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Libraries Out Loud: New Narratives of Enduring Values

We live in interesting times. From experts, pundits, and next-door neighbors, we hear that the future of academic libraries is uncertain, that the future of higher education itself is uncertain, and that libraries in general are in crisis. Faced with this narrative, it is tempting to change who we are and what we do in order to remain relevant, and to demonstrate our value to our schools and communities.

We must realize, however, that it is precisely who we are – and who we have always been – that makes us even more relevant and valuable in the face of changing times. We are committed to creating informed, literate citizens; to advocating for free speech and access to knowledge; and to creating spaces where intellectual curiosity and individual expression are welcomed and fostered. Our tools, techniques, and buildings may have changed, but our core identity remains – and remains vital to our communities. We must not change who we are; we need only change how we communicate our value.

Join us for two days of conversation about the value and importance of academic libraries in these interesting times. You’ll leave energized, inspired, and with some good ideas about new ways to share your library’s story.

What I will be doing at the end of October

So this summer has been all kinds of crowded in terms of my schedule, but one of the best pieces has been working with the executive board of the Oregon chapter of ACRL to plan the fall conference we host every other year (trading off with our friends in ACRL-WA).

Things are finally coming together (largely because the Board is just an awesome group of people to work with) and I’m getting so excited for the final result.

We have a title!  Libraries Out Loud: New Narratives of Enduring Change

We are going to have exciting, thought-provoking keynote addresses by Barbara Fister and Char Booth.

(Two people who, if you asked me “name 10 people you would choose to provoke your thoughts” would totally be right up at the top half of the list).

Local copyright maven Rachel Bridgewater is going to lead everyone in a meaty, substantive discussion and activity about the Code for Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries, and we’re going to be (virtually) joined in that by the people from ARL and the Center for Social Media who put that document together).

There will be poster sessions, and lightning talks and a party- and it all happens in one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Columbia River Gorge.

October 25-26, 2012.  Registration opens soon!

View over the Columbia River

(Photo by flickr user Nietnagel)

If you don’t use peer-reviewed sources you’ll be SO grounded!

I have more writing to do right now than I have time, so it has of course become vitally important to write this blog post that has been buzzing at the back of my brain RIGHT NOW.

My life as a parent isn’t a big topic of conversation on this blog, but a little background is needed here.  One of the reasons I don’t talk much about my family in this space is because one of the complexities of adoption is learning how to talk about your experiences while respecting the fact that your child has her own story and her own experiences and only she gets to decide when and where and how to share that story.  Part of this journey is her story alone, part of it is ours.  And some of it is mine and Shaun’s – and this post is coming from that part.

So one of the things that happens when you navigate the adoption process is that you take way more classes and trainings about parenting than you probably otherwise would.  Some of these are to really learn things and some are to show how interested and committed you are to being a good parent.

This wasn’t an awful thing – if you’re like me (and like Shaun) you can find something to chew on in almost any class and these classes were full of enough brain development data and learning theory and interesting personalities that even when the classes didn’t totally work, the after-class conversations were pretty awesome.

Still, two almost identical Love and Logic classes was a lot, even for us.  Like many self-help-y or how-to-y type things that develop huge and devoted followings – L&L is based on some fairly simple ideas which are then applied in many ways.  In parenting-class world that means many, many sessions reinforcing the same basic concepts.  In taking-the-same-class-twice parenting class world, well…. this is a long intro to explain why my brain has had many hours to connect those simple concepts to many things.

milk spilled on a wood laminate countertopSo the basic premise of love and logic is grounded in the idea of natural consequences (and empathy, but this post is really more about the natural consequences part).

In other words, the idea is that kids learn best when they have to face the authentic, real, organic consequences of their choices.  Artificial consequences that aren’t connected to the choice the kid made (most routine punishments fit in this category — taking away TV privileges for breaking a window = consequences that are probably unrelated to the bad choice) just seem arbitrary and capricious and the kid ends up blaming you (or whoever imposed the consequence) instead of their own bad choices — which does nothing to teach them not to make bad choices in the first place.

Here’s the basic L&L mantra:

  1. Give your child a task you know they can handle.
  2. Hope they mess up.*
  3. Let empathy + natural consequences do the teaching.
  4. When the opportunity arises let them try again.

