cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudel

Another essentially no more than bullet points post — I have a lot of formal writing I have to be doing now, so this will end at some point.  So, cool stuff…

via Dave Munger (twitter) Alyssa Milano pushing peer-reviewed research — see, it is relevant after you leave school!

via A Collage of Citations (blog).  Former OSU grad student/ writing instructor turned Penn State PhD candidate Michael Faris’ First-Year Composition assignment using archival sources to spark inquiry and curiosity.  Note especially the research-as-learning-process focus of the learning goals.

via Erin Ellis (facebook) plus then via a bunch of other people — proof that, in the age of social media, an awesome title can boost your impact factor.  But the content stands on its own as well – I’ve been thinking a lot about different information seeking style, and how different people gravitate naturally towards different approaches.  By Karen Janke and Emily Dill: “New shit has come to light”: Information seeking behavior in The Big Lebowski

via @0rb (twitter) Journalism warning labels

via Cool Tools (blog) Longform to InstapaperLong Form by itself is pretty cool, it aggregates some of the best long-form (mostly magazine) writing on all kinds of topics.  But what makes it really cool is that it integrates seamlessly with Instapaper, meaning that I can find something there, push a button and have it available on my iPad to read offline the next time I am stuck somewhere boring.

Related – Cool Tools’ post on the best magazine articles ever.

via Cliopatria (blog).  Obligatory history-related resource — London Lives: 1690-1800.  Pulling together documents from 8 archives & 15 datasets, this online archive asks “What was it like to live in the world’s first million person city?”

Word of the day: Advertorial

So advertorial – one of those words (like “anecdata”) that has meaning the first time you hear it.  A piece of writing that is made to look like one thing (usually an article) but which is really another thing (an advertisement).

While the most famous example of this for instruction librarians is undoubtedly the advertisements for Big Pharma in the form of scholarly journals flying under Elsevier’s flag of convenience, they are apparently and not surprisingly a well-established tool in the public relations toolkit.  They even give awards for them.  In the last round of Bronze Anvil Awards (given by the Public Relations Society of America to “recognize outstanding public relations tactics”) there were two awards given to advertorials — one to InSinkerator for something called InSinkerator Gets Home Builders to Think Green, and one to the Florida Department of Citrus, for their Florida Grapefruit Makes Headlines.

So why am I thinking about advertorials today?  Because they are wrecking one of my favorite places to go on the Internet — ScienceBlogs.

In short, ScienceBlogs disastrously, inexplicably, weirdly, agreed to allow a new nutrition blog to join ScienceBlogs – which is an invitation-only type networks of blogs about science and scientific research.  The weird, disastrous, etc. thing about this new blog, called Food Frontiers, was that it was produced by PepsiCo, and the decision to fairly radically change the type of content that was part of the ScienceBlogs network was made in an uncommunicative, opaque, closed way.

Summaries of the fallout – which bloggers are staying which are going, where the going bloggers are now – can be best found here, at Carl Zimmer’s blog (associated with Discover magazine) — Oh, Pepsi, What Hast Thou Wrought.

A Note from ScienceBlogs can be found on the former site of the Pepsi blog, explaining the decision to take it down.

So what does this all mean and why do I care?  Lots of people know that I love ScienceBlogs, or that I have loved ScienceBlogs, as a librarian who teaches – my love for it has only grown.  So now what?

Dave Mosher provides a good summary of what this means for content from ScienceBlogs in the future – which is the issue about which I am really concerned.  I don’t

That effort signals a fundamental change to the way their content is structured:

Before: Blogs.
After: Editorial blogs. | Advertorial blogs.

I type “signals” and not “is” because the transformation isn’t complete.

Because part of this is about reputation – and not reputation in that individual kind of way, but reputation in that authority/publishing/information literacy kind of way that means so much to students struggling to find their way through the scholarly landscape –

From Dave Munger (emphasis added) -

The hypocrisy in handing a nutrition podium to a company that is seriously implicated in the global obesity crisis was astonishing, and even worse, the dozens of bloggers who’ve worked for years to build ScienceBlogs’ reputation were taken completely by surprise.

Former ScienceBlogger David Dobbs nails the key irony here (again, emphasis added), arguing that PepsiCo is “buying credibility generated by others even as they damage same.”

