Yes, we did write that up

Finally!

Kate and I finally got an article related to our LOEX of the West presentation (from 2008!) finished and published.  This peer-reviewed article delay had nothing to do with publishing cycles and everything to do with writing process.  But it’s available (in pre-print) now, and I pretty much like it.

Beyond Peer-Reviewed Articles: Using Blogs to Enrich Students’ Understanding of Scholarly Work

Critical Literacy for Research – Sort of Peer-Reviewed Friday

Unexpectedly it’s Peer Reviewed Friday.  Well sort of.  Harvard Educational Review is a student-run journal, with an editorial board made up of graduate students deciding which articles get published.

I was teaching a class in our small classroom – where I never teach – so I went up early to make sure that I still knew how to work the tech.  It’s on the 5th floor, where the L’s are shelved, so I was flipping through the Fall 2009 issue while I waited for them to show up.  This article caught my eye — well worth reading, both for the content/ideas and because it is very enjoyably written.

Harouni, Houman (Fall 2009). High School Research and Critical Literacy: Social Studies with and Despite Wikipedia. Harvard Educational Review, 79:3. 473-493.

It’s a reflective, case-study type description of the author’s experiences reworking his research assignments in high school social studies classes. There’s a ton here to talk about – the specific exercises he developed and describes, the way the piece works as an example of critical reflective practice — but mainly I want to unpack this bit, which I think is the central theme of the work:

If students do not engage in the process of research inside the classroom, then it is natural for them to view the assignment in a results-oriented manner — the only manifestation of their work being their final paper and presentation.  It is not surprising then, that they are willing to quickly accept the most easily accessible and seemingly accurate information that satisfies the assignment and spares them the anxiety of questioning their data.  And when their final products did not meet my expectations, the students responded not by rethinking the research process itself but by simply attempting to adjust the product in light of what they perceived to be personal preferences. (476-77)

(emphasis mine)

Basically, the narrative he lays out says that his research projects had been unsuccessful for a while, but it wasn’t until he noticed his students’ heavy and consistent reliance on Wikipedia as a source that he started digging into why, what that meant, what he really wanted to teach, and what he really wanted students to learn.  And he changed stuff based on those reflections.

Harouni’s thinking about information literacy (which he calls “critical literacy for research”) was initially sparked by students who were not evaluating sources or showing any sign of curiosity as they researched, but it was further sparked when his first attempts at addressing student gaps didn’t work, sparked by students who were trying, and failing, to evaluate texts they weren’t yet ready to evaluate.

Along the way, he talks about the limitations of a checklist, or “algorithmic” approach to evaluation — limitation he discovered when he reflected on what his students actually did when he tried to use that approach in his classroom:

Two observations confirmed the shallowness of the learning experience created through the exercise: first, the students did not apply their learning unless I asked them to do so; second, they remained dependent on the list of rules and questions to guide their inquiry. (480)

In other words, they could do the thing he asked them to do (apply the checklist to information sources) but it didn’t affect their actual practice as researchers, nor did it change how they viewed the information they were getting from Wikipedia.

And also why it is important to help students understand the openness and dynamism of Wikipedia, but that that itself is not enough:  “knowledge of the uncertainties of a source does not automatically translate into an awareness of one’s relationship with the information (477).”

This piece is, I think, essential at getting at what I think is the real value of his insights and experience — many of our students want to find certainty in their research processes.  They want to know that a source is good or bad.  Wikipedia bans feed that.  Checklists feed that too, especially when they are not taught as an initial step in an evaluation process, but as the process itself.  What we really want students to be able to do when they research is to manage uncertainty — to say I know this is uncertain and I can figure out what it means for me as I try to answer my real, important, and complex question.

