Integrating Information Literacy into the First Year – Webcast links

Integrating Information Literacy into the First Year

July 23, 2012

Broader Context – Changes in Higher Education

Arthur M. Cohen with Carrie B. Kisker, The Shaping of American Higher Education (San Francsico, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009).

High Impact Educational Practices (LEAP)

Robert B. Barr and John Tagg. (1995). “From Teaching to Learning – A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education.” Change, 27 (6): 12-25. (PDF)

Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson (1987) — Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (PDF)

Vincent Tinto — Taking Student Retention Seriously: Rethinking the First Year of College (PDF)

Vincent Tinto (1994). Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press)

About FYE Programs

National Resource Center: First Year Experience and Students in Transition

Models

University of South Carolina

North Carolina State University

University of Oregon Freshman Interest Groups

Middlebury College First Year Seminars

Northern Virginia Community College

Examples of Articulated Information Literacy Outcomes in FY Programs

First Year Seminars & Information Literacy — University of Richmond Boatwright Memorial Library

The Library & First-Year Seminars — University of Redlands Armacost Library

Oregon State University U-Engage courses

Other Collaboration Examples

First-Year Papers publication at Trinity College

Embedded Librarians at Marshall University

Learning Communities at IUPUI

Working with Parents

Why?

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

Models – web presence

News items/marketing

 SMU – “Learning and Library Experts Offer Study Tips and Resources”

In-Person Events

Snacks in the Stacks: One Event – Multiple Opportunities. (PDF)

Library Parents Lounge – Brigham Young University (PDF)

Collaborating with Advisors

Sharing Space

Mary Kelleher and Sara Laidlaw (2009). A Natural Fit: The Academic Librarian Advising in the First-Year Experience. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 16:2-3, pp. 153-163. DOI:10.1080/10691310902976469

“Need help with your Research Paper? Try Librarian Office Hours!” — Academic Advising CU Boulder

Faculty Training

George Kuh and R. Gonyea (2003). The Role of the Academic Library in Promoting Student Engagement in Learning. College & Research Libraries. 64: 256-282 (PDF)

Data

National Survey of Student Engagement

CIRP Freshman Survey

Higher Education Research Institute

National Resource Center – First Year Experience and Students in Transition: Research and Assessment

Examples of the Kind of Data You Might Find on Your Campus

St. Olaf College Committee on the First-Year Experience

Slippery Rock University – First Year Experience: Surveys & Assessments

Central Connecticut State University – Assessment and Research

Student Development Theory – Cognitive Models

William G. Perry (1998). Forms of Ethical and Intellectual Development in the College Years: A Scheme.  (San Francsico: Jossey-Bass).

Reflective Judgment Model – Patricia King and Karen Strohm Kitchener.

Share Expertise

Anthony J Onwuegbuzie, Qun G Jiao & Sharon L Bostick (2004). Library Anxiety: Theory, Research and Applications. Scarecrow Press.

Project Information Literacy

See alsoThe First Year Experience and Academic Libraries, an annotated bibliography compiled by the Instruction Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries.

tumblr tags – 10 minutes in a one-shot won’t do it

So, I saw how Stephen Francoeur is using Tumblr as a commonplace book, and thought that might be a way to solve a problem I was having with my iPad-dominated workflow — how to corral and find the stuff I come across serendipitously, and the stuff I come across more intentionally in Google Reader.  So I am on tumblr, but I am really bad at being on tumblr for real – I haven’t even found anyone to follow yet.

I think that workflow issue might be a topic for another post.

Today, though, I want to make good on my promise over there that some of that stuff might show up here.  One common thread in the things I’ve saved over there is examples that show how complicated evaluation really is – especially when it is not accompanied by the kind of disciplinary expertise that most first-year students don’t have.

I’ve been tagging those 10 minutes in a one-shot won’t do it

One example digs into Politifact – a resource that the composition faculty and I talk about in WR 222, an advanced composition class that focuses more on public than academic discourse.

While the course we use it in isn’t focused on academic discourse, this discussion at the American Historical Association blog is — particularly on the different ways that legal scholars and historians approach the same question, which makes the task assigning a singular and simple “true” or “false” rating to a political claim more complicated than it seems.

The claim in question relates to recent laws and measures that regulate voting — more specifically, do claims that use historically specific terms like “Jim Crow” and “poll tax” to make claims (by analogy) about current measures stand up to scrutiny?  Politifact has evaluated three such claims in the last two years.

