LOEX 2015

Reflections on Reflection. Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Meta

Slides

PDF version of the slidedeck

Bibliography

Zotero folder (books, articles, videos)

Script 

Note 1: I used this to create the talk, and to practice and refine it.  I didn’t bring it up with me to the podium.  I spoke from a cryptic set of speaker notes attached to the slides.  So while I think this is an honest reflection of what I said in the talk, there will be places where it doesn’t match exactly how I said it.

Note 2: Most of the slides link directly to an image page on flickr.  The rest link to larger versions here.

Note 3: Big thanks to Rachel Bridgewater and Catherine Pellegrino who helped me turn this from 2 hours’ worth of   thoughts connected in my head  into a talk understandable by other people. Any remaining confusion is my fault alone.

loex2015_2.001

Thank you for that introduction and thank you to the committee for inviting me.  I have to admit I’m a little intimidated to be up here.  LOEX was the very first national conference I ever attended. That was 2005 and right now, 10 years doesn’t seem like very long ago.  So many of the people in this room have had such a major influence on me and on my thinking — I just think the bar at LOEX is set really, really high.

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When I was invited to give this talk I was deep down a rabbit hole thinking about reflective practice, emotion and learning.  So when the committee suggested that as a topic, I jumped at it.

When I resurfaced from that and I had to actually settle on a title and abstract I started to worry a little bit.  I mean, this is a topic that can get pretty autobiographical.  It’s personal and idiosyncratic – what’s mindset shifting to me is probably totally obvious to lots of you. But most of all, let’s face it – reflecting on reflection can turn into a mountain of meta that doesn’t really seem like the most productive place to be.

So I worried, and that worry made it into the subtitle.  And I wouldn’t say that I have stopped worrying and learned to embrace the meta — but I am working on embracing the discomfort that comes with it.  And that’s actually what I am going to talk about here today.

But before I start into this story — let’s talk for a minute about reflective practice.

  • How many of you build time for reflection or metathinking (thinking about thinking) into your instruction sessions?
  • How many of you would say that you do the same in your practice — build in time for reflection, or thinking about your thinking?
  • How many of you would if you had more time?

There’s a lot of research showing that taking the time to reflect on how you think is important to learning.  I’m not going to get into that here; I think that metathinking is pretty entrenched in the way we teach in libraries.  But if you want a really clear overview, Char Booth’s Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning is a great starting point.

signposts for this talk going from practice to assumptions to emotion to discomfort  

So I’m focusing here on that specific category of reflective thinking that informs our practice as teachers.  I’ll take you to where I started on the topic a number of years ago, go through the event that sent me down that rabbit hole over the last year and where that took me.

And I’ll ground all of that in the literature that informed me. There’s a Zotero folder linked from my blog (info-fetishist.org) where you’ll find all of those references.

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I started thinking specifically about the role of reflection in teaching practice a little more than 5 years ago in a research project that I did with my colleague Kate Gronemyer.

This project was strongly influenced by the book The Reflective Practitioner, by Donald Schön.  Schön is really interested in that “practice” part of the phrase — he wanted to understand how practitioners (as opposed to researchers or experts) make decisions and solve problems both in the moment (which he calls Reflection In Practice) and after the fact (Reflection On Practice).

He assumes that professionals don’t just implement strategies or follow theories developed by experts, but that they also draw on a big body of knowledge built through experience.  And he wanted to figure out what good practice knowledge does and how professionals to capture and share it.

A list of prompts used to generate stories for a research study about reflective practice in libraries. Prompts include: a situation that haunts you; a time you solved a tricky problem; a time when your expectations were off; one of the best/worst learning experiences; the best/worst instruction librarian you know; a horror story; a time you went beyond the call of duty; a time when you considered leaving the professor; a situation that reaffirmed your choice to do instruction

We gathered and analyzed a collection of stories that teaching librarians told about their practice. These were the story prompts. (Well, the actual prompts were longer, we’re good academics, but these are the salient bits) We each coded the stories and then identified themes together. We also took note of the practice environment where the story happened (when we could).  All told, we identified about 8 themes and I’m going to dig into two right now.

A bar graph indicating which prompts generated the most utterances with the power code. The two highlighted prompts are Horror Story and Situation that Haunts You

First up is power.

I should mention here that all of the codes could skew positively or negatively — I could talk about being totally empowered in a situation or about being totally disenfranchised and so long as I specifically invoked the concept of power in the story — that code would apply.  When you see that most of these codes came from these story prompts — tell us a horror story, or tell us about a situation that haunts you, you can probably guess that most of these were negative.

A quotation from an instruction librarian that says the students were filing into the classroom and the faculty member turns to me and says I changed the assignment

And when I tell you that almost all of these were about the one-shot, I’m guessing you can guess what kind of things were coded this way. Some, focused on specific moments.

