QEP Spotlight: Heather Beirne

Published on January 21, 2022

This is another in a series of interviews with staff, faculty, administrators and students across campus promoting the goals of EKU’s Quality Enhancement Plan. The current QEP, Read with Purpose, calls for Eastern to develop critical readers through the use of metacognitive strategies. Building on the past QEP, which focused on developing critical and creative thinkers, this effort represents the University’s commitment to institutional improvement and provides a long-term focus for faculty and staff professional development and student learning.

This installment in the QEP Spotlight series features EKU Librarian and Director of Teaching & Learning Heather Beirne.

1. In what ways have you been involved with the EKU QEP, Read with Purpose?

For the past several years, I have attempted to absorb as much professional development as I could on the topic of critical reading, including an impactful Critical Reading PLC with Dr. Jill Parrott and Dr. Lisa Bosley during the spring 2019 semester and various Teaching & Learning Innovations (TLI) workshops hosted by the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning (FCT&L). 

EKU Librarians are also fortunate to maintain a close relationship with the Noel Studio and with First Year Courses. My librarian and Noel Studio colleagues, including Trenia Napier, Clay Howard and Kevin Jones, have worked closely with Dr. Jill Parrott over the years to strategically, intentionally, and programmatically incorporate critical reading pedagogy into information literacy learning, both face to face and online. My library colleagues created a QEP Information Literacy Curriculum that is used frequently with ENG 102 classes as well as with other courses, and which uses critical reading to teach both searching and source evaluation.

The Read with Purpose QEP has provided an opportunity to form a meaningful and relevant community of practice between librarians and other faculty members, as well as connecting the at times pedagogically siloed processes of research, reading and writing in the minds of students. 

2. In what ways has QEP professional development impacted your teaching and learning?

My teaching and learning has been dramatically changed and improved by the QEP-related professional development that I have participated in, especially paired with metacognition. During the last few years, I have designed my instruction using critical reading techniques such as think-alouds, previewing, golden lines and more in creative and productive ways that served to underscore the connection between research, reading, and writing for students, who may have never encountered, let alone read, academic sources. My hope is that the iterativity, transparency and recursiveness that a critical reading mindset teaches will help move students away from resorting to superficial evaluation and use of sources (patchwriting and sentence level-mining) in their writing, which often results from teaching research (finding sources) separately from writing and reading.

As I alluded to above, the QEP has also allowed us to build crucial partnerships and relationships between faculty and librarians to the benefit of our students, as we stand together at the congruence of that Venn diagram of reading, writing and research.  Librarians, who often only have one or two “one-shot” instruction sessions with a given class to help students learn information literacy skills, may struggle in creating meaningful learning experiences where deep, relevant information literacy learning can occur. Using the QEP, my colleagues and I have been able to more deeply work with disciplinary faculty to better connect what we teach in our library instruction sessions more deeply to students’ disciplinary research assignments and, more holistically, to the learning outcomes of the course in question. Information literacy is a shared responsibility between librarians and faculty members, and the critical reading QEP provides us with common ground to work from.

3. What impact is the QEP having on student learning in your discipline and in the courses you support?

Transferable information literacy skills are at the core of critical thinking, not just during students’ academic pursuits, but throughout their lives. 

Information literacy is all about learning to be a discerning user of information in the midst of information overload. What makes information “good” is relative to the context and one’s information need, and we may seek all sorts of differently credible information in various aspects of our lives. For example, we may find different pieces of information credible in our work (where we may need up-to-date trade and academic journals, or even government or other web sources which may differ according to the job), as voters (where we may need to be able to evaluate different news and/or science and public health sources as well as social media posts, etc.), as parents (where web and popular magazines and books and “experts” may need to be evaluated), and much more as we move between our roles.  Information evaluation is not always black-and-white, and we may not always have access to the resources that were available to us during our time as students. 

Practicing metacognition and critical reading help make the information literacy skills we all teach more transferable to all situations. As our students and alumni encounter any text in any context, they will have developed critical habits of mind, such as lateral reading, that will serve them in  information evaluation, analysis, synthesis, and decision-making.

4. How has the QEP benefited the campus community?

The QEP has helped students develop a metacognitive growth mindset around reading, which helps them feel more comfortable and less intimidated when encountering new genres of texts, such as academic texts, which is especially important given the many first-generation college students which EKU serves. 

It has allowed librarians, faculty, and staff to work together toward helping students synthesize the acts of reading, research and writing.

5. How will you continue to promote critical reading in your courses, discipline, or across the university?

I will continue to use the QEP in all of my instruction and as the basis for further collaborations between EKU Libraries and the faculty members we work with.