thoughts about learning sparked by that note taking study

Remember a couple of weeks ago when news articles like this, or this or this were all over your social media?  Mine too.  I’m a little late to replying, but I didn’t want to do it until I’d read the actual study.  I read a couple of the news articles and something about the coverage was bugging me.  Me, an avowed taking-notes-by-hand-notetaker!  

Today, I read it, and I think I know what’s been bugging me.  It’s that when we didn’t have the tools that make things easy, we learned a lot, so the tools are bad narrative.

In other words, the technology (in this case, a pen) puts up a barrier, and what we have to do to get around that barrier turns out to be a useful learning experience.  We learn new skills because we’re motivated to get around the barrier, and we don’t even really notice we’re learning them because we have our eyes on the prize.

So when a new technology comes that removes the barrier we love it and adopt it, but worry about everyone who isn’t going have the important experience of getting over the barrier.  Or worse, we look at those who grew up without the barrier and decide that they’re deficient in some way.

Does this sound familiar?  Of course it does.  How many times have we heard variations of it in libraries?  A million?  A zillion?

The problem with ____________ is that students don’t learn how to _____________ anymore.

First, a quick recap of the study

(I crack myself up, it won’t be all that quick)

Context:  There are 2 main theories about the value of notetaking that were considered here:

  • External storage — this is the idea that notes give you something to study later.
  • Encoding — this is the idea that the cognitive work you do to turn information into notes improves your learning, even if you don’t review them again.

Since laptops enable a more transcription-like type of  notetaking, the authors hypothesize that they will find benefits to pen-and-paper notetaking over laptop-supported notetaking and they designed 3 related studies to test that:

Study 1 — let’s compare laptop notetaking to paper notetaking, without doing much else.

2 groups of students were asked to take notes on the same material, with no instruction on how to take notes.  They were randomly assigned laptops or pen/paper to do the task. Afterwards, they answered both factual/recall and conceptual/application questions about the material.  In addition, their notes were coded and analyzed by the researchers.

Both groups of students did about the same on the factual/recall questions, but the students who took notes by hand did significantly better on the conceptual/application questions.

Those who took notes in longhand wrote fewer words, and had fewer examples of direct transcription in their notes.

Study 2 — let’s do pretty much the same thing, but this time we’ll tell them not to transcribe.

So this time the students essentially did the same thing, but the students who got laptops were split into two groups.  One of those were told to take notes as they usually do, the other was also told that studies show transcription doesn’t work, and that they shouldn’t transcribe.

In this case, the differences between the groups were less significant, but the handwritten notes group still did better.  There was no difference in the laptop groups — inserting a paragraph telling students “don’t transcribe” didn’t have an effect.

Study 3 — this time, we’ll have them study the notes again later.

Instead of TED talks, four prose paragraphs were selected and then read by a grad student from a teleprompter to simulate a lecture. The paragraphs included 2 “seductive details” — information that is interesting but not useful. Students were told they’d be tested later before they took their notes.  Again, some were given laptops and some were given pen and paper.  A week later they came back, half were given the chance to study their notes for 10 minutes, half weren’t.

The results here were more complicated.  You have to look at the intersection between notetaking medium and study time to find significant differences.  Those who took longhand notes and studied did better than any other group of conditions. Additionally, among those who studied, verbatim notetaking and transcription negatively affected performance.

Okay, enough recap, on to my thoughts:

(For more details about the study — see the end of the post. It’s paywalled, so I’m feeling responsible for making sure you have the details the news articles don’t include)

I want to start off by saying that I don’t have a problem with this study – I think it’s useful, I think it’s interesting, and I am fairly certain I will come back to it again and use it in real life.  My issue is with the conclusions that have been drawn from it — mostly in all of those news stories, but also by most of the people who tweeted, facebooked or tumblr-ed those articles.

Reading the actual study – there’s nothing in there that says much about the medium.  Beyond the fact that most people type faster than they write, and therefore can get closer to transcription on a laptop, there’s really nothing at all.  What the study found was that if you transcribe, you don’t learn as well and, as they point out themselves, we knew that already.

See, I don’t think the takeaway is “don’t take notes with laptops.”  I think the takeaway is — we have to start teaching people how to take notes. Better yet, we have to start teaching people how to use the information they gain from lectures, videos, infographics, textbooks, readings and learning objects.

There’s definitely no way one could consider the Just Say No to Transcription intervention in Study #2 “teaching” — this study surely did not prove that people can’t take good notes with laptops, it only suggested that they don’t.

There’s nothing magical about taking notes by hand that makes people process and think and be cognitively aware of what they’re doing – if that’s all you have and you want  good notes, over time you will figure that out because you can’t write fast enough to transcribe.  But that’s not magic, it’s motivation.  It’s still a learned behavior, even if the teacher could remain blissfully unaware of that learning.

And when we learned how subject headings worked, or that we could find more sources by using the bibliography at the end of the book, or that the whole section where that one book was had interesting stuff, or that both the article title and the journal title were important — learning that stuff wasn’t the point and we might not have noticed that learning.  But we learned how to think like the people who organized and used the information because learning that was the fastest and easiest way to getting our papers done.

