Yes, we did write that up

Finally!

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

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

Critical Literacy for Research – Sort of Peer-Reviewed Friday

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

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

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

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

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

(emphasis mine)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classroom activities to promote critical literacy for research:

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

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

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

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

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

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

ResearchBlogging.org

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

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

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

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

METHOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metacognitive strategies –

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

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

Advance organizers —

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

Goal orientation —

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

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

Preparatory information –

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

SO WHAT ELSE COULD HAVE AN EFFECT?

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

RESULTS BY TYPE OF OUTCOME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For affective outcomes –

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

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

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

Prepping for the one-shot (Peer Review Wednesday)

ResearchBlogging.org

Via the Research Blogging Twitter stream – I came across an article the other day that seemed like it would be of particular interest to practitioners of the one-shot, but as I was reading it I realized that it drew so heavily on an earlier model, that I should read that one too – so this week’s Peer Review Monday (on Wednesday) is going to be a two-parter.

Today’s article presents a Framework for Understanding Pre-Practice Conditions and their Impact on Learning. In other words — is there stuff we can do with students before a training session that will make for better learning in the training session? The authors say yes, that there are six categories of things we can do, which raises the related question – are all of the things we can do created equal?

CANNON-BOWERS, J., RHODENIZER, L., SALAS, E., & BOWERS, C. (1998). A FRAMEWORK FOR UNDERSTANDING PRE-PRACTICE CONDITIONS AND THEIR IMPACT ON LEARNING Personnel Psychology, 51 (2), 291-320 DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-6570.1998.tb00727.x

This article also reviews the existing literature on each category, but I’m really not going to recap that piece because that is also the focus of the other article, which was published this year and why look at both?

So I have started to feel very strongly that instruction in typical one-shots much more closely resembles training than teaching – at least how I think about teaching.  I’ve had some experiences this year where I have had to do the kind of “what does teaching mean to you” reflective writing that put into focus that there are some serious disconnects between some of the things that are important to me about teaching and the one-shot format, and it makes me wonder if some of the frustration I feel with instruction at times – and that others might be feeling as well – comes from fighting against that disconnect.  Instead of thinking about what I think about teaching (thoughts that started developing a long time ago, when I was teaching different content in credit courses that met several times a week over the course of several weeks) and trying to fit it into the one-shot model, perhaps it makes more sense to spend some time thinking about the model we have and what it could mean.

So, the training literature. Can a deep-learning loving, constructivism believing, sensemaking fangirl like me find inspiration there?  Well, apparently yes.

In their first section…

…the authors define what they mean by “practice.”  Practice in the context of this paper means the “physical or mental rehearsal of a task, skill or knowledge,” and it is done for the specific purpose of getting better at it (or in the case of knowledge, getting better at applying, explaining, etc. it).  It is not, itself, learning but it does facilitate learning.

They distinguish between practice conditions that exist before the training, during the training, and after it is done.  This article focuses on the before-the-training group – which I think is what makes it really interesting in that one-shot context.

In the second section…

…they dig into the six different types of pre-practice conditions that they categorized out of the available literature on the subject.  In their review of the literature, they tried to limit the studies included to empirical studies that focused on adult learners, but they were not always able to do so.

Attentional Advice

Attentional advice refers to providing attendees with information that they can use to get the most out of the training.  This information should not be information about how to do the thing you are going to be teaching — but information about the thing you are teaching.  This information should allow the learner to create a mental model that will help them make sense of what is being learned, and which will help connect what is being learned to what they already know.

The example they give describes a training for potential call-center employees.  The attentional advice given before the training includes information about the types of calls that come in, how to recognize and categorize them.  Not information about how to answer the calls directly.

This one got me thinking a lot about the possibilities of providing information about the types of sources students will find in an academic research process (as simple as scholarly articles/popular articles/books or more complex – review articles/ empirical research/ metaanalyses, and so on) as attentional advice before a session, instead of trying to teach it in a one-shot session where you have two options – to spend five minutes quickly describing it yourself, or to spend half of the session having the students do something active like examining the sources themselves and then teaching each other.

Metacognitive Strategies

Most instruction librarians can probably figure out what this one is – metacognitive strategies refer to strategies that help the learner manage their own learning.  These are not about the content of the session directly, but instead information about how the learner can be aware of and troubleshoot their own learning process.  The examples provided take the form of questions that learners can ask themselves during the training or instruction session.

Advance Organizers

I am sure the metacognitive strategies will spark some ideas for me, but it didn’t happen immediately – I think because I was distracted by this next category.  Advance organizers give learners, in advance, a way to organize the information they will be learning in the session.  So a really obvious example of this would be – if you want students to learn the content of a website, you could provide information in advance about the website’s navigational structure, and how that structure organizes the information.

