The iConnected Parent (Summer Reading 2012) part 1

Today’s assignment — Chapter 1: iConnected Parenting 101.

You know, I don’t do book clubs.  I don’t know why.  Well, maybe I do know why.  I think for a book club to work for me it would have to be a perfect storm of people I knew exactly the right amount PLUS people who were exactly as interested in talking about the book as I was.  I suspect that if #1 wasn’t there – as in people I knew not well enough – then #2 would default immediately into talking about other things than the book, because.. well… I tend to feel strongly about books.

And if there’s one thing my history graduate degree gave me it was the training to feel strongly about books and also feel really, really comfortable into trying to argue other people into feeling the same way I do.  I don’t think that’s what most people do book groups for.

A photograph of a book with an image of an empty nest on the cover and the title The iConnected Parent by Barbara Hofer

But I’m going to read this book – pretty much in public – and those things won’t matter because you can read along or not, agree or argue or not – and it’ll be fine.

Barbara K. Hofer & Abigail S. Moore. The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up.  New York: Free Press, 2010.

So first off I am not a huge fan of the title.  I wonder if the author actually loves this title?  It reads like an effort to give a fairly academic book more mainstream appeal so I am not going to hold the title against her.

I’m going to read this book because it’s research-based. It grew out of series of research studies that Dr. Hofer (a psychology professor at Middlebury) conducted with and about students at her college.  I am also going to read it because in the stories I read about it, the authors tended to avoid the kind of sensationalistic “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS” anecdotes and spin that characterize a lot of the stories I hear (and I admit it, sometimes retell) about college students and their relationship to their parents.

Full disclosure, I was a kid who talked a lot to my family when I was in college.  I went to school 3,000 miles away from home, in a big city, and as the first one of my siblings to go to college.  This was the age before cell phones, before VOIP and before the Internet, when we had to be aware of things like long-distance charges and when the rates changed. My mom owned her own business, and would take calls from me any time – I didn’t have to worry about the costs – so I talked to her (and sometimes my dad or my sisters) a few times a week.  Several of my friends would have also characterized themselves as close to their families, but even in that context, I was considered pretty weird.

Enough with the preliminaries.  I promise, tomorrow I’ll get to the content quicker.  This is just the introductory chapter, though, so there’s some room for my own introduction too.  In this piece the authors are doing the typical introductory stuff – here’s the argument and here’s how we got involved in the project.

Summary of Chapter 1

So, here’s how they got there:

Dr. Hofer noticed students leaving her classes at Middlebury and immediately calling their parents.  Interested in the phenomenon, she asked some students to help her explore the connection between this frequent (& cell-phone enabled) parent/child communication and the students’ ability to become independent (along a variety of vectors). That study got some popular attention, and in the ensuing rounds of public conversation, she met Abby Moore, a journalist covering the same types of phenomena for the New York Times.  They decided to collaborate on a book length treatment.

And here’s the argument (from page 2):

We use the term iConnected Parenting to refer to a culture of parents deeply involved in their children’s lives, even as they approach adulthood, that uses the technology of instand communication to enhance their connection. Perhaps nowhere is this trend more evident than on campus, where parents and kids once separated. We believe that it has substantially changed parent-child relationships, during the college years especially, and that there are both benefits and drawbacks to this.

My thoughts:

Starting with the reflective piece.  As I said before, I talked to my family a lot for a Gen X type and I am fairly certain that were IM, cell phones and Skype available to me I would have talked to them even more.  Actually, given how fast my mom and I both type, I suspect that IM and email would have actually been the killer apps for us.

At the same time, I was pretty aggressively independent and my parents did a lot to encourage that.  I made almost all of my academic decisions by myself – starting with high school. I navigated the whole college-choosing process with very little input.  I decided on my own courses, I found my own jobs — I was as independent as anyone I knew.  As a matter of fact, THAT’S actually one reason I think I was weird — because I talked to my family all the time without HAVING to — I wasn’t expected nor required to run things by them, I didn’t have to clear my choices or even how I was spending money with them — I had more independence from my family and still I talked to my mom every other day or so.

So while I find the argument that technology and ease of communication MUST be making things different very intuitive — I’m not sure what I think the impact of that change is.  In other words, I am sure that I would have been a lot more connected to family (and to friends) from “back home” with ubiquitous lines of communication — but I’m not sure what the impact of that would have been on my development, my independence, or my life.

The introduction runs through a variety of “cultural factors” the authors think are contributing to these changes – I assume these will be fleshed out (and documented) more later, because here they are barely more than assertions:

  • Parents having fewer kids and having them later.
  • The belief that the world today is more dangerous than it used to be.
  • Kids living more scheduled lives.
  • A more competitive college admissions process.
And I’m not sure if this is another cause or if it’s the effect — more time spent in a liminal phase between adolescence and adulthood.

So my hopes for the book include –

  • I hope the book really digs into Hofer’s actual research.
  • I hope the book looks at the impact of technology in a complex way.  For example, so much of the communication we’re talking about takes place in text – and everyone doesn’t have an equal level of facility with text — how does that affect or change things?  What is the impact of culture, or class on these questions?
  • I hope this isn’t JUST about parenting.  It is also much, much easier for students today to stay very connected to the circle of friends from high school, and I have to think that those connections are every bit as likely as the connections to family to have an impact on how well a student engages with and connects to their new community in college.
  • I hope the book draws some connections between these observations and existing, research-based theory on college student development.