Harouni’s process his is an excellent reminder of how teachers want clarity too – and how they have to be willing to embrace uncertainty themselves if they are to guide students through a process of authentic inquiry:

In teaching critical literacy for research, I have had to separate research from its dry, academic context and consider it as an everyday practice of becoming informed about issues that have an impact on students’ lives.  I must value not answers but instead questions that represent the continued renewal of the search.  I must value uncertainty and admit complexity in the study of all things. (490)

In this, he knocks on the door of a question that I frequently have as an instruction librarian (one which I think many instruction librarians have — how much can I really accomplish as a teacher on my own).  If the classroom instructor – the person creates, assigns, explains, and evaluates the research assignment isn’t actively engaged with the students’ research process – are there limits to what I can do?  I do think there are.  I don’t think those limits means that I should do nothing, far from it – but I do think those limits affect what I think I should be trying to accomplish on my own and affect the other ways I should be thinking about furthering my goals for students, inquiry and learning.

At the end of the day, one of Harouni’s basic assumptions is that it is part of his job as a social studies teacher to foster inquiry and curiosity in his students, “[f]or two semesters, research projects remained a part of my curriculum — not because they were wonderful learning experiences, but because I could not justify, to myself, a social studies class that did not work to improve the way students navigated the ocean of available information (474-5).”  In other words, he believes that teaching information literacy is an essential part of what he does.   And that is key.  You can’t have that perspective and also value coverage – of content information – above all else.  It’s one or the other.  (is it?  Yeah, I think it is).

Every faculty member isn’t going to have that idea of what their job is.  And every librarian isn’t either – but I think maybe for instruction librarian it should be.  It is true that rules and clarity make coverage easier.  There was a question on ILI-L yesterday from someone (responding to an ongoing discussion about teaching web evaluation)  asking “how do you even have time to talk about web evaluation when you have to cover all this other stuff.”

Rules make it easier to “cover” web evaluation.  Faculty want us to “cover” lots of different tools.  WE want to “cover” lots of different tools.

(N.B. I am not suggesting that everyone who engaged in the “web evaluation” discussion just “covers” it and doesn’t teach it.  Nor am I suggesting that the people who worry about covering what the faculty want them to cover are only interested in coverage.  I do think though that the pressure to “cover” is as true for us as it is for people in the disciplines and these discussions spark reminders of that)

But if we want students to think about research as a process, if we want research to BE a learning process, then we have to engage in teaching the process.  And that’s extra hard for us – we can’t do that in the one-shot by ourselves.  And we can’t do it if we’re worried about coverage — about covering everything the library has to offer.  And I’m not just saying that about “we can’t teach everything about the library in a one-shot” — I think we all know that.  I think I am saying that it can’t be about that at all – that the point has to be about the process, about authenticity, about this -

I now understand that whatever research strategies students use in their day-to-day lives, which no doubt will vary depending on who the learners are, must be investigated and taken into account by their teacher.  Neither this goal nor the goal of improving these strategies can be attained unless students have time to engage in research while they are in the classroom.  And inviting students to the computer lab and remaining attentive to their interaction with online sources is as important as accompanying students to the library. (490)

And maybe this means not worrying about teaching research as a recursive learning process in the one-shot.  Maybe this means rethinking what and where we teach and maybe it’s work with faculty that gets at that overarching goal.  I don’t know.  I do know, though, that I have some great ideas for rethinking my credit class next term.

Classroom activities to promote critical literacy for research:

1. A (relatively innocuous) vandalism example demonstrated in class.  He didn’t change the content of pages, just the accompanying photo to illustrate the process of editing.

2. Students work in pairs to evaluate a Wikipedia article on a topic they know a lot about (for example, one student used the article about her former high school). Through this exercise he was able to teach about:  skepticism & its place in the research process, identifying controversial claims in a text, citations and footnotes, and verifying claims by checking outside sources.

3. Judging a book by its first sentence. He brought in 5 history textbooks, showed the covers and provided the first sentence.  Then he asked students to describe what they could figure out about the book from that first sentence.  With this exercise he was able to teach: authorial bias or point of view; finding the author’s voice.

4. Research beyond the first sentence.  When they tried to apply these critical skills to the texts they found in their research projects, though, they still had trouble because they didn’t know enough about the stuff they were researching.  So he looked for a way through this problem. Enter Wikipedia.  He provided a list of pages identified by Wikipedia editors as biased or lacking a neutral point of view, and asked the students to choose an article on a somewhat familiar topic and write a brief essay, with specific references to the text, with suggestions for improving the piece to meet the Wikipedia’s neutrality standard.

