Practice & the tenure question

I feel odd weighing in here, because I have actively not joined the conversation on twitter.  Between a conference, putting one project to bed and ramping another one up – I knew that I would not be able to keep up there so I consciously stayed away.  And I also knew that I needed some more time to think and process Meredith’s excellent post.

So as I tend to do with her posts, I’m going to write something about what I think about this issue, that doesn’t really engage with her post at all directly.  She’s really good at sparking those pieces of my brain that like to think about things.

multicolored cubes of Jello against a white background

some rights reserved by stevendepolo (flickr)

One of the problems I have with any discussion of librarian tenure is the nailing jello to the wall problem — when everyone is describing a different piece of the elephant it’s really hard to keep your footing in a discussion about a constantly shifting landscape.

Damn. I can’t think of any other metaphors to throw into that awful mix.

But you get my meaning – the conversations are almost inevitably pulled this way and that by the fact that we really in this profession have no consensus about what it means to be a tenured academic librarian.  We’re not inculcated into a tenure-valuing culture in grad school – not in the slightest.

And tenure for librarians is different things all at the same time.  Even within most of our institutions, we don’t know what being a tenured academic librarian looks like.  I’ve done a lot of external reviews where I get copies of standards that I should use for my evaluation.  Some are thoughtful and closely tied to the values and practice of librarianship. More  are not – they read like they’re trying to show librarians are “just the same” as everyone else. Many are neither of these – they’re lightly edited versions of campus standards (or totally not edited versions of campus standards).

Tenure standards do vary from place to place, and the culture around tenure varies from place to place — for all disciplines and fields.  But for us, it’s kind of all about that.  When you don’t have a sense out of grad school of what a tenured person in your field does, or what the value of tenure is, and when these conversations aren’t happening for you and yours in other places — then the tenure experience becomes all about the local institutional culture. I can say that tenure gives me a clear message that my professional activity is valued and you can say tenure hamstrings you and keeps you from engaging in that way.  We’re both right.  I can say tenure’s awesome because it protects professional activities for everyone, you can say tenure’s the worst because it doesn’t.  We’re both wrong.

Many of the conversations about tenure end up being about the state of scholarly publishing in LIS, and I’m not really going to go there. Except kind of. It’s confusing. Maybe I should keep thinking about this some more.

See, I get why conversations about tenure go straight to publishing; the one thing everyone knows about people who get tenure is that they publish stuff. You don’t publish enough or you don’t publish the right stuff, you lose your job.  You do publish enough stuff and the right kind of stuff, and you get rewarded with tenure, which means keeping your job.  But I’d like to see these discussions going beyond issues of rigor and volume — because at heart, those are still holding up other people’s research as the standard by which ours is found wanting. 

Barbara said what I was thinking in the initial discussion –  

 And Maura picked it up — 

As academic librarians we have a view of the scholarly publishing landscape that other faculty may not share, and I hope we can use this position to advocate for tenure requirements that take into account more of the possibilities for contributing to the creation and propagation of knowledge than peer review and impact factor alone.

So many people’s tenure experiences seem to reduce to what “counts” — with the subtext being that the stuff I do with real impact is different than the stuff that “counts” for tenure. And that makes me wonder why doesn’t it count?  Who decides what counts?  

some rights reserved by clarkmaxwell (flickr)

Sometimes yes, there are bad institutional cultures that stipulate a single pathway to tenure and that’s a problem.  And not just for librarians because tenured artists should look different than tenured anthropologists should look different than tenured biochemists and so on, but it might be a bigger problem for librarians for reasons I’ll get into in a minute.  But I honestly don’t think that’s the only thing in play here. 

We worry so much about being taken seriously as academics in general, and tenure-line academics in particular — sometimes the subtext I hear is that we have to make ourselves look like (what we think) “real” tenured faculty look like or they might just notice us and take it all away.  So we have to publish in similar journals and format our articles with methods sections even when we didn’t do any research.  And I can’t help thinking that some of the time those assumptions about what we need to do are just that, assumptions.  

Part of this is perhaps coming from a cynical place – I don’t think we’re doing a great job of looking like people who spend more than a quarter of their time on research anyway so clearly the rest of the faculty on a lot of our campuses aren’t looking all that closely if that’s really what they demand. And seriously, after years of hearing that I had to have ALA committees to get tenure — do I really think my colleagues in the disciplines are moved by the fact that I was the co-chair of the committee on committee nomenclature of the fourth-largest division in ALA?

