December 12, 2017

Renee F. Hill | LJ/ALISE Excellence in Teaching Award Winner 2017

Centered on Students

The range of the 23 courses she leads (many of which she designed herself); her passion for teaching; her ability to create online asynchronous courses and make them come alive and feel personal to her students; and the extension of her role as an educator far beyond the MLIS classroom are only a few of the reasons Renee F. Hill has won the 2017 LJ/ALISE Excellence in Teaching Award, sponsored by Rowman & Littlefield. Hill was nominated by her colleague and friend Paul T. Jaeger, director of the MLIS program at the College of Information Studies (CIS) at the University of Maryland. Jaeger won the Award in 2014.

Online teaching

Teaching is clearly Hill’s first love. She has perfected online instruction in ways that engage with students more than traditional, face-to-face classroom methods Each course begins with students posting videos about themselves to get to know one another. She starts each week with a note combining what is happening in the course with other useful information “utterly unrelated to class. Last semester it was life hacks, this semester it is random acts of kindness,” says Jaeger. Rather than having students read about a subject, she interviews someone directly working on the topic and shares the recording with her class.

“Renee makes online teaching a very personal and engaging experience…. Online courses have the real potential to be sterile or even robotic, but Renee designs online education so it is based on constant human interaction,” says Jaeger. “There are rolling conversations about what is going on in her classes, in our halls, in our student lounge, and before, after, and during the breaks in other classes.”

Hill is director of the School Library Specialization at Maryland’s CIS; the entire specialization is taught online. “It is fun to figure out how to make things real and interesting, and part of the fun for me is learning how to use the technology to reach the students and share a little bit of my personality with them. That way there is not much difference between being in a face-to-face class and being online,” Hill tells LJ.

“Most of my career has been teaching online. I take great joy in that, but it is a challenge. It is asynchronous so we never actually meet together at the same time.” The students have access to Hill any time through video and online. “I am more than happy to help them. Sometimes they are afraid they will bother me. I have to tell them every week they are not bothering me,” Hill reports with her usual ­enthusiasm.

“I am constantly amazed by the new ideas that Renee has for presenting materials and ideas in online courses and the extent to which all of [her] students…are truly engaged. She genuinely believes that every student is capable of achieving success, and her courses emphatically demonstrate that belief,” Jaeger says.

Students on Hill

Enthusiastic students show why Hill is such an outstanding and innovative teacher, as a sampling of their letters to the award committee demonstrate.

“[W]hat makes Dr. Hill so deserving of this award…is her commitment [to] bettering both her students and the field. Her teaching is truly student-centered in every sense of the word. Dr. Hill not only welcomes but integrates students’ feedback into her classes as she teaches them, recognizing that we have unique contributions to offer as well. She creates a classroom where everyone’s knowledge and experiences are not just welcome but valued,” writes Karina Hagelin, a current MLIS candidate at CIS.

“Not only is Dr. Hill forward thinking in the subjects she teaches, she also seeks out advances in online teaching tools to continually improve instruction methods…. Dr. Hill has impressed upon me the value of libraries as community space, information professionals as community builders, and that libraries are for ‘all people of the community the library serves’…. Her support has smoothed my transition from graduate school to my first professional position. My path into librarianship has been indelibly shaped by Dr. Hill’s commitment to teaching excellence and utmost care for her students,” wrote Nancy Lovas, a May 2017 MLIS graduate, now a business reference specialist at the Library of Congress.

“She not only shares her own experiences in pursuing higher education, but she fosters a sense that we, too, will succeed in our goals through determined effort and dedication,” writes Dorothy L. Marti, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel in the CIS MLIS class of 2018.

“I don’t think my library and information science education would be complete without Prof. Hill’s lessons, which …show her dedication to her students and diversity and inclusion in the field,” writes MLIS student Andrea Castillo.

Research and service

That dedication shows in her publishing as well as her pedagogy. Many of Hill’s publications focus on how to make LIS education more inclusive and better focused on meeting the needs of diverse populations. They are aimed at a wide range of professionals, and Hill frequently works with libraries and school systems to educate staff about diversity and inclusion practices, research, and opportunities. Hill serves as associate diversity and inclusion officer and equity administrator at CIS in addition to her position as senior lecturer and director in the CIS School Library Specialization.

According to Jaeger, Hill’s teaching, research, and service are integrated and bring together professional practice, innovative research, and key theories. Currently, Hill is embarking on a new research interest in library service to the incarcerated, with a special focus on youth.

Among Hill’s massive list of service to education for the profession is her work as a member of the editorial board of the Library Quarterly. “I love reading cutting-edge research so I love being on the LQ board. I like the double-blind refereeing method. It eliminates bias,” says Hill.

Mentors & models

Hill says her parents, Anthony and Faye Franklin, were her first teachers when she was growing up in Fort Lauderdale, FL. “They not only believed in me but told me that it did not matter what I wanted to do, I should do it,” she says.

Her strongest mentor was Elfreda Chatman, her professor at Florida State University (FSU). Chatman helped Hill focus her research and be unafraid to do it. “I got a lot of pushback from people for researching race and diversity questions, but Dr. Chatman urged me to go ahead,” Hill says. After Chatman died, Kathleen Burnett became Hill’s major professor. Burnett helped and advised Hill through the PhD program even though their interests were not the same. About Jaeger, who has been her close colleague since they both studied for their master’s degrees, Hill says, “He is not only a friend but the best colleague a person could ask for.”

focus on diversity

“My focus continues to be serving people who are often marginalized. It is an area that is often overlooked and uncared about. I’m still strengthening my ability to do research about and teach about them,” Hill explains.

On how library and information education is advancing, Hill has a clear vision. “I think that we have made definite strides to become more diverse, but, unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. It isn’t because people don’t care. It is that people don’t know exactly what to do,” she says. “We need more people working consistently on making the field more diverse both in terms of the people who work in it and identifying underrepresented and underserved populations to reach out to them. We have to work at finding out what their needs are [and] how they want those needs to be met,” Hill says.

This may require a self-check. “Professionals will sometimes create programs, assuming they will work. They never even bother to ask the community they are trying to reach,” Hill says. “We do a lot of that, but that is improving now. As more research is done and more practice is refined, we understand more, but we still need to do more to include the people who want help.”

Photos by Craig A. Taylor

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

LJ would like to thank this year’s judges and ALISE representatives: Clayton A. Copeland, Director, Laboratory for Leadership in Equity of Access & Diversity (LLEAD), School of Library and Information Science, University of South Carolina, Columbia; Cindy C. Welch, Clinical Associate Professor, UT Experience Learning Fellow, School of Information Sciences, University of Tennessee, Knoxville; LJ Editorial Director Rebecca T. Miller; and Jenna Hartel, Associate Professor, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, and winner of the 2016 Teaching Award. LJ thanks Rowman & Littlefield for its generous support that makes this award, which comes with a $3,000 prize, possible.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

John N. Berry III About John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III (jberry@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.

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Comments

  1. Marilyn Arnone says:

    Congratulations, Renee! This is a huge honor. And thank you for your wonderful guest interview for my Youth Services course at Syracuse. After watching your interview, my students, like yours who contributed to this article, commented on your dedication, commitment and insight. You helped expand their ideas and knowledge about cultural competence and diversity. Thank you!

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