So, according to TechCrunch in 2010, Bill Gates thinks that by 2015, people won’t have to go away to college anymore because

Five years from now on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world…. It will be better than any single university.

Fast forward to this year and Harvard and MIT launch edX, designed to bring an interactive course experience to anyone with an Internet connection (so, not just lectures) – building a “global community of learners” and strengthening programs back on campus as well.

Online education and it’s potential to disrupt college as we know it is a talked-about thing, is what I am saying.

But despite that, I have never really thought about this.

(via Walking Paper)

It’s kind of a longish video with a pace that is measured, or slow – so if you didn’t read it basically it seems to be a platform that manages online course offerings – potential teachers can upload their classes, potential students can find and sign up for classes.  There’s some consistency in offerings – they’re all one-day, in-person workshops that cost $20.

Here’s the thing, I can see this working with enough critical mass — but I’m not sure I can see it working on a college campus.  But I think it should work on a college campus – like, I can see it working on a campus that’s not all that different than the ones we have.  Why?  Well, reasons…

  1. We have a lot of really smart students who know how to do stuff.  We also have a lot of really smart faculty and staff who know how to do stuff, but I haven’t figured out yet if it works better in my head to be something bringing the whole community together – building a learning community that encompasses the physical community — or if it’s better as a student-teaching-students thing.
  2. We have students (and faculty and staff) who have a lot of interests – who want to learn how to do stuff.
  3. We talk a lot about high impact educational practices – those practices that increase  student success and engagement.  What’s important about these practices isn’t so much “if students get these experiences then school will be easier for our students” so much as “if students get these experiences then they’ll develop the networks, resources and resilience to get through the tough parts, stay in school and ultimately figure out how to succeed.  Taking on the teaching role doesn’t directly fit any of these practices, but it seems to fit in spirit — basically, if the teaching feels like it’s part of what makes the community the community, then participating would increase attachment to the community.

But on the other hand, other reasons …

When school pressures hit, there’s very little that survives. Which is what I mean when I say I can see this working on a college that is similar but not exactly the same as what I see outside my window.  (or what I would see if I had a window).  Basically, what I mean here is that I find it hard to see our students finding time for this kind of, well, dabbling a lot of the time — they can use working out or even parties as a legit reason not to study — one keeps you healthy and the other keeps you in friends – but taking a class on fixing your bike?  No, that I can’t see being treated as a legit reason not to focus on the classes and learning you’re actually paying for.

And I’m not sure what that means – I can easily see something like this working with my students just after they leave college.  Well, not easily, but realistically, I can imagine this kind of ecosystem taking root.  In college, on the other hand, it’s a lot harder.  I’m not sure what I think about that.

But here’s the thing – this seems like a great thing for libraries to manage.  This is information literacy, browsing, exploration and curiosity.  Exactly the kind of thing we are all about in college – but think about the ecosystem we build to support it.  What’s missing?  This kind of collaborative sharing of expertise — the people networks.

Which brings it back to he discussions of online learning I started with  – see, I’m pulling it back around.  Seriously, I’m as surprised as you are.

One thing that got me (and really, almost everyone else) two years ago when that Bill Gates quote appeared was just what a top-down, boring view of education it suggested — sitting in front of lectures, absorbing the knowledge =/= education.

And I’m a known lecture defender, but seriously – what made college worth it for me was the people.  And not just the faculty, though they were important, but my peers as well.

Which is why I think, on one level, that I couldn’t stop thinking about this community-teaching model after seeing it this morning.  Because it’s using technology to develop the community, but it gets at something that could only work on campus – that reflects part of why I love our campus community (and all of the campuses and communities I’ve been a part of).  It gets at part of the reason why, even though I had to do a distance library degree, I chose a program where I had classmates.

Of course, I learned a lot from my classmates, and of course I learned a lot from my interactions with faculty.  But even more than that – those relationships (especially with peers) are what created the culture of learning that existed in my college experience — the expectations, the standards, the ideas about what was worth your time and what weren’t – -those things were all social, shared values that we gave each other.  Some campuses did it really well, building a culture that really pushed me beyond where I would have been on my own.  Some, well, showed me how great I used to have it.

Even though I think it wouldn’t work – I keep trying to think about why it would.  Because a college that developed the kind of culture where that kind of sharing and learning was possible, was rewarded, was considered important enough to do even alongside the classes you’re paying for — that would be really cool.

Many Thoughts about Wikipedia

Back from LOEX, and it was pretty great.  I was pretty sure I knew what to expect from LOEX, but I had no idea what to expect from Columbus.  What we found was a highly walkable downtown, that didn’t shut down when the working day ended, good things to eat, wrapped up in a fair helping of City Beautiful.

Broad Street was broad, parks and commons were grand, and cultural institutions were majestic -

science and industry museum seen from across a river

And the conference was pretty good too.  One of the highlights was Char Booth’s opening keynote:  Reframing Library Instruction: Advocacy, Insight and the Learner Experience. 