As PalMD and others have pointed out, PepsiCo hardly lacks platform. The only value they can gain from writing here is to draw on the credibility created by a bunch of independent voices engaged in earnest,= thoughtful (well, most of the time), and genuine conversation.

What these (and countless other) commentaries point out is that the reputation of the site matters – that the name ScienceBlogs is supposed to mean something and one of the things it is supposed to mean is no corporate agendas — the fact that just anyone couldn’t write for ScienceBlogs, the fact that ScienceBloggers were writing independently, the fact that their creators, Seed Media, proclaims this lofty agenda (from their About page) all adds up to a set of expectations about what the content on the site was supposed to be.

We believe that science literacy is a pre-condition for progress in the 21st century. At a time when public interest in science is high but public understanding of science remains weak, we have set out to create innovative media ventures to improve science literacy and to advance global science culture.

While those expectations were not always reasonable and there were ads on the site, and whatever else might also have been a little muddy or murky before – there was an idea behind the project that was an important part of why this project was useful to me in the classroom and at the reference desk and in my own work.  It is not that this content was all supposed to be good, or right, or true, or even civil – but the reasons for it being written?  They were supposed to relate to improving the public understanding of science and science literacy.  So what does that mean in a world when that content is either editorial or advertorial?  No matter how easy it is to tell which is which on the site (and the RSS feed?  the Twitter stream??) – that changes things.

Bora Zivkovic hones in on this question of a network’s reputation in his post, explaining his reasons for leaving ScienceBlogs…

We have built an enormous reputation, and we need to keep guarding it every single day. Which is why the blurring of lines between us who are hired and paid to write (due to our own qualities and expertise which we earned), and those who are paying to have their material published here is deeply unethical. Scientists and journalists share some common ethical principles: transparency, authenticity and truth-telling. These ethical principles were breached. This ruins our reputation, undermines our work, and makes it more unpalatable for good blogger to consider joining Sb in the future.

Zivkovic goes on to discuss the ways in which the existence and influence of the ScienceBlogs network makes the people who blog there de facto science journalists – whether they are aware of (or willing to embrace) that fact or now. It is not surprising in this context (the context of how important science blogging has become to science journalism) that some of the first reactions to the Pepsi blog controversy came not from quick-on-the-draw bloggers, but from mainstream media outlets and watchdogs.

I don’t blog at ScienceBlogs (not many librarians do) and it’s not a crucial part of my everyday professional knowledge building because most of the content on the site isn’t directly aimed at my professional needs — it’s more the idea of the project that is important to my work than the reality of what is posted there on a day-to-day basis. That’s not true for everyone.  But as a libriarian, particularly a librarian working with first-year students making the transition to academic thinking, reading, and writing, ScienceBlogs was (and probably is) a go-to site for me.

A lot of the reason for this is the authority/credibility/reputation issues discussed above.  Not that my students could or should automatically trust any of the content on that or any site, but because I felt like I could tell them (quickly, in a 50-minute one-shot) why and how that information had been created in a way that could guide their critical and effective use of the site as a tool — an incredibly valuable tool – that would help them navigate expert research and academic writing.

But another part of the reason is good old fashioned findability.  As Zivkovic says in his discussion of the network effect at ScienceBlogs, most people don’t track blogs using RSS readers or other tools – they find the content when they search for it.  And when they search for it and find it on one blog in the network, all of the blogs in the network are made stronger.  I don’t expect my first-year students to really figure out yet what pieces of the dynamic web they want to track for scholarly or professional purposes – most of them, at 18, are still figuring out what those purposes will be. They may want to track stuff for a particular class, or a particular term, but yeah – for most of them the searchability and the browsability of this site was key to its being useful.  ResearchBlogging is good for that too, and there are other collections of resources that I can point indivdiual students to – but nothing else out there does what ScienceBlogs does (did?) as a place to illustrate the importance and utility of science blogging and academic blogging.

Carl Zimmer puts his finger on one of the main issues for me – if the bloggers leave ScienceBlogs that may be (probably will be) good for the quality of the content but bad for the findability of the content, and those things are not totally unrelated.