A quotation from an instruction librarian indicating that she feels she lacks power in a professional relationship with a faculty member

And others were about a specific event, but mentioned the power relationships in play — like this one, that focuses on faculty.  Or there might be a librarian who says, “I’m the instruction coordinator, but I can’t actually compel any of my colleagues to teach.”

A bar chart indicating the prompts that generated the most utterances coded with the theme flexibility. The most common are Horror Story and a Time When Your Expectations Were Off.  The second tier are best/worst categories.

The second theme is flexibility, which actually gets at another aspect of the same dynamic. There’s something out of my control, so I have to be flexible. So horror story is still up there, but the second most common prompt was, tell me about a time when your expectations were off.  But this one is interesting because the code also showed up a lot in stories where people were talking about extremes or ideals — the best teaching librarian you know, or the worst learning experience ever.

Quotations from instruction librarians. One says that the best instruction librarians can spin on a time and the second is from an instruction librarian who blames herself for an unsuccessful session

Taken as a whole, the stories connected to this theme gave the strong impression that for instruction librarians there is a lot of basic stuff out of our control. I mean, the teaching environment is uncertain for everyone — there are people in it — but for instruction librarians there are just basic pieces we have to adapt to.  I’m guessing that’s not a controversial statement.

Taken together with power, however, we couldn’t help coming away with the idea that despite this, we instruction  librarians we take an awful lot of responsibility on ourselves.  In fact, the story that included this second quotation was actually pretty extreme — we’re not talking about “dude got behind and his students don’t have the assignment yet.”  There was a changed assignment, technology problems controlled by another department and the faculty colleague was really more of an active saboteur.  But to this librarian the main takeaway was her failure, in the moment.  And that kind of thing came up came up again and again.

So it seemed clear to us that we have some simple, shared, narratives out there about what good library instruction is — and that a lot of us are using our reflective practice to compare ourselves to these smoothed out, idealized models.

And you can see why, right?  Because there’s safety in these narratives.  If I succeed, I’m comforted by the fact that I knew what to do to succeed.  And even if I fail, if I can find the place where I didn’t match up to the narrative — I didn’t use enough active learning, I wasn’t flexible enough — then that promises safety in the future if I just match up.

But at the same time — horror story, situation that haunts you — it was clear that these narratives also generate a lot of stress, anxiety and angst.

A signpost slide that indicates the next section will be about Stephen Brookfield's Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher

So, we needed a different model of reflective practice — which brings us to critical reflection. Here we were informed strongly by Stephen Brookfield’s Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher.

For Brookfield, the goal of reflective thinking is to identify and question the assumptions that lie under the surface of our practice.  These assumptions can be causal — about what causes what — so, sitting in a circle makes people feel equal.  Or prescriptive — about what good teaching is — for us, one of those would be active learning is best.  Or they can be paradigmatic — big, world-view type assumptions – I’ll be talking about those throughout the rest of this talk.

And over all of these, he especially warns us to watch for hegemonic assumptions — assumptions that seem fine, but can cause us to be complicit in our own oppression.

And what does that mean? Well, I would consider “a good librarian will fix any problem related to her students’ learning in the moment” — to be hegemonic.  That narrative lets me focus all of my work to fix the problem on me and my own teaching, on developing a big enough bag of tricks to respond to any situation. And I don’t deal with the underlying issues with the course instructor — about the power relationships between us or about the things they are doing that sabotage their students’ learning.

Now, of course this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and give students a good learning experience — of course I’m not saying that — but in our reflection on practice our analysis should be much, much more complicated than “I failed because I wasn’t flexible enough.”

And he gives us the lenses across the top there — our own experience, information from students, information from peers and information from theory — as tools to ferret out and analyze those assumptions.

A signposting side indicating the next section will be about Brookfield and James - Engaging Imagination

So, Brookfield’s approach really really works for me.  Identifying problems, and then intellectualizing them — gathering and analyzing data and trying to understand them in a new way — that’s right smack dab in my comfort zone.

Which means that earlier this year I was reading a book called Engaging Imagination – mostly because it was by Brookfield and another education scholar – Alison James. They make the argument for building play, imagination, metaphor and movement into reflective classroom activities.

Now, I read a lot of this kind of stuff, I even seek it out.  But I don’t really do any of those things in my own reflection — I stay in my head, in my verbal, analytical place where I intellectualize my problems.

So when I seek these things out, I’m doing it for my students — I’m doing it because  I think metathinking is a really important part of the learning process and I know that reflective assignments make a lot of people uncomfortable. So by offering as many modalities as possible, I’m trying to ensure that everyone gets a chance to be comfortable in reflection, at least some of the time.

a large pile of red bricks, some with dried mortar still attached

But early on in this book, Brookfield and James said something that hit me like a ton of bricks.  They said that’s not why we do this.  The reason to build a lot of reflective methods into your class isn’t to make everyone comfortable — the reason is to make everyone uncomfortable, at least some of the time.