(For the record, my favorite part was the “Advocacy” part)

So my definition of a great keynote is one where I have Many Thoughts throughout, and this one qualified.  Here are some of them.

Near the end, she was discussing an assignment of the type that was frequently discussed as something awesome that could be done, but which hasn’t turned out to be done all that often despite the fact that most people who hear about it think it’s a good idea — the “have the students write an article for Wikipedia instead of a traditional paper” assignment.

Here’s a 2007 article from Inside Higher Ed talking about one professor’s experience with this type of assignment.

And here’s a 2010 article from USA Today talking about the Wikimedia Foundations proactive effort to get professors to assign this type of project.

This was a particularly cool example, because it focused on topics and concepts related to elections.  And I suspect it was a particularly effective one — in part because it wasn’t a gimmick – this was NO “let’s engage the students by using one of their things” thing.  It was designed by people who understand Wikipedia’s culture — not just that is has one, but the ways that culture can make it hard for students trying to put stuff up there.

At first glance, a college term paper and a Wikipedia entry appear to have little in common.

So what do we think – is that quotation (from the IHE article linked above) true?

Here are my thoughts.

Char said, while talking about this assignment that she’d never seen students so excited about research.  Now, on my campus, I’m involved with lots of students engaged in undergraduate research.  Giving students a chance to work closely with faculty on brand-new, important research – in the field and in the lab – is one advantage a big, research university has over our smaller counterparts when it comes to undergraduate learning experiences, and we are working hard to give as many students as possible that kind of experience.  So, my first thought was – well, that’s not true.  I see students super excited about research all the time, and probably more excited than they would be if they got to write a Wikipedia article.

But the thought immediately following that was that Char Booth has obviously seen that too – she went to Reed, which has this annual celebration of undergraduate research every year – the Thesis Parade

So, that led obviously to the next thought – but do they get this excited about what we would call “library research” ?

Okay, probably not.  Even in the context of these theses and capstones, I’m not sure the lit review is what people are excited about.  (And increasingly, I’m coming to believe that the lit review is the piece they’re least ready to handle independently, and that those who get the most out of it don’t handle it independently but in very close concert with their mentors, but that’s another post for another day)

Which brings me to that quotation above – because the next thought was, “of course, Wikipedia writing is probably the closest real-world analogue to the type of writing we ask in many, many, many beginning comp classes.”

Isn’t it?

stick figure cartoon of a figure behind a soapbox holding up a sign that said "citation needed"

I’ve been talking about using Wikipedia to dig into what we mean by synthesis or attribution for a long time.  I was so happy when this cartoon appeared because it just captured that idea – an idea that first-year students frequently have a lot of trouble with – when do I need a citation and when don’t I?  Or, on a bigger scale, “how can these be my ideas if I have to cite everything?”

And Wikipedia is a pretty great example of how one can take a bunch of secondary sources and synthesize them into a coherent, meaningful, narrative that meets a set of externally-defined standards of quality — which is pretty much exactly what we ask people to do in first-year composition (at least part of the time).

Where my thoughts went next pretty much had nothing to do with the specific assignment Char Booth was describing – it was fantastic.  It was all about the idea that there are editors at Wikipedia and they have standards and knowing that audience, and those standards was the key to success in the assignment.

That’s a fantastically useful concept for students to learn, and a foundational set of rhetorical skills for them to master.  And Wikipedia, because it makes its rules and standards so transparent, IS an easier place for them to learn that than scholarly discourse which, let’s just say, does not.

No, what this post has to do with is the fact that I’m having a really hard time coming up with ANOTHER “real-world” place where the kind of synthetic, based on secondary sources, make sure you’re totally neutral, writing exists?  I’m sure it does, and it’ll come to me as soon as I hit “post,” but right now I’m not coming up with it.

Other encyclopedia writing doesn’t count.  Journalism has some things in common, yes, but I’m not sure that’s a great example either.  There are so many kinds of journalistic writing, that’s a hard one.  Anything else?

Because here’s the thing — Wikipedia’s standards and policies — and the fact that it IS an encyclopedia — really do have some negatives for students struggling to make the shift from report writing to academic writing.

It’s bad enough that there are so many unwritten rules to knowledge creation in the different disciplines and that these rules are so obscure and hard for new students to see, much less understand.  It’s hard enough to help students made the jump from “original means no one ever thought of or said this before” to the idea of originality grounded in or based on a body of existing knowledge.

Barbara Fister summed up these problems this way - (emphasis added)

I hate it when students who have hit on a novel and interesting way of looking at an issue tell me they have to change their topic because they can’t find sources that say exactly what they plan to say. I try to persuade them otherwise, but they believe that original ideas are not allowed in “research.” How messed up is that
?

And now I am finally to the main thing.  Original ideas AREN’T allowed in Wikipedia articles.

Wikipedia has a strict “no original research” policy when it comes to their articles — you base it on the published record, not your own (or anyone else’s) original knowledge creation.  And, it’s an encyclopedia, its raison d’être is something different than “originality of thought.”