What I find particularly galling about this whole affair is that bloggers who don’t want to associate themselves with this kind of nonsense have to go through the hassle of leaving Scienceblogs and setting up their blog elsewhere. The technical steps involved may be wonderfully easy now (export files, open account on WordPress, import), but the social steps remain tedious.

Munger picks up the theme -

If they want to continue to have the kind of influence they used to have at ScienceBlogs, I think the bloggers who have left the site need to do something more than just start or restart their old, independent blogs. They need to form a new network — perhaps built around different principles, but a network nonetheless.

I think so too – I think if they lose the network effect, individual blogs and bloggers and small groups of same will be able to connect with one type of reader, and an important type of reader, but they’ll lose the true neophyte who stumbles on to new ways of talking about evidence and knowledge coming in through a Google Search — or because a librarian says “browse here for a while” when they’re stuck looking for topics.

Ira Flatow (NPR’s Science Friday) offers to talk about hosting departing ScienceBlogs bloggers’ blogs on the Science Friday site instead. And again here.  I suspect that even the benign oversight of NPR might seem too much to the gunshy bloggers who left ScienceBlogs, but I hope they do find each other again somewhere, or that they build new somewheres elsewhere.

Emerging Technology and IL Teaching Workshop, part 1

In the next two days, I’ll be giving a series of talks as part of this workshop in Seattle.  Here are the supporting materials for one of them – a short technology demonstration about our Flip video project…

For an example of how we used the Flip video camera we bought — we didn’t use it to demonstrate research processes or to show things in the library.  Or, I should say, we did do some of those things but not in the project I am describing.

But we did use the videos in tutorials.  Basically, my colleague Hannah and I had to do some work revising a set of tutorials.  And as is the case with all tutorials, we had these context-setting pieces that had to go in, pieces where the tutorial explains why the student should take an interest in the process or tool the tutorial will teach them to use.  We didn’t want to write up a set of “here’s why you should care” pages to include in the tutorial, but we weren’t sure where to go from there.

And then one of us – I don’t remember who – had the idea to ask our OSU students to talk about research, with the hope that we could then pull out “clips” that would illustrate what it was we were going to talk about.

It turned out to be a fantastic project – so much fun to work on.  We worked with our office of Student Leadership and Involvement to identify students who were here in the summer and willing to participate.  Then we did a quick 15-30 minute interview with each one.  We recorded the whole thing with a Flip camera, and then used iMovie to pull out useful clips.  The clips are stored on YouTube, so all of our librarians can use them in tutorials, course pages and elsewhere.

This one is one of my favorites – Emmanuel on how librarians are helpful!

See the videos in action

OSU Libraries YouTube channel.  http://www.youtube.com/user/osulibraries

OSU Libraries tutorials pages. http://ica.library.oregonstate.edu/tutorials/ (look at the tutorials for Written English courses)

Our Campus Partners

Student Leadership and Involvement, OSU
http://oregonstate.edu/sli

Associated Students of Oregon State University (ASOSU).
http://asosu.oregonstate.edu/

International Students of Oregon State University (ISOSU)
http://oregonstate.edu/groups/isosu/

Legal Stuff

Model Release Forms (ours were adapted from these at the OSU Extension Office).  http://extension.oregonstate.edu/eesc/how-to/permission-people-pictures-model-release

Using the Flip Camera

EDUCAUSE: 7 Things You Should Know About Flip Cameras
http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7043.pdf

Flip Video Camera User Guide (New Mexico State University)
http://brand.nmsu.edu/webnation/flip-video-camera-user-g.html

How to Use a Flip Video Camera
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mh6s9gNoFro

On T-Rex and Scientific Literacy

We went up to NYC to visit friends and family after ALA.  While we were there we went to the American Museum of Natural History (followed by a late lunch at the Columbus Ave Shake Shack – an altogether lovely afternoon).  In one of the dinosaur exhibits I saw this sign –

I really liked these choices that were made at the AMNH.  They presented a strong point of view on an issue about which there is some controversy (the relationship between dinosaurs and birds), presented it as a point of view, but also didn’t suggest that any opinion on this issue is therefore equally valid – awesome dinosaur bones plus an expectation that viewers are smart enough to consider questions of evidence in a sophisticated way.