5. Contributing as an author.  Similar to other projects like this, it was one option for his students as a final project.  Interesting in that he collaboratively developed the assignment and rubric with interested students.

Citations 101

This term our first-year seminar/orientation classes (called U-Engage) have given me the opportunity to do some different things, teaching-wise.  One of the sections asked for resources for a “Citations 101″ unit.  This is what I’ve put together so far.

Does this work because it has a workable focus, and because it treats citing like something that has value, instead of something to do to avoid getting in trouble (or because no one respects the ideas of college students, which is a message that I think some students take away from lessons about the rhetorical uses of outside sources).  I do think the rhetorical uses are crucial, but they were beyond the scope here – and I think would have taken the focus beyond “workable.”

ALS 199: Citations 101

(Built with our Library a la Carte tutorials extension.)

Making one-shots better – what the research says (Peer Reviewed Monday, part 2)

ResearchBlogging.org

And now, on to Peer-Reviewed Monday, part two but still not Monday.

Mesmer-Magnus, J., & Viswesvaran, C. (2010). The role of pre-training interventions in learning: A meta-analysis and integrative review☆ Human Resource Management Review, 20 (4), 261-282 DOI: 10.1016/j.hrmr.2010.05.001

As I said earlier this week, this was started by a link to this article, a meta-analysis trying to dig deeper into the questions: which of the pre-practice interventions examined in the Cannon-Bowers, et al study are most effective?  For what type of learning outcomes?  And under what conditions?

The first part of the paper reviews what each of the pre-training interventions are, and presents hypotheses about what the research will reveal about their effectiveness.

METHOD

They reviewed 159 studies, reported in 128 manuscripts.  For this work, they considered only studies that met all of the following conditions:

  • they involved the administration of a pre-training intervention
  • the study population included adult learners
  • the intervention was part of a training program
  • the study measured at least one learning outcome
  • the study provided enough information to compute effect sizes.

The studies were coded for: the type of pre-practice intervention; the type of learning outcome; the method of training delivery; and the content of the training.

The codes for pre-practice intervention were drawn from Cannon-Bowers, et al: attentional advice, metacognitive strategies, advance organizers, goal orientation, and preparatory information.

The codes for learning outcomes were drawn from the Kraiger, et al (1993) taxonomy:

  • Cognitive learning (can be assessed at 3 stages: verbal knowledge, knowledge organization and cognitive strategies)
  • Skill-based learning (also assessed at 3 stages: skill acquisition, skill complication, and skill automaticity)
  • Affective learning (attitudinal outcomes, self-efficacy outcomes and disposition outcomes)

Training methods coded were very relevant to information literacy instruction: traditional classroom; self-directed or distance learning or simulations, such as role-plays or virtual reality.

Training content was coded as: intellectual, interpersonal, task-related or attitude.

RESULTS & DISCUSSION — so, what does the research say:

For attentional advice — this was one that I was able to immediately think of one-shot related applications for, so it was particularly interesting to me that medium to large positive effects were found for both skill-based and cognitive outcomes, with the largest gains found for skill-based outcomes — given that so much of what is taught in one-shots is skill-based, intended to promote success on particular assignments.  These effects are strongest when general, not specific, advice is given.

Metacognitive strategies –

The authors identified two main forms of meta-cognitive strategies that were studied: strategies that involved the learner asking why questions, and strategies where the learner was prompted to think aloud during learning activities.

The research shows that meta-cognitive strategies seem to promote all levels of cognitive and skill-based learning.  Why-based strategies had more consistent effects for all levels of cognitive learning, which supports the authors’ initial hypothesis — but think-aloud strategies do a better job of supporting skill-based outcomes, which does not.

Advance organizers —

Positive results were found for these for both cognitive and skill-based outcomes.  Of particular note for instruction librarians is this finding:  “stronger results were found for graphic organizers than text-based ones across all levels of skill-based outcomes.”

