May 12, 2018

Flipping the LIS Classroom | Office Hours

Michael StephensIn 2012, I wrote about the San Jose State University (SJSU) School of Library & Information Science’s (SLIS) evaluation of its core courses. We’re currently putting the finishing touches on a reimagined LIBR 200 class called “Information Communities.” While colleagues reworked other core courses, I’ve partnered with Debra Hansen, one of our senior faculty and a library historian, to create an evolving, modern course that presents students with our foundations as well as an overview of information users and the social, cultural, economic, technological, and political forces that shape their information access.

We’ve worked hard to align our new course with some of the most recent discourse concerning teaching and learning. The 2014 Horizon Report lists flipped classrooms as an important development in education impacting within one year or less (see “Library as Classroom”). The flipped model features lecture-style content consumed before class so that class time can be spent more collaboratively. In our 100 percent online model at SLIS, this means we’ve gathered experts to record a series of lectures on the various module topics. This frees instructors to focus on the more participatory aspects of the course: commenting on student blogs, forums, social media, and one-on-one inter­action with students. From the vernacular of massive open online courses (MOOCs) comes the concept of wrappers, where faculty use prepared core content and “wrap” their own lectures, readings, and insight around it. Our instructors will personalize each module to reflect their own information communities. It’s a great concept for a team-taught class. Students benefit from the expertise of a group of instructors, not just one.

Looking out

Framing the course as outward-­facing resonates strongly with me because it reflects exactly how our graduates and information professionals should view the world. Instead of putting the library in the center, we’ve placed the user there. To quote Karen Schneider, “the user is the sun.” From The Encyclopedia of Community, Joan Durrance and Karen Fisher’s definitive entry provided a theoretical framework: information communities promote a common interest around creation and exchange of distributed information; may be built around different focal points and topics; can emerge and function without geographical boundaries; and often exploit the Internet and technology. Each module explores these ideas and weaves in ways that libraries and information organizations can support diverse communities of information seekers, users, and creators.

Shades of Seth Godin’s Tribes and Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody color this approach and set students on a path to enter the profession understanding that community needs and service should come first. A healthy dose of Henry Jenkins’s Participatory Culture rounds out the mix. Community members aren’t just consuming information; they are generating new knowledge and new ideas.

Tuning in

Hansen and I received a grant from the Textbook Alternatives Project and Affordable Learning Solutions at the SJSU King Library to develop a course text of library and open access readings, sparing students the purchase of an expensive, commercially published tome. How freeing it was to mine recent open access scholarly works, web-published reports, and the wealth of professional literature online via our library to build our text. The module resources and lectures will evolve via new additions and deletions. Just like a library mission statement or technology plan, these aspects of the course should be “living and breathing,” not frozen in time.

Turning on

I’m most excited about the requirement for student reflection blogging in this course. Discussion forums, landlocked inside the learning management system, are giving way to a WordPress-enabled blog community that all of our core students will work with for thoughts on the course content. I am a longtime advocate of the power of blogging as a means to foster critical reflection in a safe thinking-out-loud space and promote engagement with other students and faculty via commenting. The Sloan Consortium, devoted to effective online education, recently heralded a similar model: the University of Nevada Las Vegas Journalism School’s use of WordPress and BuddyPress for multiuser blogging was cited as an educational innovation.

Additionally, blogging in an open community will give our students experience conducting themselves professionally online from the get-go. It’s never too early to learn how to participate ­constructively.

How does this approach positively impact the profession? I’d argue that students who experience a flipped environment will be better equipped to interact with, collaborate with, and teach others in their communities.

Michael Stephens ( is Assistant Professor at the School of Library and Information Science, San José State University, CA

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Michael Stephens About Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens ( is Associate Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University, CA