Zotero group bibliography assignment

I decided before the start of this term, the first term in which I would be teaching a credit class in almost eight years (and I’m teaching 2!) that my Library Skills for English Majors class would collaboratively create an annotated bibliography in Zotero for their main group project.

I want them to develop some facility with Zotero, and this seems like a good way to do this.  The ins and outs of working with metadata on Zotero connects back to a lot of the course themes, making even those that are a little abstract seem more concrete.  At least I hope so.

I’ve barely explored the Zotero group settings for all that I have been there for a while (and for all that I have group libraries and everything) so I was not at all sure how well it would work or even if it would work for students in this class.  I’m still not sure because I’d like them to do a lot of the work in-class, and they don’t have their own computers there.  It should be possible for them to sync what they do on library machines to their online libraries, but until we try it, I just won’t know.

So yeah, that’s the reason why I was so happy to find that I’m not the first person to try this -(Profhacker author) Brian Croxall at Clemson did it before and he did it for English and he wrote about it extensively which is so amazingly awesome.  I drew heavily from it even when it didn’t directly – it’s amazing how working with someone else’s assignment online is like talking it through, having someone to get you thinking about the stuff you’re forgetting.

Anyway, so the theme they’re building this bibliography around is the scholarly and creative output of their own faculty,  This is only a 1-credit class (more on the challenges of doing anything meaningful in a 1 credit class later, I promise) and they don’t have a common research assignment in other classes (or any research assignment, in many cases) so it’s really hard to make it relevant.  I am hoping that this focus will add a note of relevance to a kind of abstract skills-for-skills-sake class.  I am also fascinated by what our faculty are producing and will enjoy what the students find and choose to add in any event.

The full text of the assignment is under the cut.

Continue reading

snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes

Because the work I have to do is stressful  — it’s a dogs biting (not really) bees stinging (not really) feeling sad (not really either) type of time

Tom and Lorenzo’s analysis of the costumes on Mad Men (the season premiere of which I finally got to see late last night) –

It became quickly obvious to us that there was no way we could examine the female fashion on Mad Men without looking at ALL the females. Costume Designer Janie Bryant deserves every bit of acclaim and applause that has come her way since she started work on the show. Think of this series of posts as a mini-retrospective. We’ll work our way up to Joan and Betty by looking at each of the other characters first.

Here’s the thing – I love the posts for the big 3 characters – Joan, Betty, and Peggy – but in some ways, I love the posts about the secondary characters more.  In the first group, the conversation is very character-driven, what different costuming choices say about different characters, which is fun and interesting.  In the second group, though, there’s just as much about what the costumes AND characters say about the time and place in which they’re set – which is right in my analytical sweet spot.

This digital history project at StanfordThe Republic of Letters.

Using social networking visualization tools to visualize the letters that scholars wrote to each other way back in the early days of scholarly communication.

Forged in the humanist culture of learning that promoted the ancient ideal of the republic as the place for free and continuous exchange of knowledge, the Republic of Letters was simultaneously an imagined community (a scholar’s utopia where differences, in theory, would not matter), an information network, and a dynamic platform from which a wide variety of intellectual projects – many of them with important ramifications for society, politics, and religion – were proposed, vetted, and executed.

You can check out their case studies, or do a little bit of playing with their tools.

Cryptogram for iPad.

This game is very easy (if you let it tell you when you guess a letter wrong) or less easy (when you don’t), and so, so pretty.

New blog to follow

And last, but only because I can’t believe anyone who reads this blog doesn’t already know this - Barbara Fister is blogging at Inside Higher Ed.

Scholarship on the participatory web – a quick take on the OAH

I don’t know that I have anything really insightful to say about this example of scholarship on the read/write web, but when I clicked over to HNN’s Highlights from the 2008 OAH Convention this morning I didn’t have high expectations.

(For non-historians, OAH = Organization of American Historians. This is one of the two main US-based scholarly associations in history. The OAH is for any scholar who studies American History. The other one, the American Historical Association, is for any American historian, no matter what they study. Both organizations have made some great uses of the emerging web to promote scholarly communication.).

I like the idea of following conferences I can’t attend via blogs, but in practice I rarely find that it works for me. Liveblogs of conference sessions are usually similar to class-notes type writing, more reporting than analysis and idiosyncratic reporting at that. And I definitely get why – no one has time to write an account of what was said and an analysis of what it means at the same time. And at best, liveblogged analysis can’t go past gut, immediate reactions — ideas that might develop and change with time for reflection. But the analytical, more personalized “what I thought was good, bad and important” writing — that takes time. I know that even when I want to write up a conference later, I don’t get to it before the next conference comes along.