Now, when I read this — this discomfort piece — it just grabbed hold of my brain.  And I think that was because it made me realize how uncomfortable, even upset, I get when I am asked to veer away from reflective analysis and writing.  If you ask me to do it in a workshop — I’ll do it, I might even enjoy it once I start, but when I first hear that we have to create clay models or something my first reaction is to be upset, flustered, defensive, maybe a little angry and internally yelling oh no no no no no no no.

A cup of pens and pencils. Only the top lip of the cup and the tops of the writing implements are visible.

And here’s the thing — I totally should have known better. I should have known this all along. Because as much as I love reflection and do it all the time, I don’t do it for real when I’m told to do it. Workshops, courses, annual self-appraisals – seriously, my memory isn’t perfect — but I can’t remember a time when I’ve done real, meaningful reflection as an assignment.

14 year old Anne-Marie, sitting in her parents’ living room with fourteen pens and a spiral notebook – writing a whole term’s worth of reading journal entries in one night.  That’s how I did every journaling assignment I ever did – high school, college, library school — the night before they were due.

See, I’m not saying this worked for me (and it did, I got A plus pluses on reflective writing)  because I am so super good at reflection. That is absolutely not what I am saying. It worked for me because I’m super good at reflective writing assignments.  It’s not about my writing, or reflecting, it’s that I always know exactly what my teachers want to see.  I know the kind of learning they want to see, the process they want to see, how they want it communicated and I deliver it.  I’m not reflecting to learn, I’m performing.

And I didn’t even feel bad about it.  I still don’t – not really. I mean, I don’t shy away from reflection in my real life. That larger life skill learning happened.  I value reflective practice, and I work actively to do it better.  But after reading Engaging Imagination there was no way I could avoid realizing that if I’d been pushed out of that verbal, analytical comfort zone more I may have seen things or understood things that I missed.

And that could have been the end of it, but it wasn’t.  Seriously, this bugged me for days.  I just kept churning on it.

Because there are unwritten narratives in play here too.  Embedded in these “show us what you learned” assignments are assumptions about what kind of learning, analysis or process is valued and valid.  And those narratives are usually unwritten, and unspoken — that’s one reason why these assignments cause so much angst with so many people.  They favor some students more than others, and I was one of those favored few.

Wooden sign, hung from a wooden bracket with silver chains. The word Welcome is burned into the sign.

It made me see that a lot —  maybe even most — of my own reflective thinking has been spent on trying to help my students join me in my comfort zone, without questioning the narratives and assumptions underneath.

And this made me deeply, profoundly, uncomfortable — because it’s a really incomplete way of looking at learning.

Black and white photo of a young adult looking into a security camera. The photo is distorted.

And it’s a superficial version of reflective practice.  I’m taking my students’ experience and filtering it through my lens — which is obviously going to distort it.  It inherently makes me focus on gaps, places where they don’t match up.  And on figuring out ways to make them match my assumptions about learning.  This puts all of the burden of significant change on my students.  After all, I’m reflecting on their experience. I’m not really reflecting on my own.

Which brought me back to my initial, emotional and defensive reaction to those assignments — and I dove head first into the rabbit hole that is emotion and learning.  As you do.

A signposting slide indicating the next section will highlight work on neuroscience by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang

One of the deeply, deeply entrenched narratives in western culture is the mind/body (or thinking/feeling) binary, or the idea that logic, reason and higher order thinking are separate from — and even disrupted by — emotion, passion or feeling.  Knowledge construction in our culture is a sober, analytical process based on evidence and data — not feeling or experience.

Last spring, I was at the American Educational Research Association’s conference in Philadelphia and at that conference AERA presented their Early Career Award to an “affective neuroscientist and human development psychologist” named  Mary Helen Immordino-Yang.  And her work — which connects social emotion, cognition and culture — totally captured my imagination. So when I started exploring this topic in earnest, I came back across her work and entered this kind of fugue state where I read everything she’s ever written.

So basically, into the eighties the research about the brain and learning reflected the binary I just mentioned. The idea was fairly entrenched that reason, logic and thinking and emotion were separate, controlled by different parts of the brain.  But there were anomalies.  And they disrupted this prevailing narrative, as anomalies often do.

a beige wall with a white sign posted somewhat askew. The sign says

These anomalies were patients whose cognitive functions seemed to be intact, but who showed gaps in their decision making.  They weren’t able to consider the consequences of their actions. They were insensitive to the impact of their choices on others. Basically, they weren’t able to learn from their mistakes, so they would make the same terrible choices over and over.