(Hey, do you think that when copy machines were invented, and we could just make a copy of the article instead of having to read, digest and take notes on it in the library people argued for No Copy Machines?)

Even if we take laptops out of the classroom, I don’t think that students will feel like they have to learn how to think about, digest, remix and capture their thoughts about a lecture in order to function.  I think that ship has probably sailed, that horse is out of the barn, that genie’s out of the bottle.

If a student knows they can record the lectures on their phone, or if the slidedeck and lecture notes are posted before every class, they’re not going to feel like they have to get it down or risk failure.  And if the lectures are already recorded and re-watchable in a flipped or online class — they’re not going to suddenly think they need to be flexing their best cognitive muscles because they have a pen in their hand.

I don’t hear the “put the barriers back up” when it comes to digital information from instruction librarians much anymore.  And I think it’s fair to say that I’m hearing it less from faculty too.  But I still worry when I see things like the coverage of this study — because it’s not like I disagree that things are getting lost when these barriers come down.  Skill type things, tacit knowledge type things and also habits of mind type things — the tools I had to work with as a young learner left me with a lot that still serves me well now, when I have better tools. If my students can’t learn those things the way I did – and they can’t — how will they?  I don’t think answers like “ban laptops,” or “just use a pen” are going to get them what they need.

Study details

Mueller, P.A. & Oppenheimer, D.M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science.  doi:10.1177/0956797614524581 Study 1

  • Princeton students.  n=67 (33 men, 33 women & 1 other).
  • Laptops had no internet connection.
  • Students watched 3 TED talks and took notes.  No instruction on taking notes.
  • Taken to another room to provide data:
    • complete 2 distractor tasks
    • complete 1 taxing working memory task
    • answer factual/recall questions
    • answer conceptual/application questions
    • provide demographic data
  • Notes were coded and analyzed.
  • Results:
    • factual/recall = both groups the same
    • conceptual/application = laptops significantly worse
    • more notes = positive predictor
    • less verbatim notes = positive predictor

Study 2

  • UCLA students
  • Laptop groups = 1 control (take notes as you normally would), 1 intervention – studies show that students who take notes verbatim don’t do as well on tests. Don’t do that.
  • Data:
    • Complete a typing test
    • Complete the Need for Cognition Scale
    • Complete Academic self-efficacy scales
    • Complete a shorter version of the reading span task
    • Complete the same dependent measures (questions) as study 1.
    • Demographic data
    • Notes were coded and analyzed
  • Longhand students did better, but not significantly.
  • None of the other measures had an effect
  • Longhand students took fewer notes than any of the laptop groups and took fewer verbatim notes.
  • Telling people not to take notes verbatim had no effect.

Study 3

  • UCLA students
  • 4 prose passages were read from a teleprompter by a grad student standing at a lectern simulating a lecture.
  • Students saw the lectures in big groups, wearing headphones
  • 2 “seductive details” — interesting, but not important information — were inserted into the prose passages.
  • Students were told they would be tested on the material before taking notes.
  • Tests were 1 week later.
  • Study group was given 10 minutes to study notes in advance of taking the tests.
  • Data:
    • 40 questions, 10 per lecture, 2 in each of five categories:  seductive details, concepts, facts, inferences, applications
    • notes were analyzed
  • No main effects of note taking medium or chance to study.
  • Significant interaction between note taking medium and chance to study.
  • Longhand notes + study = significantly better than any other condition.
  • For those who studied, verbatim negatively predicted performance.

Images

The new way of taking lecture notes. Some rights reserved by Natalie Downe (flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/nataliedowne/1558297/

reading my notes. Some rights reserved by gordonr (flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/gordonr/430546423/

pen. Some rights reserved by Walwyn (flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/overton_cat/2267349191/

Copycard. Some rights reserved by reedinglessons (flickr). https://www.flickr.com/photos/reedinglessons/5909073392/

Sailboat. Some rights reserved by jordaneileenlucas (flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/jordanlucas/4027830675/

FYE Conference – notes and links

ETA - Presentation slides (they’re image heavy, and only moderately helpful, but here they are)

Information Literacy

Learning the Ropes: How Freshmen Conduct Course Research Once they Enter College. Alison Head/ Project Information Literacy. December 2013. (PDF)

The Citation Project Pilot study. Howard, Rebecca Moore, Tanya K. Rodrigue, and Tricia C. Serviss. “Writing from Sources, Writing from Sentences.” Writing and Pedagogy 2.2 (Fall 2010): 177-192.

Rempel, H. G., Buck, S., & Deitering, A. M. (2013). Examining Student Research Choices and Processes in a Disintermediated Searching Environment. portal: Libraries and the Academy. 13(4), 363-384.

Kim, K. S., & Sin, S. C. J. (2007). Perception and selection of information sources by undergraduate students: effects of avoidant style, confidence, and personal control in problem-solving.The Journal of Academic Librarianship. 33(6), 655-665. (Elsevier paywall)

Curiosity

Curiosity Self-Assessment  - try it yourself!