Google Scholar search alerts

Searching today for articles about collaborative teaching philosophies (don’t ask)  – I saw this new little icon on the Google Scholar results – how long has this been here?

new search alert icon - Google Scholar result list

I clicked it, thinking it would give me the chance to email results to myself (which is something my students sometimes ask for, though not nearly as often as they ask why Google Scholar won’t format their citations for them).  But instead, it’s a chance to set up an alert for this search.

Google Scholar search alert, with articles only setI don’t actually know that I’ll use this because I don’t really want anything else coming to my email — an RSS feed would be nice.  But has this been around for months and I’ve just noticed it?  That could definitely be true – we’ll see how it works.

“how does the study measure up”

Here’s a great example of way that an academic blog post, written for a general audience, can be a crucial supplement or starting point for a student trying to decipher the peer-reviewed literature.  From Momma Data –

Blame Mom for High School Beer Binges: The Power of a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

This post:

  • describes the study
  • identifies the important (and discipline-specific) concepts used by the authors
  • analyzes the study design
  • gives an opinion about the quality of the paper
  • explains the significance of the journal to the discourse

The only thing I’d like to see is a more robust comment stream – maybe some discussion/ refinement of the ideas. But all in all, a great example and on a topic students sometimes write about too!

open access mandate in action

Kate and I had an article published in Reference Services Review at the end of last year, and we just got a copy to put in our institutional repository.

“I don’t think it’s harder, just that it’s different”: Librarians’ attitudes about instruction in the virtual reference environment

This article was based on some work we did for this presentation at the Virtual Reference Summit in 2008.  From the conclusion:

It is easy to let the technology be a barrier to teaching and learning.  It is easy to assume, in the absence of visual cues, that patrons who come to us via virtual reference services are not interested in learning how to search for themselves.  Facilitating exploratory search via virtual reference does not depend on new technology, it depends on policies, reference interview skills, and perhaps most important, attitudes that are geared towards looking for opportunities to put the patron in control of his or her learning.  New technology features or tools might make this switch easier or more successful, but in the absence of an instruction-focused attitude there is no technology that will make instruction simpler, more effective, or more prevalent.

Open Access Mandate

In this case, the open access mandate didn’t really influence our behavior, but it probably pushed some things up a little higher on the priority list, and made it more important to follow up on things that we would have wanted to do anyway.  It influenced the choice of venue – RSR is published by Emerald, a Romeo green publisher.  When we weren’t sure what version to archive, the mandate pushed us to more actively communicate with the journal editor for clarity.

tutorials a la carte

So the thing about DIY tutorials is that even though the technology bar required to build them is pretty low, there are some back-end logistical issues that have to be navigated.  When I decided I wanted to try these with some of my distance learning classes, I had to figure out how to create a locally hosted blog, and we ended up doing it in a way that hadn’t been tried before (using Drupal) so we had to go through some rounds of figuring out settings and styling.

Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a bad thing to go through for me, or for the library.  And when colleagues wanted a similar tool, we were that much further down the road and had some good reasons to try a different tool.  Still, when the goal is “I want to get a tutorial up” these kinds of barriers aren’t necessarily what you want to go through.

I realize that a local option wasn’t the only option – if all I cared about was putting up a blog for tutorials quick and fast there are obviously tons of options out there.  But that wasn’t the only problem I wanted to solve.  I didn’t just want to make tutorials myself, I wanted to do something that would make it easy for all of us to create tutorials and other instructional aids.

The issue of how to share the burden of creating instructional materials has been around for a long time.  Learning objects repositories like MERLOT offer lots of options for teachers – the ability to borrow online instructional modules, and the ability to comment on and rate those tools.  Shared tutorial projects like ANTS let librarians share tutorials, collaborate on prioritizing and creating tutorials, and also provide a social space to talk about tutorial-related issues.  Here, locally, we have  CLIP (Collaborative Library Instruction Project) which takes a good step in the right direction – making source files available and shareable, letting librarians share some but not all of the work of tutorial-building.

CLIP is just getting off the ground, so I don’t know what will happen there.  But here’s the thing.  Whenever I have talked to anyone involved with projects like these, or heard them speaking about the larger issues, they say the same thing – getting participation from educators is really, really hard.  They spend a lot of time gathering the content for the repositories themselves, they have a core group of committed people sharing, but getting the concept of sharing — of taking the time to participate in these types of projects and communities – to be part of the normal workflow for teachers is super difficult.

