My retirement plans

It’s with satisfaction, relief, anticipation, and a tinge of sadness, that I submitted my intention to retire in August of this year. I will have been with the University of Illinois for twenty years, half of those in the College of Education and half in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. The retirement means that I’ll be changing my mode of work, with more attention to writing and more international projects.

I’ve enjoyed and benefitted greatly from my time here, and even more from working with you all. I can’t think of another group anywhere with such high collegiality, dedication, moral perception, and responsible leadership. The scholarship, teaching, and learning have always been outstanding and there’s been a lot of fun on top of it all.

I expect to continue working part-time on the Youth Community Informatics and Community Informatics Corps grants through June, 2011, and perhaps do other work after that, so this is not a good-bye, just an announcement about a new role for me.

Best wishes and enjoy all the snow,


Why I came to library and information science

My academic career includes degrees in biology and computer science, teaching computer science in two universities, research in a high-tech, R&D firm, teaching in a college of education, and teaching now in a school of library and information science. My dissertation adviser was in philosophy, and the dissertation itself was in mathematical logic and artificial intelligence. I’ve published in a variety of journals, including those in other fields. People have often asked: Is there any rationale for this? Were you just booted from one place to another?

I could give a practical account of why I moved to a library and information science school nine years ago, but that wouldn’t explain how I think of the field and what led me to that decision. To do that, I need to start a bit earlier…


Chip in Fort Worth, 1954

When I was three years old, I enrolled along with four other children in the Frisky and Blossom Club held at the Fort Worth Children’s Museum (now the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History). Frisky and Blossom were de-scented skunks who lived in the old house that was the Museum then. The club evolved into the Museum School, the largest in the US, with over 200,000 alums. I stayed with the school, learning about plants and animals, astronomy, history, and many other topics. Most importantly, I learned how energizing learning could be when it’s connected to what we care about and how it can grow out of things in the world around us.

That interest in informal learning bolstered by museums and libraries, continued. When I was eight years old, I never missed the bookmobile when it came by our neighborhood. I was a collector of insects, sea shells, postage stamps, books, and all sorts of other things. But reading and writing were the most important means for expanding my world. It’s sad to say, but little of this occurred for me in school, which often felt like some unjustified punishment. I learned arithmetic from card and board games outside of school, but also by counting the minutes until the end of the class, the school day, or the school year. Science was as much through a chemistry set and nature study as through classes. And so on.

These experiences led me to value inquiry-based learning. They also made it harder for me to understand knowledge as confined within static categories. When I applied to college, I considered majoring in history, geology, biology, and English, but later thought philosophy or behavioral sciences might be better. For graduate school, I chose computer sciences, not because I was so enamored of the machine, but because the field appeared the be the closest to offering a general tool for interdisciplinary inquiry. My work in artificial intelligence emphasized computer natural language understanding and reasoning. That led in a more direct way than might appear at first into education. Fortunately, working on projects such as a statistics curriculum and software for high school students, or Quill, a program for reading and writing, allowed me to create learning environments that were more integrated and connected to the life of students, something I had missed to a large extent in my own schooling.

Later, I brought those experiences to a college of education. I found many opportunities to expand on those experiences. But I also found that the means of formal schooling were sometimes disconnected from the ends I valued. The emphases on measurable learning objectives and teacher credentialing often crowded out discourse on the changing nature of literacy or the connection of learning and life. Because my work involves collaborations with those in other disciplines, I saw space for those ideas in other realms, such as writing studies, communication, occasionally in the sciences, and especially, in library and information science.


Chip in Dublin, 2007

As I worked with people in library and information science, I found a serious engagement with issues such as the moral and political aspects of texts and information systems, changes to literacy practices related to new technologies and globalization, distributed knowledge making, information for community needs, and new ways of organizing and providing access to information. Although not all of my colleagues would characterize it this way, I see issues of learning threaded through everything we do. Learning is the creative act of meaning making that occurs in praxis, the integration of theory and practice. More than any other discipline, library and information science provides the space to engage with that phenomenon. It brings together the informed and critical understanding of texts and information systems with serious attention to the impact on human life.

There are many other reasons I might add for my joining GSLIS per se–the high level of collegiality, the moral commitment, the respect for both the old and the new, and the sincere interest in and openness to continuing to learn. These things make coming to library and information science seem wise, in spite of myself and my meandering path.

Paris, 2004-05

Susan in ParisRue greneta aptWe spent a sabbatical year in Paris in 2004-05. This included a Fulbright Senior Specialist trip to Tampere, Finland, two trips to Germany, the Kaleidoscope conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Learning in Lausanne, and the ProLearn workshop on learning objects in Leuven.

While in Paris, I worked on the Libr@ries: Changing Information Space and Practice book with Cushla Kapitzke, who came from Brisbane, Australia to finish the editing. Libr@ries bookCushla Continue reading

JAAL Technology Department

During 1997-2002, I edited the Technology Department in the International Reading Association’s Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (JAAL). The columns were intended to promote dialogue about new communication and information technologies and to explore what these media mean for literacy and literacy educators. Each had several distinct sections, including an “email” message from me, an “issue of the month,” often written by a guest author, descriptions of selected websites, and a glossary. In addition to the print version, each column appeared in the Electronic Classroom section of Reading Online.

The columns have now been collected into a book, Literacy in the Information Age: Inquiries into Meaning Making with New Technologies (2003, Newark, DE: International Reading Association).

Beijing and Brisbane, 1996-97

family Xiao Guor
Liqian Stephen in 6th grade in Bardon, Brisbane
Sabbatical with major stays in Beijing, China and Brisbane, Australia and stops in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, California, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Italy, and Wales along the way, 1996-1997.


While in Queensland, Emily and Stephen attended Rainworth State School in Bardon, Brisbane.

Curriculum & Instruction

I was a Professor in the Curriculum & Instruction department, in the College of Education, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 1990 to 2000. I taught courses such as

  • Computer Assisted Instruction,
  • Classroom Science,
  • Inquiry Teaching and Learning,
  • Evaluation of Information Technologies,
  • Ethical & Policy Issues in Information Technology,
  • Discourses of Science,
  • Technologies for Learning,
  • Reader Response Criticism,
  • Children’s Composition,
  • Social Contexts and Functions of Writing,
  • Epistemology and Education,
  • Teacher Communities, and
  • Discourse Across the Disciplines.

Center for the Study of Reading

While at BBN, I helped write the proposal for the Center for the Study of Reading. It was established at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by the National Institute of Education in response to the growing concern about the quality of reading instruction in American schools. The proposal became the basis for the book Theoretical issues in reading comprehension: Perspectives from cognitive psychology, linguistics, artificial intelligence, and education.

Assistant Professor, Rutgers

I was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey during 1971-74. The Department was new, starting just two years earlier.

I taught in both the Graduate College and the undergraduate, Livingston College, which “embodied the spirit of social responsibility and cultural awareness demanded by students of the time.” My office was in the Hill Center for the Mathematical Sciences in the Busch Campus in Piscataway (upper right).

canalThrough Livingston College, I taught courses such as basic programming and data structures. One of my favorites was Models of Thought, an early cognitive science course. I also taught masters and doctoral students in areas such as Non-Numerical Algorithms, Natural Language Processing, Question Answering by Computer, Artificial Intelligence, and Discrete Structures.

[Hill Center photo from the Rutgers website; Delaware and Raritan canal photo from]

Longitude 74.47168 W, Latitude 40.52180 N.