So to sum up- I buy that students find writing for Wikipedia to be so much more meaningful and real than writing a term paper — it’s a tool they use and value, and it’s public — there’s lots of reasons why I think this is engaging.  I agree that it’s a better option, for those reasons, than the traditional research paper (with the important caveat that the person designing the assignment and guiding the students through the assignment has to really “get” Wikipedia if it’s going to work).

But I’m wondering if the very factors that make Wikipedia “better” as a platform for student research aren’t highlighting some of the problems with the ways we’re currently trying to get students engaged in academic writing, knowledge creation, and meaning-making in our composition and library classrooms?

See?  Many thoughts.  That’s the mark of one great keynote.  Thanks, Char.

it is too much, let me sum up

There was a little flurry of conversation in my social networks about Mark Bauerlein’s recent offering on the Brainstorm blog (at the Chronicle), and i just realized that it was almost all in the rhet/comp corners of those networks – so in case library friends haven’t seen it – it’s worth looking at:

All Summary, No Critical Thinking 

Pull Quote:

From now on, my syllabus will require no research papers, no analytical tasks, no thesis, no argument, no conclusion.  No critical thinking and no higher-order thinking skills.  Instead, the semester will run up 14 two-page summaries (plus the homework exercises).

Students will read the great books and assignments will ask them to summarize designated parts.

A soft description of the conversations I saw would be “skeptical.” There were those who thought this was an April Fool’s joke, until they noticed the byline.  I think it reads like an effort to solve a problem that’s not really about summary, but about reading.  I italicize “think” there, because I don’t really get the summary idea – it seems to me that people who only engage enough with argumentative writing to cherry-pick quotes from source texts will be just as able to create “summaries” that don’t reflect any more than a superficial understanding of those source texts.

Michael Faris pointed out Alex Reid’s excellent response, which does a much better job of problematizing the summary than I could:

The Role of Summary in Composition (digital digs)

I believe we misidentify the challenges of first-year composition when we focus on student lack and specifically on the lack of “skills.” Our challenge is to take students who do not believe they are writers (despite all the writing they do outside school), who do not value writing, who do not believe they have the capacity to succeed as writers, and who simply wish to get done with this course and give them a path to developing a lasting writing practice that will extend beyond the end of the semester.

Isn’t that a great, um, summary of why writing teaching matters?

Can we substitute “researchers” for “writers” here?  I kind of like the resulting statement, but it makes me uncomfortable as well, because – can we do, are we doing that with our current models?

do this, if you get the chance

Or maybe that should say – make the chance happen, if you can!

So far, this “what I am doing today” focus is working for me as a way to jump start writing.  Looking at my calendar for next week, I’m not sure that this will continue.  So I’m going to ride this wave while I can.

Today, in less than an hour, actually, I’m going to head over to the College of Education to hang out with a class for a couple of hours.  This has turned into one of my favorite things I do – and it wasn’t my idea.  Our director of New Student Programs and Family Outreach started inviting me to come to classes in the Adult Education and Higher Education Leadership program four or five years ago now.  The twist is that I’m not to talk about research skills so much as to talk about what I know and see in my work with first year students.

The class I’m going to today is a special topics class called First-Year College Students: Programs and Philosophies, so the connection there is obvious. There’s frequently a technology focus to the discussion I’m invited to, but we don’t always stay there.  Two years ago I remember we ended up talking about scholarly blogs and twitter accounts for most of the hour.

Why is this one my favorite things we do?  Lots of reasons.  One is because getting out and talking to people who are training to work in student affairs and student programs is a great way for me to step back and see what I do from another, really useful perspective.

Another reason is something I talked about in that webcast I did on Friday – it takes a a village to teach information literacy.  This pull quote from an old article by George Kuh gets at what I’m trying to say:

“Students who perceive that their campus emphasizes information literacy gain more in this area, net of other influences.”

In other words, students learn more about what it means to be information literate (and about how to do it) when they are pushed, every day, in real-world as well as classroom situations to think about the sources and evidence they use to make decisions and get stuff done.  When they hear from librarians in isolation – “this matters,” it’s not as impactful or effective as when they hear that from everyone.  And this stuff does matter, so talking about it to the people who are going to be working with our students in their roles as RA’s, classroom assistants, tour guides, peer mentors, writing center consultants, and more — that only makes sense to me.  Plus, they’re excellent people and the conversations are always great.

Know when to fold ‘em

Today I am teaching what might be my last session of beginning composition this term.

(Wow, I initially typed that “beginning compassion” – that’s a typo that could spark it’s own blog post right there).

Yes, I just checked, and this is my last one of the term.  I’m teaching today with a regular member of the writing faculty, who has probably done more than any other person currently on the writing faculty to maintain and cultivate the information literacy component of our beginning composition course here.

We revise constantly – both because our personalities push us to do so and because external pressures (like record enrollment for each of the last few years) make it necessary.  Most of the time, we’re tweaking, but in this last year or so we’ve really attacked the problem of what we should be teaching in this course more intentionally and aggressively than we have since probably 2005 or so.  And I wanted to talk about the process because in some ways we’ve moved in a full circle this year – from a deep, intense focus on teaching students about the peer-reviewed article (in an authentic and useful way) to de-emphasizing that part of the discourse and looking for other places where it might be taught more meaningfully.