*Note:  the debater in me never came to terms with the “hope they mess up” part.  There were parents in my classes who really hated this line and who also hadn’t quite grasped the “learning comes from mistakes” piece.  I did grasp that part – that’s the part of this I like — but that doesn’t mean you have to actively hope they mess up.  I mean, take it to its logical conclusion.  If my kid never, ever, ever messes up — there’s no bad outcome.  Yes, they may not have learned from mistakes, but those mistakes also never happened so she either learned some other way or didn’t need that learning.  So I debate-proved to myself that I don’t have to actively hope she makes mistakes, I just have to be sure I see the value when she does.**

**Second Note: Seriously, we spent NINETY minutes on this concept in one class session.  It is not my fault I thought about it this much.

Like many of the simple ideas that turn into Something Big, this is a fairly compelling argument.  This was one of the pieces of Love and Logic that worked for me pretty well, which isn’t to say it all did – I have some real problems with some of the other concepts connected to this that I can go on about at length, but won’t here.

And while natural consequences is a L&L cornerstone, it’s by no means limited to that set of books and workshops — this is a concept with legs, that comes up over and over, generally as part of a larger idea that lecturing doesn’t work.

And I’ve been thinking about it in terms of library instruction.  And not just because we have an knee-jerk anti-lecture response at this point too.

I’ve been thinking about it because I think it highlights that we spend a LOT of our time “lecturing” – even if we do it with clickers.  Because lecturing in this context doesn’t mean just “talking,” “broadcasting” or other words that essentially mean “one-way communication” — which is generally what we mean by “lecturing” in the classroom context.

No, in this context, “lecturing” means explaining the consequences of bad choices instead of demonstrating them.  And I think we do that a lot.

Not in the steps — we do a good job of letting our students discover the consequences of choosing the wrong database, or choosing the wrong search terms — within the parameters we set up and the assumptions we’re making about what they need to know we have developed lots of ways to help them discover and learn for themselves.

No, I’m talking about in the big picture — in the WHY should they do these things at all part — that’s where we’re lecturing.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen someone raise this type of question on ILI-L –

“how can I convince my students that they really need to be using these sources?”

or

“how can I convince my students that there will be consequences if they don’t cite properly?”

And what’s the subtext here?  It’s — how can I convince my students not to make mistakes?

Because here’s the thing — our teaching in libraries is more similar to the type of teaching parents do than I ever thought it was.  Yes, parents can impose plenty of consequences themselves on the day to day level —  “no tv until you finish your homework” but the ultimate goal for most parents goes beyond finishing the homework tonight – they’re looking to raise up kids who can learn stuff, and who are organized to get stuff done and who can go off to college or out into the world and meet deadlines and achieve goals, and am I right?

And library instructors can impose some consequences when the students are actually in the library class – that’s basic classroom management stuff.  Yes, some are better at it than others and we never have the power that the grade book or the parental relationship gives – but we are in a position of some power in that context.  But that in-class power, that’s not the real goal.  We’re looking to teach skills and concepts that students can take with them out in to the “real world” and use to be successful and get stuff done — just like parents.

And this is also a reason why it’s not like regular classroom teaching.  The regular classroom has a more immediate set of primary goals than lifelong learning.  Yes, I suspect that many, many teachers have life long learning as a goal — I certainly did when I taught history.  But the fact that that was a primary goal for me was also a big reason why I stopped teaching history and went into libraries.

I expect that most teachers would prefer that their students cite sources properly in all of their classes. They have a commitment to producing good students in the major, and good graduates of the institution, but that doesn’t have to be their primary goal in a classroom interaction.  In my own class, I can say “two points off your grade for every MLA formatting mistake” and then I can MAKE THAT BE TRUE.*  I might hope that the impact of that is that they use MLA perfectly in their next class, but mainly, I don’t want to struggle through improperly formatted citations in the papers I have to grade.

*Note:  I do not ever do this.

So what are we doing when we say “how can I convince my students…. “?  We’re talking about consequences that we have no control over — we’re talking about those life consequences.  We’re talking about all of those things that we know because we have more life experience (and more college experience) and if they would just LISTEN to us they could avoid those mistakes. But here’s the thing – I think maybe we should be letting those happen.

And I think this not just because I think it would be good for the learning — I also think this because of what it would mean for us.

Take First Year Student X – coming into OSU with a gaudy 4.0 GPA from a decent high school, has never had any trouble at all getting A’s on her research papers using her favorite library sources — books and the online Encyclopedia Britannica.  She’s never read an academic journal and she thinks of “peer review” as trading papers with a classmate and making comments.