But here’s the weird thing — they could TALK about that stuff just fine. They could explain the risks involved in their business decisions. They could describe social norms.  Cognitively, they seemed to have what they needed to make good choices, but then they didn’t.  So it seemed likely that the affective domain was in play.

A venn diagram with Processes Related to the Body on one side and High Reason on the other.  The overlapping area is large and labeled Emotional Thought

So when researchers studied what was going on in these brains they concluded that when we experience things, we “tag” them with information about how those choices or decisions worked out for us. And this information is stored with our emotional knowledge.  Without the ability to access the parts of the brain that manage that emotional information — how we felt about those choices — we can’t use it to make good decisions moving forward.  So emotion doesn’t get in the way of thinking – emotion is an essential part of higher-level thinking.

a metal handle with the word rudder etched in and clearly visible

In fact, one of the most interesting hypotheses Immordino-Yang suggests for higher education is that it is this emotional rudder (her metaphor) — or the ability to draw on the emotional knowledge associated with our past experiences — that helps us transfer knowledge from one experience to another. Particularly relevant to instruction librarians — we need our students to be able to transfer what they learn from us moving forward.

A young woman covering her face with both hands

These new lines of inquiry mean re-thinking what we mean by survival.  One of the narratives in the thinking/feeling binary is that strong emotion kicks in when we’re under threat and need to feel safe.  But that narrative mostly focuses on physical harm – the idea that when we see the car heading for is it triggers a basic, emotional response (Immordino-Yang says “in the alligator brain”) that protects us.

But as our world got more complex, so did our understanding of survival.  Survival now goes beyond our physical safety as an individual and includes other people and our social relationships.  Those emotional tags we put on our experiences aren’t about us in a vacuum, they’re all about how our choices affected other people and how that bounced back on us.

So protecting ourselves against threats to our status and identity is every bit as important as protecting ourselves from physical harm.  Emotion is still basic decision making — I want, I feel — but more advanced cognition doesn’t replace it.  Instead, higher level reasoning lets us pick and choose and customize our responses in more sophisticated ways.

A signposting slide listing takeaways from this section which are repeated in the text.

So, what are my takeaways from this?

  • That strong emotional reaction I have to certain kinds of learning experiences should be telling me something — emotion is part of why we create simple, smoothed over narratives in the first place and why we don’t poke at them — we’re protecting our core, our identity, our place in the world
  • Emotion is necessary to thinking and in particular, it’s an autobiographical emotion.  Connecting to our experiences and our feelings around them is necessary to evaluation, analysis – those higher level processes.
  • That autobiographical emotion isn’t fully internal — it’s shaped by our interactions with other people and with culture.  We can’t really critique our assumptions and narratives without understanding those influences.

A light grey wolf staring directly into the camera

Now, there are many people — some informed by feminist theory, queer theory, critical race theory and others working from more traditional perspectives —  who have challenged the thinking/ feeling binary — making the case for bringing the whole student, not just the cognitive student, into the learning process.  And this is a body of work that had been building for  decades.  So some of this feels a bit like science is catching up to theory and experience.

And where I am going now with this is pretty strongly influenced by a group of scholars like Megan Boler, Laura Rendón and Kevin Kumashiro, who are grappling with the question of how to create safe and meaningful classroom experiences when you are specifically asking students to question and dismantle deeply held beliefs.  These scholars have a commitment to anti-oppressive practice, in many cases because they’re teaching courses on topics –  about race, gender, sexuality –  that inherently ask students to examine some of their core ideas about identity and self.

Now, it might seem like instruction librarians are doing something different — asking students to “find and cite 3 peer reviewed sources on reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone” seems pretty different from asking them to dissect their privilege.  But a lot of this work resonates strongly with me as an instruction librarian.  In many ways, I think asking students to question and dismantle deeply held beliefs — or at least be willing to do so — is exactly what we do.

We’re asking them to engage in open-minded inquiry.  And at the very least, this means they have to consider the possibility that they might change their minds about something that they care about.  And if they care about it because it says something about where they’re from, or their family history, or what they want to do, or things they believe in — that’s threatening.  And this applies too to the basic things we do — we might be asking them to rely on sources and discourses they’ve been taught since birth to be skeptical about.  Or sometimes we ask them to put aside sources and texts they’ve always believed are valuable sources of wisdom about the world.

And even  if we don’t do so overtly, what we’re asking them to do might also require them to dismiss habits of learning and research that have probably served them very well in the past, through many years of experience, and to internalize new ways of thinking about knowledge, evidence and information.

All of these things reach right down into the identities we construct for ourselves — what we believe is right, what we believe is wrong, where we find wisdom, what we value as thinkers and learners — these are all essential parts of who we know ourselves to be.

I think it’s fair to say that to be information literate is to be okay with the idea that what we know in our core to be true could change tomorrow — and that’s terrifying.  And so I believe that it’s only fair that we hold ourselves to this same standard.  Starting with — or at least for the purposes of this talk focusing on — our reflective practice.

