Thinking like librarians

So the other day I saw someone say that thing, you know that thing – where people say “we don’t want to teach them all to be LIBRARIANS.”

And now I can’t remember where I saw it or who said it. But it doesn’t really matter, right? Because we’ve all seen that before. Just like we’ve all seen “librarians like to search, everyone else likes to find.”

So I hit the limits of my tolerance for that search…find thing about a half-dozen years ago. It took me a little longer to hit the wall on the teaching everyone to be librarians thing. But you know what, I got there too.

Before I go any further, this is not going to be a piece about teaching everyone to be librarians. Of course it isn’t. But it is going to be a piece about why I don’t like that phrase — with a bit about disciplines and information literacy and survey courses thrown in.

To clarify where I’m coming from here (because I’m sure other fields and other schools have different contexts) — my background is in history, as are the survey courses I’ve taught. On every campus where I taught or took these courses, they weren’t really intended for majors. They were the 100- level courses; the “introduction to being a history major” courses were at the 200- level. Yes, they might attract majors, but they weren’t really about or for the majors.

students sitting in a large lecture hall

And they were kind of unidirectional, banking metaphor, broadcasting the truth type courses — after all, they weren’t intended to teach people to be historians. They were intended to share the insights of those who really did the history. They were more like textbooks than monographs, the way that textbooks eliminate all traces of authorial voice or point of view.

(See also, textbookese)

And that’s what a lot of the survey courses I have known and guest lectured for over the years have been about. We don’t want to teach them all to be biologists — we’re giving an overview of what biology knows. We don’t want to teach them all to be geographers — we’re giving an overview of what geographers know.

And here’s the thing. I got into libraries in large part because I didn’t like those courses. I was lucky enough to teach for some mentors who were very invested in the idea that first-year students in survey courses should still get to do some history. But even in their courses those activities were limited to one paper of many and the majority of work in the course went towards sharing a narrative or interpretation of the events under question. Sure, we always said “we’re open to your interpretations, you don’t have to argue what we do” but let’s face it. We were spending a lot of energy giving them one excellently documented, skillfully argued narrative that had been honed over years of study — they could choose to argue something else, but if they did, they were on their own.

Honestly, I never cared enough about the narrative we were teaching to be a good history survey teacher. I’m not saying that was a good thing. I think it is good that others did care. It’s good that they did the work, and dug into the sources and developed the story and cared about it enough to share it. For me, though, it was always about the lifelong learning – about what would happen when that student wanted to do their own history in 20 years. What I realized when I started working in the public library was that in the library I could do the kind of teaching I liked to do.

Increasingly, I think that old-fashioned view of the survey is just that — old-fashioned. The explosion of scholarship in the post-war years means that most survey courses cannot truly give a meaningful overview of a field anymore. More and more, I hear the people who are really innovatively thinking about gen ed talking about courses that give a sense of what it is to “think like a geographer” to “think like an oceanographer” or to “think like an historian.”

My husband teaches a course like this at Western Oregon. He organizes his survey of cultural geography around key concepts, and he’s designed a variety of “field exercises” that give his (mostly) first year students a chance to create their own meaning using the concepts and methods of the field.

20140401-213006.jpg

And earlier this year, my colleague Anne piloted a “history lab” approach with a faculty colleague in an Honors section of the American history survey here at OSU, to great success.

So that brings me back to that “teaching them to be librarians” comment we’ve all heard. It sounds to me like just another one of those one-way, banking metaphor, let’s share our truth ways of thinking about teaching. We’re not going to share how we think – just lay down the knowledge. It’s old-school, and not in a good way.

The recent revision of the Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education has led to some conversations asking if information literacy is a discipline. Information literacy as a discipline doesn’t make sense to me. The whole idea of information literacy as something that can be understood as something neutral, consistent across contexts and definable and understandable on its own – separate from institutional or other structures has never seemed useful to me. And it means that information literacy as a thing really can’t help define a way of knowing, or of inquiring, the way that a discipline or field should.

(Not to mention that the whole neutral thing seems to lag so far behind the far more complex and interesting and useful ways literacy is conceptualized in other fields)

Which isn’t to say that we don’t have a field. Information science or library science is a fuzzy and squishy field, but that hardly sets it apart. There are many fields that haven’t managed (or don’t want) a single common theoretical perspective, or dominant methodological approach.

(Though most are probably better than us at arguing about those things)

So, processes related to organizing, utilizing, preserving, sharing and describing information — these are widely applicable and certainly relevant to many, many fields. Marcia Bates suggests that “information science” means examining those processes through a particular lens – focusing on “the features that matter to the organization and retrieval of [information] rather than in terms of mastering its content.” Organization and retrieval might be too narrow (or really, might not, they’re broader than they seem). But if this lens adds some coherence to the field, does it also suggest what it means to think like a librarian? To think about information for itself, to think about the meaning and implications of what we do with it?

I think that that lens is important – and that that lens should be a part of the curriculum. Information and what we do with it shouldn’t be understood as something neutral, that can be understood the same way regardless of context. We should own it — and give students their own chances to think like librarians.

Shiny! Our new outreach cart

Our new outreach cart

Our new outreach cart

You know how to brighten up the Friday of Dead Week?  Getting your new outreach cart delivered to your office!  Even better? Getting it hand-delivered by the senior Engineering students who designed and built it from scratch with their own hands!

We were inspired in part by the Mobile Library cart at Claremont colleges. The initial inspiration came from the small group we have exploring makerspaces and maker culture.  That group is headed up by my colleague Margaret, who really deserves most of the credit fort this project.  She developed the initial plan and proposal here, and talked to people all over the library to figure out all of our requirements.  We found out that the OSU Press unit had an interest in it as an outreach tool, a number of our teaching librarians would use it to participate in outreach events around campus as well as the the Maker group, which has plans to do popup maker spaces.

Display area in front, storage in back

Students in the School of  Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at OSU complete a Senior Capstone design project. They choose from a pool of projects that have been submitted, and then work in groups with the clients who submitted the projects to bring the final product to life.  Margaret created the proposal for this cart and submitted it to the school for consideration.  We were lucky enough to have one of the groups choose our project.  Margaret met with them throughout the process, answering questions as they came up and managing the sometimes complicated financial end of things (we paid for the project out of the research and project fund attached to my professorship).