How much energy do I have to spend to “convince” her that she needs to use peer-reviewed sources in her college research papers?

Alternatively, what happens if this highly motivated, intelligent student turns in a paper sourced from the encyclopedia, her textbook, and some 15 year old monographs from the library’s stacks?  Probably two options — she gets negative feedback on her sources by her instructor or she doesn’t.

if she does?  She’s going to learn from her mistakes. And I can help her get where she needs to be much more effectively. If she doesn’t – then no amount of energy spent by a librarian to convince her that she REALLY needs to use different sources will make a difference.

Now see my first extra note above and don’t get me wrong – I don’t actually want my students to make mistakes. I would prefer they make the choices I would prefer they make. I think using a variety of interesting sources, including those that represent more than opinion or anecdote, is important and I want students to do that. I’m all for giving those students who are ready to learn to do things in a new way the information they need to do so.  What I am saying is that I think we’re spending a lot of energy in library instruction trying to ensure that all of our students won’t make mistakes when they do research — and that that’s counterproductive.

See, the thing that is the same about parenting is this – it makes a lot of sense to choose those places where your energy is best spent – and it’s just rarely best spent trying to convince your kid that consequences exist when he has never experienced them for himself.  To do this, you have to do a lot of thinking for him and spend a lot of time imposing rules and consequences he’s going to think are arbitrary.  And if you’re going to do that, shouldn’t you wait for a real life-or-death health and safety issue?  Especially when it is so much easier and so much more authentic to convince him that consequences exist after he has experienced them.

And the thing that is different than parenting is this – with the slight exception of natural adult-related authority and good classroom management skills, for us the whole ballgame is what our students do with our teaching after they leave us – whether we’re talking about transcendent information literacy teaching that leads to powerful reflective thinkers and lifelong learners — or just about skills that they can apply to do well on that paper that’s due next week — success or failure for us is hardly ever about what happens when they are in a room with us.  Some of the teaching parents do really is about making life at home, life in the family, better – in library instruction it’s always about making something, somewhere else better.

So I think we need to re-think our relationship to that somewhere else – connect our focus as teachers to what they’re learning, naturally and authentically out there — and not try and teach in advance in the classroom those things that life will teach them better.  And if they’re not learning what they need to from natural consequences, from authentic feedback and meaningful responses to their work — then we need to be working on that level, with their teachers and employers and mentors.

Integrating Information Literacy into the First Year – Webcast links

Integrating Information Literacy into the First Year

July 23, 2012

Broader Context – Changes in Higher Education

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

High Impact Educational Practices (LEAP)

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

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

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

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

About FYE Programs

National Resource Center: First Year Experience and Students in Transition

Models

University of South Carolina

North Carolina State University

University of Oregon Freshman Interest Groups

Middlebury College First Year Seminars

Northern Virginia Community College

Examples of Articulated Information Literacy Outcomes in FY Programs

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

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

Oregon State University U-Engage courses

Other Collaboration Examples

First-Year Papers publication at Trinity College

Embedded Librarians at Marshall University

Learning Communities at IUPUI

Working with Parents

Why?

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

Models – web presence

News items/marketing

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

In-Person Events

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

Library Parents Lounge – Brigham Young University (PDF)

Collaborating with Advisors

Sharing Space

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

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

Faculty Training

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

Data

National Survey of Student Engagement

CIRP Freshman Survey

Higher Education Research Institute

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

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

St. Olaf College Committee on the First-Year Experience

Slippery Rock University – First Year Experience: Surveys & Assessments

Central Connecticut State University – Assessment and Research

Student Development Theory – Cognitive Models

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

Reflective Judgment Model – Patricia King and Karen Strohm Kitchener.

Share Expertise

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

Project Information Literacy

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

The iConnected Parent, Chapter 3

One thing that I maybe haven’t made clear is that this book isn’t intended to be an exhaustive treatment of this, or any, phenomenon — it’s a parenting book, designed to give advice to parents with kids heading off to college.

Some of my wishes for what might show up in these pages, therefore, should be read as unreasonable.

So, on to Chapter 3. Can College Kids Grow Up on an Electronic Tether?

This is the chapter that should be getting into where we might see connections between this research and the big body of student development research that exists out there.  The authors point out at start that there has been very little research on this specific phenomenon, but there is certainly a lot that we “know” about how students have developed in the past – and I am sure that research informed the present study.