First, the AHA argues that Politifact “did its homework” in each of these cases –

Each time, Politifact editors called on historians to help them judge. Each time, their analysis and resulting judgments raised important questions about how historians, journalists, and politicians evaluate the nature of truth and how the past can best be mined for constructive analogy.

The list of historians and legal scholars consulted is lengthy and impressive.  The AHA points out some of the ways that historians and legal scholars differ in their approach(es) to the question – historians may be more likely to take a broad view of the question, while legal scholars examined questions of results and intent in a more focused way.  Overall, the message seems to be this – that the question “is this a suitable comparison” isn’t simple – and isn’t well served by the truth-o-meter approach.  Many of the scholars questioned brought up subtleties – that individually could tip the meter either way, but taken together points most of all to the conclusion that “it’s more complicated than that.”

And perhaps this is the issue. Politifact admirably works to educate the public on the accuracy of politicians’ references to the past. Sometimes this is a straightforward task; often it is not. Politifact generally seeks to confirm or disprove one-for-one correspondences between the present and the past. The historians cited by Politifact appear more willing to allow for comprehensive thinking; recognize that categories like “Jim Crow” aren’t cut-and-dried; and accept the idea that intent matters. Historians, less attached to the tyranny of the Truth-o-Meter™, are more willing to engage questions by explaining issues of continuity and change, and greatly enlarging the context. Though Politifact has made a concerted effort to include historians in its analysis, the Truth-o-Meter™ might not be readily calibrated to measure their responses.

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop using Politifact in WR 222 – like it or not, the discourse that class examines does reflect the assumptions of the meter of truth, and it’s a useful addition to the boatload of resources I throw at them.  But I’m also sending this discussion to the faculty who teach that class.  Because this is just one example of what I am sure are many situations where “it’s more complicated than that” seems to be the best response to the truth-o-meter (and I’m sure some of those examples come up in class).

And just like all the subtleties the historians bring up show the limitations of the truth-o-meter for adjudicating complex questions, all of these examples show the limitations of any kind of list, or tool, or crutch that can be used to “teach” evaluation in 10 minutes in a one-shot.

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.

Peer-Reviewed Friday: Either/or edition

ResearchBlogging.org
AS in “hard skills” or “soft skills”

Or, to dig down a little deeper to another question — “teaching” or “training”

So, I have been working with a friend on a presentation building on some interviews we did with instruction librarians a couple of years ago.  Some of you might have participated.

(If you did – hi!)

We’re not talking about everything that was in those interviews, just a piece of them, and that piece wasn’t the main focus.  But talking to many instruction librarians got us thinking about the many ways that we frequently feel like we come up short in what we do — whether that’s because we’re not connected enough to the curriculum, or haven’t developed the relationships we feel we need with faculty, or because of the one-shot environment, or … you get the idea.

One thought that came up while we were doing the initial interviews, and that came rushing back as we reviewed them all over the last few months, was the concept of teaching itself and how it differs from other things — training, coaching, tutoring, and so on.  I’ve wondered off and on over the years why our discourse in instruction librarianship is so focused on teaching, with all of the associated metaphors and assumptions and baggage that come with that? And I wonder if part of why I do hear a lot of stress and anxiety (and joy and passion too) from instruction librarians can be traced back to situations where we are “teaching” but what we are doing doesn’t match on an identity level (when we self-identify as “teachers”).

So I’ve been looking at other literatures and today I want to talk about a 2011 article from Human Resource Development Quarterly.  It’s totally locked up behind a paywall, which is neither surprising nor awesome, but I want to figure out how it fits with my other thoughts – and I do that best through my fingers.  So I’m going to use it anyway:

Laker, D., & Powell, J. (2011). The differences between hard and soft skills and their relative impact on training transfer Human Resource Development Quarterly, 22 (1), 111-122 DOI: 10.1002/hrdq.20063

That’s some title, right?  Really sucks you in.

The article’s premise is that transfer of skills (from the training environment to the work environment) is the end goal of training  — and that one reason it works sometimes and doesn’t work other times is the content, or type of skill, being taught.

Let’s start with the first part of that premise – the idea that transfer is the goal.

…training transfer is defined as the extent to which what is learned in training is applied on the job and enhances job-related performance.

So, do we agree that that is really the goal of most library instruction?  I mean, obviously we need to substitute for “on the job” and “job-related performance” but at its heart, don’t we hope that what we teach in the library classroom can and will be applied in other environments — in the classroom, in the library, in the residence halls, etc.?