Scoring Guide

Based on:
by Jordan A. Litman & Mark V. Pezzo (2007). In Personality and Individual Differences 43 (6): 1448–1459.
by Jordan A. Litman & Charles D. Spielberger (2003) in Journal of Personality Assessment 80 (1) (February): 75–86.
by Robert P. Collins, Jordan A. Litman & Charles D. Speilberger (2004) in Personality and Individual Differences 36 (5): 1127-1141

Exploration

What we used in FYC:

WR 121 LibGuide

Science Daily

EurekAlert!

Twitter (for example: @HarvardResearch, @ResearchBlogs, @ResearchOSU)

Creating an embeddable twitter timeline (we are using the List Timeline option)

Mapping OSU Research – Google map

7 Ways to Make a Google Map Using Google Spreadsheets.  Note: ours is made by hand right now – but there might be interest in these options.

Other possibilities:

Newsmap – treemap style visualization of Google News.

Tiki-Toki — timeline generator

TimelineJS (integrated with Google Spreadsheets)

From the archives – the librarian can’t find the best source

This post from Lauren Pressley really resonated with me – particularly her note that not-blogging promotes not-blogging because when you don’t blog often you feel pressure to come up with something really great:

If you blog rarely, every blog post counts. It might be the last one left up over the course of a few months. :) And if it’s on the front page of your site for a few months, it better be pretty darn compelling.

I’m sure that it may come as a surprise to many who have noticed how difficult I find it to keep this blog up to date that I used to blog in two places.  I was never really pulling my weight over there, but I used to blog with Rachel and Caleb over at Command-f.info.

Command-f doesn’t exist any more, but the thing is that I had some posts I really, really liked over there.  So I’m going to move a couple of them over here before they’re lost to me forever.  (Yay Wayback Machine!).  Sadly, I fear the two-part Batgirl epic is no more.

This was the first post I made on Command-f, in August of 2008.  I’m reposting exactly as it appeared then, except for updating a few links.

I don’t feel like I hear nearly the emphasis on “the best source” as I used to, but I still do hear people frame “library sources” and “other sources” as if they are something different, and if there’s something superior about one. It relates to what I was saying in the Good Library Assignments posts about the desire I see in both students and faculty to use library collections as a shortcut for quality.

And I think it also relates to conversations like this one at The Ubiquitous Librarian, where I can’t be the only librarian to think that the students’ problem here wasn’t with difficult interfaces so much as a lack of understanding of research as an iterative, knowledge-creating process.  Not a matter of figuring out how to retrieve “the best source” so much as being able, cognitively and dispositionally, to be inspired to think about new things they see in the sources they find.

So – back to the past…

command-f logo

July 4, 2008 – 12:26 am by anne-marie

So this has been bothering me for a while and I haven’t been sure how to talk about it. It’s the phrase “the best source.” As in, “Google’s great for some things but librarians can really teach you how to find the best source on your topic.”

So I started really thinking about this one day at LOEX of the West when someone suggested that librarians involved in Open Access advocacy and instruction librarians are sometimes working against each other because open access advocates advocate using sources that are openly accessible and instruction librarians want people to use — the best sources. Now, I consider myself an open access advocate and a pretty good instruction librarian and I hadn’t been feeling that tension. I realized that I don’t think I do teach people to find “the best source” or even “the best sources.”

Really – I don’t even know what that phrase means.

Now, a couple of caveats here – I am not a very good relativist. I have been smacked down around a lot of seminar tables by smart people and foolish people alike for not being a very good relativist. I have had to learn to embrace the fact that my relativism has limits. So when I say “I don’t know what the best source means” it is not because “best” is a relative absolute term and I just don’t believe in that.

Two, I understand the concept of the seminal source. I don’t love the adjective but I get the phrase. I believe in it. I have had some transcendent academic experiences when I read an article, a book – some source that not only got me thinking in a new way, but that unlocked a whole discourse for me because by understanding it I had a framework to understand all kinds of things that came later.

(The Female World of Love and Ritualby Carol Smith Rosenberg. Signs – 1975. Such hard work. So changed my ideas about what history could be)

But that’s not what we talk about in libraries when we talk about “the best source.” And seriously, some of the most impact-heavy sources are also some of the most criticized and challenged. Two seconds on Google and you can find about a million references like this summary of the Big Six Information Needs step: The best source answers the exact research question or problem at the appropriate depth and breadth.

I don’t know what we even mean when we say things like that. And this honestly isn’t my snide hipstery “what would that even look like” voice. I am really asking – in the context of a real search, or a real information need – what would that even look like? Help me understand.

See, to me, the best source on a project is the source that gets you thinking — it sparks the idea, the understanding, or the connection that shows you where you’re going. You haven’t finished thinking yet and you haven’t finished writing yet – but you shift from “omg I’ll never get this done” to knowing what it is you want to say. It’s going to be entirely different from project to project and from person to person. If we could obliviate! memories and give the exact same person the exact same project and the exact same resources I’m guessing they would be pretty likely to find inspiration in a different place the second time around.

When Kate and I spoke about peer review at LOEX of the West, I’d say that our best source was this one article by David Solomon. His framework discussing five roles that journals play in scientific communities was what really pushed us where we needed to be in terms of framing the discussion. He cited another source, which we ended up using just as much in our final paper – so Solomon’s influence wouldn’t even be immediately apparent if you couldn’t get inside our brains but that doesn’t change the fact that for us, in our preparation, that source was probably the best source for us to find.