Research question: What happens to the independence of college students who are in constant contact with their parents?

Method: To get at this question, they designed the surveys to also capture information about:

  • students’ psychological development
  • parental involvement in students’ lives
  • relationships between students and parents

The chapter starts by making with the argument that traditionally, students have been able to control the level of contact with parents, and parents have expected that the amount of contact they have with their offspring will go down. That separation from parents is essential for students to develop a mature relationship with their parents — if they stay too connected, then the dynamics that existed in high school won’t get a chance to change.

Most of this initial part is an exhortation for parents to let their students make their own decisions and their own mistakes. This is important not only for the students – who need to develop their own skills and to solve their own problems — but also for the parents.  It is only when the student develops autonomy that they are capable of seeing their parents as people – with with lives that aren’t entirely defined by their children.

Nothing here is cited, but it seems to be heavily informed by Arthur Chickering’s seven vectors of college student development.  Chickering’s revised third vector is called Moving through Autonomy toward Interdependence, and deals with the same issues of connectedness – and how the relationship between student and parent can improve and mature better when there is some autonomy, or separation.

In fact, Chickering’s initial model focused a great deal more on autonomy as leading to independence – it was in a relatively recent revision that he refined this category to recognize the ways that the relationships that students bring with them to college continue — and the ways that these relationships change.  Hence, interdependence. 

(Which I’ve always liked – I like the idea that one of the things we do in college is become capable of bringing more to our relationships – that we can become a source of support to people who have always supported us.)

So – then we move into a summary of results.  And the one-line summary?

…students who have the most frequent contact with their parents are less autonomous than other students.

Evidence? Those students are less likely to hit their benchmarks, according to the standard psychological tests that were embedded in the surveys.

Subtopics examined include: decision making, relationships, self-regulation and parental regulation

Photograph looking up at a college building against a blue sky with the words college of Business on it

some rights reserved by ucentralarkansas (flickr)

Decision Making — The focus in this section is on majors.  Parents are pushing “practical” majors where they can see an immediate employment benefit. Students are asking about other majors, and hearing they should change. At Michigan, only 2 students reported parents steering them away from econ or business, as opposed to many stories where the reverse was true. Of course, all parents aren’t the same – some were described as “not heavy handed” with their advice, others felt they needed to offer perspectives and warnings, even as they encouraged their children to follow their interests.

Student/Parent Relationships – Relationships are generally strong, but the researchers did find that those students who get called the most are more likely to have relationships with their parents that are “fraught” & marked by conflict.  Students who control the contact — who make the calls – report more positive feelings about their parents.  There are also students who are controlling the contact, but who are maybe calling too much – which the researchers describe as “trading independence for closeness.”

Self-Regulation & Parental Regulation — Students with good self regulation (what we might call “time management” and “study skills” in other contexts) get better grades AND report positive feelings about relationships with parents.  Students who reported high levels of parental regulation (parents taking responsibility for the timeliness and/or quality of the students’ work), on the other hand, reported negative outcomes.  Not surprisingly, those who scored high on the “parental regulation” scale also reported high levels of contact with parents.  They also reported MORE trouble with school.  So parental regulation doesn’t just hurt relationships – but in terms of academic success, it doesn’t work.

Conclusions & Advice for Parents

Not surprisingly – the main conclusion of this chapter is that parents need to back off and let their kids grow up.  This will have positive impacts not only on the students’ academic skills and success in college, but also leads to better parent/student relationships.

My reactions

From the start of the chapter, there’s the suggestion that there are two types of students here — those who want more independence, but find that college doesn’t really change anything in terms of the reminders and suggestions and direction they get on a daily basis from parents

AND those who maintain those lines of contact themselves – who actively resist the separation that the research suggests is necessary.

Probably not surprisingly, because of the “this is a guide for parents” nature of the book, the advice is heavily directed towards the first situation.  Parents, after all, can best control their own behavior and it makes sense that the book would focus on those situations where the parents’ behaviors are more problematic.

I was curious what advice they would have for parents who aren’t initiating the contact, but who have kids who are, as they say, sacrificing independence and development for contact.  How can parents diagnose a situation where their student might be relying on them too much?  What are the warning signs that your student is too dependent upon you? And then what do you do about it?  I hope this is addressed more in later chapters.