And when I said this, I am primarily thinking about those settings that aren’t the traditional credit class.   I’m picturing the one-shot, the desk encounter, or the workshop.

Taking that as an initial starting point, it seems like it is useful to look at what we know about why that doesn’t happen — in the training environment.

The research method in this article is a little squishy — it’s kind of like a review article, but not really systematic or formal in its method.  The authors mainly synthesize other research being done and their conclusions are drawn from that synthesis.  I’m okay with this because 1. it’s an approach designed to create a good article for a newbie to read and 2. because the claims being made are similarly soft — they aren’t claiming to draw any overwhelming conclusions, but instead hoping that to….

…serve in generating a discussion that the content of training, specifically the differences between soft- and hard-skills training, can have a significant impact on training transfer.

(n.b. I am not at all an expert in this literature so I really can’t evaluate the claim that this isn’t currently part of the discussion.)

The authors then summarize how these different skill types are defined in the literature:

  • Hard skills – “technical skills that involve working with equipment, data, software, etc.”
  • Soft skills – “intrapersonal skills such as one’s ability to manage oneself as well as interpersonal skills such as how one handles one’s interactions with others.”

(Remember, this is coming out of the field of human resource management)

So here’s where it gets interesting – well, to me.  Anyway, I went into this assuming that the typical one-shot, or Zotero workshop, or database walkthrough at the reference desk would fit into the “hard skills” category and that that is where I would find the utility in the article.

But that’s not what happened.

The basic argument of the paper is this – that training efforts designed to teach soft skills are much less likely to result in transfer than training focused on hard skills AND that one of the reasons for this are the differences between these types of skills.

(It seems obvious, but they also argue that these two parts of the training discourse are largely separate – that those who teach soft skills never teach hard skills and vice versa.  That makes all kinds of sense, so maybe this gap really is as wide as they suggest)

Anyway, they go through a long discussion of the differences between hard and soft skills and this is where I really saw the conenctions to library instruction — not in the discussion(s) of hard skills, but in the way they talked about soft skils.  Most of the reasons they suggested for why soft-skill-training doesn’t result in transfer match up clearly to reasons why instruction librarians are frustrated with the one-shot.

So let’s look at some of those reasons -

Prior learning and experience

Basically, this is the argument that when people come in to learn hard skills, it’s usually because they don’t know how to do something.  When they come into learn soft skills, they already have some ways of doing the thing being trained (talking to people from different cultures, keeping their temper… doing research?).  They’re supposed to be learning how to do it more instead of how to do it at all.  This means the trainer has to deal with baggage – with people who don’t think they need the training, or who have already-developed strategies that actually bad – that need to be re-learned.

Trainee Resistance

Obviously, the first factor is also a contributor to this one.  But the piece of this one that really jumped out at me was this –

…with technical training, learning typically decreases the anxiety and uncertainty involved in the performance of the task.

Seriously, right?  When we focus on finding sources, are we remotely dealing with the part of the “task” that is actually giving them the most anxiety?  Hmmmm….

Organizational Resistance to Transfer

Oh boy, this is a good one.  The argument here is that with soft skills (and remember, in this context these are mostly people skills) the organizational culture is actually at least partly responsible for why people have the skills they do now.  So training them to change is almost inherently going to bump up against those institutional realities.  So this might be talking about people skills but I think it also really describes a reality of library instruction – the research habits and assumptions they bring into the classroom are being shaped by the classes they’ve already taken, are taking, and may also clash with classes they are yet to take.

Managerial Support and Resistance

This one is actually my favorite.  Not because I think faculty who bring their classes to the library are usually disposed to resist, but its the way they described this that jumped out at me:

With soft skills, it is very likely that the trainee will look to the manager as a role model, as a coach, or for subsequent reinforcement.

I think this is totally going on with library instruction.  So many of our interview subjects talked about library sessions where they have a real, deep, partnership with the course instructor as their ideal for a “good day as a teacher.”  I think our students DO want mentorship and modeling from their faculty members — and I think they’re not getting it.  Not because the faculty member doesn’t want to provide support — they’re bringing the students to the library – that’s supportive!  No, because many of the faculty don’t see what they’re asking the students to do as being the same thing they do.  And it’s not.  And maybe that’s a problem.