Goal orientation —

When compared with situations were no overt goal was provided to the learners, goal orientations seem to support all types of learning: cognitive, skill-based and affective, with the strongest effects (just by a little bit) in the affective domain.

The authors also hypothesized that mastery goals would be better than performance goals.  The findings suggest this hypothesis is true for skill-based learning and for affective learning.  They were not able to test it for cognitive learning.  They did find something odd with regards to affective learning – when they compared performance goals and mastery goals separately against no-goal situations, then performance goals showed greater effects.  But when they compared mastery goals and performance goals, stronger effects were found for mastery goals.

Preparatory information –

This showed positive effects for skill-based and affective learning, but they weren’t able to test it for cognitive learning outcomes.

SO WHAT ELSE COULD HAVE AN EFFECT?

The training conditions and content were coded to see if those things had an effect on which pre-practice interventions were most effective.  Of particular interest to me were the finding that stronger effects for cognitive learning were found for advance organizers paired with self-directed training (e.g. tutorials) than for traditional classrooms or simulations.  (Of course, it’s important to remember that those showed positive effects too).

RESULTS BY TYPE OF OUTCOME

This turned out to be the most interesting way to think about it for me, so I’m going to include all of these probably at a certain level of length…

For skill-based outcomes, broken down – the strategies that work best seem to be:

  • skill acquisition: mastery goals & graphic advance organizers.
  • skill compilation: think-aloud meta-cognitive strategies, attentional advice and goals.
  • skill automaticity: graphic organizers and pre-training goals.

This seems to suggest pretty strongly that librarians should find a way to communicate goals to students prior to the one-shot.  Obviously, the best way to do this would probably be via the classroom faculty member, which is why this also makes me think about the implicit message in the goals we do send to students – most specifically, I mean the implicit message sent by requirements like “find one of these, two of these, three of these and use them in your paper.  It does seem like this could be considered a performance goal more than a mastery goal and even if the main impact on students is added stress to perform, is that stress that is serving any purpose or should it be eliminated?

For cognitive outcomes, also broken down – these strategies emerged from the literature:

  • verbal knowledge: specific attentional advice, why-based meta-cognitive strategies, and graphic advance organizers had the largest effect.
  • knowledge organization: general attentional advice and think-aloud metacognitive strategies
  • development of cognitive strategies: why-based strategies and attentional advice.

This is interesting, of course, because while we know that teaching on this cognitive-outcome level is pretty hard in 50 minutes, a lot of the topics we’re asked to address in the one shot are really asking students to perform in that domain.  Ideas like information ethics, intellectual honestly, scholarly communication, identifying a good research article – these all require more than a set of skills, but also require a way of thinking.  So in this area, I am thinking okay, we can’t teach this in 50 minutes, but if we can prep them in advance, maybe we have a better chance of getting to something meaningful in that time.

For affective outcomes –

  • Overall, a pre-training goal orientation and attentional advice were most effective in this domain.

These might not seem relevant in the one-shot, but they really are.  We’re talking in many cases about teaching them something with the hope that they’ll use it later, when they really get to that stage of their research process, their confidence and self-efficacy is clearly relevant, as is their disposition to believe that you’re teaching them something valuable!  In fact, I think this might be as worth or more worth focusing on that cognitive outcomes.  So that makes these findings particularly interesting:

  • post training self-efficacy AND disposition toward future use of the training material were most influence when a performance goal orientation was used.
  • Attentional advice, mastery goals and preparatory information are also promising here.

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?”

so whatever happened with that fear factor book?

Or, sort of peer-reviewed Monday!  Not quite, but a book review.

I didn’t want to list the name of the book in question before because I hadn’t read it yet, and didn’t want to answer questions from people who might have found the post by googling the book title.  Especially if they were people who really liked the book, because I didn’t know yet if I liked it.   And there are people who really, really, really like it –

Best book ever on how to prepare students for college (Jay Mathews, Washington Post blogs)

I don’t really agree with the title there – the point of this book didn’t seem to me to be about preparing students for college so much as it is about preparing college for students.

