Solving Real-World Problems Through Business Education

2017 Mover & Shaker honoree Ilana Stonebraker discusses how she designs courses to solve community problems with SAGE Publishing’s SVP of Global Learning Resources.
Karen PhillipsBy, Karen Phillips SVP Global Learning Resources SAGE Publishing Part of a series that celebrates innovators in libraries across the U.S., I have the privilege of diving deeper into the work of a segment of the 2017 Movers & Shakers announced by Library Journal in the spring. Recently, I had a conversation with Ilana Stonebraker, Business Information Specialist/Assistant Professor at Purdue University Libraries, who treats business education as an opportunity to solve problems in her community. Ilana shares some expertise from this process below.   SageYou take a unique, service-learning approach to business education at your university. How has your instruction helped solve real-world problems in the community? My current work involves a lot of interaction with city government. Large universities contribute much to local economics and I think have a lot of opportunities to teach students how to live not only as a student but also as a citizen of a city. I try to design experiences where the community and students can work together. It’s a little like logic of JFK, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” There’s a strong information literacy aspect in that. I’ve also experimented with working in local small towns as well. It’s interesting work, but I wouldn’t say I’ve solved anyone’s problems. It’s the sort of work where you try first to do the least harm and give people the most opportunity to work together. SageWhat inspired you to link business education to social justice and social change? Have you had to overcome any obstacles in pursuing this approach?  Like any other education, business education is about people and society. Connections between it and social justice and empathy are there; the major obstacle is just to be able to see them. I think critical librarianship and critical information literacy (applications of social justice and critical theory to librarian labor and thought) have really given me a language to do that. I think social justice and social change are at the heart of the democratizing mission of libraries, including business libraries. Once you open your heart a little bit, I think you find lots of connections and opportunities. You have won awards for transforming the information literacy curriculum at your institution. What were some of the main changes that you made and what impact have you seen this have on your students? It’s sometimes challenging because Movers & Shakers interviews try to highlight the person as some sort of lone wolf creating change, but I feel like the things I’ve been able to do have been possible because of the large amount of support that I have from people like my supervisor and the larger institution of Purdue. Things like flipped classrooms, service-learning and evidence-based management are really most effective when you have a larger web of support. I see what I do as trying things at a small level that might be implemented in lots of large ways, like spreading seeds of support. It’s about partnership, intentionality and collaboration. How do you use innovative tools like crowdsourcing and flipped courses to gets students excited in the classroom? In the real world, people often have to work together to solve real problems. If your neighbor doesn’t know something, that’s a problem for you as well. In classrooms, it’s sometimes the opposite—students are in competition with other students for a scarce number of grades. I think it’s important that students think about themselves in a community—on the same team. I try to teach in ways that facilitate that. Sometimes that’s a technological approach, like using crowdsourcing the classroom. Sometimes it’s pedagogical, like flipping the classroom experience so students spend more time working together. You also strive to teach your students to make decisions based on evidence—both inside and outside of the classroom. What tips would you give to librarians and instructors with similar goals? I think it’s ever more important to be thinking about how to think. In my practice, I try to center things not just on information, but also on decisions that you will eventually make. We all make decisions, and librarians know more about decision management than they think. Give students a case study or an example about how you would use that information in a specific context, in a specific way. Put it in a story. Maybe make a little spreadsheet—what do I know? What do I want to know now? What information did I find that supports my main concept? What information did I find that might challenge some of my assumptions? If you just show source after source, your work may lead to decision neglect. It can make people more informed, but worse deciders. That’s a BIG problem.

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