Now, this isn’t anything that hasn’t come up a million times already this year.  Barbara has talked about it brilliantly many times; Meredith brought it up just a little while ago.  It’s not even new here – Kate and I wrote about this issue just last year in the context of other courses (outside the paywall, get it while its free).

So factors we have to consider in our FYC:

  1. The # of sections per term has gone up from about 25 when I started at OSU, to 40-45 now.
  2. The sections are taught, independently, by GTA’s, adjuncts and a few full-time faculty
  3. There is a common curriculum everyone is required to use, including assignments (portfolios), revision, and texts.
  4. As is the case on many campuses, our FYC course has a service component to it – meaning the idea that the rest of campus is relying on FYC to provide some basic instruction in academic writing.  This includes an expectation that students will learn what peer reviewed articles and library databases are.

So, we started from a question of what could we (where we = librarians) teach most meaningfully in the 50 minutes or so we had with students. Given #1, our ability to continue to teach in all of the sections of FYC can’t be taken for granted anymore.  If we want to continue, and we do, we really have to get a handle on what it is that that contact does that other ways of teaching (and teaching in other courses) can’t do.

Given #2 and #4 above, the question of “what do you need to know about finding, reading, understanding and using peer-reviewed articles” seemed like it might fit the bill.  As a requirement, the peer-reviewed article isn’t going away.  And as librarians, particularly librarians who teach FYC students every term we actually felt like we were in a better position to talk about this discourse than the TA’s, who are 1. often themselves brand new to OSU, 2. unevenly prepared (depending on their own college experiences) to teach about peer review and journals and 3. focused on a part of the scholarly literature, English and humanities, that most students are NOT going to use in their FYC essays.

So.

Here’s the thing – in the databases we see unbundled articles pulled together by our keywords in a list organized by relevance – by our keyword matches.  Everything about that “is this peer-reviewed” question, however, assumes a knowledge of the discourse that produces these articles.  The way those articles are written, formatted, contextualized and, yes, quality-controlled is all about the discourse.

“Is this peer-reviewed” shouldn’t even be the question — and I think it’s a question that  confuses.  It implies “Is this good?” “Is this high-quality?”   “Is this some kind of generic definition of ‘scholarly’?”

To make sense, though, to really reflect how peer review works, the question should be “does this journal use peer review?”  We wanted to talk about peer review as a method of quality control, to focus on the ways that peer review reinforces the expectations of the discipline.  That matched the rhet/comp focus of the course, it allowed the TA’s to talk about authorship, audience and message, concepts they were focusing on throughout the rest of the course.

So we designed a set of activities, including in-class activities, tutorials, follow-up activities and rubrics, focused on getting students to connect the article to the journal, the journal to the idea of peer-review and to understand the kinds of standards that the peer-reviewers use to decide which articles should be published.

We dropped some of the more mechanical “how to find it” pieces from our teaching and moved those to online help.  We moved most of the teaching on finding and using books to the TA’s, who were more comfortable with that discourse than they were with peer-reviewed articles.  We piloted these ideas in a few sections (about seven, selected by TA opt-in).

And it worked well.  The IL curriculum was well integrated with the rest of the course, and the classes felt meaningful.  We had some trouble covering what we wanted to cover in the classes, particularly the 50-minute sections, but there was some general idea that it was better than what we had been doing before.

(It was better)

But the little problems we noticed with the pilot became big problems when we expanded from the hand-picked, opt-in sections to all of the sections.  The TA’s who were teaching in the pilot were really engaged and invested with the curriculum and prepped the students about as well as they could possibly be prepped.  Without that level of investment, the gaps between where the students really are with their needs and their understanding of academic, source-based writing, became so very clear.  I had one class where the instructor had been so very successful communicating the “you MUST use peer-reviewed articles” message that the students were highly, highly motivated to get it right.  We spent almost 15 minutes of a 50 minute class on the “what is a journal” question.  Teaching FYC session became a stressful race against the clock and sometimes I felt like they left more confused than they were coming in, and not in a good way.

Let’s be clear. I’m not saying these students weren’t smart (they were) or that they weren’t trying (they definitely were) or that they’re weren’t serious about what we were doing (they very definitely really were).  I know that there are people out there who read these types of arguments and say “aren’t these students in college?” or “how could you not do this in high school?”

And all I have to say to that is, whatever.  You keep telling yourself that all of your high school students totally get everything about peer review, totally know what they’re going to find in scientific articles that graduate students would have to read twice, and can totally navigate the unwritten rules of scholarly/expert communities.  When I see people making those arguments, I’ll admit, my assumption is that they don’t really understand peer-review either.

Everything about the way that the scholarly literature is organized is based on the journal, the discipline and the scholarly community that connects those two things.  Expecting first-years to get that from the outside is ridiculous.  Expecting first years to get that because they’re taught about it by graduate students who are just becoming conversant with their own discourse community is ridiculous.  And expecting first years to get that because they spend 50 minutes with a librarian is ridiculous.