And the other thing  I found most striking from this chapter was the discussion of majors.  That’s something that I think we need to worry about – exploration is an important part of college and intellectual exploration is one of the most important kinds of exploration students do.  If that’s getting short-circuited, it needs to be addressed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, according to TechCrunch in 2010, Bill Gates thinks that by 2015, people won’t have to go away to college anymore because

Five years from now on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world…. It will be better than any single university.

Fast forward to this year and Harvard and MIT launch edX, designed to bring an interactive course experience to anyone with an Internet connection (so, not just lectures) – building a “global community of learners” and strengthening programs back on campus as well.

Online education and it’s potential to disrupt college as we know it is a talked-about thing, is what I am saying.

But despite that, I have never really thought about this.

(via Walking Paper)

It’s kind of a longish video with a pace that is measured, or slow – so if you didn’t read it basically it seems to be a platform that manages online course offerings – potential teachers can upload their classes, potential students can find and sign up for classes.  There’s some consistency in offerings – they’re all one-day, in-person workshops that cost $20.

Here’s the thing, I can see this working with enough critical mass — but I’m not sure I can see it working on a college campus.  But I think it should work on a college campus – like, I can see it working on a campus that’s not all that different than the ones we have.  Why?  Well, reasons…

  1. We have a lot of really smart students who know how to do stuff.  We also have a lot of really smart faculty and staff who know how to do stuff, but I haven’t figured out yet if it works better in my head to be something bringing the whole community together – building a learning community that encompasses the physical community — or if it’s better as a student-teaching-students thing.
  2. We have students (and faculty and staff) who have a lot of interests – who want to learn how to do stuff.
  3. We talk a lot about high impact educational practices – those practices that increase  student success and engagement.  What’s important about these practices isn’t so much “if students get these experiences then school will be easier for our students” so much as “if students get these experiences then they’ll develop the networks, resources and resilience to get through the tough parts, stay in school and ultimately figure out how to succeed.  Taking on the teaching role doesn’t directly fit any of these practices, but it seems to fit in spirit — basically, if the teaching feels like it’s part of what makes the community the community, then participating would increase attachment to the community.

But on the other hand, other reasons …

When school pressures hit, there’s very little that survives. Which is what I mean when I say I can see this working on a college that is similar but not exactly the same as what I see outside my window.  (or what I would see if I had a window).  Basically, what I mean here is that I find it hard to see our students finding time for this kind of, well, dabbling a lot of the time — they can use working out or even parties as a legit reason not to study — one keeps you healthy and the other keeps you in friends – but taking a class on fixing your bike?  No, that I can’t see being treated as a legit reason not to focus on the classes and learning you’re actually paying for.

And I’m not sure what that means – I can easily see something like this working with my students just after they leave college.  Well, not easily, but realistically, I can imagine this kind of ecosystem taking root.  In college, on the other hand, it’s a lot harder.  I’m not sure what I think about that.

But here’s the thing – this seems like a great thing for libraries to manage.  This is information literacy, browsing, exploration and curiosity.  Exactly the kind of thing we are all about in college – but think about the ecosystem we build to support it.  What’s missing?  This kind of collaborative sharing of expertise — the people networks.

Which brings it back to he discussions of online learning I started with  – see, I’m pulling it back around.  Seriously, I’m as surprised as you are.

One thing that got me (and really, almost everyone else) two years ago when that Bill Gates quote appeared was just what a top-down, boring view of education it suggested — sitting in front of lectures, absorbing the knowledge =/= education.

And I’m a known lecture defender, but seriously – what made college worth it for me was the people.  And not just the faculty, though they were important, but my peers as well.

Which is why I think, on one level, that I couldn’t stop thinking about this community-teaching model after seeing it this morning.  Because it’s using technology to develop the community, but it gets at something that could only work on campus – that reflects part of why I love our campus community (and all of the campuses and communities I’ve been a part of).  It gets at part of the reason why, even though I had to do a distance library degree, I chose a program where I had classmates.

Of course, I learned a lot from my classmates, and of course I learned a lot from my interactions with faculty.  But even more than that – those relationships (especially with peers) are what created the culture of learning that existed in my college experience — the expectations, the standards, the ideas about what was worth your time and what weren’t – -those things were all social, shared values that we gave each other.  Some campuses did it really well, building a culture that really pushed me beyond where I would have been on my own.  Some, well, showed me how great I used to have it.