Which is why I enjoyed this coverage so much. Rick Shenkman, HNN editor, reported on the sessions he saw, placed the arguments in context, and told us what he thought of the sessions, the speakers, the reactions/discussions and the papers. It reads like one person’s account, but that’s one of the things I liked best about it – it didn’t have that blandness of objectivity. Best of all, almost every session and talk discussed is supplemented with a YouTube video from the session itself. So one guy’s analysis, and the opportunity to see for yourself.

Here’s Manning Marable:

Which is why this is the kind of coverage I think could be really useful for students new to the discipline to really get a sense of what goes on in a discipline, in a scholarly community. The videos alone, even if the quality was better than YouTube, wouldn’t do that — non-experts need the context and the analysis. The context and analysis wouldn’t be enough either — too much one person’s view. If there was a better discussion in the comments, that’d be ideal, but that doesn’t seem to be happening yet. Maybe next year.

Faculty should mean more than that…

Steven Bell has a post on ACRL Log today about tenure, librarians and faculty status.  I reacted to it fairly strongly and I need to tease out why.  Many of the individual things he said didn’t bother me, but taken in aggregate — well, there’s a lot here that’s not making sense to me.  So I’m going to do what I do when I can’t make sense of something — try to write it out.

Those who know me know that I reserve the right to change my mind about stuff as I go along …

Bell’s basic point seems to be that librarians, even when they have faculty status, are not "real faculty" because they don’t work with students in the same way that "real faculty" do:

To my way of thinking, what separates the real faculty from librarian faculty is the relationship with students.

While this may seem simple, and even obvious, I’m having real problems with it. 

I’m going to leave aside his use of the term "real faculty" because it seems clear that he’s being intentionally provocative with that and focus on the other assumption in the sentence – that real faculty is someone determined by one single thing and one single thing alone and that that is the nature and quality of contact with students in the disciplines.   (I know this quotation above doesn’t mention the disciplines – I’ll deal with that below).  Basically, I think he’s just being way too narrow.  With this incredibly limited view of what it is that makes ‘real faculty’ Bell’s throwing out more than faculty librarians.  Not only do I think that’s a naive and problematic view of the academy, but I think if we were to accept it, it would make what we do as librarians a whole lot harder.

Off the top I should definitely say that contact with students, supporting them through the learning process, is what got me into higher education to start — first as a student in the disciplines (history) and then as a librarian.  That’s what I want to do – that’s the part of faculty culture that appeals to me.  And I don’t disagree even a little bit that my contact and work with students as a librarian is profoundly different than it was as a teaching assistant or teaching associate in the disciplines.  My problem isn’t with the idea that contact with students should be one of our core values in higher ed, or that teaching faculty do it differently – it’s with the flying leap to the conclusion that this student work, then, is the sum of what being faculty means.

As I said, I started out in the disciplines with every intention of becoming a professor.  And the reason that I didn’t end up becoming a history professor was largely because I believed then, as I still do now, that the kind of teaching I wanted to do — I could do better as a librarian.  When I was a historian, my main focus was helping students develop the skills they needed to become lifelong learners and informed citizens.   I simply did not have the focus on the disciplinary content to be a great history professor – if they got the dates 500 years off, but still "got" the significance of the connections between the events I was happy.  If they made smart connections between the oral history transcript we’d just read and the secondary monograph we read last week, but got the subject’s name wrong – I didn’t have enough of a problem with that. If they took me off on a tangent unrelated to the topic the professor wanted them to write about, but they had learned something important about how to do history – I hated marking them down.  When I started working in the public library and teaching at the reference desk, I realized that this — THIS was the kind of teaching that I wanted to do.

Directly helping students develop those lifelong learning, critical thinking skills that will help them engage in public life for the rest of their lives. 

And the hardest transition I’ve had to make as a librarian has been losing that week-to-week or even day-to-day contact with students that you get in the disciplines. I frequently use the analogy:

emergency medicine is to family practice what library instruction sessions are to credit courses

I was a really good history teacher at the end there, and I’m still figuring out how to do this one-shot thing. As a graduate teaching assistant in history I can point to student after student upon whom I know I made a direct and lasting intellectual impact.  But here’s the thing – that didn’t make me faculty then.  And it’s not what does or doesn’t make me faculty now. 

What bothers me about Bell’s post isn’t that I don’t value what he says he values in this post — it’s that according to his thinking — an awful lot of other people aren’t "real faculty" either.