And I’m not sure I’d be able to say that with such confidence if we hadn’t tried to do it – and to do it as right as we could.  To do it in an authentic, meaningful way that could be built upon in later courses when they start doing real work in a discipline.  To do it in a way where self-directed learning experiences are connected to group activities, reflective activities, hands-on exploration, and feedback.  To do it with teaching librarians who teach this course every term, who participate in professional development activities and who understand the students and the learning goals.

So today, I taught the course as we tweaked it over winter break – to de-emphasize the scholarly source.  It’s still a requirement, but we don’t focus on it any more than we focus on news or book sources.  We talk about it as “a way to find out what the research is” and not more than that.  The session focus has returned to exploration and thinking about the topic — which lets us tie everything to their assignment (which is itself interesting, and something I should probably give its own post):  focused on reflection and analysis and presenting themselves as academic writers.

I’m not particularly happy with it at this point – it was a tweak, not a fix.  We haven’t figured out cool ways to teach this stuff.  But still, the pressure and stress of the session was gone, as was the sense that the students left feeling less like “I can do this.”  What to teach – we’re a lot closer there.

Information Literacy and the FYE

I’m doing a webcast tomorrow morning about integrating information literacy into the First-Year Experience.  I’ve done some presentations for faculty, and for some graduate classes on campus on this topic, but this is the first time I’ll be talking to (mostly) librarians about it.

Here’s the monster list of “further reading/exploration” links I’ve gathered along the way.

DATA AND STATISTICS

COLLEGE STUDENT DEVELOPMENT THEORY

BOOKS

TOOLS


this is not a New Year’s resolution

The 22 days that have passed since New Year’s day should make that clear, but just in case…

I am going to see if blogging is something I can still sustain.  I still have time for writing; I do a lot of it.  But I don’t have the same kind of time for reading that I used to and without reading, there isn’t as much to write about. I don’t tend to write in a vacuum, I write as a conversation, and without listening there’s not much this introvert has to say.

And since I tend to read in bursts when I have time, and that time is sometimes after the time when everyone else has read the thing, I worry more as much about missing the conversational moment as I do have anything to say.

So I’m pretty sure this hasn’t been widely discussed in libraries – but it made me think – or I should say it sounded familiar.

Tom and Lorenzo (Tom + Lorenzo, Fabulous and Opinionated) talking about Carey Mulligan wearing Roland Mouret at the 32nd Annual London Film Critics’ Circle Awards.

(By the way, the post is not really about Carey Mulligan or about Roland Mouret so much as the YSL pumps she’s wearing – go ahead, look.  They’re blue.)

They start the post, a variation on a specific genre of post often featured on this blog — does this specific red carpet look work or doesn’t it? with a disclaimer.

We’re almost afraid to write this one.

Not because we fear the wrath of Carey Mulligan’s publicist (or Roland Mouret’s, for that matter), nor because we fear that legions of her fans will tear us limb from limb in an orgy of righteous rage because we dared to say something less than flattering about her (although it does give us some pause). No, we’re afraid to write this one because we’re about to complain about something that we’ve been asking for in every red carpet ensemble for almost five years now.

(Color, is what they’ve been asking for. Just some color, which Ms. Mulligan is without a doubt sporting in that photo.)

See, here’s the thing – they’re thought twice about writing the post because while they’re writing subjectively about some of the most subjective content there is – they know they have readers who are looking for hard and fast rules.  They know that those readers think they have a rule figured out and then they’re going to go and contradict themselves and those readers will be confused and think “you don’t even know what you want.”

But there’s a general principle they’re reasoning from here – a way of thinking, as it were.

there’s nothing inherently wrong with, say,  black peeptoe pumps, but when they become ubiquitous and they’re mindlessly paired with every dress on the red carpet, whether they go with it or not, that’s when we get all huffy and dogmatic about it. But the flipside of that is, we then get a rep for hating black peeptoe pumps (or silly putty pumps, or ankle straps), and when we wind up letting a pair go by without comment, or worse, complimenting the choice, kittens get confused. “But…I thought you hated black peeptoe pumps,” they say, their adorable kitten eyes wide and on the brink of shedding tears of disappointment and confusion. “There, there,” we say (in our imaginations), “Sometimes these things work and sometimes they don’t. Fashion shouldn’t be rigid. Now dry your eyes, little fashion kitten.”

Darned if this doesn’t sound like me when I read a paper and make comments and then the student takes it away and works on it for two months and in that two months the argument of the paper evolves and changes so that the thing that I said the paper needed in January isn’t even part of the argument any more in March and when I write on the paper that it needs to go they say “but… you SAID…”

I know, I know.  It’s frustrating not to have rules. And it’s frightening.  But I think what Tom and Lorenzo are asking their readers to have is confidence – confidence in their own ability to say what they like and to learn a way of thinking, or a body of reasons they can use to articulate why it is they like what they like.  Which is not the same thing as memorizing a set of rules.

And this is where this sounds familiar – where the information literacy comes in – where the student development theory comes in – the end goal on these things is also, in part, confidence.  But confidence that goes beyond “I like X,” confidence that you can know what you like and contextualize it, understand as something that exists in the world and that is understood by others in a particular way.  Which means learning how to talk about what you like with reasons and evidence – evidence beyond simplistic appeals to expertise  (Tom and Lorenzo like color) that let you participate without really putting yourself into the conversation.