Even though I think it wouldn’t work – I keep trying to think about why it would.  Because a college that developed the kind of culture where that kind of sharing and learning was possible, was rewarded, was considered important enough to do even alongside the classes you’re paying for — that would be really cool.

DIY infographics

So who made it Create Your Own Infographics week and didn’t tell me? Well, there might not be any reason why they’d think to tell me, but I would still be kind of interested if there WAS some group with the power to decree a Create Your Own Infographics week.

Anyway, a whole bunch of these have cropped up on my radar in the last couple of days.

Venngage

  • Tagline:  Infographics Simplified
  • From the website: “Content is still king. Venngage’s tools make it easy for anyone to create beautiful infographics and data visualizations for their blogs and websites. Watch your audience grow with compelling and beautiful content.”

Easel.ly (beta)

  • Tagline: Create Free Infographics Online  (note, is probably not the real tagline)
  • From the website: “Infographics are 30 to 40 times more likely to be viewed and shared vs. text.”

Infogr.am

  • Tagline: It’s super-simple, just try it! (actually, it’s probably Create Interactive Infographics)
  • From the website: “Infogr.am’s product is gunning to be a kind of Adobe Illustrator for online, allowing anyone to create cool info-graphics.” (TechCrunch)

(h/t to Information Aesthetics.  These showed up many places, but all of them were highlighted there.)

So I haven’t really played with any of these yet?  Looking at the main pages and descriptions – it seems clear that they are looking for a commercial writer/blogger/content producer market, not the educational market. Which doesn’t mean anything in particular, but it’s interesting that that is where the demand is perceived.

I suspect this means that we will soon get reminded of just how difficult it is to make good infographics; it would be nice if a proliferation of DIY infographics would spark a conversation about what makes a good one.  Obviously, these conversations are happening, but mostly among those who make them for a living.  If everyone starts making them, that conversation would hopefully get broader – like the conversations about what makes a good slidedeck or presentation.

Many Thoughts about Wikipedia

Back from LOEX, and it was pretty great.  I was pretty sure I knew what to expect from LOEX, but I had no idea what to expect from Columbus.  What we found was a highly walkable downtown, that didn’t shut down when the working day ended, good things to eat, wrapped up in a fair helping of City Beautiful.

Broad Street was broad, parks and commons were grand, and cultural institutions were majestic -

science and industry museum seen from across a river

And the conference was pretty good too.  One of the highlights was Char Booth’s opening keynote:  Reframing Library Instruction: Advocacy, Insight and the Learner Experience. 

(For the record, my favorite part was the “Advocacy” part)

So my definition of a great keynote is one where I have Many Thoughts throughout, and this one qualified.  Here are some of them.

Near the end, she was discussing an assignment of the type that was frequently discussed as something awesome that could be done, but which hasn’t turned out to be done all that often despite the fact that most people who hear about it think it’s a good idea — the “have the students write an article for Wikipedia instead of a traditional paper” assignment.

Here’s a 2007 article from Inside Higher Ed talking about one professor’s experience with this type of assignment.

And here’s a 2010 article from USA Today talking about the Wikimedia Foundations proactive effort to get professors to assign this type of project.

This was a particularly cool example, because it focused on topics and concepts related to elections.  And I suspect it was a particularly effective one — in part because it wasn’t a gimmick – this was NO “let’s engage the students by using one of their things” thing.  It was designed by people who understand Wikipedia’s culture — not just that is has one, but the ways that culture can make it hard for students trying to put stuff up there.

At first glance, a college term paper and a Wikipedia entry appear to have little in common.

So what do we think – is that quotation (from the IHE article linked above) true?

Here are my thoughts.

Char said, while talking about this assignment that she’d never seen students so excited about research.  Now, on my campus, I’m involved with lots of students engaged in undergraduate research.  Giving students a chance to work closely with faculty on brand-new, important research – in the field and in the lab – is one advantage a big, research university has over our smaller counterparts when it comes to undergraduate learning experiences, and we are working hard to give as many students as possible that kind of experience.  So, my first thought was – well, that’s not true.  I see students super excited about research all the time, and probably more excited than they would be if they got to write a Wikipedia article.

But the thought immediately following that was that Char Booth has obviously seen that too – she went to Reed, which has this annual celebration of undergraduate research every year – the Thesis Parade

So, that led obviously to the next thought – but do they get this excited about what we would call “library research” ?