Citation:  Cox, Rebecca D. (2009).  The College Fear Factor. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

The book is based on 5 years of data gathered from community college students.  The author herself did two studies examining community college classrooms.  One was a basic writing class and the other looked at 6 sections of an english composition class.  Each lasted a semester, and gathered qualitative data about the classroom conditions that had an impact on a student’s successful completion of the course.  She also participated in a large scale field study of 15 community colleges in 6 states, and another national study of technological education.

The argument in the book comes from research on community college students, but it is still of interest to those of us who work with students managing the transition to college at any institution.  It is perhaps more relevant to those of us at institutions that attract a significant number of first-generation college students.

I am not sure entirely what I think of the book – on the one hand, it was a quick easy read and I enjoyed it as I usually enjoy well-reported stories drawn from qualitative investigation.  On the other hand, it struck me as one of those books that reports on an important conclusion, but one that could have been well-covered in an article-length treatment.  The conclusion is drawn over and over again in this longer work, so sometimes chapters go by without me feeling like I had really encountered anything new.

What is that conclusion?  I said to Caleb earlier that I wasn’t sure where the fear factor part of the title came into the book (becuase at that point I was on about page 17) and I have to say now that the title is good insofar as the real point of this book is on fear, and how that emotional state affects student success.  (Insofar as it evokes a really awful reality show, on the other hand, not so good).

And in this, I think the book is valuable.  We don’t think and talk about the role of affect enough in higher ed – at least not on the academic side – nor about the intersections between affect and cognition and affect and everything else we do, and this book is an important corrective to that.  Basically, Cox argues that students can be scared away from completing college – not because they are not capable of doing college-level work, but because they have not been prepared to do it before they get to college, and they are not helped to do it once they arrive.

The many students who seriously doubted their ability to succeed, however, were anxiously waiting for their shortcomings to be exposed, at which point they would be stopped from pursuing their goals.  Fragile and fearful, these students expressed their concern in several ways: in reference to college professors, particular courses or subject matter, and the entire notion of college itself — whether at the two- or the four-year level.  At the core of different expressions of fear, however, were the same feelings of dread and the apprehension that success in college would prove to be an unrealizable dream.

Cox argues that these fears are exacerbated when one doesn’t come in to college knowing how to DO college.  And that most first-generation, non-traditional and other groups of our students don’t come to college knowing what the culture and mores of academia are.  They have expectations, but those aren’t based on experience (theirs or others’) and when those expectations are challenged, their reaction is to think they can’t do it at all or to convince themselves that it is not worth doing .

Professors too have their own set of expectations about how good students approach their education, and when faced with student behaviors that are different than those expectations would suggest, they make some faulty assumptions about why students are behaving the way they are. A student who attends class every day but never turns anything in  — that’s incomprehensible behavior to the professor who doesn’t understand how that student possibly thinks they are going to pass.  After reading Cox’s book, you consider the possibility that that student doesn’t think they are going to pass, but are just playing out the semester in a depressed

I still feel like I am missing from this book much of a sense of why professors have these expectations  —  besides “that’s the way we’ve always done things.”  In other words, it doesn’t really work for me (nor do I think Cox is really claiming) that there is no value at all to the way that professors were trained, and that that they are hanging on to methods that don’t work simply because they went through it so others should have to.  Yeah, yeah, there are professors like that.  But my sense as a person engaged in higher ed is that a lot of professors think that there is value in the way they look at learning, meaning-making and knowledge creation and the joy they get from teaching comes from working with students who can share that joy.

Cox does a good job arguing that many of the students they have are not ready to do that, but I don’t get the sense from her book that she doesn’t see the value in that view of education.  I have a much clearer vision from this book what the students Cox interviewed value —  mostly the economic benefit they connect to the credential — but because her research didn’t extend to the teachers, I don’t have that same sense from them.