Battery + power

You can see the display area across the front for Press books, 3-D printed objects, or whatever.  It’s lockable, if needed.

There’s a battery in there too.  It has power enough to run a laptop, and to support the maker activities.  Although, we were told that its ability to run a hair dryer for long “depends on the hair dryer.”

It’s waterproof.  We are in western Oregon after all.  The students tested it by pouring water on it for several minutes – to simulate a steady and significant rain.

Along the back side, there’s a storage drawer and a pretty significant storage cupboard for maker materials, extra books, a laptop, the 3-D printer – whatever is needed.

I’m so excited – they did such a great job. And it’s pretty cool to have something to support learning that was itself the product of a significant learning experience.  But, at the end of the day, the best part of the whole thing is always getting to meet the students.  Because they’re awesome.  And this is a public thank-you to Margaret for making it happen and for including me in that part of it.

Before you tell me not to take notes

Don’t.

I mean it.  Please don’t. Just don’t.

You’re not encouraging me to engage with your talk; you’re not making your class more fun or easier for me.

hand writing math notes with a green stylus on a tablet computer

some rights reserved by Viking Photography (flickr)

I need to take notes, preferably by hand. These days that means with a tablet and stylus.   I use a tablet and keyboard when I forget and bring the bad stylus and in meetings. And in some situations, I post notes on Twitter.

When you tell me not to do any or all of those things, you’re actually alienating me. You’re making me feel unwelcome. And you’re stressing me out.

(And if any part of your talk has to do with reaching all learners – you’ve lost me already)

Don’t misunderstand.  I’m not saying that everyone should take notes.  I’m not saying that anyone but me should take notes.  I’m not going to project my preferences and my learning habits on to you — I’m just asking that you don’t project yours on to me.

Here’s a secret.  My brain is a super busy place. Not always a productive or focused place. Seriously, say one interesting thing and I am off to the races. It doesn’t even have to be interesting, really. Even something that just reminds me of something that’s interesting will do.

handwritten mindmap describing faceted classification including circles squares arrows and text

some rights reserved by Jason-Morrison (flickr)

(Okay, that probably isn’t much of a secret)

And I’m not complaining about this. I spend a lot of time in my brain and most of the time, I like it there. I like to think. I get excited by ideas and connections. I get an almost visceral thrill when thoughts snap into place.

And don’t take this the wrong way, but there’s almost nothing you can do, no amount of humor or engaging activities you can build in, that will be more fun or compelling to me than thinking about what you say. The more awesome you are? The more I want to play with your ideas.

Taking notes is how I stay grounded in your thoughts. Taking notes is how I stay present. Taking notes keeps me from chasing my thoughts down those intellectual rabbit holes right now – I wrote a note, I drew a star and a circle and an arrow to the other thing, I can relax now and go back to it later.

And I know you’ve given me a handout or put up a website with all your references on it. I really appreciate it – I do! I do this too. Who wants to be scrambling to write down sources and links? I don’t, but I’m going to write down the why, and draw the circles and the arrows to show how they fit in and work for me.

(And if I ever gave you the impression I didn’t want you to take notes when I pointed out the URL for one of those resource lists – I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant!)

Man with wedding ring  scanning a handwritten notebook page into Evernote with his cell phone

some rights reserved by Evernote (flickr)

If it makes you feel better, I even take notes when I’m alone. I couldn’t start reading on my tablet until I figured out a note taking workflow.

For marginalia and highlighting, that’s PDF + stylus + Notability, if you’re interested. But there’s also my Evernote moleskine, which I use to create my holding pen notes — a writing trick I learned from Vicki Tolar Burton that I also use now for reading.

The holding pen is basically a place to put all of those questions and thoughts I don’t want to lose, but which will keep me from reading to the end of the article (or writing this paragraph or section) in the time I have if I don’t put them somewhere –

This might explain that theme we pulled out of the interviews, but I can’t remember exactly what she said. Argh, didn’t that Juarez paper I read last year dealt with this trait. Hey, Laurie’d be interested in this to help turn that one project into a paper idea. Oh, maybe that term will work better in PsycINFO. OMG that’s a good example to use in class. Wait, no, I don’t think that’s what she was really arguing in that book. Ooh, that methodology might work for me with the other study.

Basically, I’ve been doing this a long time – learning in classes, in workshops, from books and texts, in lectures and presentations. I’ve had decades at this point to figure out how to make learning work for me, and while there’s always more to learn, I need you to trust me that I know what I’m doing, and to remember that for some of us, engagement looks a little different.

Conference Snow Day Make-ups

I don’t know about you specifically, but my twitter & Facebook give me the impression that my kid’s school is not the only one struggling with the “how do we make up all of these snow days” question.

(I realize that some people are still accumulating the snow days and might not have moved on to that question, and to those people I can only say – I hope it ends soon)

Anyway, as you know from this space, we had a conference here get nailed by a freak weather event and the conference organizers have also been dealing with the question of how to move forward.  They are awesome and there’s a plan and it is happening –

All week, they’ll be posting online versions of the conference talks on the Online Northwest Blog.  Ours isn’t up yet, but it should be — we sent in our stuff.  And then this Friday, from noon-1pm the keynote speaker, Andromeda Yelton, will broadcast her presentation live and participate in a Q & A.

(ETA – our stuff is up there now)

This is a pretty great solution, and an opportunity for more people to check out Online Northwest.  For those who have been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know this as a conference I regularly attend and regularly call one of my favorites. So this is also a chance to find out why.

Curiosity Self-Assessment – scoring

close up of the Mars Curiosity rover

@MarsCuriosity (twitter)


So I have been told that some people have already taken the Curiosity Self Assessment linked in the last post, and I thought I should probably post an explanation of the scoring – since it’s not really very transparent.

As I said in that post, this assessment is drawn from a set of longer instruments developed and tested by Jordan Litman (and a  variety of colleagues) over the last decade or so.

There is more than one type of curiosity identified in the literature, and we decided to focus on 3 of those in this instrument:  epistemic, perceptual and interpersonal.

