The iConnected Parent, Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

some rights reserved by ucentralarkansas (flickr)

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

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

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

Conclusions & Advice for Parents

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

My reactions

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

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

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

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

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

the iConnected Parent, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 — The Electronic Tether: Communication between Today’s College Students and Their Parents

Summary

We open with Doonesbury articulating the central tension of the book — not helicopter parenting per se, something more along the lines of “we weren’t like this?”

black and white comic strip featuring a man talking to his wife about his daughter

(Note, there’s about a week and a half of strips on this topic if you click the link)

The first study used online surveys and focus groups and compared what students thought would happen with regard to communication with their parents with what actually did.

  • Most students predicted they’d talk to parents about once a week (and focus groups suggested they were looking forward to more independence)
  • Followup surveys showed they were talking to parents an average of 10.4 times per week.

Hofer (and the older students who worked with her, who were just as surprised by the findings) located the source of this change in the ubiquity of cell phones.

The second study tackled the question – is this just a first-term thing, or does it persist? (Yes). The third study looked at students who had taken a gap year – did they report different patterns (No).

The fourth study expanded the population from Middlebury, looking at Middlebury students and students in a very different environment – the University of Michigan.  It also expanded in scope – examining a cohort of students across four years.

The average number of times that families communicated was 13.4 times per week.  Year in school didn’t matter.  Which school didn’t matter.  Variables like income, ethnicity and distance from home had no effect.  Only gender had an effect and it was small (14.5 connections per week for girls, 11.3 for boys).

And this latest study also showed that neither side of this equation (students or parents) was driving the communication – both sides initiated about the same number of calls.  Students indicated a general level of satisfaction with the amount of contact, but believed their parents would want more.  A parent survey was added to see if that was true.  About 30% said they’d like more contact.  88% of parents predicted that their children would report being satisfied with the amount of contact.

Interestingly, there seems to be a tension in when and why students call – sometimes it is because they feel they need the help (more on this in a minute) but another strong theme running through this data is the idea that these phone calls are “entertainment,” “filler,” or “something to do when I’m bored.”

In terms of help, the content of the calls does change over time.  First-year students report needing more academic help — later, the times when help is needed, or offered, tends to cluster around milestones like picking a major, finding an internship, or choosing a career.

Upper-division students are more likely to report conversations where the primary topic is the parents‘ life or work.

My reactions

So, this chapter was akin to the “results” section in a paper — it doesn’t really get into the “do these findings matter” piece — except in the teaser for the next chapter.

It also doesn’t really get into causality beyond the statements at the beginning where they were trying to figure out why the upper-division students involved in the study seemed more similar to the researchers in their expectations and reactions than like their fellow students.

I ended up with more questions than answers — the focus on number of contacts per week doesn’t allow for a lot of subtlety. A lot of the rest of the chapter pointed to ways to complicate these results, without really digging into them enough to actually complicate them –

  • For example, “fix this problem for me” is a pretty different motivator than “I’m bored and I have a half mile to walk until I get to my next class” — particularly if you’re going to then be drawing connections between these behaviors and what we know about student development.
  • Carrying that a little further, looking back to causality, it seems so intuitive as to be hard to examine that the “I’m bored” calls probably ARE tied to the fact that all of a sudden everyone carries around their phone all of the time, playing Angry Birds while walking is kind of hard, AND we don’t have to worry about minutes and charges when we’re talking to family?  The “fix things for me” behaviors on the other hand – those seem to point to a more complex set of causes.
  • Speaking of, I’m reading this book because it’s based, at least in substantial part, on actual research so I am glad that they chose to foreground the rest of the book WITH that research by putting it in chapter 2.  I was going to say here that the numbers still point to many things – as just mentioned the bullet above, but that the anecdotes and stories pulled out of the qualitative data tend towards the “these kids today” narratives that exist in the popular media.  But I’m actually not sure that’s true.  Certainly, the student whose mom had all of the syllabi for his classes and who would call him to make sure he was meeting deadlines, etc. was extreme and vivid and memorable.  But I think there may have been just as many examples of students telling stories like “I always call when I walk to the gym because I know there’s a built-in exit strategy out of the conversation.”
  • Which leads to the last question – I hope later chapters dig more into the connections between the behaviors (making or accepting calls, sending emails, etc) and how students and parents think the others are perceiving those connections — they may be calling at equal rates, but what do those rates mean if you add in feelings of obligation, external motivators (like peer pressure), or all of those times when you wanted to call and didn’t?
  • Finally, I am still hoping friends are part of this discussion, but it doesn’t look like they’re going to be.