Here’s the thing – universities aren’t just about the teaching. They’re not going to be just about teaching and it’s not a really hard argument to make that they shouldn’t be just about the teaching.  A lot of professors were hired for their research, and the research they do makes the world better, and connecting students to that kind of knowledge creation is cool.  And even when they are about teaching they’re not just about the teaching of first-year undergraduates making the transition into college.  Even those students in a few years, immersed in a major, are going to need something different than they need when they first hit campus.

Just as it is not useful to sit in meetings about teaching and spend all your time discussing the students you should have (and yeah, we’ve all heard those discussions).  I’m sure I’m not the only one to say that at some point you have to put your energy into the students you have.  But when I say that, and when a lot of people say that, they don’t mean – the students we have can’t learn how to participate in academic culture.  We don’t mean that – academic culture has no value to these students.  Which is the really valuable point in this book – unprepared does not equal incapable.   I don’t want to say the book offers no solutions, because it does.  I guess what I do have to say is that I don’t find those solutions convincing in a research university environment.

All of this, of course, goes well beyond the scope of Cox’s book and Cox’s research, which is about particular students in a particular setting where teaching, and the transition to college, is paramount.

It’s a long way of saying that while the book has value to those outside the community college setting, that value only  goes so far.  There is more work to be done figuring answers to the questions she raises in other environments.

Which is why the chapter that was probably the most interesting to me is chapter 5 – which examines the work being done by two composition instructors – instructors who by most accounts are doing everything “right” in their classrooms  — right by the Chickering-type standards of active learning and engagement and right by what we are constantly told these hands-on, tech-savvy experiential-learning-wanting students today need.  In other words, they’re doing the things we think we should be doing in the research university to connect the students to what it is that scholars do – and they’re failing.

The idea that students have to be forced to be free is not a new one, but it is a point that gets lost sometimes in discussions about what is wrong with higher ed.  We hear that lectures are dead, that students can’t learn that way, that they hate lecturing, they tune out, they want to learn for themselves, and … it just doesn’t always reflect my experience. They may hate lectures, but that doesn’t mean that’s not what they think higher education should be.  They have their expectations that they bring with them, and professors that try to turn some control over the classroom and over learning to their students can be shot down for “not doing their job.”  That’s what Cox found, and I’ve certainly seen it happen.  The assumptions that these professors are falling victim to aren’t assumptions that students are going to be unprepared, or ignorant, or unwilling to learn – they’re more the opposite.  They assume that students will be curious, will have a voice they want to get out there, will have learning they want to take responsibility for.

So, I’m glad I didn’t bail – but I’m also glad the book didn’t take more than a couple nights to read.

what I’ve been doing instead of blogging

I have no idea why I am feeling compelled to put this up here, except that it is what I have been writing instead of blogging.  Not that I’ve been spending the actual minutes writing it, because I limited the writing time carefully, but it is where the mental energy that would usually produce a blog post has been going for the last couple of weeks.  The hours when I’d usually be thinking about something I have read and getting worked up enough to write about it have gone to thinking about how to finish this teaching philosophy statement.

It starts here –

Learning can be hard, it can be exhilarating, it can be scary, and it can be transformative changing the way the learner understands the world.  The most meaningful experiences I have had in my education, as both a teacher and a student, have happened when a new thought, a new idea or a new understanding has that transformative effect.

…human learning presupposes a specific social nature and a process by which
children grow into the intellectual life of those around them.
(Lev Vygotsky, Mind and Society)

Teaching college-level research inherently means teaching students that research and learning are social processes.  Scholars do their research and communicate their findings according to practices and conventions defined by disciplinary communities and practice networks.  Teaching information literacy works best when the learning students do is grounded in these larger conversations.  This means the most effective teaching happens when I am working closely with faculty, to connect the research activities students do to the broader learning going on in the class.  For example, in Oregon State University’s beginning composition classes students engage in information literacy activities throughout the term, that connect information literacy skills to every stage of the writing process.

I believe that the best learning is a personal act of meaning-making where new information is integrated with existing mental models to create new knowledge.  Within this context, information literacy is not an end in itself.  Instead, it is the thing that gives students the cognitive capacity make that meaning for themselves.  As such, I believe that the best way I can teach students about information literacy is to introduce them to the necessary concepts, skills and ideas in an environment and context where they can immediately apply them within a larger process of learning and meaning-making.