Epistemic curiosity is triggered by a drive to know about things — to know about concepts and ideas, and to understand how things work.  This is the type of curiosity that we think probably comes to mind first when people think of school-related work.  Some of the items on the self-assessment that point to this type of curiosity are:

    • When I see a riddle I am interested in trying to solve it.
    • I enjoy discussing abstract concepts

Perceptual curiosity is triggered by a drive to know how things feel, taste, smell, look, and sound.  Some of the items that point to this one are:

    • I enjoy trying different foods.
    • When I see new fabrics, I want to touch and feel it.

We (the general “we” here) don’t usually think about the types of questions that would include a touching or perceiving component when we think of class-related research.

Interpersonal curiosity is triggered  by a desire to know more about other people.  Some of the items connected to this type have a snooping or spying connotation to them, and others focus more on the type of curiosity that happens during direct interactions with others:

    • People open up to me about how they feel.
    • I enjoy going into other houses to see how people live.

So, what do you need to know about this self-assessment to understand your scores?

1. Well, first, it is a self-assessment.  This isn’t intended to tell you anything about other people’s curiosity – or about how your curiosity compares to other people’s.  It’s intended to get you thinking about curiosity in more complicated ways — to think about things that spark your curiosity that you might not normally think about in a classroom setting.

2. Secondly, the self-assessment is based on a four-item Likert scale — and it really, really, shouldn’t be used to compare people to each other:

4 item likert scale ranging from almost never to almost always

The scale itself is an ordinal scale, but not an interval scale.  Why should you care?  Well, think about the difference between almost never and sometimes — is it the same as the difference between sometimes and often?  Some people may answer yes to that, and some people may answer no.

To put it another way, if I answer Often to an item and you answer Almost Always that might mean that you do the thing a little more than me, that you do it a lot more than me or that we actually both do it twice a day but to me, twice a day is “often” and to you it’s “almost always.”

So – your scores can’t tell you anything about how you compare to others.  They can’t even be effectively used to identify a “type” for a class or cohort of people.

But they can tell you something about yourself.

3. Finally, when you get your scores, you are going to see them as a fraction of 40. It’s important that you don’t think about those percentages as grades.

Let’s take a hypothetical example — Nadia gets scores of 28/40 for epistemic, 30/40 for interpersonal and 21/40 for perceptual.  It’s pretty normal to look at that 30/40 and think that “that’s only 75% – I’m not very curious.”

But remember how those scales work.

likert

So Nadia scored 30/40, which means that she answered “often” to most of the items that suggest interpersonal curiosity.  Her “low” score was about perceptual curiosity, but even there her answers averaged around the “sometimes” mark. So from this, she can infer that she is fairly broadly curious, but that her curiosity is quite likely to be sparked about questions relating other people, and about how things work.  She might look for research ideas in fields that combine these interests, like psychology.

Curiosity, Browsing & Online Environments – Further Reading

UPDATE:  And just as I went to hit post – the email came that the conference is canceled.  Oh well.  I’m posting anyway because this topic isn’t going away.

*********************************

These are further reading/ exploration resources to go along with a talk that is supposed to happen at Online Northwest tomorrow.  If I sound less than confident, it is because this is the view from my front door.

view from my porch is snow

view from my porch

I live a 10 minute walk from the conference venue, and this is western Oregon, and we don’t really do snow.

I hope my doubts are misplaced, because this is routinely one of my favorite conferences and even though I am being denied the opportunity to hear some good friends speak by poor scheduling luck, I was really looking forward to the keynote.  I saw on the twitter that Andromeda won’t be able to get here, though, so things are not looking up.

In the interest of optimism, though, here’s the stuff behind this talk:

Hannah Gascho Rempel, Chad Iwertz & Anne-Marie Deitering.  Harnessing the Web to Create an Environment that Supports Curiosity, Exploration and Learning.  Online Northwest, 7 February 2014.

Curiosity

Curiosity Self-Assessment  - try it yourself!

Based on:
by Jordan A. Litman & Mark V. Pezzo (2007). In Personality and Individual Differences 43 (6): 1448–1459.
by Jordan A. Litman & Charles D. Spielberger (2003) in Journal of Personality Assessment 80 (1) (February): 75–86.

by Robert P. Collins, Jordan A. Litman & Charles D. Speilberger (2004) in Personality and Individual Differences 36 (5): 1127-1141

Exploration

What we used in FYC:

WR 121 LibGuide

Science Daily

EurekAlert!

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

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

Mapping OSU Research – Google map

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

Other possibilities:

Newsmap – treemap style visualization of Google News.

Tiki-Toki — timeline generator

TimelineJS (integrated with Google Spreadsheets)

Information Literacy in the First-Year Experience. Updated.

Integrating Information Literacy in First-Year Student Programs

This is a resource/ additional reading page for a webcast that will be delivered on February 5, 2014.  I will be updating this post between now and then, so check back again later.

Research

There is a growing body of research examining first-year students’ research practice and habits, and assessing the impact of information literacy instruction.

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

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

Examining Student Research Choices and Processes in a Disintermediated Searching Environment. Hannah Gascho Rempel, Stefanie Buck & Anne-Marie Deitering. portal: Librairies & the Academy. 2013.

Fortifying the Pipeline: A Quantitative Exploration of High School Factors Impacting the Information Literacy of First-Year College Students. Jennifer Fabbi. College & Research Libraries. (January 2015) (Pre-print).

Instructional Preferences of First-Year College Students with Below-Proficient Information Literacy Skills: A Focus Group Study. Don Latham & Melissa Gross. College & Research Libraries (September 2013).

Measuring the Impact of LIbrary Instruction on Freshmen Success and Persistence: A Quantitative Analysis. Jason Vance, Rachel Kirk & Justin Gardner. Communications in Information Literacy. 6:1 (2012).

The iConnected Parent. Barbara Hofer & Abigail Moore (2010). Simon & Schuster/ The Free Press.

Student Development Theory

Reflective Judgment Model (Karen Strohm Kitchener & Patricia King).

Chickering’s Vectors — Education & Identity. Arthur Chickering & Linda Reisser. Jossey-Bass, 1993.

Pascarella & Terenzini — How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research. Jossey-Bass, 2005.