And I suspect there are few tenure-track academic librarians who develop relationships with students in the discipline of the type and at the level that occur between students and the real faculty

First, in this post he seems to be valuing the teaching in the disciplines above all other kinds of faculty teaching.  I can say from experience, that he’s leaving out a lot of insanely good teachers, who are also some of the most student-focused faculty members in the business by doing this. Here’s the thing — faculty, even teaching focused faculty, aren’t all motivated by the same thing.

When I was in graduate school, and in the years since, it has become really clear to me that there are two kinds of teaching-focused faculty (of course, this is a deep oversimplification – go with it).  There are those of us whose passion is the brand-new scholars — our excitement and passion for teaching comes from helping students make that transition into academic thinking, scholarship, research, and expertise.  We like to help the first- and second-year students take their first steps at creating new knowledge for themselves.  My friend Mark and I had a long conversation about this when I was working at the University of Portland libraries.  He was talking about why he loved teaching (Poli Sci) at an institution like UP so much – more than he thought he would at a school that focused on graduate study, or even at a highly selective school where he would be spending most of his time working with advanced undergraduate majors.  That just wasn’t for him, and it wasn’t for me.  Not like working with the first-years was.

Then there are the scholars and researchers who really want to work with advanced majors and help those students move from creating new knowledge for themselves, to creating new knowledge — full stop.  They want to teach major seminars, capstone courses, advise theses, they love the relationships they build with their advisees… my husband is one of these teachers.  We knew in graduate school that while on the surface we were both teaching- and student-focused academics, we had this difference in what really excited us about academic teaching. 

And then there are those, and there are a lot of them, who get into the academic game for the research.  To create new knowledge themselves.  They might like working with graduate students, or the occasional talented undergrad, with whom they can engage with the big questions of their own tiny subset of the disciplines — or they might not even want that.  They go into academia and they end up teaching because it is part of the price of admission for doing research for a living — or they end up as research scholars on the tenure track and they don’t teach at all.  So are all of us — the foundational teachers, the teachers in the disciplines, the researchers — faculty?  I think so. 

The interesting thing to me here is that Bell is reflecting a very typical attitude about what should be valued in higher education – and that’s an attitude that inherently devalues what librarians, and writing faculty, and basic math instructors, and tutors, and gen-ed teachers with mostly undeclared students, and a lot of other people on our campuses do.  The idea that the teaching in the disciplines is the "real teaching" is exactly what leads to the devaluing of the undergraduate core.  It’s what leads to huge general education courses taught by harried adjuncts and graduate assistants.  It’s what leads to students who lack the basic skills – and I do count information literacy as one of those basic skills – to really succeed in their academic life.   And it’s what leads to students who never get the help they need to develop those skills because those skills don’t have a strong disciplinary home. 

In other words, I think there are a lot of people that would agree that teaching in the disciplines is what "real faculty" do – but I think that they’re wrong and not only wrong but destructive when it comes to my goals of creating lifelong learners, critical thinkers and informed citizens.

Larry Hardesty is the place to start when it comes to librarians understanding faculty culture.  And where Hardesty is most useful, in my deeply personal and idiosyncratic opinion, is in the how he clarifies this concept  – the focus on the disciplines is, in a crucial way, one of the key barriers keeping foundational skills like information literacy (and writing, and basic numeracy) from being supported as institutional goals should be:

Faculty culture emphasizes research, content and specialization. It de-emphasizes teaching, process and undergraduates – even at the liberal arts colleges where I have spent most of my career." (Hardesty, 1999, p. 244) Faculty do not think in terms of setting goals and objectives to measure development of "the independent lifelong learner" (Hardesty, 1995, p. 356). 

Basically, if developing relationships with students was every "real" faculty member’s main goal, then I think our job as librarians would be a lot easier.  And  think it would be a lot easier for us to think of ourselves as "real" faculty.  A lot of our faculty don’t have that as a goal because it is not valued by those who have power over them professionally (most of them don’t get tenure because of their work with students) and a lot of our faculty members don’t have that as a goal, because that’s not why they got into the game in the first place.  And while that’s not me, I don’t have a problem with that. 

Our colleges and universities are in the business of knowledge creation — and some of our scholars don’t do that with students.  They’re not good at it, or they don’t value it.  That doesn’t make them less faculty members.  Some of our campuses have teaching loads that leave their faculty working with 30 to 40 students a year, with TA’s to do the grading.  Some of them have teaching loads that bring them together with several hundred.  Some departments have teaching/research loads skewed at 80/20 — some the exact opposite.  My campus has extension faculty who work entirely with the broader community.  The point is, all of these people are faculty. By telling librarians that because they don’t do everything typical teaching faculty in the disciplines do they aren’t "real faculty" Bell is lumping librarians in with everyone else who doesn’t do what typical teaching faculty in the disciplines do — and I just don’t think we want to be making the case that none of these people are faculty.  It’s a too-narrow view of what higher ed does, and a too-narrow view of librarians’ role within the academy.

