You Know It When You See It

A Conversation About Rigor in Teaching




LIS education, academic rigor, panel


This panel will explore the concept of academic rigor and LIS educators’ ideas and practices related to academic rigor. Debates about academic rigor and its purpose have shown that many instructors consider rigor to be a process of upholding standards and setting boundaries, while others see it as a gatekeeping mechanism to “weed out” students who would be successful under more flexible circumstances (Jack & Sathy, 2021). As the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted students’ modes of learning, not to mention their mental and physical health, conversations about rigor have been brought to the forefront as instructors balance pre-pandemic course structures, student (and administration’s) calls for flexibility, and the need to implement instructional standards and quality of learning. These conversations are certainly relevant for LIS educators who are trying to prepare students for the demands and expectations of professionals working in libraries, archives, museums, and other settings, and therefore may feel that rigor is more than simply ensuring academic prowess, but future professional success as well. 

Questions arise, though, as to what rigor actually is. Rigor is a nebulous concept, meaning that applications of rigor or “rigorous” courses can be inequitable and help to maintain white supremacy (Campbell, Dortch, & Burt, 2018). Faculty may think of rigor as setting high academic expectations or grading harshly; however, as Posselt (2018) points out, rigor, especially in graduate school, goes beyond creating an academically difficult experience that leads to learning. Rigor is also an experience of acculturation and adjusting to academic practices, which can create inequity for minoritized students without sufficient support. Additionally, some instructors conceive of rigor as the opposite of being flexible, having strict expectations about how and when students will engage in particular activities, which can adversely impact student mental health (Savini, 2016) or make a class less accessible to students with disabilities (Guest Pryal, 2022). On the other hand, students describe rigor in terms of workload such as the amount of reading assigned, the level of complexity and thought required, and grading standards (Draeger et al., 2015). Further, one’s perception of rigor may be influenced by their personal circumstances, such as in the lives of adult students who are juggling school, work, and family responsibilities. 

While the nuances of rigor differ across disciplines, best practices of instructional design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) encourage instructors of graduate-level courses to take into account not only the specific nature of the discipline but also where learners are “expected to engage with increasing independence in tasks requiring analysis and synthesis, on the edge of their current abilities and their field’s current scope of knowledge” (Posslet, 2018, p. 64). On the other end of the spectrum, Riley (2017) points to the rigor “gatekeepers” who are the “enemy of design” within engineering domains, which also contributes to constructing disciplinary boundaries that keep in (as well as push out) specific methods and ways of knowing. Schnee (2008) argues that rising to rigorous expectations is a social justice issue for academically under-prepared students, a situation that presents challenges requiring substantial resources and creative thinking. Accreditation can be seen as a tool to provide consistency for identifying a rigorous curriculum (Wergin, 2005); however, aligning courses to program outcomes in this manner is necessarily difficult, in part due to the freedom faculty have to design and assess their own courses (Dill et al., 1996). Given the occasionally unclear expectations around rigor and the lack of discussion about rigor in the LIS literature, this panel will provide an opportunity for collective clarification around understandings of rigor in the discipline.


This is an interactive session beginning with a review of how rigor has been discussed in the literature and other disciplines. Attendees will work individually and in small groups to create a common definition of rigor. After sharing the definitions, presenters will lead a discussion on academic rigor, exploring such questions as:

  1. What are the concepts, phrases, or words common to all the definitions?
  2. What are the major differences in the definitions presented?
  3. Are there concepts or phrases in one definition that you wish had been in your group’s definition?
  4. Based on these definitions, would you describe your pedagogy as rigorous?
  5. Based on these definitions, how is rigor reflected in your courses?
  6. What types of assignments are considered rigorous (essays, research papers, tests, etc.)?
  7. How is rigor reflected in your grading practice?
  8. How, if at all, do you think rigor differs between in-person and online courses?
  9. Has COVID-19 influenced your course planning as it relates to rigor?

Attendees will leave the panel with a better understanding of how they conceptualize rigor, how this compares to other understandings of rigor, and how rigor is enacted in their pedagogical practices.


Campbell, C. M., Dortch, D., & Burt, B. A. (2018). Reframing rigor: A modern look at challenge and support in higher education. New Directions for Higher Education, 2018(181), 11-23.

Dill, D. D., Massy, W. F., Williams, P. R., & Cook, C. M. (1996). Accreditation and academic quality assurance: Can we get there from here? Change, 28(5), 16–24.

Draeger, J., Hill, P., & Mahler, R. (2015). Developing a student conception of academic rigor. Innovations in Higher Education, 40, 215–228.

Guest Pryal, K.R. (2022, October 6). When ‘rigor’ targets disabled students. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Jack, J., & Sathy, V. (2021). It’s time to cancel the word ‘rigor’. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Posselt, J. R. (2018). Rigor and support in racialized learning environments: The case of graduate education. New Directions for Higher Education, 2018(181), 59–70.

Riley, D. (2017). Rigor/Us: Building boundaries and disciplining diversity with standards of merit. Engineering Studies, 9(3), 249–265.

Savini, C. (2016, May 4). Are you being rigorous or just intolerant? How to promote mental health in the college classroom. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1–6.

Schnee, E. (2008). “In the real world, no one drops their standards for you”: Academic rigor in a college worker education program. Equity & Excellence in Education, 41(1), 62–80.

Wergin, J. F. (2005). Resource review: Higher education: Waking up to the importance of accreditation. Change, 37(3), 35–41.

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by design. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.






Panels (Juried)