Meet SCI’s New Faculty: Marcia Rapchak

Name: Marcia Rapchak
Title: Teaching Assistant Professor
Department: Information Culture and Data Stewardship

What are your research interests?
My research interests include information literacy education in higher education, online learning in higher education, and, most recently, critical librarianship. With regard to information literacy education in higher education, I have explored how academic librarians can partner with other disciplines to develop in students the ways of thinking needed to understand the contextual and situatedness of different research activities. Typically, information literacy instruction involves classes of students visiting the library and receiving fifty minutes of demonstrations on how to use databases. Academic librarians know that this is not the most effective method of instruction, and, as an academic librarian for over seven years, I knew the importance of partnering with other faculty to find more meaningful ways to integrate information literacy instruction. I was able to research the impact of such partnerships while also integrating my findings into the information literacy program at my previous institution.

Why did you choose to come to SCI?
I came to Pitt very recently – September of 2018 – because I wanted to be a part of the redesign of the Master of Library and Information Science, housed in the Information Culture and Data Stewardship department. I have experience teaching students in writing composition, public speaking, and library research methods (also known as information literacy), but now there exists a strong connection between my research and teaching, which I think will improve both.

How does your research/teaching align with SCI’s mission?
I have been interested in online learning for nine years, but it was clear to me that there are some very good online education environments and some very bad online education environments, and while I had ideas about why one would be good or bad, I did not start researching this until I started teaching regularly online in 2012. I became very interested in how to create a sense of community in an online environment, and decided to pursue my doctorate in instructional technology. My dissertation research evolved to explore how social metacognitive awareness (that is, a group’s ability to regulate their collective learning) compared in online groups and face-to-face groups in a freshman information literacy course. Face-to-face groups had significantly higher levels of social metacognitive awareness and felt that their group experience was more successful than the online groups. Metacognitive awareness (an individual’s ability to regulate their own learning) between online and face-to-face students was not significantly different, but even when taking metacognitive awareness scores into account, the social metacognitive awareness scores were still significantly different. This research shows that if students are working in groups online, more must be done to make sure they understand the cognitive abilities of the group and how to regulate the group process to succeed. I am now collaborating on a project to see if including metacognitive and social metacognitive prompts in an online learning environment improves the quality of a group project and increases social metacognitive activity. In my own online teaching, I put into practice what I’ve learned through my research and through exploring the literature to scaffold, create opportunities for reflection, guide group activities, and use brain-based strategies to improve learning in the online environment.