The iConnected Parent (Summer Reading 2012) part 1

Today’s assignment — Chapter 1: iConnected Parenting 101.

You know, I don’t do book clubs.  I don’t know why.  Well, maybe I do know why.  I think for a book club to work for me it would have to be a perfect storm of people I knew exactly the right amount PLUS people who were exactly as interested in talking about the book as I was.  I suspect that if #1 wasn’t there – as in people I knew not well enough – then #2 would default immediately into talking about other things than the book, because.. well… I tend to feel strongly about books.

And if there’s one thing my history graduate degree gave me it was the training to feel strongly about books and also feel really, really comfortable into trying to argue other people into feeling the same way I do.  I don’t think that’s what most people do book groups for.

A photograph of a book with an image of an empty nest on the cover and the title The iConnected Parent by Barbara Hofer

But I’m going to read this book – pretty much in public – and those things won’t matter because you can read along or not, agree or argue or not – and it’ll be fine.

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

So first off I am not a huge fan of the title.  I wonder if the author actually loves this title?  It reads like an effort to give a fairly academic book more mainstream appeal so I am not going to hold the title against her.

I’m going to read this book because it’s research-based. It grew out of series of research studies that Dr. Hofer (a psychology professor at Middlebury) conducted with and about students at her college.  I am also going to read it because in the stories I read about it, the authors tended to avoid the kind of sensationalistic “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS” anecdotes and spin that characterize a lot of the stories I hear (and I admit it, sometimes retell) about college students and their relationship to their parents.

Full disclosure, I was a kid who talked a lot to my family when I was in college.  I went to school 3,000 miles away from home, in a big city, and as the first one of my siblings to go to college.  This was the age before cell phones, before VOIP and before the Internet, when we had to be aware of things like long-distance charges and when the rates changed. My mom owned her own business, and would take calls from me any time – I didn’t have to worry about the costs – so I talked to her (and sometimes my dad or my sisters) a few times a week.  Several of my friends would have also characterized themselves as close to their families, but even in that context, I was considered pretty weird.

Enough with the preliminaries.  I promise, tomorrow I’ll get to the content quicker.  This is just the introductory chapter, though, so there’s some room for my own introduction too.  In this piece the authors are doing the typical introductory stuff – here’s the argument and here’s how we got involved in the project.

Summary of Chapter 1

So, here’s how they got there:

Dr. Hofer noticed students leaving her classes at Middlebury and immediately calling their parents.  Interested in the phenomenon, she asked some students to help her explore the connection between this frequent (& cell-phone enabled) parent/child communication and the students’ ability to become independent (along a variety of vectors). That study got some popular attention, and in the ensuing rounds of public conversation, she met Abby Moore, a journalist covering the same types of phenomena for the New York Times.  They decided to collaborate on a book length treatment.

And here’s the argument (from page 2):

We use the term iConnected Parenting to refer to a culture of parents deeply involved in their children’s lives, even as they approach adulthood, that uses the technology of instand communication to enhance their connection. Perhaps nowhere is this trend more evident than on campus, where parents and kids once separated. We believe that it has substantially changed parent-child relationships, during the college years especially, and that there are both benefits and drawbacks to this.

My thoughts:

Starting with the reflective piece.  As I said before, I talked to my family a lot for a Gen X type and I am fairly certain that were IM, cell phones and Skype available to me I would have talked to them even more.  Actually, given how fast my mom and I both type, I suspect that IM and email would have actually been the killer apps for us.

At the same time, I was pretty aggressively independent and my parents did a lot to encourage that.  I made almost all of my academic decisions by myself – starting with high school. I navigated the whole college-choosing process with very little input.  I decided on my own courses, I found my own jobs — I was as independent as anyone I knew.  As a matter of fact, THAT’S actually one reason I think I was weird — because I talked to my family all the time without HAVING to — I wasn’t expected nor required to run things by them, I didn’t have to clear my choices or even how I was spending money with them — I had more independence from my family and still I talked to my mom every other day or so.