I miss this blog in part because it was a place where I could consistently put myself into the conversation.  I’m not sure that can be re-created at this point. But I’m going to try.

some thoughts on school libraries

Or, at least, that’s where this started.

Sometime last spring – not sure when, but it was definitely sunny here in western Oregon – a colleague and I drove to an OLA board meeting in Forest Grove — quite a haul from our part of the Willamette Valley. I love being a part of the Oregon Library Association because it’s one of the few things I do that isn’t academic/instruction librarian focused. That extra perspective that comes from hanging out with children’s librarians (and lots of other kinds of librarians) is really important to me.

Driving back home we both had the same thought – that part of this meeting had been VERY relevant to us in our academic/instruction life — the State Librarian had released some numbers about school librarianship in Oregon. School librarians numbers here have shrunk dramatically in the last 30 years:

Graph showing the numbers of school librarians in Oregon declining more than 50% from 1980 to the present

School Librarian #'s

And it’s not like the numbers of students has held steady:

graph showing the number of students per librarian increasing

And these numbers are only set to get worse.  In the last year the two largest school districts that still had librarians in every school: Beaverton and Salem-Keizer both had to put those librarians on the chopping block because of budget constraints.  The Beaverton district may have saved their librarians.  Salem-Keizer, on the other hand, is cutting all positions except for the two librarians in the high schools.

This situation is certainly not unique to Oregon.  This story about librarians in Los Angeles forced to defend their jobs in a hostile environment made the rounds last spring.  And the American Library Association uses the word “crisis” in this School Libraries Funding Press Kit.

So, why am I focused on school libraries?  Because it’s time to gear up for the new term – to teach classes for students enrolled in bridge programs designed to give them a taste of what they need to be successful in college.  And to think about the first-year experience with it’s focus on how the resources available to you at a research institution are different than those you may have had access to before.

And I generally focus on “things you might not expect to find in your library” when I get students who are new to college, don’t have a research assignment and do have a meeting with me.  But this has me thinking a lot more specifically about – what about students who don’t know what to expect from A library, much their “their” library.  If “library” to them means “unstaffed room with perhaps outdated books” in it, don’t we have a bigger hill to climb than the complexities of how to use our specific libraries — where do students who have no school librarians get their sense of the type of help they can expect from any library?  I’m not sure.

So lately when I talk to faculty about things I talk less about the stuff we have to offer students and more about this – I don’t think most of them know about these numbers.  I don’t think they always know the extent to which students have been on their own when it comes to research and evidence.  I think this all makes the soon-to-be-published research I saw teased on my Twitter last week a little more important.  What do you think?  Does a lack of school librarians mean starting with what a library IS?

And I also wonder because I have been hearing more and more from instruction librarians at conferences and meetings that they want to focus their dwindling resources on the advanced majors “who can really take advantage of our resources and services” — that we should automate the basic instruction that can be done with a tutorial or online module and leave the real teaching (since there are fewer of us in academic libraries and our numbers aren’t getting any bigger ) for the classes with the real need.  And I get that there are fewer of us and the numbers won’t be getting any bigger, but I have to wonder — if we ignore them in K-12 and then ignore them in their first two years while they’re learning what college is, what college research is and what a research library (or a library full stop) is — what will their motivation BE to seek us out when the time is right?   I have no answers here, only questions, but I can’t imagine that that will be an easy sell, and I think there must be a better answer, even if I don’t know what it is yet.

Peer Reviewed Monday – Scaffolding Evaluation Skills

ResearchBlogging.org
So this week we’re also behind a paywall, I think.  Someday I will have time to actually go looking for Peer Reviewed Monday articles that meet a set of standards, but right now we’re still in the “something I read in real life this week” phase.

And this one was interesting – so far, when I have found articles that are specifically about deliberate interventions designed to teach something about peer review or about research articles, it is almost always in this literature, about the teaching of science.  Not surprising, but it does beg the question of disciplinary differences.  Still, the overarching takeaway of this article isn’t that everyone should teach about evaluating scientific evidence like we did so much as it is everyone should be teaching this on purpose, and over and over.

Which is a message I can get behind.  And one, I suspect, that is true across disciplines.

So the article has two parts.  One is a presentation of the model the authors used to teach students to evaluate evidence, and the second is a report on their research assessing the use of the model in a class.  Their students are not college students, but advanced high school students.

The authors open by arguing for the significance of evaluation skills in science -

Students, more frequently now than before, are faced with important socio-scientific dilemmas and they are asked or they will be asked in the future to take action on them.  They should be in position to have reflective discussions on such debates and not accept data at face value.

They further argue that students are not being taught this now – that most problem-based or inquiry-based curricula takes the data as a given, and doesn’t include “question the data” as part of the lesson. ( I almost think they are arguing that this is even more important now then it had been before because of the current emphasis on active, experiential learning.  That they’re suggesting that this type of pedagogy requires evaluation skills that the old lecture model didn’t, but that teaching evaluation skills hasn’t been built into these curricula.  That’s an interesting idea.)