FYE Programs

FYE Programs take many forms and can include many components. No two campuses approach the task of helping students transition to college in exactly the same way.

Summer Bridge Programs

San Diego City College

Peer Mentors

San Diego City College

Student Success Workshops & Classes

COS, CDL & LDS Courses: Monroe Community College

Student Success Conference: Delaware County Community College*

First Year Seminars & Learning Communities

Northern Virginia Community College

Learning Communities: Kapi’Olani Community College

Study Abroad Programs

FYSAE: Arcadia College

First-Year Experience Abroad: College of Charleston

Service Learning Programs

First Year Experience Service Learning Program: El Camino College

Common Reading Programs

Freshman Common Reading: Cal State Northridge

First-Year Experience Common Reading: LaGuardia Community College

Undergraduate Research Experiences

First-Year Research Experience: UMass-Amherst

Research Experiences in Biology: Franklin & Marshall College

Creative Library/FYE Partnerships

The First Year Papers — Trinity College

How Institutional Repositories Provide a Digital Compliment to the First-Year Experience. A presentation by Erin Passehl & Valerie Bagley, Western Oregon University at Online Northwest, 2012

Outreach to Parents

The Parents’ Lounge – Brigham Young University (PDF)

Parent Guide to the William Hannon Library – LMU

Some Things Parents Should Know about Armacost Library — Redlands

Embedding library information in FYE outreach materials for parents – SMU

Assignments and Learning Activities

Untold Stories: History of People of Color in Oregon.   Oregon State University.  With the help of archivist Natalia Fernandez from the OSU Libraries, students in this first-year seminar created a walking guide to the OSU campus, featuring notable locations and students.

Uncovering OSU Research. A Google Map project designed to help students visualize the knowledge creation happening around them at a research university.

University of Oregon – Documenting the First-Year Experience project.  Every year one of UO’s first-year seminar classes undertakes this project.

Cephalonian method – University of Cardiff

This is not part 2 of a post about MOOCs

So, we left off with the idea that a lot of energy in library instruction still goes to skills-based teaching focused on specific assignments and projects. 

Part 1 is here.

Today I want to develop out the idea a little further that the pressures (resource and otherwise) we’re feeling might make it difficult to continue spending this energy at the same levels.  And then I want to take it further and examine some of the reasons why the MOOC format intrigues me on its own terms.

Most academic libraries are trying to do more with less, whether less means human resources or other types of resources.

This has been true for a long time, but in many ways it’s more a more intense problem now.  Whether we’re dealing with layoffs and furloughs, or a student body that’s exploding in size without a similar explosion in resources, we’re all dealing with this situation, I think.

Here’s our situation here.  This:

Next year’s higher ed state funding levels in Oregon

Plus this:

(Especially note the growth rate during the period after the economy tanked)

To put it in specific library-instruction terms, WR 121 is our FYC class (plus also the only course required of all OSU students).  That’s where we try to meet every student with library instruction.  In the almost-10 years I’ve been here, the number of sections of WR 121 per term has grown from about 25 to about 40, give or take a few. At the same time, we have concentrated teaching (and engagement initiatives) in a department with 7 librarians, who also do other things that aren’t teaching classes. So that math is obvious, WR 121 hasn’t yet, but could easily go from one thing we do into the only thing we can do.

There is new cool stuff we teaching librarians want to do, and it’s usually resource-intensive and won’t reach all of our students.

And this the reason why that’s important.  There are things we want to do, and most of the time they’re not going to reach everyone and they’re going to take time, effort, people and sometimes money.  It could be pushing our teaching into new areas that reflect new areas of our expertise: courses or workshops focusing on things like data management, or graphic novels, or text mining.  Some librarians are teaching J-term or intersession courses, or . First-Year experience courses or seminars.  Or maybe you’re interested in pursuing new models for collaboration, or creative credentialing, or the latest pedagogical craze?

Meaningful assessment can be incredibly resource-intensive.  So many people I know are interested in pursuing complex projects like lesson study, or ethnography,or rubric development, but concerned about the resource investment they require.

And we’ve also had a number of wonderful contributions to our body of literature about pedagogy in the last few years — giving us new theoretical frameworks that push us to go deeper and more authentic in our teaching. All of this takes effort, resources, and time — time to do the teaching and also time to make it happen.

The people who are taking, and finishing, MOOCs are mostly not current students — they’re people looking for professional development.

I am pretty sure that this isn’t controversial. The fact that people who actually finish MOOCs mostly already have college degrees, and are taking courses for professional development or lifelong learning, is borne out by the numbers again and again. I did some quick searching for blogs and tumblrs including the phrase “Coursera Junkie” or “I took a MOOC” and (once you filter out all of the reporters and education professionals who took their courses for professional reasons) the anecdata also bears this out.

An instructor reporting on her students’ motivation for taking her class:

I am a college graduate, having finished my last undergraduate finals the previous week. I intend to continue learning, to avoid falling into the malaise that often grips people in the years after they “finish” their education – if we accept that education can really be finished.

This person takes a more results-oriented approach to the same kind lifelong learning message, thinking about how to fit this kind of learning in throughout her professional career: “If I can learn the theory from taking MOOCs and apply what I’ve learned through experience, I see no reason why I cannot continue this cycle with programs relevant at the various stages in my career.

Or there’s this take – which recognizes a lot of the pedagogical limitations in existing courses, but says we shouldn’t be so quick to judge – “Because as much as we need to be proponents of engagement and intentional educational practices, we also need to be proponents of lifelong learning and continued education.

Knowing how to go out and get trained on new things when you see you have gaps is an important skill, and one that we’re increasingly expected to do independently.

So here’s where I go beyond the idea that some of the things we’re doing are hard to sustain and into areas where I think the MOOC format (again, don’t care what we call it) has some features worth exploring for their own sake.

Let’s go back to the stories research I mentioned in part 1.  There were situations where our subjects were more optimistic about the one-shot, and those situations are also worth considering.  The most striking category here were classes (usually upper-division) in subjects where there was some research tool or information source that is absolutely essential for professionals in the field.  Librarians teaching one-shots in that context reported that students were interested, engaged and immediately able to understand the connection between the tool and their goals.