(Apologies if there really is a Committee on Committee Nomenclature – I don’t mean to denigrate)

But most of it is more optimistic.  Our campus colleagues already know we’re not just like them – they know our profession is different and that we’re approaching our shared mission from a different place. Maybe it’s because I’m at a land-grant institution where we have another substantial important group of tenure line faculty (in Extension) working on the question of “what does this mean in our field?” but I usually get the sense that no one here is expecting us to look just like everyone else.  Which should be giving us the freedom to really articulate what tenure means for us.  The answer to the question, “what should an tenured academic librarian do?” should resonate with our values and with what we think is good for our profession, our campuses, and the world. 

And then, yes, it’s on us to make that case — but that’s part of what being faculty means.  Whether or not you have tenure, but as Barbara said, it’s especially a responsibility for those who do.

For me, one of the important aspects of any answer to that question has to do with the fact that we are not just researchers – we will never be just scholars.  We are also practitioners.

 

That’s why I love it too.  And that’s why I can’t imagine a good answer to the question “what should a tenured academic librarian be” that doesn’t reflect that. 

At OSU, our tenure standards call this out.  Full disclosure — I worked for almost two years on this project with my colleague Janet, who remains the librarian I most want to be when I grow up  — and I’m pretty happy with it:

The impact of the librarian’s scholarly activity will also be measured in multiple ways: by the significance of their contributions to the body of knowledge within the discipline and by how useful their contributions are to the community of practice within their area of librarianship.

“Scholarly activities” are defined broadly and reflect the connection between theory and practice: 

  • Conducting research that relates to archives, library and information science, and contributes to the appropriate scholarly community.
  • Communicating the results of research and engaging in professional dialogue with peers locally, nationally and internationally at scholarly and professional conferences; communicating directly with the national or international community of practice in their profession using appropriate media.
  • Documenting scholarly contributions in refereed journal articles, scholarly books and book chapters and conference proceedings.
  • Archiving and preserving work products in learning object, code or institutional repositories, and on professional websites.

This doesn’t make tenure fun, or painless, to earn.  The year you’re putting your dossier together is still awful.  It is. The process makes you think about everything you didn’t get done and everything you didn’t do as well as you would have liked. There is still a lot of anxiety.  In the balance between scholarly freedom and clarity we probably skew to freedom and that’s really stressful for some of us — and it really favors those with a certain kind of confidence (or arrogance) about the process going in.  

And it has by no means resolved those questions about “what counts.”  They still come up –sometimes in conflict with administration and sometimes because even though we are librarians who value consensus — we do not always agree.  But in the conversations we had while we were adopting these standards it became clear that we do agree that many things should “count” and that we value librarians who who contribute to the profession in many ways, and who write and speak to many audiences.  We value librarians who engage in both research and practice and who have impact in both.  We also agree that we value open access and that we value collaborative work — and both of those values are present in our standards as well.

And here’s the thing – if we were able somehow to fix the rigor problem in the LIS literature.  If we got the training in graduate school and if we had the skills and the disciplinary consensus it would take to establish rigorous methodological standards and required that, and only that, for practicing librarians to earn tenure — I think we’d lose something and I don’t think we’d gain what we wanted in the process.  

Because I know what rigor looks like – in more than one field.  And I believe strongly that we need rigorous research to inform our practice. I do.  I want it.  I really, really, really, really want it. I know that we’d benefit from longitudinal studies of student learning, or large-scale studies of information behavior.  I know that we really need tested, validated instruments that measure what we want them to measure.  

I know this.  I want this.  I don’t have time to do it.  At least, I don’t have time to do it right.  At least, I don’t have time to do it right at Project Information Literacy level.  Or at an 80-20 research/teaching load level.  Maybe once with a sabbatical, but not year after year. I don’t have time to do it at that scale AND contribute the way I want to the day to day practice of my library on my campus.  

I have the skills, experience and time to do smaller, qualitative studies rigorously (albeit slowly) and now that I have tenure I can focus on those. And because my library will recognize and reward it as part of my tenure package, I can also look for outlets that will let me communicate case studies and practice lessons in a way that makes sense and that reaches the right audience.  And sometimes, not always, I am going to skip the IRB on my student learning assessment project because the value of being able to communicate more broadly isn’t going to outweigh the benefit of having actionable data to work with sooner and I don’t need to worry about generalizability (And that’s a perfect world scenario for me – a world where I have the time and capacity to get an assessment project right.)  Sometimes, not always, I’m going to skip that prestigious conference because I have a chance to do a professional development workshop for the faculty on my campus.