A yellow post-it note with the words Put Your Feelings on Hold handwritten

Historically, we’ve treated feelings in education (and honestly, in other arenas too) as something to control or suppress – push them down so that thinking can happen.  And we’ve also used this as a way to control or suppress people who have historically been considered more emotional or less rational.

And I think that there’s an element of this controlling, suppressing and managing narrative in our thinking about reflective practice as well.  As much as I love Brookfield, I can’t deny that the thinking/feeling binary undergirds much of the argument in this book.  There’s a strong through-line that essentially frames the process of critical reflection as a process of intellectualizing the emotional and cognitive challenges of teaching.  I mean, he comes right out and says it —  if we don’t critically reflect “we are powerless to control the ebbs and flows of our emotions.”

shower controls with red and blue representing hot and cold water. The area in the middle is labeled comfort zone

And I’ll admit that this is also my comfort zone.  This is how my brain works.  In fact, I’m sure this is what I was serving up in all of those reflective writing assignments — watch me intellectualize my emotions and learn and grow.  And here’s the thing — it’s not like this isn’t super useful in teaching.  And it’s a big part of what makes up effective reflective practice.

This is where things get tricky for me.  There is a lot I like and want to preserve about my comfort zone, about reflective practice and more broadly. I think there is value the type of inquiry embedded in “college level research.”  I think there’s fun, creativity and enjoyment to be had in these intellectual exercises and practices.  I like stretching those muscles and I think they’re muscles that need to be worked and skills that need to be practiced.  I think when people can do this they’re more powerful and able to make things happen.

But when we’ve tried to divide thinking and feeling, that doesn’t just mean pushing emotions aside — it also means elevating lots of things that are traditionally associated with rational thought or inquiry.  We reject the importance of experience, lived experience, in favor of science and “rigorous evidence.”  It’s an either/or thing.

And if this isn’t how thinking works — if this isn’t how humans evaluate and consider and decide and choose — we need to be able to connect the pieces of this binary together and find new spaces somewhere in the middle.

A signposting slide indicating the next section draws from Megan Boler's Feeling Power

Megan Boler wrote a wide-ranging and provocative book called Feeling Power — about the power of emotion and also about the ways that feelings have been used to control and dominate within education. She closes by outlining ideas for a pedagogy of discomfort.  I’m not going to do this book justice here — and I’m doing even less justice to the huge body of scholarship that inspired her — because I’m going to zoom in on just one of her points — the need to resist simple binaries, the things we construct to make sense of a complex world.

A lot of these binaries are in play in our classrooms, not just thinking/feeling: novice/expert — scholarly/popular — individual/collective — theory/practice — objective/subjective — I’m sure you all are thinking of more.  When you start to scratch at some of the idealized narratives underneath our practice you’ll find them.  We create and hang on to these binaries to make sense of a complicated world. But when we internalize these simple structures, it gets harder to deal with the implications of our critical reflection.

Here’s an example.  A big binary that frames a lot of our thinking is about people — good/bad – deserving/undeserving – guilty/innocent.  We’ve all probably internalized it to some level, even if we fight it.

One of the most powerful things we want is learning that reaffirms our self-image.  If  we’ve internalized that binary good/bad/innocent/guilty — then when we think we might be contributing to something that hurts our students, we feel guilty. We feel all of the feelings related to that.  And our self-image can’t handle the idea that we’re guilty so we resist.  We will ourselves not to see the issue — Boler calls this inscribed habits of emotional inattention —  or we use our reflective practice to rationalize the original critique away.

Because here’s the thing — metathinking, reflective thinking, even critical reflection — these methods or practices can be used to justify and entrench just as easily as they can be used to illuminate and dismantle.  And honestly, I think the more adept you are at the motions of reflection the easier it is to use it to justify whatever you want it to – especially if you’re not aware that you are doing it.

A desert landscape with a large boulder in the background and a field of quicksand in the foreground

Committing to finding spaces between these  binaries lets us deal with this complexity — we’re not good or bad — we’re in the middle, it’s not all about us and which side we’re on, and we can deal with all of the complex factors that go into the situation.

But this isn’t easy.  It requires us to accept a scary level of uncertainty.  This is a shifting landscape – we’re between the binaries here today and we keep thinking and working — we’re somewhere else tomorrow.  And really, it shows that some of the identities we construct are actually pretty fragile themselves.

a street lamp with two lamps extending to either side of a metal pole. To the left a sign that reads No Parking on Either Side.

And maybe librarians are the best people to navigate this uncertainty with our students. Because we already straddle  binaries — between theory and practice, scholar and practitioner, specialist and generalist, novice and expert — you can probably think of more.  We’re unique on our campuses; we’re already in the grey areas.