This is one reason why I frequently think the best one-shots (or drop-in workshops, for where that’s relevant) are more similar to professional training than they are to classroom teaching.  One thing that struck be about those stories were the extent to which students in those classes were doing the same type of learning they would likely need to do to stay informed in current when they left school, on the job.  When the software they were learning in this library session changed, or is replaced by something else, they’ll be in a workshop or seminar or webinar to learn it on the job. 

And I think we all feel that we’re all expected to be more independent with our professional development training.  With the increased availability of webinars, webcasts, even YouTube videos – we’re expected (and we expect ourselves) to learn how to get the information we need to be successful for ourselves.  

But here’s the thing – I think this is particularly important for our students today.  When I was in college, I went to a school with a large and successful undergraduate business curriculum so even though I wasn’t expecting to go into a traditional job right away, I knew lots of people who were and I know what normal expectations looked like then.  They would talk about getting internships and practica, so they could get an entry level, corporate job where they would 1. get trained on the tools and processes they needed in that specific environment and 2. get their eventual M.B.A. paid for.  The school would talk to students about understanding the theory and concepts of the workplace, more than individual software packages and tools because “they’ll train you on that when you get there.”

Now, I’m not saying that my friends on that track believed that they would work at the same place forever, but I can tell you that the level of investment a company was known for putting into its employees was definitely something they considered when they took a job.  Now, I’m not sure that would be a very sensible way to think about it, because I think investing in employees is getting rarer and rarer. That’s probably not even a controversial statement – that bastion of radicalism, The Wall Street Journal, agrees with me:

To get America’s job engine revving again, companies need to stop pinning so much of the blame on our nation’s education system. They need to drop the idea of finding perfect candidates and look for people who could do the job with a bit of training and practice. 

Or at least, you know, one WSJ blogger agrees with me.

I’ll tell you when i see articles and presentations explaining how “these kids today don’t want the same job for 5 years, they’ll jump ship in a heartbeat” — my first reaction is to think that these kids today are willing to show exactly the same loyalty as they’re being shown, which seems like a pretty rational response to me.   

So, in a context where you can’t rely on your employer to train you, to orient you, to help you stay current and informed – then the person who is going to be successful and powerful is going to be the person who knows how to do those things for themselves.  If MOOCs are going to be part of the professional development landscape, and even if that specific format is not, I think that it makes sense to start thinking about how we can help students learn to find those courses, those workshops and those webinars that will help them get ahead.  

Other things about MOOCs that intrigue me when I think about them as an alternative to oneshots or tutorials

There’s also something specific about the MOOC format, at least as it exists now, that I think fits in here and provides another way to think about research instruction and the practice of research.

One dream I’ve always had is a dream of a college campus environment where peers helping peers, students helping students, is part of the culture.  This has always seemed like a pipe dream, though, because most students don’t seem to consider research something that they would ask for help on, at least from anyone but their instructor — when they’re good at it they don’t think much of it, and don’t think it’s worth sharing, and when they’re inexperienced at it they don’t want anyone to know.  

(Obligatory caveat – obviously not all students, etc. etc.)

But one thing I’ve noticed is that things like discussion forums, and other interactive online spaces are places where people go for help when they need it in the real world – and it’s frequently where they go with software or interface or tool-related questions.  They don’t do it with our tools, though, and I think that’s a gap.  Now MOOCs, as they exist now, aren’t great at the discussion forum part either, I think.  In a fairly pointed critique of the pedagogy of MOOC’s, Ann Kirschner focuses on the lack of peer-to-peer learning, 

If you believe the sage’s advice that we learn much from our teachers and colleagues but most of all from our students, MOOC’s will be far more effective when we are able to learn from one another.

Now, I suspect discussions in MOOCs are way too big for many people to feel comfortable in the forums, and that there are a lot of people like me who just haven’t felt the need to go there.  The idea that there’s a culture where you have some responsibility to participate in discussions is clearly not universal.  But still, the opportunity exists for students to help each other — and for the ones that do go to the forums, I would imagine help from peers happens more quickly and reliably than help from instructors.

This is why the idea of an institution creating and monitoring its own discussion spaces within the MOOC is so intriguing to me.  Think about it, if you had a combination of students taking it (or parts of it) — some from classes where the professors didn’t want to give up class time for a research unit, some from programs that decide to require it, some go-getter (or scared) new students who want to give themselves the best chance to succeed, and maybe even some prospective students who are just. so. excited. to start — and then you created a discussion forum for those students to get together and discuss an then a few of them even ventured out into the larger forums and found people working on similar research from across the country and a few of the faculty members got in and participated and saw the kinds of questions their students had?  Well, that seems like something worth trying for.  

(And even if you didn’t have the capacity or desire to do any of that, you’d still have something more flexible and useful than a full-on process tutorial, and more efficient than the same content in 52 one-shots)

See, Project Information Literacy tells us that other-people information literacy is something we are decidedly NOT teaching (or at least they’re not learning it): 

Employers we interviewed said college hires had more trouble with team communication strategies than with any other single aspect of the research process. Some employers explained that college hires simply overlooked the social capital team members, in particular, could bring to framing research questions and posing problems. Others said these new recruits thought of research as a task that was not conducive to collaboration. Instead, they simply wanted to “go to Point A and then march all alone to Point B.”

I think one-shots, at least the one-shots that are totally tied to a single assignments, create challenges when it comes to transfer — I think students have a hard time thinking about how to transfer the skills that help them meet the specific requirements of their COMM 100 class when they’re faced with different requirements, or even weirder, with non school expectations.  I think we could do a lot more to build a culture of peer support for research.  I’m intrigued by the possibility of a format that might, for some students at least, approach these same ideas in a different way.

 

This is not part 1 of a post about MOOCs

Nope, not at all. Not even a little bit.  Maybe. Maybe a little bit.

But here’s what I’ve found – when you bring up the term, even if it is just to say, “I think this one specific thing is interesting about MOOCs,” what you’ll get is, “let me share My Opinion About MOOCs and not engage with that one thing or anything else you said at all.”