This one really got me thinking too.  Another piece of information literacy instruction that is really, really important and about which we have a bunch of research and information backing us up is the research process – the iterative, recursive, back and forth learning process that is academic research.  We even have some useful and interesting models describing the process.  But in a one-shot, you’re working with students during a moment of that process and it’s really, really hard to push that session beyond the piece of the process that is relevant where they are at the moment.  What about providing advance information about the process – does that require rethinking the content of the session or the learning activities of the session — probably.  But would it provide a way for students to contextualize what you teach in the session.  I’m not sure, but I’m going to be thinking about this one more.

Goal Orientation

This one is pretty interesting in the more recent article.  There are two types of goals – mastery goals and performance goals.  Mastery goals focus attention on the learning process itself, while performance goals focus on achieving specific learning outcomes.  As a pre-practice condition, this means giving learners information about what they should focus on during the session.  As an example, they say that a performance goal orientation tells students in a training for emergency dispatchers to focus on dispatching the correct unit to an emergency in a particular amount of time.  A mastery goal orientation, on the other hand, tells the students to focus on identifying the characteristics they should consider when deciding which unit to dispatch to a particular emergency.

So – an performance goal orientation in the information literacy context might tell students to focus on retrieving a certain number of peer-reviewed articles during the session.  A mastery goal tells them to focus on identifying the characteristics of a peer-reviewed article.

Preparatory Information

This seems like it would be pretty much the same as Attentional Advice, but it’s not.  In this one you focus on letting the learner know stuff about the session environment itself — the examples they gave were situations where the training was likely to be very stressful, physically or emotionally difficult.

Pre-Practice Briefs

Finally, there’s this one, which refers specifically to team or group training.  In this one, you give the group information about performance expectations.  You establish the group members’ roles and responsibilities before the team training begins.

In the third and fourth sections…

The authors attempt to develop an integrated model for understanding all of these conditions, but they’re not able to do it.  Instead, they present a series of propositions drawn from the existing research.  Finally, they examine implications for day-to-day trainers and identify questions for future research.  The most essential takeaway here is – not all preparation for practice is equal and that we should do more research figuring out what works best, with what kind of tasks, and for what kind of learners.

Stay tuned for the second installment, where current-day researchers examine the last 12 years of research to see if this has happened – and where it has, they tell us what was found.


cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudel

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

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

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

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

via @0rb (twitter) Journalism warning labels

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

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

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

what I’ve been doing instead of blogging

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

It starts here –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and ends here.

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

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

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

Motivating students in the one-shot (peer-reviewed Monday)

ResearchBlogging.org

Okay, not really.  And OMG Peer-Reviewed Monday is back!  But there are connections to the one-shot here, really.

One thing that came out, over and over, in the research that Kate and I just presented at WILU was the idea that student in information literacy classes aren’t motivated to do the work, and that the instructors in those classes have to work super hard and super constantly on engagement.

So this special issue of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching caught my eye because of its focus on motivation.  And this article in particular further caught my eye because of its focus on situational interest.

Palmer, D. (2009). Student interest generated during an inquiry skills lesson Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46 (2), 147-165 DOI: 10.1002/tea.20263

(I couldn’t find an online copy, even though this is a Romeo green publication)

Palmer defines “situational interest” in contrast to “personal interest” where the latter is a deep, lasting, engaged interest in a topic or domain.  The former, in contrast, is “short-term interest that is generated by aspects of a specific situation.”

The relevance to information literacy instruction is obvious when Palmer’s example of the kind of “situation” that can spark “interest” is a particularly engaging or awesome demonstration.  Like I said, one idea that came through in many, many stories we gathered was the idea that if we as librarian instructors can be engaging, exciting, fun and compelling enough, our students will be motivated to learn.

Palmer synthesizes several factors that lead to situational interest from the literature:  novelty, surprise, autonomy, suspense, social involvement, ease of comprehension and background knowledge.  So one could expect that there are things that could be in an IL session that are not spectacular demonstrations that could still tap into this idea of situational motivation – content they’re not expecting (novelty and surprise), giving them real, authentic choices (autonomy) and group activities (social involvement).

So on to the study itself – Palmer’s purpose was to evaluate different parts of a science lesson to determine how much situational interest was generated, and to identify the sources of that interest.  Students participated in a 40 minute lesson (the topics of the lesson varied, though the basic structure did not, to protect against the possibility that some topics are just more motivating than others).  The data gathered was qualitative, gathered via group interviews at the end of the lesson.