I have a colleague in Oregon, Sara Seely from Portland Community College, who tells her classes — I know about all of your assignments and what all of your teachers want and I’m not grading you — I’m totally on your side.

I just love that.  I love it because we so frequently frame this as a barrier — we don’t have access to the carrots and sticks built into the system — but it can be liberating.

Most of us do not have majors, minors or degree programs to manage.  Most of us can’t compel attendance or attention. It’s true. But if we’re not benefiting from those systems, then we’re not bound by them either.

We teach, and we want students to do well in our classes but the end game for us isn’t their performance on the end of session quiz.   Traditional metrics like grades don’t even capture much of the teaching work we do.

We teach, and we want students to learn, but we really want them to take what they learn and use it later — so we can focus on what they need to integrate and transfer that knowledge.

We teach, but we don’t have to weed out students or protect the rigor of our programs.  We can make the unwritten rules, values and rewards transparent to all of our students, even if they don’t come in with that knowledge.

We teach, but we’re not going to be judged at the end by how well our students master a body of content – we can afford to complicate the picture for them and follow where they explore.

And the thing that’s powerful about sitting between binaries comes from rejecting the idea that we need to make either/ or choices – or align ourselves with one set of entrenched values.  From our position, we can help students learn a new culture and make its norms and assumptions visible and  transparent while also doing what we can to dismantle structures that exclude, hurt and discriminate.

But that can be scary. And uncomfortable. There’s a timidity sometimes that pops up in our profession that says — “if I draw too much attention by challenging the norms they’ll take away what I DO have in the academy.”  I’d like to see us fight this more actively – to say we are different and this is what we do and we’re the only ones who do it and that’s the value we bring to campus — and commit to building that case.

Because we can’t do all of this if we align ourselves with simple narratives — whether we define them for ourselves or maybe especially if they’re defined for us.  No matter how safe they make us feel.

And so, in the end, we need to embrace the discomfort because if we focus on choosing the side that will make us feel safe I don’t think we really are.  A slide asking for questions

So.  as it turns out, ending a talk when you feel like you’re still in the middle of the topic is harder than you’d think.  I’m going to be exploring the gray areas on this one for a while.  I hope we all can keep talking about it.

Questions?

Image Credits

Again with curiosity (Library Instruction West 2014)

So, not only was this conference in Portland but it was also awesome.  Thanks one more time to Joan Petit, Sara Thompson, and the rest of the conference committee who put on such a great event.

Marijuana Legalization Papers Got You Down?  You Won’t Believe What We Did About It!

Hannah Gascho Rempel & Anne-Marie Deitering (OSU Libraries & Press)

Title slide for a presentation. The word curiosity is displayed across the top. Several images of sparks are below.

Download the slides (PDF)

Download the slides + presenter notes (PDF)

Session handout

Take the Curiosity Self Assessment

Scoring Guide to the Curiosity Self Assessment

 

Conference Snow Day Make-ups

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

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

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

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

(ETA – our stuff is up there now)

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

FYE Conference – notes and links

ETA – Presentation slides (they’re image heavy, and only moderately helpful, but here they are)

Information Literacy

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

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

Rempel, H. G., Buck, S., & Deitering, A. M. (2013). Examining Student Research Choices and Processes in a Disintermediated Searching Environment. portal: Libraries and the Academy. 13(4), 363-384.

Kim, K. S., & Sin, S. C. J. (2007). Perception and selection of information sources by undergraduate students: effects of avoidant style, confidence, and personal control in problem-solving.The Journal of Academic Librarianship. 33(6), 655-665. (Elsevier paywall)

Curiosity

Curiosity Self-Assessment  – try it yourself!

Scoring Guide

Based on:
by Jordan A. Litman & Mark V. Pezzo (2007). In Personality and Individual Differences 43 (6): 1448–1459.
by Jordan A. Litman & Charles D. Spielberger (2003) in Journal of Personality Assessment 80 (1) (February): 75–86.
by Robert P. Collins, Jordan A. Litman & Charles D. Speilberger (2004) in Personality and Individual Differences 36 (5): 1127-1141

Exploration

What we used in FYC:

WR 121 LibGuide

Science Daily

EurekAlert!

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

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

Mapping OSU Research – Google map

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

Other possibilities:

Newsmap — treemap style visualization of Google News.

Tiki-Toki — timeline generator

TimelineJS (integrated with Google Spreadsheets)

Curiosity Self-Assessment – scoring

close up of the Mars Curiosity rover

@MarsCuriosity (twitter)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 item likert scale ranging from almost never to almost always

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

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

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

But they can tell you something about yourself.

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

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

But remember how those scales work.

likert

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

Curiosity, Browsing & Online Environments – Further Reading

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

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

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

view from my porch is snow

view from my porch

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

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

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

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

Curiosity

Curiosity Self-Assessment  – try it yourself!

