Newsletter of the Association of Library and Information Science Students (ALISS)




 title of the newsletter: The Silverfish


March 2004

Vol VIII Issue III

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Information School
University of Washington
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Curriculum Metamorphosis on the Horizon

By John Glover, MLIS Day
Library and Information Science has undergone fundamental changes at the University of Washington in the last decade. The faculty has more than tripled in size, with major figures in the field moving to Seattle to be part of the changes. The student population has increased in size and competitiveness. The School has moved its headquarters to spacious, high-tech facilities. The prestige of the program has grown dramatically. If anything has been a constant throughout this process, it has been change and growth. This trend will continue over the next year as the school undertakes its next ambitious project – embedding and integrating diversity across the iSchool curriculum.

The project, officially known as the Curriculum Transformation Project, encompasses a number of steps that will involve people at all levels of the iSchool from students to staff to faculty to Dean Eisenberg. “Student perspectives on this are highly relevant and crucial in this discussion,” says Bridget Warbington, co-chair (with Assistant Professor Maurice Green) of the iSchool’s Diversity Committee, where the project was initially proposed. Students will have plenty opportunity next quarter to provide their input into the transformation process – on the day next quarter (yet to be determined) when our classes will be suspended and an all-iSchool workshop will be held to get the ball rolling.

“What students come up with is a starting point,” says Green. This first step of the project is designed to allow a bottom-up approach to diversity that will give students the opportunity to voice concerns they have, instead of choosing from preset options and ideas delivered from on high. “We need representation across all of the student groups,” says Green. “This project depends on step one, which depends on good representation from each of the programs.” Warbington says the project needs a number of things to succeed, including “open communication and a general willingness to listen to one another and consider new things.”

The project has been in the works for some time, with information being collected to establish a baseline inventory of diversity in the curriculum. According to Warbington, the goal of the project is “to take a comprehensive look at the curriculum of the Information School and to articulate and define areas where diversity is currently being explored and new areas where it could be embedded and integrated, but isn’t currently.” After the baseline information has been collected, the iSchool will have a standard for comparison a year and further down the road to gauge just how the curriculum has changed and the extent to which diversity has been successfully integrated into existing classes.

The Curriculum Transformation Project is not unique in concept, but it is unique among Information Schools in scope and ambition. For the first time, a school is going to examine its entire curriculum, taking account of everyone’s opinions, bringing in diversity consultants to study the program, and relying on known national leaders on curriculum transformation, including Drs. Johnella Butler and James Banks, both of the UW, to help shepherd the school through the project. “We are documenting the process,” says Green. “If the project produces the results we want, it will be an example of how diversity can be implemented in a curriculum.”

A project as large as this one could only succeed with solid support, which this one appears to have. According to Warbington, “the climate in the School is perfect for starting this dialogue. Students are hungry for this, faculty are 100% on board and the administration, including Dean Mike Eisenberg, the Associate Deans and the staff are strong supporters of diversity. This isn’t a unilateral endeavor and the widespread support for this initiative is what makes it possible.”

When asked why iSchool students – occupied with school, alcohol, work, alcohol, online discussion forums, conferences, alcohol, and so on – should be interested in the project, Green replies that “the information field is hot. Our people are increasingly desired by organizations. We’ve got a great opportunity, so we’ve got great responsibility to train our students. Totally different management skills may be needed in different organizations.” While the project is about diversity, its greatest impact on iSchool students will be in terms of hirability. “Students should be better prepared to consider diversity in their careers and their lives as a result of this project,” says Warbington. “This makes them desirable in leadership settings, in public and private organizations.”

However this initiative unfolds – whatever we in the iSchool decide we want diversity to be and what role we want it to play in our curriculum – the landscape here is going to look different in a year. “I believe that change is a guarantee,” says Warbington.

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