So while I find the argument that technology and ease of communication MUST be making things different very intuitive — I’m not sure what I think the impact of that change is.  In other words, I am sure that I would have been a lot more connected to family (and to friends) from “back home” with ubiquitous lines of communication — but I’m not sure what the impact of that would have been on my development, my independence, or my life.

The introduction runs through a variety of “cultural factors” the authors think are contributing to these changes – I assume these will be fleshed out (and documented) more later, because here they are barely more than assertions:

  • Parents having fewer kids and having them later.
  • The belief that the world today is more dangerous than it used to be.
  • Kids living more scheduled lives.
  • A more competitive college admissions process.
And I’m not sure if this is another cause or if it’s the effect — more time spent in a liminal phase between adolescence and adulthood.

So my hopes for the book include –

  • I hope the book really digs into Hofer’s actual research.
  • I hope the book looks at the impact of technology in a complex way.  For example, so much of the communication we’re talking about takes place in text – and everyone doesn’t have an equal level of facility with text — how does that affect or change things?  What is the impact of culture, or class on these questions?
  • I hope this isn’t JUST about parenting.  It is also much, much easier for students today to stay very connected to the circle of friends from high school, and I have to think that those connections are every bit as likely as the connections to family to have an impact on how well a student engages with and connects to their new community in college.
  • I hope the book draws some connections between these observations and existing, research-based theory on college student development.

teaching, comics and autobiography

Last week, Kate and I spent some time at the OLA conference problematizing the “teacher” label, as it works in the context of library instruction.  So it was a little surprising that after coming home from Bend and then busting up to Portland, the main thing I wanted to buy at the Stumptown Comics Fest was all about teaching:

To Teach: The Journey, In Comics
William Ayers & Ryan Alexander Tanner
Teachers College Press
2010

Stumptown was really excellent this year.  We brought the kiddo and introduced one of her friends to the experience — I kind of wanted to spend my whole time spying on them to see what they bought, but I restrained myself.  I haven’t been to many comics festivals, but I’ve heard that Stumptown is kind of unique.  Portland is a major creative center for comics, and a lot of the people showing are both local and national, if that makes sense.  It’s also very artist-writer-creator focused.  It’s not that there aren’t local comics publishers – there totally are and they’re present, but they don’t overwhelm the event as a celebration of all of the individual creativity that produces these works.

So, To Teach.  Written by William Ayers with art by Ryan Alexander-Tanner (but the process as depicted in the book itself was more collaborative than that implies).

We have a rule that we look at everything before buying and Stumptown is still small enough to make that possible.

(Shaun totally broke the rule this year, though.  Just so you know)

The artist was off doing a “Teaching with Comics” panel when I went back to buy this book (I didn’t break the rule) so I don’t have a cool signature in my copy.  But if he had been there, this is what he would have looked like:

Creative Commons licensed by Ocean Yamaha at flickr.

But he has my money, which is the important thing. The book is a comics version of William Ayers’ memoir To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher. It’s deeply autobiographical, very opinionated and pretty inspiring.

For us in libraries, yes, much of it talks about the kind of deep knowledge of our students that we can’t get in the one-shot.  But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing here for us, even in that context.  Not just for credit course teachers, this book.

First, right up front there’s a big section on myths, and how myths about teaching can be destructive — this connects back to those posts from last year about hegemonic assumptions and many of the other insights in one of my other favorite teaching books — Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher.

These are the myths that must be slain:

  1. Kids today are worse than ever before
  2. Teachers always know what’s going on in the classroom
  3. The teacher’s work is to “save” the children
  4. Good teachers are good performers
  5. All children are above average (this one is about the idea that there is an average)
  6. Good teachers always know the material

Want to see how this all plays out in comics?  Here’s a little sample of the art.

(There’s more at the TCP link above)

Chapters include ideas about how to really “see” students, building learning environments, assessment, what curricula is good for (and what it isn’t), and teaching/learning as a constant cycle.  Woven throughout is the idea that autobiography is a crucial lens for the teacher.