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

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

Exploration

What we used in FYC:

WR 121 LibGuide

Science Daily

EurekAlert!

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

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

Mapping OSU Research – Google map

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

Other possibilities:

Newsmap — treemap style visualization of Google News.

Tiki-Toki — timeline generator

TimelineJS (integrated with Google Spreadsheets)

Good library assignments, part final

So we left off with the idea that research is scary and difficult, that it’s much easier to follow a familiar path than to try something new. I think the last two truisms really get at the place where all three of those factors that students need to be research-brave converge: affect, skills and practicalities.

Students won’t automatically understand the connections between research assignments and course outcomes.

Part of this, I think, is because many students don’t come to college with the idea that research is something is a learning process – in their experience, it’s been more like a stringing together quotes process. But to really get the learning process idea, I think, you have to think about knowledge as something that is constructed, not discovered and you also have to think you have the capacity to construct it yourself. That’s a pretty advanced way of thinking about knowledge — it’s where we want them to get as they become information literate.

A lot of courses have objectives that fall into the “learn about X” category — if you think that “learning” means “find out the truth from an authority,” then it can be hard to see a research paper as a part of that. But even with smaller concepts – a lot of what we require for academic research writing can seem to be more of a hoop you jump through within the boundaries of a class, not something you’ll carry forward out of the academic environment.

Here’s an example. I do a guest bit in a class for beginner engineers every year (and every year I panic about it because I am not an engineer and every year it turns out to be delightful — you’d think I’d learn). This year, though, I had some legit reasons to panic because the faculty member asked me to spend 10 minutes or so teaching them about citations and plagiarism.

(She didn’t put that time limit on it, that was just the amount of time more than I had from last year — and she also didn’t mind when I spent more time on it — this isn’t a war story — just a note about where my head was).

So anyway, I had just read Project Information Literacy’s great report on the First Year Out data — explaining how new graduates face information problems in the workplace. I was very struck by their finding that a lot of new employees know that they were hired with an expectation that people their age are good at technology and that they therefore feel a they should be doing things quickly and online.

So to do this plagiarism thing, I broke the students into groups of 3 and had them do a think-trio-share thing. I told them to imagine that they were in an internship at a company they really wanted to work for. They’d just been given their first task — something like researching a new scheduling software tool for the team to use — and they were going to be expected to write a report in a week with a recommendation.

I asked them if they agreed with my assumption that their new boss would draw some conclusions about them from the results of this – the first major project they delivered — they agreed. So then, I asked them to think about how they’d like their new boss to describe them, based on their work on this project. I told them each to come up with 5 adjectives. And then in groups I asked them to come to consensus on 3 that they thought were really important. Then I asked them to do it again – but this time think of what they would like their new boss to know about their process – about how they approach a task. Then they came up and wrote their words on the board – if someone else had the same one, they wrote over it. Kind of a low-tech tag cloud.

Unfortunately, I am disorganized and did not take a photo. But the words were pretty great – a combination of: articulate, decisive, open-minded, out-of-the-box thinker, creative, comprehensive, critical, concise, thorough, efficient, resourceful, smart, intelligent and so on.

(“technology savvy” and “fast on the Internet” did not come up – which I do not think undercuts PIL’s finding at all — I think in the safe confines of the classroom, they didn’t think those things mattered – which is not the same thing at all as being in a job where you know you’re expected to be a technological whiz-kid)

So then we talked about how the sources they chose to consult would/could communicate these things about them as an employee, and about their work process. I said that’s a major reason we cite – to present a particular picture of ourselves. And then we shifted into a conversation about what types of sources would help them do this for the assignment they had in that class.

So how does this connect to anything? Well, one of the major outcomes of this particular class is that students will develop basic skills they need to work as a professional in the field of environmental engineering. Now, think about the plagiarism thing. The professor wasn’t asking me to talk about that as it connected to that outcome. Her main focus was good citations in her class projects, right? And there’s nothing wrong with that. But taught that way – then citations (and implicitly, the sources you choose) become just another hoop you have to navigate in school projects – that are totally disconnected from anything that might extend beyond.

A lot of our courses have an explicit connection to beyond — they’re intended to teach people to think and communicate like an historian, a rangeland ecologist, a soil scientist, an environmental engineer, and so on. And in libraries we think (I believe) that most of what we have to teach should support our students in what they do in the classroom and beyond. So, lay those connections bare, is what I’m saying.

(I was talking about this activity in a workshop for faculty in another context and one small group started talking about how they could take this premise for talking about citations and build on it – how they could bring in examples of professional writing that students could analyze to see what types of sources are used in the field – or to include that concept in questions to guest speakers.)