Anyway, obligatory caveats — I don’t think MOOC’s are probably radical (in pedagogy or platform) — and if there was a radical aspect, how they are in practice or how most people talk about them has entirely diluted that. I don’t think most of the discourse about them is very sensible. I do think there are important critiques. I do think that the immediate “how can they be monetized” narrative points to some broader problems with how we think about education, and I think that the idea that they could “replace college” reflects some broader structural inequalities in our culture and is based on a pretty impoverished understanding of what “college” is and how it functions in our society.

So why do I want to talk about them? Well, it comes down to an issue that has been a part of library instruction discourse since long before I became a librarian – the sharing issue.  As in, we share so well in libraries, but it’s all about stuff, how can we share beyond our stuff?  Also known as the reinventing the wheel issue in library instruction — we spend a lot of time reinventing wheels that have already been invented.

The thoughts I’m trying to make coherent on this one are these:

  • Teaching librarians have never gotten to where we want to be with sharing – instructional talent, resources or materials.
  • We’re not satisfied with one-shots, most of the time.
  • We all spend a lot of time teaching skills-level stuff (how to navigate tools, understand academic information workflows, how to work around bad interfaces) and there are students who need (or want) those skills.
  • Much of our assessment is basic and skills-based too, in our asynchronous tutorials and in our one-shot sessions.
  • Most academic libraries are trying to do more with less, whether less means human resources or other types of resources.
  • There is new cool stuff we teaching librarians want to do, and it’s usually resource-intensive and won’t reach all of our students.
  • Knowing how to go out and get trained on new things when you see you have gaps is an important skill, and one that we’re increasingly expected to do independently.

I’m going to start with the first four.

My big question is this – does the MOOC format which (as I’ve said) is not particularly radical or disruptive, offer an opportunity to librarians to think about teaching collaboratively, or sharing our teaching strength, in a new way?

I’m taking a MOOC right now – a refresher on statistics — and I’m definitely struck by how non-transformative the delivery is. We’re talking about talking head videos, broken up by multiple choice quizzes. There are labs which have you doing hands-on work with a particular piece of software. This is followed by a weekly assignment that’s just a more robust quiz that allows for freely written answers. The videos are short, high-quality and watchable, but if the professor is a “super-professor” I’m pretty sure it’s because of all of the other things he does to connect with and help students on the face-to-face campus than it is because he’s a superstar lecturer.

(Competent but not a superstar at the lecturing, is what I’m saying)

20131006-215258.jpgI suspect the difference between this class and a million and one other canned online courses that have existed in the world is found in the discussion forums. For me, though, the class hasn’t progressed to the point yet where I feel like I need to visit the forums. Everything so far is pretty straightforward and clear. Given the reasons people gave for starting it, I would guess that I am far from alone in that. The class does take the openness aspect of MOOC fairly seriously. The resources provided are all open, and while the professor did point us to a paywalled article from Science, the article is where it is. Most notably, the software being taught is open and widely available – a decision that I am certain was deliberate.

Anyway, the point is that nothing I’ve read about MOOCs suggests that this is an unusual experience – from the reasons I have for taking the course, to the structure and delivery of it, to the uneven participation on the forums — this all sounds about right.

I’ve never heard of a multi-institution MOOC, and I will admit to not going beyond cursory Googling to find one. I have seen evidence of non-college-related MOOC content, but I haven’t seen any examples of higher education institutions. collaborating to deliver a course. I don’t see any reason, however, why that wouldn’t work — and indeed — why it might not be better. Obviously, if you’re interested in replacing or replicating credit courses then that becomes more complicated, but that’s part of the beauty of library instruction. Most of us don’t do for-credit instruction, and even if we do, it’s only a fraction of what we do. Most of our teaching falls outside of university credit or tuition structures. We can be creative when we think about delivery, credentialing and cooperation. I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t share in this way (besides the ways it would be challenging).

So what if there were a topic per week, clearly marked so someone could do them all or pick and choose, with high- quality video lectures and related resources and assessments? The ability to take quizzes for assessment, or for self-regulation, would be built in. A resource page listing participating schools and pointing towards tutorials or handouts that outline local processes could be provided. Libraries could monitor local cohort discussion boards, host meet-ups of people taking the course, or just point faculty to the lectures, resources and quizzes for specific topics — their level of involvement could be whatever they could support.

Is this a crazy idea? It doesn’t need to be called a MOOC – it was just the discussion forum/ local cohort, shared resources aspects of the MOOC that made me think about it.

The plot does come from somewhere, though, and it starts with years of people asking me instruction librarians don’t, or can’t, share their stuff better.

Teaching librarians have never gotten to where we want to be with sharing – instructional talent, resources or materials.

I’ve written about this before.  A lot. Most of our efforts about sharing to this point have focused on building and sharing asynchronous online teaching tools like tutorials — repositories like ANTS, databases like PRIMO or sharable tutorials like TILT.

While all of these efforts have been successful in different ways, none of them have taken the question of “why don’t we share more” question off the table. We have a long history of consortial involvement here in the Pacific Northwest, and since my first days as an instruction coordinator, the Alliance has been asking (in general, not asking me specifically) how we can extend that spirit of sharing to our public services, especially instruction.

Real sharing, where we don’t adapt, customize and tweak to make it look like we made it at home, will take a cultural shift — but there are a couple of reasons why I think that it might be a good time to think about it in a new way. First, there are some real reasons why the tutorial/ learning module repository is problematic. We’re not the only ones to find it so – and we’re not the only ones who have tried it. Hannah and I outlined a lot of the reasons why in our paper, but tl;dr – cultural, technological and individual workflow issues all work against the idea of a robust, user-populated repository.

Secondly, I think the conversation right now about what our students’ gaps are and what they really need is more robust — which makes sense because we’ve got decades of embedding IL, thinking about IL, and teaching IL to draw upon now. From Barbara Fister’s case against the undergraduate research paper, to Amy Mark’s deconstruction of the “use peer reviewed articles” requirement, to Threshold Concepts, the common thread in a lot of this critique is — our students may not know the mechanics of research, but their true gaps are deeper and more complicated than that.