The point is that drilling down to the best source doesn’t match any kind of search process I’m familiar with. It doesn’t match how I see people exploring or discovering. It doesn’t match how I see people learning. But we say it so much – I’ve got to believe that it’s me that’s missing something. What are the situations and scenarios where we need to refine and refine – to add ANDS and ORs and parentheses until we have identified the single perfect source that answers our research question? What kind of searching is that – what kind of information need allows us to make that determination in advance of the learning, the synthesis, the analysis and the creation? What kind of learning process allows us to reject source after source as not worthy, and to keep those unworthy sources from sparking our thinking?

If I’m not missing anything, I think we need to really let the “best source” thing go. And not in the relativistic sense that there is no best. But to stop using it reflexively and un-reflectively. We need to really think about what kinds of systems, tools, lessons and conversations we can have with people to help them connect to their best sources.

Because I hope it’s clear that I think that there are best sources, but they’re slippery beasts. They can’t be discovered by drilling down, by narrowing and focusing, or by limiting oneself to a pre-selected pool of “best” resources. Well they can, but that’s not the easy way to do it and I think it’d take some dumb luck.

The easy way is still pretty hard. It involves a constant give and take of exploring and evaluating and I think it might be made harder by some of our tools. A lot of our systems in libraries are really good at getting the user to one thing, and not so good at supporting the kind of exploring and evaluating I’m talking about.

I’m looking at the catalog here – at the Virtual Reference Summit here in Oregon recently David Lankes said that the library catalog is the inventory record most organizations hide – and it is.

It’s the inventory record designed to help us distinguish all our stuff from all our other stuff. It is best at helping us find this book and distinguish this book from that book and that other book over there. It’s not as good at helping us explore and draw connections.

Is what the catalog does well, and has always done well, shaping how we think about searching and learning and exploring? Maybe it is. Maybe as a part of all of these conversations about the next generation of catalogs we can also take some time to re-think the idea of the best source.

lifelong learning

In our strategic planning meetings there has been some pushback against the phrase (not the idea) of lifelong learning – the feeling exists that we’ve been using this phrase so long in libraries that it’s starting to lose some meaning.

I saw a couple of things today that got me thinking about this phrase more concretely – not just in terms of what it should mean, but also in terms of what it really means for a university (or a university library) to support it.

First, Karen muses on Coursera, not from an “OMG the future of higher ed” and not from an “OMG the sky is falling” perspective — but from the perspective of someone actually taking one of the courses as a, yes, lifelong learner:

It’s funny, we pretty much give up on learning things once we graduate and get jobs.  Or at least, there’s no further cultural support for continuing to take classes unless they’re Crossfit or cooking. When really, taking classes is one of the most awesome things in the world.

Then, a little bit later you’d think I was reading thoughts from Ta-Nehisi Coates about football fandom at The Atlantic, but really, I’m reading about lifelong learning again.

I’ll be pulling together a bibliography of sources which I hope to consult while pulling together this piece. I started with Clifford Geertz’s “Notes On The Balinese Cockfight.” This is the sort of thing that normal educated people read in undergrad. But again, I would not have been ready for this at 18. I am delighted to take it in at 36, an age where my tastes are a little broader, and my excitement flames high.

I did read this article as an undergrad and while I remember it, and I’m pretty sure I liked it, I didn’t get as much out of it as I got out of other texts and conversations.  I understand that one of the reasons why I was required to read lots of stuff as an undergrad was that every piece isn’t going to have that impact on you at the moment when it’s assigned and the best way to ensure that students do get those life- and perspective-changing moments is to make sure they read lots and lots and lots of potentially transformative stuff.

But it got me thinking – how great would it be if there was a way we could revisit some of the stuff we read as undergrads, to think about it again with all of the experience and perspective we could bring to it now?

Those of us who think and write about learning think and write about the importance of reflection, and metacognition, on the learning process.  On my campus we talk about figuring out how to get students to reflect on their gen ed experience, to reflect on their major experience, to reflect on all of the different learning experiences they have in college — because that reflection is essential to the learning process.

So much of what we try and teach and do in higher education is create a framework for lifelong learning – so many people say to me that they didn’t really understand the point of a particular course, or assignment or even whole field of study until long after they left school.  That’s one of the things that makes assessment in higher education so tough.  It makes me wonder how much the conversations recently about how higher education must change – should be focusing less on today’s students and more on what we could be doing for yesterday’s.

 

 

Motivating students in the one-shot (peer-reviewed Monday)

ResearchBlogging.org

Okay, not really.  And OMG Peer-Reviewed Monday is back!  But there are connections to the one-shot here, really.

One thing that came out, over and over, in the research that Kate and I just presented at WILU was the idea that student in information literacy classes aren’t motivated to do the work, and that the instructors in those classes have to work super hard and super constantly on engagement.

So this special issue of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching caught my eye because of its focus on motivation.  And this article in particular further caught my eye because of its focus on situational interest.