Two more pieces really jumped out at me thinking about the library context — one piece directly from the interviews Kate and I have been thinking about — the role of self-criticism in improvement.  Ayers says that if we’re never self-critical then we can’t improve.  That makes sense.  He also says that if we’re too self-critical then we become “powerless and timid.”

That also makes a lot of sense.  One of the things that Kate and I talked about at the Information Literacy Summit a couple of years ago was how much responsibility we take on to ourselves as library teachers.  We asked for stories in that long-ago project and one of our prompts was “tell us about a situation that haunts you.”  We got so many stories about situations way beyond that which any individual could control, but threading through much of it was the sense that those situations are always salvageable, if only we’re flexible, or prepared, or quick-witted enough.

So yes, self-criticism good – in moderation.

The other piece that struck me as especially useful to think about was about the broader environment — the school.  This was presented in a series of panels about “good schools”

  • Good schools are geared toward continuous improvement
  • Good schools are powered by core values that are explicit, apparent, and embodied in daily life.
  • Good schools have high expectations for all learners.  Students feel nourished and challenged in the same gesture.
  • Good schools are always unique: Each is the creation of particular people working to bring their vision to life in classrooms.
  • Good schools are places where lots of good teachers have been gathered together and allowed to teach.

These ideas are important, I think, because it can be easy to feel disconnected in library instruction — we have volumes of literature and mountains of conversation about this in terms of the library’s relationship to the college or the university.  But I also think this is worth talking about in terms of the library.  Libraries aren’t schools, but they do provide a context that shapes the teaching experience.  I know there are academic libraries that have explicit, apparent, embodied in daily life core values that inform and nourish library teaching — but I don’t know that I think all of them do.  I’m not sure what that means, but I do think it’s worth thinking about.

So, I’m still poking at the “teacher” label in my mind and in conversations with others – which is I think entirely consistent with this book, and the others like it that push us to question the assumptions underlying those labels, and to do what we do when “teaching” intentionally and critically.

Peer-Reviewed Friday: Either/or edition

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

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

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

(If you did – hi!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s not what happened.

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

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

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

So let’s look at some of those reasons -

Prior learning and experience

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

Trainee Resistance

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

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

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

Organizational Resistance to Transfer

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

Managerial Support and Resistance

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

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

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

Identification of Training Needs and Objectives

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

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

The Immediacy and Salience of Feedback and Consequences

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

Degree of Similarity Between Training, Work and Work Environments

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

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

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

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

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

Peer Reviewed Monday – Scaffolding Evaluation Skills

ResearchBlogging.org
So this week we’re also behind a paywall, I think.  Someday I will have time to actually go looking for Peer Reviewed Monday articles that meet a set of standards, but right now we’re still in the “something I read in real life this week” phase.

And this one was interesting – so far, when I have found articles that are specifically about deliberate interventions designed to teach something about peer review or about research articles, it is almost always in this literature, about the teaching of science.  Not surprising, but it does beg the question of disciplinary differences.  Still, the overarching takeaway of this article isn’t that everyone should teach about evaluating scientific evidence like we did so much as it is everyone should be teaching this on purpose, and over and over.

Which is a message I can get behind.  And one, I suspect, that is true across disciplines.

So the article has two parts.  One is a presentation of the model the authors used to teach students to evaluate evidence, and the second is a report on their research assessing the use of the model in a class.  Their students are not college students, but advanced high school students.

The authors open by arguing for the significance of evaluation skills in science -

Students, more frequently now than before, are faced with important socio-scientific dilemmas and they are asked or they will be asked in the future to take action on them.  They should be in position to have reflective discussions on such debates and not accept data at face value.

They further argue that students are not being taught this now – that most problem-based or inquiry-based curricula takes the data as a given, and doesn’t include “question the data” as part of the lesson. ( I almost think they are arguing that this is even more important now then it had been before because of the current emphasis on active, experiential learning.  That they’re suggesting that this type of pedagogy requires evaluation skills that the old lecture model didn’t, but that teaching evaluation skills hasn’t been built into these curricula.  That’s an interesting idea.)