Okay, probably not.  Even in the context of these theses and capstones, I’m not sure the lit review is what people are excited about.  (And increasingly, I’m coming to believe that the lit review is the piece they’re least ready to handle independently, and that those who get the most out of it don’t handle it independently but in very close concert with their mentors, but that’s another post for another day)

Which brings me to that quotation above – because the next thought was, “of course, Wikipedia writing is probably the closest real-world analogue to the type of writing we ask in many, many, many beginning comp classes.”

Isn’t it?

stick figure cartoon of a figure behind a soapbox holding up a sign that said "citation needed"

I’ve been talking about using Wikipedia to dig into what we mean by synthesis or attribution for a long time.  I was so happy when this cartoon appeared because it just captured that idea – an idea that first-year students frequently have a lot of trouble with – when do I need a citation and when don’t I?  Or, on a bigger scale, “how can these be my ideas if I have to cite everything?”

And Wikipedia is a pretty great example of how one can take a bunch of secondary sources and synthesize them into a coherent, meaningful, narrative that meets a set of externally-defined standards of quality — which is pretty much exactly what we ask people to do in first-year composition (at least part of the time).

Where my thoughts went next pretty much had nothing to do with the specific assignment Char Booth was describing – it was fantastic.  It was all about the idea that there are editors at Wikipedia and they have standards and knowing that audience, and those standards was the key to success in the assignment.

That’s a fantastically useful concept for students to learn, and a foundational set of rhetorical skills for them to master.  And Wikipedia, because it makes its rules and standards so transparent, IS an easier place for them to learn that than scholarly discourse which, let’s just say, does not.

No, what this post has to do with is the fact that I’m having a really hard time coming up with ANOTHER “real-world” place where the kind of synthetic, based on secondary sources, make sure you’re totally neutral, writing exists?  I’m sure it does, and it’ll come to me as soon as I hit “post,” but right now I’m not coming up with it.

Other encyclopedia writing doesn’t count.  Journalism has some things in common, yes, but I’m not sure that’s a great example either.  There are so many kinds of journalistic writing, that’s a hard one.  Anything else?

Because here’s the thing — Wikipedia’s standards and policies — and the fact that it IS an encyclopedia — really do have some negatives for students struggling to make the shift from report writing to academic writing.

It’s bad enough that there are so many unwritten rules to knowledge creation in the different disciplines and that these rules are so obscure and hard for new students to see, much less understand.  It’s hard enough to help students made the jump from “original means no one ever thought of or said this before” to the idea of originality grounded in or based on a body of existing knowledge.

Barbara Fister summed up these problems this way - (emphasis added)

I hate it when students who have hit on a novel and interesting way of looking at an issue tell me they have to change their topic because they can’t find sources that say exactly what they plan to say. I try to persuade them otherwise, but they believe that original ideas are not allowed in “research.” How messed up is that
?

And now I am finally to the main thing.  Original ideas AREN’T allowed in Wikipedia articles.

Wikipedia has a strict “no original research” policy when it comes to their articles — you base it on the published record, not your own (or anyone else’s) original knowledge creation.  And, it’s an encyclopedia, its raison d’être is something different than “originality of thought.”

So to sum up- I buy that students find writing for Wikipedia to be so much more meaningful and real than writing a term paper — it’s a tool they use and value, and it’s public — there’s lots of reasons why I think this is engaging.  I agree that it’s a better option, for those reasons, than the traditional research paper (with the important caveat that the person designing the assignment and guiding the students through the assignment has to really “get” Wikipedia if it’s going to work).

But I’m wondering if the very factors that make Wikipedia “better” as a platform for student research aren’t highlighting some of the problems with the ways we’re currently trying to get students engaged in academic writing, knowledge creation, and meaning-making in our composition and library classrooms?

See?  Many thoughts.  That’s the mark of one great keynote.  Thanks, Char.

Peer-Reviewed Friday: Either/or edition

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

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

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

(If you did – hi!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s not what happened.

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

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

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

So let’s look at some of those reasons -

Prior learning and experience

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

Trainee Resistance

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

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

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

Organizational Resistance to Transfer

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

Managerial Support and Resistance

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

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

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

Identification of Training Needs and Objectives

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

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

The Immediacy and Salience of Feedback and Consequences

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

Degree of Similarity Between Training, Work and Work Environments

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

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

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

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

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