The way of WalDorF: fostering creativity in LIS programs

Publication Date08 May 2017
AuthorKeren Dali
SubjectLibrary & information science,Records management & preservation,Document management,Classification & cataloguing,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Scholarly communications/publishing,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management,Information & communications technology,Internet
The way of WalDorF: fostering
creativity in LIS programs
Keren Dali
School of Library and Information Studies,
University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to call into question the most longstanding pedagogical practices in
academia while analyzing their potential to foster student creativity and innovation in the classroom. While
some suggestions advanced in this paper may not have the same importance in other fields and disciplines,
they are highly relevant in the applied, interdisciplinary, and very fast moving field of Library and
Information Science (LIS).
Design/methodology/approach Positioning creativity as a teachable skill and relying on the learner-
centered pedagogy of Carl Rogers, the paper presents a model that can serve as a litmus test for the creative
potential of graduate-level assignments in LIS programs. The model is called Walls,”“Doors,and Fences
(WalDorF); these terms refer to specific statements in graduate assignment descriptions that are necessary
(Walls); conducive to creative expression (Doors); or unjustifiably restrictive (Fences). The paper uses a
sample assignment from a Foundations of LIScourse to illustrate the model; it also provides several
examples of the WalDorF model application in other LIS courses.
Findings Using the WalDorF model, the paper revisits and challenges some of the most common
pedagogical practices in graduate LIS teaching, including the prevalence of written papers as course
assignments; the implications of equating researchwith an overview of secondary literature; the need for
professorsapprovals of research topics; the meaning of the quality of writing;the imperative of academic
writing as opposed to other types of writing; the word/page limit; the use of standardized reference styles; the
class participation requirement; and the late assignment policies, among others.
Originality/value The real change in educa tion is foundational a nd goes beyond cosmeti c
improvements. If we want t o develop learning expe riences that tap into st udentscreative potential, the
very core of our approa ches needs to be scrutin ized and questioned, ev en the centuries-old staples of
academic teaching. At t he end of the day, we may decide that changi ng things is not in the best interests of
learning. However, a com plete critical analytic al work must be done to convi nce and reassure ourselve s
that tried-and-true meth ods are the best way to go. The proposed WalDo rF model presents one possible
frame for critical revis ion.
Keywords LIS education, Innovation, Learner-centred pedagogy, Creativity, Carl Rogers,
Graduate assignments
Paper type Conceptual paper
Disrupting the foundations to unleash creativity
In an age that makes us revisit definitions, reconsider the past, and reimagine the future,
stereotypes are challenged and the routine is disrupted to give way to innovation.
The field of information is akin to metafiction. We all have common goals, but we achieve
them in a myriad of ways. Inside the unifying frame of information, technology, and people,
our paths are choose your own adventure.The stories of individual professionals,
researchers, and entire departments are nonlinear and interlacing, like hypertext, and at
times, the inventions and discoveries of the field are so spectacular that they blur the
boundaries between reality and fiction. This environment needs creative minds: hence, the
ongoing discussion on educating information creatives, not just information professionals.
There seems to be little disagreement that critical thinking, creative abilities, the skill for
innovation, and the aptitude for lifelong learning are vital for the future of the information
field, and there is no doubt that pedagogies supporting these qualities should be an integral
part of the curriculum.
There is also a realization that graduate professional education is more than content
delivery. Students learn through collaboration and socialization and regard faculty
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 73 No. 3, 2017
pp. 407-431
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JD-05-2016-0068
Received 27 May 2016
Revised 1 October 2016
Accepted 15 October 2016
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
creativity in
LIS programs
members as role models. Our attitudes as educators, our departmental practices, and our
classroom policies are all part and parcel of the learning process. They are a microcosm.
From student learning outcomes to seminal research reports (e.g. Bertot et al., 2015) to
books, reports, and presentations by industry leaders (e.g. Schmidt et al., 2014), we talk
creativity and innovation[1]. We talk disruption. We talk change.
And this change starts with us. Do our teaching attitudes contribute to a
suitable atmosphere for studentscreativity to spring up and thrive? Are we prepared
to critically examine and, if need be, revisit and disrupt the most longstanding
pedagogical practices and approaches that we often use as a matter of habit? Are we
comfortable enough to start thinking outside the box so that our students will have role
models to follow? Are we prepared to give them enough freedom to shape their own
educational experiences?[2].
These questionsare at the heart of this paper, whichgrounds the current developmentsin
the field, recordedin Re-E nvisioning the MLS(Bertot et al., 2015) and otherpublications (e.g.
Associationof American Colleges and Universities, 2013; Auckland,2012; Bedford et al., 2015;
Hart Research Associates, 2013; Schwartz, 2016), in the philosophy of learner-centered
education advanced by Carl R. Rogers as early as the mid-twentieth century. Positioning
creativity as a practical and acquired skill and providing an overview of Rogerssviewson
creativity, thepaper proceeds to revisit and challenge some of the most common pedagogical
practicesin graduate Library and InformationScience (LIS) teaching,including the prevalence
of written papers as course assignments; the implications of equating researchwith an
overview of secondary literature; the need for professorsapprovals of research topics; the
meaning of the quality of writingrequirement; the imperative of academic writingfor
student papers as opposed to other types of writing; the word/page limit; the use of
standardized reference styles; the class participation requirement; and the late assignment
policies, among others.
The paper offers a critical revision of these practices through the development and
application of the Walls,”“Doors,”“Fences(WalDorF[3]) model, which classifies
instructional assignment statements into guiding and necessary statements (Walls);
unnecessarily restrictive statements (Fences); and statements promoting creativity and
self-direction (Doors). To illustrate this model, the paper uses an example of an assignment
likely to be offered in a Foundations in Library and Information Sciencecourse; some
version of this course can be found in most LIS programs under different names.
The classification of statements from the assignment description into WalDorF is based on
the questions guided by the Rogerian learner-centered approach, namely: does the
assignment requirement enable significant learning, experiential learning, and facilitative
learning, as will be defined below? Does it foster studentsopenness to experience, sense of
personal satisfaction, and spontaneity? (Rogers, 1995). In addition, the paper analyzes two
other elements of the course design the requirement of class participation and the
overall language and tone of the syllabus for their potential to promote psychological
safety and psychological freedom, both of which were identified by Rogers (1995) as
contextual conditions for enabling creativity in the classroom. The paper concludes with
suggested directions for future research. Written by an LIS educator, who therefore uses
professors,”“educators,and weinterchangeably, it is addressed to LIS teaching faculty,
students, and practitioners.
This paper is written from a North American perspective and in the context of
North American LIS education, although international scholarship is integrated in the below
analysis. However, it is believed that similar issues, challenges, and dilemmas may be
encountered by educators in other socio-cultural settings, and therefore it is likely that the
usefulness and applicability of the paper will reach beyond the North American milieu, at
least in its foundational statements if not in nuances and details.

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