And that’s what I think tenure should look like for academic librarians – not in our details, but in the broader strokes.  I think it should reflect that we participate in and communicate to multiple audiences.  That our choices are going to skew towards research this time and practice next time. That we contribute to both our discipline and our profession.  But it shouldn’t look like practicing librarians fixing the research problem in LIS – the people who are paid to prioritize research are going to have to help us out there.

Tenure matters for me.  I’m glad I have it.  I probably don’t need it, but it does matter to me.  It matters to me because when those “what counts” conversations happen, I don’t have to worry about what administration thinks before I say what I think.  It matters to me because I enjoy doing research.  I enjoy preparing conference talks.  I enjoy writing this blog, when I have something to say.  If I didn’t know that my institution rewards those things with tenure it doing them at work would always feel a little bit like cheating.  It matters to me because it makes me feel protected.  When I decide to go through the IRB, or to submit that conference proposal I know my institution will have my back with what I need to follow through on those commitments.  I know this isn’t what it means for everyone, but it’s what it means for me.

 (7/30 – Minor edits for clarity)

 

So much more than you wanted to know about that one session on culturally relevant assessment

Just wish assessment acknowledged roles race/class/etc play in student learning outcomes. Not being able to pay for books affects learning.

— Emily Drabinski (@edrabinski) May 9, 2014

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.

Something clever about pictures, thousands of words and 140 characters

So it is probably not shocking that sometimes I can’t express myself in one tweet.

(It is probably more shocking that I ever can)

I was talking about the ACRL-OR/WA Fall Conference, which was hosted this year by ACRL-OR at the Menucha Retreat in the Columbia Gorge, and about which I went on in this post.

(View from Menucha)

Jim Holmes from Reed College did an amazing job running technology at the conference – and captured all of the amazing women noted above while he was doing so.  The results are available now.  If you weren’t able to join us (or even if you were) –

Barbara Fister gave an inspiring and thoughtful opening keynote.  Ignore the fangirl  giving the introduction.

Rachel Bridgewater put together a two hour program called Fair Use as Advocacy Laboratory, integrating a remote talk from Brandon Butler at ARL (who was also fantastic)

And Char Booth wrapped up the conference with a closing keynote that built on and wrapped around the themes of the previous two programs.  It was like magic.

Thanks again to everyone who put so much work into this conference, which means every single member of the ACRL-OR Board.  Interested in being a part of the next one?  ACRL-OR elections will be happening in the next few months.  Watch the ACRL-OR blog for the announcement.

this is the science of information, yes?

Impact factor.  No, not that impact factor – impact factor for news.  What would that look like?  In particular, what would that look like beyond “was it seen?”

The New York Times is hosting a Knight-Mozilla fellow to tackle that question.  I read today on Twitter that that fellow is going to be Brian Abelson.

I took a look back at the job description to see what “impact factor” looks like in the mind of someone not immersed in academia, and found this language, which could apply just as well to research (or to teaching, really, but this is not a learning assessment post):

What we do not have are ways of measuring how a piece of journalism changes the way people think or act. We don’t have a metric for impact.

What’s interesting is the implication here that the obvious solution is the data, particularly the immense amount of it now available:

But the math changes in the digital environment. We are awash in metrics, and we have the ability to engage with readers at scale in ways that would have been impossible (or impossibly expensive) in an analog world.

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.

Research Immersion?

From Lee Bassette in last Thursday’s Inside Higher Edabout the Digital Humanities Summer Institute

I am excited because I am surrounded by people who are interested in similar research and skills as I am. I can talk about my project with people who a) actually know what and who I am talking about and b) are as excited by it as I am. People are interested in me and know me as a researcher, respect me as a researcher. My professional identity at home is so wrapped up in being a teacher, it’s nice to have this important other part of me recognized and, dare I say it, validated. I have a real intellectual community, not just a theoretical one.

I have lots of professor friends on other campuses who talk about this kind of isolation, but not librarians. When we talk about the issues of solo librarianship, we’re usually talking about something else — not about being the only metadata person, or instruction librarian, or archivist in the place.

And as librarians, we have both a (sometimes potential) research self, and a (usually actual) practice self — I could easily imagine that there are some librarians who are alone in their research interest, even with plenty of professional peers. Who needs this kind of shared experience more than us — what would it look like? Research Immersion?