Identification of Training Needs and Objectives

For many of our interviewees, the term “one-shot” connotes “trying to teach everything.”  That connects to this factor really closely – it’s basically the idea that it’s way harder to figure out what people don’t know when it comes to soft skills.  The next few items build this idea out more, but this quotation might also resonate:

With hard skills, the trainee is taught on a need-to-know basis, whereas with soft-skill training the trainee is usually taught on a good-to-know basis.

The Immediacy and Salience of Feedback and Consequences

The thing with hard skills is this – there’s usually just one way to do it, and if you don’t do step 1 right, you can’t do step 2.  So the feedback you get is immediate and very salient.  But neither of those things are true about soft skills.  So its really hard for people to get the kind of feedback they need to know if they’ve mastered them.

Degree of Similarity Between Training, Work and Work Environments

This is another really good one.  If you’re training someone to use a machine, it’s usually easy to really accurately mirror the work environment in the training environment.  If you’re training someone to do something that can happen in all kinds of places, sparked by all kinds of events, and follow all kinds of paths — how do you build an authentic training environment?  This quotation really jumped out at me:

Soft-skill trainers usually respond to this dilemma with one of two extremes.  Either they oversimplify the situation and thus lose realism, or they maintain the situation’s potential richness and in the process overwhelm the trainee.

Yikes. I can tell you for sure – we worry about this.  A lot.

So there are a few more factors, but these are the ones that felt really relevant to me and, let’s face it, this post is already epic.

But I think it’s important to think about this fact — the initial premise of this paper is that these are reasons why soft-skill training usually doesn’t work.  And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that a training-like environment is how we in libraries are trying to teach things similarly complex a lot of the time.

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.

If timing is everything

then Zotero’s standalone beta isn’t worth mentioning.  I’m in the throes of course revisions for the class I’ve been building around Zotero and I am not even sure what the final project is going to be this year (more on that later) so do I really have time to decide whether I want to teach my students to use the standalone or stick with original flavor?

It doesn’t feel like I do, that’s for sure.  But like Mark Sample at Profhacker said today, I’ve been working with it for a couple of days and it is working really well – stable, easy and not in Firefox.  Plus also, he’s right about the standalone having a better icon.

So, which to teach?  I think I’m coming down on the side of the standalone.   I don’t have very many 19 year olds browser zealots in my classes, but those I do aren’t Firefox devotees.  There are almost always 1-2 who want to use Chrome or Safari.  And since none of my students (if past experience is any guide) will have existing Zotero libraries to consider, or existing Zotero workflows to un-learn, I think we might just work with the standalone.

And yes, that means building in time to re-do some previous work.

So, why am I changing the final assignment? 

Well, I have some reasons.  (The following is heavily cribbed from an assessment report I sent to the chair of the department & thanks to her for sparking me to think about and write it)

  • One is logistical – the faculty of the School of Writing, Literature and Film (formerly known as the Department of English) at OSU is not quite big enough to support individual projects for all 40-50 students. Not to mention that a number of faculty members are very busy working on the transition to the new model. At the same time, I don’t want to overburden individual  faculty members which precludes me from letting students to choose their own faculty member to focus on.  This means that the challenges students face with the assignment are very different depending on the faculty member they draw, and their learning is sometimes affected more by their topic than by their own motivation or effort.
  • The second reason is more important.  One of my students pointed out in the course evaluation that the process I was teaching — asking students to search comprehensively on a topic (to find everything their faculty member has published) before they evaluate and decide which sources to include on the final bibliography — doesn’t reflect what they need to do for almost all of the research that they will ever do.  There are only a few contexts where people are asked to search in this manner (the literature review for a dissertation would be one example) which meant that this assignment was emphasizing the wrong skills.

I should say that I think one reason that student was able to make such an insightful observation was that I was more successful communicating the process aspects of what I was trying to do this term — but that fact, that I want to provide students with a way to reflect on research and writing as intertwined processes – is exactly why I need to change to something that will be more authentic for them.

I need to shift to topics that will allow them to follow a more exploratory process, but that’s not the part I am struggling with.  I am struggling with – what do I want this final project to look like?  The person who taught this course before me had the students do research to create a “critical edition” of a favorite novel.  I was in on some of the early brainstorms about that assignment, and I think it worked out well for her.  So I am thinking of returning to that – maybe have the final project be an introduction to their “critical edition” where they analyze and cite the sources they want to include?  We’ll see.

After all, this is a process too.

Previous posts on this topic:

Zotero Group Bibliography Assignment (10/2010)

Zotero Assignment Update (11/2010)

Zotero Assignment Revisions (12/2010)