Palmer, D. (2009). Student interest generated during an inquiry skills lesson Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46 (2), 147-165 DOI: 10.1002/tea.20263

(I couldn’t find an online copy, even though this is a Romeo green publication)

Palmer defines “situational interest” in contrast to “personal interest” where the latter is a deep, lasting, engaged interest in a topic or domain.  The former, in contrast, is “short-term interest that is generated by aspects of a specific situation.”

The relevance to information literacy instruction is obvious when Palmer’s example of the kind of “situation” that can spark “interest” is a particularly engaging or awesome demonstration.  Like I said, one idea that came through in many, many stories we gathered was the idea that if we as librarian instructors can be engaging, exciting, fun and compelling enough, our students will be motivated to learn.

Palmer synthesizes several factors that lead to situational interest from the literature:  novelty, surprise, autonomy, suspense, social involvement, ease of comprehension and background knowledge.  So one could expect that there are things that could be in an IL session that are not spectacular demonstrations that could still tap into this idea of situational motivation – content they’re not expecting (novelty and surprise), giving them real, authentic choices (autonomy) and group activities (social involvement).

So on to the study itself – Palmer’s purpose was to evaluate different parts of a science lesson to determine how much situational interest was generated, and to identify the sources of that interest.  Students participated in a 40 minute lesson (the topics of the lesson varied, though the basic structure did not, to protect against the possibility that some topics are just more motivating than others).  The data gathered was qualitative, gathered via group interviews at the end of the lesson.

His population was younger than you’d find in my academic environment – 14-15 years old.  And, of course, they were studying science, not library research.  On the other hand, he chose a hands-on lesson, delivered in one shot, which does have relevance for my sessions.

The results are interesting in part because of how similar they are, in some specific ways, to the ways librarians and faculty describe student library research skills.  For example, the researchers examined how students engaged in inquiry skills (problem-setting, observation, reporting, analyzing, etc.) during the lesson.  While they had many chances to use these skills, most of the time they “were not of a high standard.”  Students were more likely to describe their method than articulate meaningful questions, and more likely to describe their experiment than analyze their results.

When it comes to motivation, students demonstrated a significant preference for certain parts of the lesson.  The experiment was broken into the following pieces for analysis:

  • Copying Notes
  • Demonstration
  • Proposal
  • Experiment
  • Report
  • Copying Notes 2

Of these, students showed the lowest amount of interest during the Copying Notes phases, by a lot.  Anyone surprised?

Of the others, they showed the most interest during the Experiment phase, with Demonstration next.  Both of these were noticeably higher than Proposal and Report.   The two pieces with the highest level of interest total, also had high levels of interest in terms of how many students showed that interest.  95% showed interest during the Experiment phase, and 90% during the Demonstration.

In the interviews, students said copying notes wasn’t interesting because it was what they were used to doing in science class.  That’s kind of sad.  This piece was to get at the domain knowledge piece needed for motivation, but there must be a better way to do that.  I copy notes on my own motivation regularly, but it sounds nightmarish as an in-class activity.

Learning came up over and over as a source of interest, which explains the popularity of both the Demonstration and the Experiment phases.  Students in 68% of the groups said that having a choice about what to do was a source of interest, even though it only really came up in the Proposal phase.  Physical activity was also a source of interest, and this one connects most strongly to the Experiment phase.  Novelty and surprise came in a little lower.  These codes actually came up most often in the Demonstration phase.  Palmer points out, however, that the learning they said they liked could in fact be a form of responding to novelty – enjoying the learning because it was something new.

Palmer, in fact, seems to credit most of the “learning” responses to the idea of novelty — he concludes that 3 factors are most responsible for student motivation:

In summary, it has been argued above that the situational interest experienced by students in this study was basically derived from three separate sources — novelty, autonomy (choice) and social involvement.

The decision to dismiss learning as a factor here seems a bit abrupt.  I would have liked to see it unpacked a little more – as it is, I don’t see the evidence Palmer saw.  This connects to the biggest gap in the paper, from my perspective – the fact that there’s no reporting of any assessment of the learning that did happen in the lesson  in this paper, with the exception of the evaluation of their inquiry skills (which is presented separately from any content or domain knowledge learning).

It seems a little incomplete to talk about motivation to learn without talking about learning.  As Palmer says himself:

a student might be very highly motivated to learn in a lesson, but if the teacher does not use appropriate teaching techniques by guiding and scaffolding the direction of learning, then very little science will be learnt. For optimal learning to occur, motivational strategies need to be used in tandem with instructional strategies which focus on the development of scientific understandings.

One of the inherently interesting things about this paper for instruction librarians is its focus on immediate classroom practice.  There is nothing in this research method or in the analysis of the results that wouldn’t totally apply to the one-shot, which is pretty rare in the education literature.  Of course, the author counts this as a limitation in the study, because real inquiry “is usually developed over a longer time frame than the 40-minute procedure used in this study.”  But still, his limitation is our relevance.

Connected to this is his finding that there is a lot of variability in situational interest throughout this lesson.  The different pieces were only a few minutes long, so that suggests that students’ interest and motivation can change very quickly.  On the one hand, this suggests that we could lose them quickly.  On the other hand, it also suggests that perhaps we shouldn’t worry so much about those normal ebbs and flows.  If one piece isn’t hugely motivating to them, the next one could be.