My own experience with the Library Instruction Wiki (now offline due to basement server room flood) left me feeling pessimistic about that project’s stop reinventing the wheel tagline.  I have come to believe some things – some things that got me thinking that instead of sharing the final product of tutorials, the way to go is to figure out ways groups of teaching librarians can share a process:

1. Teachers like reinventing the wheel.

This is something Jean Caspers said to me once, and its stuck with me because I think it’s essentially true.  Not that teachers don’t want to borrow and adapt and take advantage of other people’s cool ideas and good work, but to really feel comfortable going into a classroom and teaching a group of students something, a lot of us need to feel like we’ve made the stuff we’re teaching ours.  And the only way to do that is to adapt, and reshape, and refine.  So we don’t want to just point to other people’s handouts and tutorials (sometimes we do, but go with it).  We want to make them ours.

And an important part of the cognitive process that a lot of us go through preparing to teach is preparing the materials.  I know that when I create a course page for a class, I’m thinking about how I am going to present the material in class, and about how I am going to transition from one topic to the next.  And when I make a tutorial for an online class, I want to tailor it to their assignment, and the process of putting it together helps me clarify what they need to know/do for that assignment.

So, it’s not a bad thing that teachers want to reinvent the wheel, not at all.  And I think it’s a need teachers have that should be considered by anyone trying to help them work collaboratively.

2. The hard part of developing tutorials isn’t technical, it’s in the content.  And that’s the hardest piece to share.

One piece of this is practical – try teaching anyone how to do anything research-related on your campus and see how long it takes before there is some local quirk that you need or want to explain.  It doesn’t take long.  There’s a reason why the tutorials we’re most likely to share are on topics like plagiarism or citations — things where we are all working on basically the same standards and rules, defined outside of our local institutions.

One piece of this is related to the above point.  We want the content to be tailored to the students’ needs – we have strong opinions about how to do research and about how to teach it and about what students need to know about it.  I don’t know, I haven’t talked to many people who say things like “I would totally borrow X’s tutorial, but it’s built in Camtasia and I would rather it be in Captivate. The people I talk to are more likely to forgo borrowing a tutorial because they don’t like something about it — they’d like to change the way it explains a concept, or to add just one more piece.

3.  There is one sure-fire way to make the technical part hard – that is to tell everyone they have to use the same tool at every stage of the process.

Now this may seem to undercut the whole process-sharing thing I mentioned above but bear with me – I’m really talking about all of the component parts of the final product.  If you tell everyone that they have to use the same tool to build webpages, that’s going to leave you with a few people upset yes.  You’ll also have a lot of people that don’t really care.

But if you tell them that they have to use the same thing to take screenshots, the same thing to do screencasts, the same thing to create word clouds, or to display bookmarks, or to push useful links — then you’re going to start getting the kind of resistance that makes people decide not to create the thing at all.  This is especially true if people have been left on their own to figure out their own best way to do those things before.

So, to get to the point already…

So, Hannah and I were working on redoing our big tutorial – and one of the problems we wanted to address was the bottleneck that occurs when only a few people can edit or make changes to a tool.  We also wanted to de-Blackboard our beginning composition assignments, and make them more lightweight and dynamic.  Thinking to kill two birds with one stone, we decided to look at content-management-izing our tutorial building process.

The brain trust behind Library a la Carte (an open-source, lightweight CMS for building course pages and subject guides) works down the hall from us, so we had a place to go with this problem.  We were initially open to a variety of approaches (including Drupal and WordPress) for building these tutorials, but we ended up deciding that extending LALC to include a tutorial-building function made the most sense.

We launched it barely-alpha, with the fall term beginning composition students.  We found a bunch of things that wanted fixing, but even in this sub-optimal situation, there was an awful lot of it that worked well.   Now it is in barely-beta, and with about 40 sections of beginning composition using it, the reports we have had about it not working for the students have been in the single digits.