In the lit review, the authors spend some time on the question of what “credibility” means.  For the purposes of this paper, that are arguing that there are two main components to the assessment of the credibility of evidence:  the source of the evidence and the method, how it was constructed.  This interpretation is heavily influenced by Driver, et al, 2001).

Questions to ask of the source:

  • Is there evident bias or not?
  • Was it peer-reviewed?
  • Who is the author? What is their reason for producing the evidence? What is their background?
  • What is the funding source?

Questions to ask of the methodology:

  • Does the evidence refer to a comparison of two different groups?
  • Is there any control of variables?
  • Were the results replicated?

The review of the literature suggests that there is ample evidence to support the claim that students are uncertain about how to evaluate evidence and assess claims.  This holds true across grade levels and disciplines.  They also suggest that there is very little research on whether these skills can be improved.

image of steel building framework

Credibility Assessment Framework

The authors then turn their attention to the Credibility Assessment Framework, which they believe will help high school students build the skills they need to assess evidence in inquiry situations.  The framework is based on two specific theoretical concepts: Learning-for-use framework (Edelson 2001) and scaffolding design framework (Quintana, et al 2004).  The framework is intended to help designers create good learning activities that include:

  • authentic contexts
  • authentic activities
  • multiple perspectives
  • coaching and scaffolding by the teacher at critical times
  • authentic assessment of learning within the tasks
  • support for the collaborative construction of knowledge
  • support for reflection about and articulation of learning

What they did

The team spent eight months building the learning environment for a class of secondary school science students.  They built their evaluation learning activities around a project where students were supposed to be doing hands-on work on an ill-structured and complex problem (food and GMOs) — a context where their work should naturally and authentically benefit from the critical evaluation of multiple sources of evidence.

One thing that is significant here, is that the authors supplied the reserach for the students to evaluate — they didn’t include a “finding stuff” piece to this work.  But they also modified the sources that the students were going to use, when they felt it was important to do so to decrease the cognitive load on students.  What was really interesting to me about this was what they added in – context, why the study was done and where it fit.  This is exactly what I feel (feel, because I haven’t got data) my students are missing when they’re just assigned “peer-reviewed articles.”

This information was put in a database in the students’ online learning space.  This space includes both an “inquiry” environment and a reflective “WorkSpace” environment; the project used both.

Scaffolding was built in, using both human-provided information (from the teacher) and computer-supported information (available online for the duration of the unit).  And the unit as a whole lasted elevent weeks.  There were 11 90 minute lesson plans.  The students started out doing hands-on experiments, and then spent the remainder of the unit doing groupwork which included data evaluation.  Then at the end the groups presented their findings.

In the first four lessons, the students were evaluating the provided sources without direct instruction. In the fifth lesson, they did a specific exercise where they evaluated the credibility of two sources unrelated to the class’ topic — this was done to reveal the criteria that the students had been unconsciously using as they attempted to evaluate provided sources in the first four weeks.

What they found out

The authors gathered pre- and post- test data using two instruments.  One measured the mastery of concepts and the other the evaluation skills.  They also videotaped the class sessions and used data captured from the online learning environment.  There was a control class as well, which did not have any of the specific evaluation lessons. The authors found that for the study group, there was a statistically significant difference between the pre- and post- tests for both conceptual understanding and evaluation skills.  For the control group there was no significant difference.

Two findings I found particularly interesting:

  • Including the qualitative data gave more insight.  In the pre-tests students were abel to identify the more credible sources, but they were not able to articulate WHY those sources were more credibile.
  • Within the particular components of credibility that the authors identified (source and method) the students did fine on author/author background by themselves, but needed help with: type of publication and funding source.

The students needed scaffolding help on methodological criteria, and even with it, many students didn’t get it (though they got more of it than they had coming in – this was a totally new concept for most of them).

Here’s the piece that I found the most interesting.  The impact of the study, as interpreted by me, was not so much on the students’ ability to tell the really good or the really bad sources.  It sounded to mek like the real impact was that the students were able to do more meaningful navigation of the sources in the middle.  And I think that’s really important — and something that most students don’t know they need to know on their own.  Related to this – the students were likely to mistrust ALL “internet” sources at the beginning, but by the end they were able to identify a journal article, even if that journal article was published online.  That’s significant to me too – that shows the start of that more sophisticated understanding of evaluation that I think is necessary to really evaluate the scholarly literature.