Other implications for instruction librarians are found in the lit review, Palmer uses research that suggests “multiple experiences of situational interest” can develop into long-term interest.  At best, this suggests that students would need repeated exposure to awesome information literacy teachers to develop a long-term interest in research or inquiry just from IL classes alone.   In fact, Palmer suggests that one reason for the mediocrity he observed in inquiry skills was the fact that students didn’t really have the experience with independent inquiry to know how to talk about what they were doing.

Situation motivation seems like a fruitful line of further inquiry for instruction librarians, though even this easy intro to the subject suggests that it’s not a panacea for what ails the one-shot, or for what ails the librarians who teach too many of them.


it’s the math

I’m not sure that even my tendency to see information literacy connections everywhere will explain why I’m posting this, but I just thought it was really interesting.  This morning, I got pointed to this article (via a delicious network) which argues that hands-on, unstructured, discovery-based learning doesn’t do the trick for many science students at the secondary level.  Using preparedness for college science as their definition of success, most students are more successful if their high school science learning is significantly structured for them by their teachers.

Structure More Effective in High School Science Classes, Study Reveals

What jumped out at me here was that the reason seemed to be linked to the math – students with good preparation in the math, did benefit from unstructured, discovery based learning.  And then there was another “similar articles to this one link at the bottom of the page, pointing to another study, making another point -which supports this idea too (which is not hugely surprising because both items point to different papers by the same researchers).

You do better in college if you’ve taken high school classes in chemistry, better in physics if you’ve taken physics – but the one big exception to the success in one doesn’t generalize argument?  You do better in everything if you’re well-prepared in math.

College Science Success Linked to Math and Same-Subject Preparation

After that there are more “articles like this one links” leading to articles about middle-school math teachers in the US being really ill-prepared, or things about gender and math and science which really got me thinking about further implications of those findings – if math is such a lynchpin.  So there is something there about how this dynamic, browsable environment makes your brain work in ways that make research better.

There’s also something there about context – getting the “math teachers aren’t prepared” article in the context of the “math is key” research made the significance of the former clearer, made how I could *use* that research much clearer than it would have been if I came upon it alone.  There’s also something there about the power of sites like ScienceDaily (and ScienceBlogs, and ResearchBlogging.org and others) to pull together research, present it in an accessible way in spaces where researchers/readers can make those connections.

And there might even be something there about foundational, cognitive skills that undergird other learning. But mostly, I just found it interesting.

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Studies referenced were reported on here:

Sadler, Philip M. & Tai, Robert, H.   The two high-school pillars supporting college science (Education Forum)  Science 27 July 2007:  Vol. 317. no. 5837, pp. 457 – 458.   DOI: 10.1126/science.1144214  (paywall)
Tai & Sadler, Same Science for all?  Interactive association of structure in learning activities and academic attainment background on college science performance in the USAInternational Journal of Science Education, Volume 31, Issue 5 March 2009 , pages 675 – 696.  DOI: 10.1080/09500690701750600

visual topic exploration – for reals?

Remember back when I was sad about the demise of Ebsco’s visual search?  I got over it, but I never replaced it with the beginning composition students.  They still explore in Wikipedia, and a lot of them have fun with that, and I still talk about news browsing tools like newsmap in the advanced composition classes, but I haven’t had something to show that gets at that general idea of visual browse and topic exploration since the old visual search went away.

Until now?

Well, I don’t actually know.  But I know the answer is “maybe” which is something.  I was pointed to this tool this morning (still in beta, first area of concern is that I can’t tell if its going to stay free) — eyePlorer.com.

It’s a way to visualize Wikipedia information, which is something we’ve seen before.  But there’s something kind of fun and compelling about how it works.  And there are some add-on tools within the interface that could be really, really useful in the topic exploration phase of the research process.  Still, there are a couple of things that are giving me pause – I’ll get to those at the end.

First, the good.  It’s got circles.  No, seriously, I mean it.  It’s a fun interface to browse around in.

When you start the tool, you get an empty circle with a search box.  It does okay at figuring out the topic you want.  My first try was the topic of a student paper from a while ago.  I remembered this one because I had been pleased at the time that Wikipedia had a page for this student, specifically on their topic – orcas san juan.

EyePlorer wasn’t able to figure out what I meant by that search, but when I backtracked broader to just orcas, it did.  And better yet, one of the clusters of additional information was about places – and I was able to click and connect to information on the specific topic.

There’s a tool at the bottom of the screen that lets you zoom in to see more connections:

or out to see fewer:

If you click on the topics, you get a snippet from Wikipedia, and the option to get a little more.  The snippet is a link which will take you to the wikipedia page.  You can drag these snippets over to a notebook space, and move them around.

(Note – you have to have popups enabled for these things to work)

The note book thing in particular seems really potentially useful during topic exploration.

So why am I hesitant?  Two things.  First, I don’t really get the being able to click through to the Wikipedia page thing, because all of these subtopics and broader topics took me to the same page – the killer whale page from which they were all drawn.  It didn’t even take me to the part of the page the snippet was on, which would have put me closer to being able to click to another page — but I kept expecting to do that, to switch topics, within the tool and as far as I could tell in 10 minutes, I couldn’t.

