other. And we would like to thank the RAILS8 aud ie nce for your motivating presence for our ongoing engagement and critical reflection on and in our practice.
  • Making personal learning and professional development meaningful

    1. 1. Making personal learningand professionaldevelopment meaningfulSarah Fearnley, Jessie Lymn& Liz Stokes
    2. 2. Project motivation● highlight the value of non-traditional professional development activities● reimagine PD as ○ not always quantifiable ○ not focussed on a linear career path ○ a space for pleasure ○ adaptable to an individuals situation
    3. 3. Research QuestionCan LIS professional development andpersonal learning be meaningful outside of thebounds of a career progression model?
    4. 4. Methodology● Ongoing literature review● Semi-regular meetings● Excursions● Preliminary findings reported in this paper● Ongoing project
    5. 5. What makes something meaningful?● Our needs as uni-based info pros● Engaged in the field● Pleasure● Schön’s ‘reflection in action’ and ‘reflection on action’
    6. 6. Key terms● Professional development ○ Hard to find a consistent & detailed definition ○ Measurable by industry and employer (Brooker 2010; Broady-Preston & Cossham 2010) ○ Career-oriented pursuit (Dallalba & Sandberg 2006) ○ Linear path to success (Valenza & Johnson 2009)● Personal learning networks
    7. 7. Affinity groups
    8. 8. Current activitiesActivity type Context ReasonsEnrol in Cert IV training and Workplace funded activity Increase employability across LIS sector, Confidence buildingassessmentAttend "Dealing with conflict and Part of university-wide PD Improve personal communication skills, Gain confidence innegotiation" 2 day workshop program approaching difficult situations, Network across the universityParticipate in unit team management Workplace funded activity Reflect on team culture and processes in workplacesystems dayBiblioburbia exhibition excursion Fun Part of research, Personal interest, Passion for librariesLibrarium meetup Fun Contributing back to communityJoin ALIA PD Program ALIA (and self!) Career progression Part of ALIA Sydney Committee, Supporting affinity group member,Attending various ALIA Sydney event ALIA (and self!) Relevance of topicWrite paper for RAILS8 Personal challenge Extending confidence & Part of professional practiceBTN Tour of State Library SA Fun Learning and curiosity & Enhancing the value of conference tripJoining ALIA Sydney committee Personal challenge Networking, expanding skill set
    9. 9.
    10. 10. Preliminary findings● Need for critical/reflective space● Look outside the box● Identity issues for LIS● Importance of institutional framework
    11. 11. 1. Need for critical + reflective space● enabled a critical space for reflection ○ critically engage with other models of PD ○ motivations for engaging with PD● reflective space ○ reflect on changing perspectives around PD
    12. 12. 2. Look outside the box● Applying LIS skills in other contexts ○ Draw inspiration from your own experience● Benefits of the affinity group model ○ space based on trust ○ motivated by DIY principles ○ building confidence to work with bigger issues
    13. 13. 3. Identity issues● tensions between librarian and information professional ○ librarian creates a coherent identity (a beacon) ○ broader identity reflects changing practices (Partridge et al 2011) but can be vague and abstract
    14. 14. 4. Importance of institutional frameworks● surprising finding● curated engagement through affinity group ○ different perspective on the value of PD programs
    15. 15. Implications for LIS sector● look to other models/practices for inspiration● make space for critical reflection● recognise the personal & social value of PD● keep troubling the tension of LIS identity
    16. 16. ReferencesBennett, T. & Wiebrands, C. 2010, Out on the edge: Using a personal learning network for continuing professionaldevelopment, paper presented to the ALIA Access 2010 Conference, Brisbane.Broady-Preston, J., & Cossham, A. 2011, Keeping the information profession up to date: Are compulsory schemes theanswer?, IFLA Journal, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 28-38.Brooker, J. 2010, Panning for gold: Professional development 2010-2015, paper presented to the ALIA Access 2010Conference, Brisbane.Certeau, M.d. 1984, The practice of everyday life, trans. S. Rendall, University of California Press, Berkeley, LosAngeles, London.Dall’Alba, G. & Sandberg, J. 2006, Unveiling professional development: A critical review of stage models, Review ofEducational Research, vol. 76, no. 3, pp. 383-416.Howlett, A. 2011, Connecting to the LIS online comunity: A new information professional developing a personallearning network, paper presented to the ALIA 5th New Librarians Symposium 2011, Perth.Partridge, H.L., Hanisch, J., Hughes, H.E., Henninger, M., Carroll, M., Combes, B., Genoni, P., Reynolds, S., Tanner,K., Burford, S., Ellis, L., Hider, P. & Yates, C. 2011, Re-conceptualising and re-positioning Australian library andinformation science education for the 21st century [Final Report 2011], Australian Learning and Teaching Council,Sydney.Valenza, J.K. & Johnson, D. 2009, Things that keep us up at night, School Library Journal, vol. 55, no. 10, pp. 28-32.