While the meaning we make out of new ideas and information is deeply personal, the learning that supports that meaning-making is still social and collaborative.  My own ideas about teaching and learning have been strongly influenced by constructivist philosopher Lev Vygotsky, who frequently focuses on this connection. Vygotsky’s work emphasizes the interplay between teacher and student.  His description of learning as that which we can do with help, reflects the teacher’s expertise and body of experience without devaluing the knowledge, understanding and body of experiences the student brings to the process.  This is an especially useful and important way to think about learning for me, as an academic librarian.  My teaching is most effective when my knowledge and expertise about the research process combines with the student’s own expertise and experience with their topic area.

Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferals of information.
(Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

When that connection happens, between teacher and student, we are both engaged in the learning process.  I believe that one of my most important responsibilities as a teacher is creating an environment where that kind of learning can happen.

As a teaching librarian, I think one of the most important things I can do is to model an appreciative, curious, recursive research process.  Scholars do not know all of the answers in advance when they do their research; the research projects that result in deep learning are frequently those where no easy answer exists to find.  It is in the process of constructing an answer out of the information that is out there, a process that is often messy and chaotic, that that deep learning happens.  I have come to believe that avoiding that messiness and chaos when I am teaching does my students a disservice.  Instead, using my time with the students to show them how to navigate the research process, to troubleshoot when problems arise, and to keep their minds open enough to recognize opportunities when they find them is a more effective, though stressful, way for me to teach.

This includes strategies as simple as using new, untested topics to demonstrate research strategies, trying keywords without knowing what they will find.  It includes developing activities that focus on broad exploration, and teaching students how to browse a topic before searching for specific sources.  For example, in OSU’s advanced composition class the students and I spend half of our class session browsing obviously biased online news and commentary sites before switching our focus to published sources.

This also includes an emphasis in the classroom on active learning activities that allow students to connect new skills and concepts introduced in class to their own topics of inquiry.   It is when the idea or skill I have just demonstrated works to further their knowledge of their topic that they learn it best.  Building in time for them to make and reflect on those connections is crucial.

One of the biggest challenges I face as a teaching librarian is that most of the direct contact I have with students happens in the context of a single-shot, guest lecture appearance in someone else’s class.  It can be very difficult to push beyond the idea of teaching as an act of transferal in that context, because students frequently make the crucial connections between your teaching and their learning after they leave that guest-lecture session.  After several years in this environment, I still feel that I have not mastered this type of teaching.

The big deal is, that it’s part of my job to make sure that you don’t grow up stupid
…it’s bad for the world.
(Tami Taylor, Friday Night Lights)

I will continue to work on becoming effective within that one-shot context, and developing new ways to teach beyond that context because I believe that what I teach, what we teach as academic librarians, is important.  It’s good for the world.   Information literate learners can take control of their own learning, and continue learning throughout their lives.

Students who understand what evidence is, and how other people use it to further particular agendas are powerful.  Students who can find, understand, evaluate and use evidence themselves are even more powerful.  When people graduate from college without those skills and without mastering those concepts, it’s bad for the world.  As a teaching librarian I get to focus my time and energy on helping students develop their power, and making the world a better place.

and ends here.

So there it is.  For all I like reflecting on stuff, I find this kind of writing excruciatingly mentally difficult, and have to strictly limit how much time I give it.

In the end, the only way I could was to focus on a few of the things that have really sparked me to think about teaching in ways that have stuck with me – even the quotation  from Mrs. Coach on Friday Night Lights (which I agonized about because the word “stupid” seemed too unlike me to put in a teaching philosophy statement because I would never say that. But Tami Taylor would so I couldn’t change it either, and there’s no room in said statement to explain the context where it is not about that, but actually is exactly about what I wanted it to be about.

And of course it’s not finished.  That’s why this kind of writing is so difficult for me.  I never feel happy with it, and it never feels done.  I suspect that is the main reason I feel compelled to post it – because sharing it takes it out of my head.