This connects to the notebook as well – unless you do another search on another set of keywords, the notes that you pull over and rearrange are really just rearranging an existing Wikipedia article.  That’s not very useful.  Your notes do stay on the notebook from search to search, so that’s good – but I think you would need to build in specific guidance about research as an iterative, back and forth process, and make it clear that to use this tool to its fullest they should expect to search on multiple keywords.

That’s fine – research is like that and they should be prepared for back and forth and trying different things.  But when the term you want is right there, and you know that it is a hyperlink in the initial article, it is a little frustrating to have to re-search to get it.

The other, and more important hesitation is the clustering.  Much of the informational material on the site is in German, which I don’t read, or in the form of videos, which I don’t use.  So the answers to this might be there and I was too ignorant/lazy to figure them out.  But I don’t really understand how these different clusters (like slices of pie – color coded?  These areas are representing some kind of clustering) work.  If you mouse over the edge of the pie, you get a label – and some of those made sense (like “place”) but others – not so much.

Check this one out -

That refers to the little blue snippet – mean of transportation.  The Hudson Strait, that I can understand (though I’m not sure how it is different than the other bodies of water which go under “infrastructure”) – but Squid?  If you click on the dot, the snippet tells you that squid are a food source, so it seems like they should be below, in purple, with “milk.”

This might be a beta issue, right now it looks like the same categories attach no matter what the topic – at least I saw the same ones for peak oil and orcas.  And it also might be a language issue.  But I think this is worth keeping an eye on as a tool to encourage broad topic exploration.

doodling as pedagogy

ResearchBlogging.org

This one has been all over the news in the last two days, but if you haven’t seen it, it’s an Early View article in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology. The article suggests that people who doodle while they are listening to stuff retain more of what they hear than non-doodlers do.

As an unabashed doodler, for me it’s usually fancy typography-like versions of my dog’s name, this isn’t all that surprising. But my brain keeps going back to it — should we be figuring out ways to encourage our students to doodle in library sessions?

See, the article doesn’t say definitively why the doodling works.  But the author, Jackie Andrade, does suggest that it might have something to do with keeping the brain engaged just enough to prevent daydreaming, but not enough to be truly distracting:

A more specific hypothesis is that doodling aids concentration by reducing daydreaming, in situations where daydreaming might be more detrimental to perfomance than doodling itself.

So you’ve got an information literacy session in the library, with a librarian-teacher you have no relationship at all, about a topic about which you may or may not think you need instruction.  That sounds like a perfect situation for daydreaming.

And it’s not too hard to think of ways to encourage doodling.  Handouts with screenshots of the stuff you’re talking about – encourage them to draw on the handouts.  Maybe even provide pencils?  I don’t know – it’s not an idea where I’ve fully figured out the execution, but I’m interested.

My students, most of the time, don’t take notes while I’m talking.  Part of this is my style, I talk fast and I don’t talk for very long in any one stretch before switching to hands-on.  But I don’t think that’s all of it – most of them don’t even take out note-taking materials unless they are told to do so by their professor (and then they ALL do) or unless I say “you should make a note of this” (then most of them do).   And this isn’t something I’ve worried about.  I have course pages they can look at if they need to return to something, and I’m confident that most of them know how to get help after the fact if they need it.

But the no-notetaking thing means that they aren’t even in a position to do any doodling.  And as someone who needs that constant hands/part of the brain occupation to stay focused, I wonder why I’ve never thought about that as a problem before.

This study specifically tried to make sure that the subjects were prone to boredom.  They had them do this task right after they had just finished another colleagues experiment, thinking that would increase the chance that they would be bored.  And they gave them a boring task – monitoring a voice message.  Half doodled, half did not, and then they were tested on their recall of the voice message.

I don’t mean to suggest that information literacy sessions are inherently boring; I don’t actually think they are.  But I think some of the conditions for boredom are there, particularly in the one-shot setting, and I don’t think there’s stuff that we can do about all of those conditions.  Some of them are inherent.  The idea of using the brain research that’s out there to figure out some strategies for dealing with that interests me a lot.

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Jackie Andrade (2009). What does doodling do? Applied Cognitive Psychology DOI: 10.1002/acp.1561

Why I don’t like Ebsco’s visual search interface, part 2 of 2

(Go here for part 1)

Because it isn’t any fun.

The old interface, with the circles and the squares, let you zip around and zoom in on an idea and then when that didn’t work, zoom out on the idea and try something new. I know that for some people, it didn’t work. For some people it was slow, and jerked around. And I get that. But for us, in our classrooms and on the computers in the Commons, it was fast, and kind of fun.

Here’s the column view of the new interface.

There’s a little bit of zipping around to be done there, but really, it’s just not as cool. It’s too hierarchical – it gives the sense that there is just one direction to explore – from the narrow to the broad and back again.

I was teaching a class a while ago and before we got started I was listening in on the small talk in the room and this one guy said to another one, “dude, I spent a couple of hours last night on Wikipedia so I didn’t get my math done.” That kind of blew me away. I mean, Wikipedia. It’s almost all text, with limited graphics. It’s written in boring, neutral encyclopedia style (at least it’s supposed to be), at least I think it’s safe to say that it’s not the prose sucking people in. And on top of it all it’s only mostly right (a description lifted almost verbatim from one of Jessamyn West’s talks).