His population was younger than you’d find in my academic environment – 14-15 years old.  And, of course, they were studying science, not library research.  On the other hand, he chose a hands-on lesson, delivered in one shot, which does have relevance for my sessions.

The results are interesting in part because of how similar they are, in some specific ways, to the ways librarians and faculty describe student library research skills.  For example, the researchers examined how students engaged in inquiry skills (problem-setting, observation, reporting, analyzing, etc.) during the lesson.  While they had many chances to use these skills, most of the time they “were not of a high standard.”  Students were more likely to describe their method than articulate meaningful questions, and more likely to describe their experiment than analyze their results.

When it comes to motivation, students demonstrated a significant preference for certain parts of the lesson.  The experiment was broken into the following pieces for analysis:

  • Copying Notes
  • Demonstration
  • Proposal
  • Experiment
  • Report
  • Copying Notes 2

Of these, students showed the lowest amount of interest during the Copying Notes phases, by a lot.  Anyone surprised?

Of the others, they showed the most interest during the Experiment phase, with Demonstration next.  Both of these were noticeably higher than Proposal and Report.   The two pieces with the highest level of interest total, also had high levels of interest in terms of how many students showed that interest.  95% showed interest during the Experiment phase, and 90% during the Demonstration.

In the interviews, students said copying notes wasn’t interesting because it was what they were used to doing in science class.  That’s kind of sad.  This piece was to get at the domain knowledge piece needed for motivation, but there must be a better way to do that.  I copy notes on my own motivation regularly, but it sounds nightmarish as an in-class activity.

Learning came up over and over as a source of interest, which explains the popularity of both the Demonstration and the Experiment phases.  Students in 68% of the groups said that having a choice about what to do was a source of interest, even though it only really came up in the Proposal phase.  Physical activity was also a source of interest, and this one connects most strongly to the Experiment phase.  Novelty and surprise came in a little lower.  These codes actually came up most often in the Demonstration phase.  Palmer points out, however, that the learning they said they liked could in fact be a form of responding to novelty – enjoying the learning because it was something new.

Palmer, in fact, seems to credit most of the “learning” responses to the idea of novelty — he concludes that 3 factors are most responsible for student motivation:

In summary, it has been argued above that the situational interest experienced by students in this study was basically derived from three separate sources — novelty, autonomy (choice) and social involvement.

The decision to dismiss learning as a factor here seems a bit abrupt.  I would have liked to see it unpacked a little more – as it is, I don’t see the evidence Palmer saw.  This connects to the biggest gap in the paper, from my perspective – the fact that there’s no reporting of any assessment of the learning that did happen in the lesson  in this paper, with the exception of the evaluation of their inquiry skills (which is presented separately from any content or domain knowledge learning).

It seems a little incomplete to talk about motivation to learn without talking about learning.  As Palmer says himself:

a student might be very highly motivated to learn in a lesson, but if the teacher does not use appropriate teaching techniques by guiding and scaffolding the direction of learning, then very little science will be learnt. For optimal learning to occur, motivational strategies need to be used in tandem with instructional strategies which focus on the development of scientific understandings.

One of the inherently interesting things about this paper for instruction librarians is its focus on immediate classroom practice.  There is nothing in this research method or in the analysis of the results that wouldn’t totally apply to the one-shot, which is pretty rare in the education literature.  Of course, the author counts this as a limitation in the study, because real inquiry “is usually developed over a longer time frame than the 40-minute procedure used in this study.”  But still, his limitation is our relevance.

Connected to this is his finding that there is a lot of variability in situational interest throughout this lesson.  The different pieces were only a few minutes long, so that suggests that students’ interest and motivation can change very quickly.  On the one hand, this suggests that we could lose them quickly.  On the other hand, it also suggests that perhaps we shouldn’t worry so much about those normal ebbs and flows.  If one piece isn’t hugely motivating to them, the next one could be.

Other implications for instruction librarians are found in the lit review, Palmer uses research that suggests “multiple experiences of situational interest” can develop into long-term interest.  At best, this suggests that students would need repeated exposure to awesome information literacy teachers to develop a long-term interest in research or inquiry just from IL classes alone.   In fact, Palmer suggests that one reason for the mediocrity he observed in inquiry skills was the fact that students didn’t really have the experience with independent inquiry to know how to talk about what they were doing.

Situation motivation seems like a fruitful line of further inquiry for instruction librarians, though even this easy intro to the subject suggests that it’s not a panacea for what ails the one-shot, or for what ails the librarians who teach too many of them.