Does this make sense? I’m not saying our students don’t need to now how to find the full text, or search for a known item, or even how to do more complicated things like identify keywords — I’m saying that for a lot of them (not all of them, but a lot of them) knowing those things won’t help because they have deeper gaps in understanding — gaps that will take more teaching to fill, not less. So we need to figure out what we’re okay shifting to a more collaborative platform to free up time for this work. I’m going to pick this idea up a little further in part 2.

Most of us are dissatisfied with one-shots, a lot of the time

We all spend a lot of time teaching skills-level stuff (how to navigate tools, understand academic information workflows, how to work around bad interfaces) and there are students who need those skills.

Many of my thoughts about one-shots come from some research Kate and I did a few years ago. We asked teaching librarians to share practice stories, coded and analyzed those stories and then did much more in-depth interviews with about 20 of librarians who shared them.  I want to emphasize that pretty universally, these were not cynical, jaded or otherwise negatively-focused teaching librarians. They were passionate, committed, capable of drawing great joy from their work teaching librarians. We presented on this research at different steps along the way, and between those conversations and the data we gathered I am pretty sure that the conclusions we drew are likely and they both point to these issues.

Anyway, the overwhelming conclusion from both rounds of data was that the pieces of teaching librarianship that gave most people the most satisfaction were those things that happened outside of the boundaries of the one-shot.  And because they were situations where librarians got to follow up, assess, give feedback — I don’t think the anonymous tutorial would fit the bill either. These were all situations where librarians got to engage with students about the process of research on a process level, even if it was just to see and share in the celebration of the final product of that research.  Some of these situations started with a one-shot or two, but they extended beyond it.

some rights reserved by fouro (flickr)

On the other hand, situations where librarians felt powerless or frustrated, where they questioned their own impact, or felt otherwise Sisyphean usually focused on the one-shot.  And it’s that wheels-spinning aspect of the stories that I wanted to focus on here.  The one-shot conversations and stories were largely about the frustration inherent in teaching the same basic skills repeatedly, without the ability to find out see a broader impact on broader goals like critical thinking or lifelong learning.

I think we’ve all experienced classes where we planned for something broad and conceptual, but got bogged down in the details of finding full text or figuring out why the discovery layer keeps serving up broken links. Or workshops where we planed to wow a graduate class with Zotero and instead fell into a “what are databases” rabbit hole. Or, on the other side of things, we’ve had the classes where students got really interested in a meatier question, we had a great discussion but at the end of our 45 minutes, we knew that they still didn’t know how to find the full text (even if they didn’t know that yet).

We know that learning to navigate local systems is important, that many students need instruction in the skills, that some of our workflows are not intuitive and strange, and that some of our interfaces are super terrible and our users need workarounds. Some of our students have missed out on basic research instruction coming in, and that we also need to provide resources for the others who are just the opposite – the students who already “get” libraries and know they need to learn this one. I’m reminded of this every fall when I get the emails and go to the outreach events and talk to the students who just want to learn everything about their new environment.

So how to strike that balance – to provide the resources for students who want to get ahead, and for those who need to catch up before they’re left behind, while still saving ourselves the time, energy, and resources we need to do the other things we want to do?

Much of our assessment is basic and skills-based too, especially in our online tutorials and in our one-shot sessions.

So Hannah and I actually did some surveys about tutorial creation in academic libraries. While we were focusing on the sharing issue, one thing we asked was about assessment and interactivity. Our data reinforced a concept found elsewhere – that academic library tutorials aren’t very interactive, and such interactivity that exists pretty much takes the form of simple quizzes.

I don’t have data on one-shot assessment at my fingertips, but I know that we all know there are significant, structural issues that come up when we try to assess those meaningfully. The most important of these issues is the fact that the only time that most of us can control our assessment is immediately after the session and that’s not a great time to do it. At best, we find out what they feel about their skills immediately after practicing them in the relatively safe and controlled atmosphere of the library classroom. What happens when they go out to do the actual research they need to do, is another ball game altogether.

Not a Conclusion, but the End of the Middle
So the issue here is that a lot of the things we do in library instruction wouldn’t tax the relatively limited scope of teaching that a MOOC is equipped to support. And that while a lot of the things we do are important, and necessary, they’re not all we think we should be doing.

Tomorrow, I’m going to broaden out a little bit and talk about context — why this is a time when we need to think about shifting what we do now to be able to do more.

From the archives: control freaks

I was remiss in suggesting that the content from Command-f might be gone – Caleb would not let that happen.

This post, however, is one that I have actually gone back to a number of times.  Mostly because I am lazy and it was an easy way to get back to the journal article I was discussing.

But also because of all of the thinking and reading I’ve done over the years about anxiety and affect and how they play into the research process – in a pretty real way, that thinking started here.

Control Freaks

August 7, 2008 – 12:11 am by anne-marie

So I want to confess something about this paper I wrote in college.

See, I took this Constitutional Law class in the PoliSci department.  We had to analyze a hypothetical Supreme Court case and write up a legal opinion just like we were Justices.  For this class we used an actual law school Con Law casebook for our textbook – and most of the pieces of the hypothetical situation we were supposed to rule on in this paper we could argue from the cases included in the book.  Most, but not all.

Students treated it as kind of a weed-out course for pre-law types.  With a zillion law schools out there, it couldn’t actually weed anyone out but it was still all very Paper Chase.  So there was some self-imposed pressure to do well on this paper to keep your dream of working 80 hour weeks to make partner alive.

So here’s my confession.  I can totally think like a lawyer.  I got an A- on that paper — but that’s not the confession part.

The confession part is that I wrote the whole thing without ever going to the library.  My 20-page argument was entirely based on what I could get out of the casebook.  And the reason I’m telling you about the A- is this:  I totally, obviously, knew better. I knew that parts 1 and 3 were solid and that walking the four blocks to the law school was the only way I could possibly get what I needed to un-twist the tortured logic of part 2 and still, I wouldn’t go.

So what’s the point of this?  The point is that I’ve been hearing a little flurry lately of “how do we get these kids, these kids today, to use all the awesome stuff we have for them” conversations and I’ve been thinking about how it’s all so very complicated.  Way more complicated than “they want fast, they want easy, they’re Millennials dontcha know.”  It’s about so much more than technology – it’s about the discourse, and the scope and query, and even about affect or emotion.