And then I totally agree with Bell’s conclusion – that academic librarians should take the time to read faculty blogs.  (But I think we should be reading research blogs as well as those that talk about teaching and work with students.)

The key difference between us is that where he seems to think we should read them so that we can understand how we are not real faculty, I think we should read them to see what we have in common, across the academy.  What better way to find new partners, and new ways of talking to those partners, than to listen to their voices?  The great thing about this was, I have been trying to figure out a way to fit this blog post in to one of my posts and now I can.

This is an academic blogger who wrote a post recently on why she, at a particular kind of school with particular kinds of students, thinks it is important to teach literature.  This post really resonated with me as a librarian because I think she’s talking about those things I value – how what she does gives her students the foundational skills and understanding they need to engage in public life.

(Full disclosure – my husband decided to riff on this post in his own blog – I think it’s also well worth reading on this topic)

Like Stephen Bell, I don’t really care about the titles.  I don’t call myself an assistant professor now except in cases, like my dossier, where I have to.  When I started at OSU I was a "professional faculty" rank employee, and now I am a tenure track faculty member, but the way I approach my own work hasn’t changed at all. I’m fine with being "librarian faculty" because I think we’re all real faculty — all of us different kinds of faculty who are engaged in the business of teaching, learning and knowledge creation.

more metathinking

Continuing from yesterday….. as I said then, I was really taken by the discussion of the connection between reading and thinking.  Then I was on YouTube the other day looking for something very serious and work-related when I thought "Hey! I bet they have debate videos on youtube now.  I will go look for some." 

Weirdly, they really don’t.  I mean there are some videos up there but really hardly any and even those that are there are very rarely showing actual competitive debates.  Which is interesting – why would that be?  It’s a pretty visual thing, and the people engaged in it are pretty much standing in one place and indoors so it would be easy to film.  Are there concerns about cheating?  About giving your opponent an unfair advantage?  Is the idea that debate is somewhat ephemeral or in the moment – that what you say in a round will to some extent stay in the round an inherent part of the culture?  I mean, the idea of instant replays in debate sounds pretty horrible to me – debaters’ capacity to relive the same round over and over again without video is pretty frightening.  I can’t imagine that any round would ever feel truly over if you had the capacity to let armchair critics revisit and re-judge it over and over again. 

But those aren’t actually the questions I wanted to ask here.  I did find a few videos – and this one was a little bit interesting.

That’s the final of the 2004 NDT – Michigan State over Berkeley.  A result I have to give you because the video itself isn’t all that good and cuts off right before the winner is announced. Clearly, it’s not interesting because of the video itself; what got my attention was the comments.  First, that there even are 100+ comments on a mediocre video about an arcane activity like academic debate.  But more than that the tenor of the comments – mostly those that are displaying on the first page.

As someone who was on the fringes of collegiate debate for a long time (my own experience came in high school where I was pretty successful but not really technically skilled) I have certainly heard these types of reactions to the very technical, very fast debate shown here.  But when I read these in the context of the many discussions Shaun and I have had recently about the need for liberal education, the conversations Kate and Sara and I have had about the thinking/ learning connection in the context of research and writing, and the thinking/ reading discussion I was having in my own head yesterday — these really struck me.

First we have edfehrman — its too bad that "debate" has become much less about making a good argument and the strength of your reasoning as has now become more about who can unleash the greatest volume of words, regardless of their content. No wonder logical discussion is in such short supply in our culture.

Now this really isn’t too bad.  I would probably counter that competitive debate has never been about making a good argument so much as it has been about making a winning argument.  But at the same time, I don’t really think those things can be separated.  To do so would suggest that one could make an objectively "good" argument totally separate from its intent, and its impact on the audience.  These video debaters are making their arguments in front of an audience they know well, in a way that is familiar, expected, and valued by that audience.  But still, my knee doesn’t jerk when I read this comment.  Probably, I’ve heard it too many times in my life for it to have much of an impact.

That brings us to sixlbs9oz
who says — "I agree with daytraderaz– this kind of debate doesn’t have anything to do with persuading normal people with watertight arguments and compelling rhetoric– this kind of debate is called "speed and spread" by debate teams (not all of whom do this kind of debate exclusively). I guess it’s interesting as an academic exercise, but it seems like an Ivory Tower hobby to me."

Again, this starts out totally familiar.  As if this kind of debate even wants to have anything to do with persuading normal people with watertight arguments.  As if watertight arguments alone are enough to persuade normal people of anything.  As if there is an objective standard of watertightness that we can use to decide whether or not we normal people are persuaded.  As if – all of that. 