But for all that, we all know it can be a bit of a time-suck. I think it’s the hyperlinks and the flattened browse that it facilitates that does it.

Here’s a visualization of the linked structure.

You go in, you click some links, and pretty soon you’re looking at a list of everything that happened on October 18. You’re not necessarily drilling down in a traditional sense, though you can do that, but you’re bouncing around a lateral plane of topics — and checking out connections you might not have even considered yourself. If it wasn’t fun, you wouldn’t do it. If it wasn’t easy, you wouldn’t do it. But it’s both.

Now, the old visual search was hierarchical too, and most librarians I know didn’t really like to use it themselves in part because they didn’t like the categories that the database generated for subtopics. But it didn’t feel hierarchical in the same way. To use it, you didn’t have to go back up and down the hierarchy – you could jump from one subtopic to the other and explore it non-hierarchically within a topic, even if you couldn’t jump from topic to topic easily.

Here’s the other view of the new interface – the blocks.

This one seems more active and fun to watch, but you don’t feel like you’re controlling the movement. It’s not intuitive (at least not to me). I’m moving around between topics, which are still hierarchically arranged, and I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m not controlling my browsing, not controlling the display, in the same way.

So why do I care if it’s fun or not? Well, because I want to encourage students to take the time to explore topics broadly before they make up their minds. I want them to put themselves in a position to find some new things out about their topic before they start to write. I mostly work with first- and second- year students doing cross-disciplinary gen ed type work. They do a lot of current events or similar type topics for their papers. They frequently have some idea of what they’re going to write about and what they’re going to argue, and it’s very tempting in a 10 week term to just jump in and gather together the kinds of articles that will support their preconceived idea of a thesis. I totally get that. I mean, seriously, I’ve done it.

But we know that deep learning is supported by authentic discovery. And because of Carol Kuhlthau, we know that taking the time to explore supports focus formation – the most important part of a research process that supports learning. And we know that when we ask students to explore before making up their minds about what they’re going to write we’re asking them to open themselves up to anxiety and uncertainty. We’re asking them to explore broadly, to consider sources and ideas they might not use when they are facing deadlines and anxious that they won’t figure out what they want to write about in time. And beyond this, we’re asking them to open themselves up to the possibility that they’re going to encounter some new idea that will force them to rethink some of their beliefs. This is scary stuff.

So – I say, let’s build them tools that make exploration fun. Wikipedia does this, and we encourage all of our beginning composition students to use it in this way. Ebsco’s visual search used to do it too.

Let me say one thing at the top – I am decidedly not saying “these kids today with their video games and their cell phones, everything has to be fun or they can’t learn.” I don’t believe that’s true, and my chapter in this book uses a lot of words to say why I don’t think that’s true. I’m not saying that the graphics alone made the Ebsco visual search fun.

No, I’m talking about the ways that learning, just plain old learning, not tricked out or dressed up as anything else, is fun. Remember what it was like when you were a little kid? When you’d check out books on bugs or the pioneers or maps from the library just because you were interested in bugs or the pioneers or maps?

When you’re a little kid you’re adding facts, and you’re learning about things for the first time, and that’s fun. And it’s more complex cognitively than we thought, and even little kids have to be willing to let go their preconceptions to learn, but learning then for a lot of us felt simple and easy. Then you get older and you start learning about harder stuff, and you start re-learning stuff. And for some of us, that leads to the little thrill you get when you read something or hear something or see some result in the lab that suggests everything you used to know about a topic was wrong and that what you’ve just learn will have a ripple effect – it’s going to make you think about things in an entirely new way.

I think this is one of the gaps that tends to crop up between those of us in academia on purpose as teachers and researchers and our students — our students don’t come to us with the idea that research and learning is supposed to make you rethink what you know, and that you’re supposed to engage in a process of constructing new knowledge. How College Affects Students reminds us that most people get to college just when they’re beginning to reach the developmental stage that lets them see knowledge itself as something constructed, not revealed.

I think this is crucial for us in libraries, and especially for those of us interested in information literacy to remember. What we do gives our students the tools and the understanding they need to find the information they need to build new knowledge and meaning for themselves. And when they come to us, most of them aren’t even thinking about knowledge in that way.

I think a lot of people who go on to get Ph.D’s can think back and point to formative experiences where they first realized how much fun research and learning and scholarship could be. Some of us have had that thrill for so long that we forget it’s entirely new to our students. And that it’s scary. And that it’s not that they want to be closed minded or that they’re refusing to learn – but that what we’re asking them to do is scary.

So that’s a really long way away from Ebsco’s visual search. Alone, did the little boxes and circles lead to seismic shifts in our students’ epistemological understanding? Of course not. But it was fun, and now it’s not. And the basis for authentic discovery is exploration. It’s looking at stuff that might be new to you, with an open enough mind that those new ideas might affect you. And anything we can do to encourage students to take that time, to explore, to learn, is well worth it. The visual search is less fun now, and I think it will be less useful for my students because of that.