Which is what I want to talk about a little bit today – that affective, emotional piece.  I think we librarians sometimes show a tendency to assume that our users actively don’t want to use the library, don’t want to talk to us, don’t want to use our stuff.  If we’re in a bad mood, we might assume that they’re deliberately voting thumbs down on us.  If we’re in a better mood, we thnk more that they just don’t know – don’t know what’s available, don’t know how to use it, don’t know why they should use it, don’t know how to recognize it.

I think it’s worth remembering that sometimes it’s not about us — not that that means there’s nothing we can, or should, do about it.  At root, though, not about us.

There’s an article from a few months ago – in the Journal of Academic Librarianship* – looking at how some of these emotional, affective factors relate to how students perceive and use information sources.  It considers how students feel about themselves and their problem-solving — how well they do it, if they like to do it.  And even beyond that – how they understand their ability TO solve problems – if they feel in control of their feelings about it and their behaviors.

So, what did they find?

Confidence is key — confidence connects to users’ perceptions about the quality of information sources, how comprehensive, useful or even interesting they think the sources are.  Basically, users who don’t feel confident in their own problem-solving abilities are more likely to perceive a source as boring, sketchy, or not useful.  They are more likely to perceive a tool like a library catalog or database as useless than their peers with higher confidence levels do.

The researchers also examined how these students perceived their own willingness to engage in problem-solving in the first place  This factor – the approach/avoidance style – turns out to relate to how accessible students perceive information sources to be.  Users with high avoidance, who avoid problem-solving activities, perceive inforamtion sources as less accessible than their peers with low avoidance.  Isn’t that interesting?

In other words, approaching this from the perspective of “how do we get them to use our stuff,” it’d be really easy to write these students off as the worst stereotype of millennials or net gens.  After all, it’s true that these students probably don’t have great things to say about our stuff — if they lack confidence, they doubt journal articles and criticize library catalogs.  If they are highly avoidant, then they think our stuff is really hard to get.

And they probably say so.  If they talk to us at all, they probably tell us that the journal article is no good because it’s not about the pros AND the cons of gun control.  They probably tell us that the database has nothing on their topic.  But the interesting thing about this research is — that these affective characteristics apply to way more than just library stuff.  On that emotional level, these students aren’t drawing a “library stuff bad/ internet stuff good” distinction.

Students who lack confidence are also more likely to be skeptical of web sources, and they are more likely to have problems with how search engines work.  Highly avoidant students even characterize information from friends and family (friends and family!) as less accessible than their low-avoidance peers do.  It’s about them, not us – except to the extent that understanding them will help us reach/teach them.

So that’s all fascinating to think about, but the factor I found the most interesting was the users’ perception their own control.  This was the only factor that significantly affected how a student chose their sources.  The more out of control a student feels, the more likely they are to choose sources based on how easy those sources are to use, or how familiar those sources are.  “Accuracy” comes down below “easy” and “familiar” to these users.

Now this is a little bit about us, in that classic library anxiety way – if the environment is unfamliliar or intimidating (virtual or face to face) the user will tend to favor what they are familiar with before trying something new.  But it’s a slightly different way of thinking about it – at least of thinking about the solution.  Instead of thinking of ways to make the library friendlier, or the librarians more approachable or accessible, or the online interfaces more google-like and familiar, this way of thinking about the question suggests that we should be thinking of ways to put the users back in control.  To let them define their own questions, their own stories and their own interactions.

But it goes beyond library anxiety as well, because a user can feel out of control of the situation, even when the do know what it is they need to do, and even how to do it.  This is especially significant for students, I think, who ARE out of control when it comes to a lot of their information needs.  They don’t have control over their tasks, their timelines or even their conditions for success.

And its not just students.  Lots of people who come to us with information needs are out of control of something in their lives – they have problems, they need information – at that moment they are almost inherently out of control of something.  The search for information is in itself a desire to assert some control over whatever that problem-solving situation is.

This control question made me think of another study, one that Kate and I used to better understand some pieces of the virtual or IM reference transaction.**  In this study, the researchers found that flexible forms of communication that can be both synchronous or asynchronous are attractive to teens when they are trying to talk about emotional topics because they allow the teens to assert a lot of control.  They can control the pace and duration of the conversation, and even the identity they choose to present within the conversation.

I have no idea if this research really applies to IM reference – which usually isn’t all that emotional – but I think there’s a good chance that it does.  It seems logical to me that library users, feeling out of control and vulnerable because there is information they lack, would be attracted to a communication style that allows them to assert some control over how they get help?  I find this just as plausible than the more common interpretation I hear, that they choose IM because they’re in a hurry and they have no time and they want someone to just give them the information they want.

Not that I would have IM’ed those librarians at the law library at Penn.  I totally knew how to use the systems, and where the stuff I needed was in the building.  But back in the 1980’s, there was a definite sense that the law school did not really want the undergraduates anywhere near their library.  They had restricted hours, they had a we’re only letting you in at all because we have to attitude.  And asserting some control over my own process, I decided not to deal with that.  So yes, some of that emotional, affective response I had had something to do with the library.

But some did not.  Some was about taking control of: my timeline, my scope, the amount of energy I spent and how I balanced that project with all the others.  Some was about taking control of the project – I was most interested in part 3, and wanted to spend my time there.  And on some level, it was taking control of the outcome – defining my own conditions for success.

Which is where these two studies, and these ideas, connect in my head. On the one hand, the idea that it’s not about me or about my library.  That sometimes our users are dealing with a lot of stuff that has nothing directly to do with us – so there’s no need to take their frustration personally.  On the other hand, that we can do some things to let our users control their stories, their questions, and their interactions with us and with our resources.  And in so doing, alleviate some of those frustrations.  Here I’m fuzzy on the details, yes.  But I think we have been and will be talking about them around here.

________

*Kyung-Sun Kim and Sei-Ching Joanna Sin (December 2007), Perception and selection of information sources by undergraduate students: Effects of avoidant style, confidence and personal control in problem-solving.  Journal of Academic Librarianship, 33:6, 655-665.

**Dominic E. Madell and Steven J. Muncer (2007), Control over social interactions: An important reason for young people’s use of the Internet and mobile phones for communication, CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10:1, 137-140.