Research freedom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

One of our learning technology people told me years and years ago when we were chatting about teaching that he believes we shouldn’t force students to make too many choices to be successful — that if you want to give them freedom to choose a topic, then you should provide a lot of structure in terms of form – and so on. That’s kind of like a rule, but it has stuck with me.

See, I’m pretty good at interpreting assignments – actually, I’m pretty great at it. I didn’t stress out much when it came to predicting what teachers were really looking for, what would make them happy — I knew what they wanted to see. I actually enjoyed the unstructured “I can’t wait to see what you all come up with” types of assignments. But I realized in library school that I’m way in the minority there – that for others, these free for alls are incredibly stressful.

Here’s the thing – a lot of people who go into academia are pretty good at school. And a huge part of being good at school is knowing what’s really being asked for. I am guessing that a lot of professors probably loved getting to play with ideas and sources and concepts when they were students, and were good at it. And then we become professors and we want to design the exciting, enriching assignments we would have wanted as students. But in many cases we weren’t typical students – what we wanted wasn’t what everyone else wanted or needed?

I read an article years ago about the writing classroom where the teacher (I think she was a middle school teacher) asked the class to re-write a short story they’d just read from a different character’s perspective. I am pretty sure that I would have adored this assignment in the sixth grade — that’s just how my brain works. But the class pretty much crashed and burned. Instead of giving up on the assignment, or on them, she broke it down into a series of smaller exercises that helped the students re-frame the story, empathize with different characters and – and this is important – develop the confidence to create something themselves that was going to stand alongside (in their minds) the original story by a “real author.”

It is important to remember what a huge step it is to feel confident enough to say “no one else seems to be interpreting these facts this way, but this is what makes sense to me and I’m confident in my analysis and evidence.” Talk about unpacking – that’s a career’s worth of information literacy development embedded in that one sentence. And this brings us back to where we ended yesterday — that a huge part of what we do is give students the courage to take risks. Is it a good idea to ask them to do that in every stage of a multilayered project?

One concrete place where I really think this all comes together is the topic selection phase — a place were many students don’t get much guidance — and a place where many research projects fail. Not only do the affective dimensions loom really large at this stage, but topic selection is also a skill (that requires domain knowledge). And at the same time, there’s a hefty dose of practicality in play — you’re going to be judged by someone else, that means figuring out their rules.

For this, I’m going to turn to Project Information Literacy again – their 2010 paper on how students use information in the digital age has a great section on barriers students face and for many of those students (like, easily most) the biggest barrier is “getting started.” The finding here is that students approach topic selection extremely aware of the fact that they are navigating a host of unstated expectations on the part of their teacher — not just in terms of “that’s interesting” (or not) but from a much deeper and more complex level — “that’s a topic that will (or won’t) let you do the kind of analysis and use the kinds of sources I expect to see here.” It says they think of this as a gamble:

Instead, for many students we interviewed, course-related research was difficult because it was more akin to gambling than completing college-level work. Yes, gambling. The beginning of research is when the first bets were placed. Choosing a topic is fraught with risk for many students. As one student acknowledged in interviews: either a topic worked well or it failed when it was too late to change it.

In the last couple of terms a colleague and I have been experimenting with the information literacy models in our FYC class to see if we can’t improve them. We started out looking at delivery platforms, but something we saw during our assessment that term led us down the rabbit hole of curiosity and getting started. So this last term, we took five sections and built in a set of activities where they browsed for topics. Their course instructors sent them to ScienceDaily, and then led them through a process of topic selection. I wouldn’t say this was uncritically successful — there are things we want to tweak – but successful it definitely was. But one of the most striking things about the process was actually the conversations we had with the instructors before where they confirmed, from their experience, that yes – topic selection is super scary and stressful for students and for some, it’s a barrier they can’t overcome.

20130816-082429.jpg

I think activities and assignments that focus entirely on that crucial first step — what kinds of questions do people ask in this field – would be fantastic. But if you want to do a more fully-fledged research project in a class, then building in activities that provide structure, feedback and hopefully spark interest during the topic-selection stage are crucial. Browsing is a great way to get started with this — structured, guided, useful browsing that will expose students to sources and ideas they haven’t seen before. This is a map that some colleagues and I created for a workshop – we wanted a visual that would help students start to understand the scope and extent of research happening on our campus. We started the workshop with a browsing activity – and I think a lot of students would have stayed there the whole time if we’d let them.

Conclusion

I wouldn’t say I have any strong, definitive conclusions here — the closest thing to a big-c Conclusion is I think the idea that helping students take risks is what we need to do — and that our assignments should be authentic enough to make them take those cognitive or affective risks, but structured enough to give them what they need to be successful in their risk-taking.

But the workshop this was in service of happened, and the conversations were great. And I just checked back on my three strains of thought and while they may not have fully cohered — they’re all here in some way. So I’m calling this a win. Thanks for coming along with me.