Finally, the authors found that the students had most of the conversations they did have about evaluation as the result of instruction – not on their own – which they took to prove that instruction was needed.

As I said before, the point of the paper seemed to me to be more about the fact taht this kind of direct intervention is needed, not that this specific intervention is the be all and end all of instruction in this area.  Beyond this, I think the paper is interesting because it illustrates how big a job “evaluation” is to teach – that it includes not only a set of skills but a related set of epistemological ideas — that the students need to know something about knowledge and why and how it’s created.  That’s a big job, and I’m not surprised it took 3 months to do here.

Nicolaidou, I., Kyza, E., Terzian, F., Hadjichambis, A., & Kafouris, D. (2011). A framework for scaffolding students’ assessment of the credibility of evidence Journal of Research in Science Teaching DOI: 10.1002/tea.20420

Peer Reviewed Monday – Expertise Reversal Theory

ResearchBlogging.org
Okay. So I am pretty sure that the actual article I am pointing to here (probably behind a pay wall – sorry) is not peer-reviewed.  It is the editors’ introduction to a special issue of the journal Instructional Science.  In this introduction they tell us that there are five empirical research reports and two commentary pieces in the issue, but this piece is neither empirical research nor peer-reviewed.

So, take a look at the whole issue, if your access to Springer journals is sufficient.  If not, I will summarize!

So, expertise reversal theory.  Sounds fancy.  I have definitely heard much talk about its theoretical context – cognitive load theory.  That shows up all over the place in library instruction circles. I was in an airplane during the opening keynote at WILU last week, but from what I heard (and I heard it a lot – the keynote must have been really good) the “brain guy” talked about the kinds of things that come up in conversations about cognitive load theory.

Expertise reversal theory is a subset of this research.  It suggests that the very same things that reduce cognitive load in novice learners can actually increase cognitive load in expert learners, or in learners with more domain knowledge.

The implications of this for library instruction seem immediate and obvious.

In the classroom.  How many times have we talked about the problem of the class that seems to be equally divided between the students who have never been pointed to a database and students who have been to the library classroom four times this year?  You can’t pitch your presentation to the experts in that scenario, and depending on what you have to do for the novices, you might find yourself saying “well, hearing it again won’t hurt them.”. This theory suggests that maybe it will.

On the web. This is, of course, the really significant place where we have to think about the possibilities this theory raises,  Who makes Beginning and Advanced online help possible?  (okay, maybe Zotero but who else?)

I have been thinking about my tutorial posts from last year, because they were part of a larger process that Hannah and I presented on at WILU.  One of the main takeaways I took from the craft tutorials was the way that they assumed that the people using the tutorials brought with them a body of knowledge, and that idea runs throughout this discussion of expertise reversal theory.  The authors argue that the most important cognitive factor in learning is prior knowledge:

Studies of expert-novice differences in cognitive science have clearly demonstrated that learner knowledge base is the most important and fundamental cognitive characteristic that influences learning and performance.

Basically, the way I read this overview is like this – novices don’t have a set of mental models, body of domain knowledge or prior experiences to structure their interaction with new information, tools, etc.  They need help – and to reduce their cognitive load, we provide  help that gives them that structure, whether it be text presented together with images, detailed step-by-step instructions, or whatever the case may be.  More experienced learners have those mental models in place.  When you give them that structuring information, it becomes something they have to wade through, and it might actually impede their ability to access their own prior knowledge.

At the most basic level, they need the opportunity to “opt out” of the extra help you put in there for novices.

A couple of the papers in the special issue are of interest, though I haven’t read them closely enough to analyze yet – they look at how well expertise reversal theory holds up in messy domains (specifically literary criticism and writing-to-learn in psychology) instead of focusing on “well-structured” domains like math or physics — and as instruction librarians, messy domains are where we usually live, right?

Kalyuga, S., & Renkl, A. (2009). Expertise reversal effect and its instructional implications: introduction to the special issue Instructional Science, 38 (3), 209-215 DOI: 10.1007/s11251-009-9102-0