In the lit review, the authors spend some time on the question of what “credibility” means.  For the purposes of this paper, that are arguing that there are two main components to the assessment of the credibility of evidence:  the source of the evidence and the method, how it was constructed.  This interpretation is heavily influenced by Driver, et al, 2001).

Questions to ask of the source:

  • Is there evident bias or not?
  • Was it peer-reviewed?
  • Who is the author? What is their reason for producing the evidence? What is their background?
  • What is the funding source?

Questions to ask of the methodology:

  • Does the evidence refer to a comparison of two different groups?
  • Is there any control of variables?
  • Were the results replicated?

The review of the literature suggests that there is ample evidence to support the claim that students are uncertain about how to evaluate evidence and assess claims.  This holds true across grade levels and disciplines.  They also suggest that there is very little research on whether these skills can be improved.

image of steel building framework

Credibility Assessment Framework

The authors then turn their attention to the Credibility Assessment Framework, which they believe will help high school students build the skills they need to assess evidence in inquiry situations.  The framework is based on two specific theoretical concepts: Learning-for-use framework (Edelson 2001) and scaffolding design framework (Quintana, et al 2004).  The framework is intended to help designers create good learning activities that include:

  • authentic contexts
  • authentic activities
  • multiple perspectives
  • coaching and scaffolding by the teacher at critical times
  • authentic assessment of learning within the tasks
  • support for the collaborative construction of knowledge
  • support for reflection about and articulation of learning

What they did

The team spent eight months building the learning environment for a class of secondary school science students.  They built their evaluation learning activities around a project where students were supposed to be doing hands-on work on an ill-structured and complex problem (food and GMOs) — a context where their work should naturally and authentically benefit from the critical evaluation of multiple sources of evidence.

One thing that is significant here, is that the authors supplied the reserach for the students to evaluate — they didn’t include a “finding stuff” piece to this work.  But they also modified the sources that the students were going to use, when they felt it was important to do so to decrease the cognitive load on students.  What was really interesting to me about this was what they added in – context, why the study was done and where it fit.  This is exactly what I feel (feel, because I haven’t got data) my students are missing when they’re just assigned “peer-reviewed articles.”

This information was put in a database in the students’ online learning space.  This space includes both an “inquiry” environment and a reflective “WorkSpace” environment; the project used both.

Scaffolding was built in, using both human-provided information (from the teacher) and computer-supported information (available online for the duration of the unit).  And the unit as a whole lasted elevent weeks.  There were 11 90 minute lesson plans.  The students started out doing hands-on experiments, and then spent the remainder of the unit doing groupwork which included data evaluation.  Then at the end the groups presented their findings.

In the first four lessons, the students were evaluating the provided sources without direct instruction. In the fifth lesson, they did a specific exercise where they evaluated the credibility of two sources unrelated to the class’ topic — this was done to reveal the criteria that the students had been unconsciously using as they attempted to evaluate provided sources in the first four weeks.

What they found out

The authors gathered pre- and post- test data using two instruments.  One measured the mastery of concepts and the other the evaluation skills.  They also videotaped the class sessions and used data captured from the online learning environment.  There was a control class as well, which did not have any of the specific evaluation lessons. The authors found that for the study group, there was a statistically significant difference between the pre- and post- tests for both conceptual understanding and evaluation skills.  For the control group there was no significant difference.

Two findings I found particularly interesting:

  • Including the qualitative data gave more insight.  In the pre-tests students were abel to identify the more credible sources, but they were not able to articulate WHY those sources were more credibile.
  • Within the particular components of credibility that the authors identified (source and method) the students did fine on author/author background by themselves, but needed help with: type of publication and funding source.

The students needed scaffolding help on methodological criteria, and even with it, many students didn’t get it (though they got more of it than they had coming in – this was a totally new concept for most of them).

Here’s the piece that I found the most interesting.  The impact of the study, as interpreted by me, was not so much on the students’ ability to tell the really good or the really bad sources.  It sounded to mek like the real impact was that the students were able to do more meaningful navigation of the sources in the middle.  And I think that’s really important — and something that most students don’t know they need to know on their own.  Related to this – the students were likely to mistrust ALL “internet” sources at the beginning, but by the end they were able to identify a journal article, even if that journal article was published online.  That’s significant to me too – that shows the start of that more sophisticated understanding of evaluation that I think is necessary to really evaluate the scholarly literature.

Finally, the authors found that the students had most of the conversations they did have about evaluation as the result of instruction – not on their own – which they took to prove that instruction was needed.

As I said before, the point of the paper seemed to me to be more about the fact taht this kind of direct intervention is needed, not that this specific intervention is the be all and end all of instruction in this area.  Beyond this, I think the paper is interesting because it illustrates how big a job “evaluation” is to teach – that it includes not only a set of skills but a related set of epistemological ideas — that the students need to know something about knowledge and why and how it’s created.  That’s a big job, and I’m not surprised it took 3 months to do here.

Nicolaidou, I., Kyza, E., Terzian, F., Hadjichambis, A., & Kafouris, D. (2011). A framework for scaffolding students’ assessment of the credibility of evidence Journal of Research in Science Teaching DOI: 10.1002/tea.20420