This is what the tutorials look like:

(Here’s a link if you want to look at the whole tutorial.  This one is cool because it has modules that feature: images, cartoons, videos and text included.  You have to log in to see the quizzes, but not to see the rest)

There’s a few things I really like about it -

First, it allows our teaching librarians to share at a pretty granular (modular) level – I can borrow Hannah’s catalog-using screencast, and put it into one tutorial that is really about how distance students can have books delivered to them by mail, and also into another tutorial that is really about the serendipitous process of browsing for books on the shelves.

And even at that granular level, it lets us borrow-and-then-tweak — keeping things right in most teachers’ comfort zone.

Using an incredibly scientific data gathering method (n=1; n=me) I have determined that instruction librarians just may be more likely to borrow from each other and to remember to share with each other in this format.

Secondly, it solves the problem of where everything is going to live.  Because it is integrated with our subject and class guides, the system lets us create tutorials and then automatically puts them on the website, with no pesky decisionmaking steps beyond what to call the thing.  Which admittedly, can stymie me for a while, but…

Using the same data collection method (this time n=me and Hannah) I have determined that with this tool available, we are more likely to include tutorials and learning modules in the things we do for our classes, whether we meet with them face-to-face or not.

It also lets the librarian pull in content from elsewhere, so they can use any method they are comfortable with to create the content initially.  If I want to store my photos on flickr, and edit with Picnik, that works fine. But so does uploading the photos that I edited with Photoshop.  If I want to embed a video I edited with iMovie, I do the same thing I would do to drop in a screencast video I created with Camtasia.

Editing a video module:

It also lets us easily use dynamic content (which sometimes breaks the styling but, live and learn) so if I want to embed a delicious linkroll to recommend links to three different classes of students, I can, and then of course I can update all 3 class pages at the same time when I update my Delicious.  Or if I want to do the same thing by embedding a Twitter feed, no problem.

Again, because this is integrated with our class pages system, we’ve already made a lot of decisions about where to share some of our resources.  But even though we have a flickr archive, lots of us don’t use that for building the modules.  And even though we have a YouTube channel, the videos there can be created in lots of ways.

I have no idea at this point if anyone else is going to start using this, or if it will mostly be used to update our main tutorial and in beginning composition.  But I do like the concept of process-sharing, and I think this might be a way that idea makes sense.

History and libraries, but not always history of libraries.

Nicholas and I presented this afternoon at Online NW.  Presentation materials are available here, on Nicholas’ blog.  Good times!

We used Prezi to create the presentation.  This is what it looked like, all together, when it was done.  I know that some people I know have found it difficult to get used to, but I kind of really liked it.  Plus, I’ve used it so far on three very different computers in three very different contexts and it’s worked smoothly every time.

Plus, no dongle drama.

I am an unscrupulous, unscrupulous formatter

Knowing about my constant and abiding interest in all things peer-review, a colleague handed me this pamphlet the other day.  Published by a project I like, Sense about Science (and funded by, among others, Elsevier, Blackwell, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, the Institute of Biology and the Medical Research Council), this pamphlet provides a good summary of a lot of reasons why people should value peer-reviewed research.

I really like its focus on the reproducability of research, the role that peer review plays in getting science out there to be acted upon by other scientists.  And this statement here gets at a lot of what I have been thinking about information evaluation lately – about how important it is that we evaluate sources within contexts, not in a vacuum:

If it is peer-reviewed, you can look for more information on what other scientists say about it, the size and approach of  the study and whether it is a part of a body of evidence pointing towards the same conclusions.

But this has me mystified.  A callout box titled How can you tell whether reported results have been peer reviewed? A question any academic reference librarian has struggled to answer at some point, right?

Their answer totally mystifies me.  I keep reading it and reading it and I can’t make it make any sense.   Seriously – they say the full reference to peer-reviewed papers is likely to look like this, and then they present – two formatted article citations, one from the New England Journal of Medicine and one from Science.  The Science one is APA, but I’m not even sure exactly what style the second one follows.

just formatted citations, right?

just formatted citations, right?

So under the citations, there’s a word balloon that says that unscrupulous people might “use this style on websites and articles to cite work that is not peer reviewed. But fortunately, this is rare.”

!

Wait, what?   So yeah, it turns out that I’m totally unscrupulous!  And so are you if you use APA to cite an article from the New Republic, or Time or The Journal of Really Lousy Non-Peer Reviewed Science!

I am so confused!  What do they mean by this?