No, what I find really interesting here, and a little bit depressing, is that last part of the statement.  That this is just an "ivory tower hobby"  – what does that even mean?  Because sixlbs9oz seems to understand a few things — s/he seems to understand that these debaters ARE performing for an audience.  And s/he gets that this specific audience both has the overt power to decide how effective this rhetoric is by giving a win or a loss in the round – and that this specific audience likes this kind of debate.  S/he seems to understand that this performance is built upon a ton of work, and that there’s some thinking going on there.  And yet, it’s just an ivory tower hobby.   The cognitive, rhetorical, critical thinking skills – these apparently won’t matter at all outside of the academy. 

Thanks to the reverse chronological order of YouTube comments, we only now come to  daytraderaz
comment — Only academics could come up with a system that if [sic] absolutely no use in the practical world.

Now, there’s been a lot of fights in debate over the years.  Actually, that’s not entirely accurate.  It’s more like there’s been the same fight and it’s happened a lot of times.  People worry that excessively technical debate – most of the time "excessively technical" can be read to mean "excessively fast" — is moving the activity too far away from practical skills. and that the activity should place a higher premium on a persuasive vocal style and the ability to turn a moving phrase.  Rules are changed, new leagues are built, new forms of debate are adopted.  Eventually, the debaters start to push at the new rules, and the argument begins again.   

And I’m not sure what my point is here except to say that this idea of debate having value only if it teaches transferable "real-world" skills is not just an us against them thing — debate people do this too.  Sometimes it is because they see something they value being lost in the activity.  But sometimes, I think it is because they take the daytraderaz’s of the world a little bit too seriously.  If the activity becomes so specialized or technical that the average person can’t see the value of it – then there must not be any value to see.

And this is where I get sad, and worried, because don’t you feel this happening in higher education?  A lot?  I think we frequently work under the assumption that the average person sees one value to a college education – and that value is all tied up in the ability to get a good job.   And I’m not saying that’s not a valid assumption.  At the very least, a whole lot of our students seem to come to us with the idea that the good job is the carrot they’re chasing.  But when we try to shift our focus to that value alone – to inculcating only those skills and characteristics that point directly (and measurably) to the "good job" — then we risk losing a lot. 

Because of course there’s more going on in academic debate than meets the eye.  I don’t think anyone would deny that the most obvious physical skills needed to win the NDT – the ability to flip a pen around one’s thumb and to talk really, really, super fast — don’t have a lot of real-world utility.

(Though I have gotten through a lot of awkward small talk situations because of the pen thing.  I’m just saying.)

But I don’t know many people involved in debate, even those who were not exceptionally successful, who think they got nothing out of the activity beyond an ivory tower hobby.  Instead, they argue that while the actual debates themselves might have been jargon-filled and specific to that context, the skills gained by doing the activity translate to almost every other context.

As a former female debater, I still take note of women who succeed in this very patriarchial activity, so I know that Greta Stahl – the woman in the video above – was not only a national champion debater, but she was also an honors student, and a Marshall Scholarship winner.  I’m guessing that some of the same skills that led to success in the debate venue helped her out in international relations?  I’m guessing that her ability to analyze, to research, to build an argument, to evaluate information, to find new ways to approach and attack a problem …. even practical things like controlling nervousness during public speaking …. that all of those things might have been honed and sharpened during academic debates.  And that they might have helped her succeed in all those other venues.  I don’t know Greta Stahl at all – but I still feel comfortable guessing that because those things are true of most of the academic debaters I know. 

And I have long thought, even though I was not a technically skilled debater myself and I would have benefited greatly from arbitrary rules set up to prevent others from using their technical skills against me, that debate as a whole should focus on all of those benefits instead of trying to turn the activity into something that a "normal" person can understand.  Because those under-the-hood skills are not just useful, they have actually been far more important to me in life than any practical public-speaking skills I developed.

And college too, is about so much more than measurable skills that employers say they want.  If that’s our goal – guaranteeing employability — we’re just measuring our students by someone else’s standard.  And by a standard that would call everything about college that doesn’t directly and obviously and measurably point to a good job nothing more than an "ivory tower hobby."

And that really, really scares me.  When the kinds of things that are not obvious, that happen behind the curtain of the academic performance — critical thinking, analysis, evaluation, creativity — become something that only a particular class of people get to do, when thinking itself is something that only those ivory tower freaks get to play at – we’re obviously the worse for it.   

Note:  if you want to look like a very cool debater, don’t start with the talking fast thing.  Start here: