Tutorials redux: the journey from blog post to article

An article that I wrote with my colleague Hannah Gascho Rempel just appeared in the new Communications in Information Literacy. It outlines some of our ideas about tutorial creation.  For those who like continuity in academic writing, the pre-cursors to this article appeared in this space here and here.

And these ideas formed the backbone of this presentation (in our institutional repository).

Enjoy!

Share and Share Alike: Barriers and Solutions to Tutorial Creation and Management

If timing is everything

then Zotero’s standalone beta isn’t worth mentioning.  I’m in the throes of course revisions for the class I’ve been building around Zotero and I am not even sure what the final project is going to be this year (more on that later) so do I really have time to decide whether I want to teach my students to use the standalone or stick with original flavor?

It doesn’t feel like I do, that’s for sure.  But like Mark Sample at Profhacker said today, I’ve been working with it for a couple of days and it is working really well – stable, easy and not in Firefox.  Plus also, he’s right about the standalone having a better icon.

So, which to teach?  I think I’m coming down on the side of the standalone.   I don’t have very many 19 year olds browser zealots in my classes, but those I do aren’t Firefox devotees.  There are almost always 1-2 who want to use Chrome or Safari.  And since none of my students (if past experience is any guide) will have existing Zotero libraries to consider, or existing Zotero workflows to un-learn, I think we might just work with the standalone.

And yes, that means building in time to re-do some previous work.

So, why am I changing the final assignment? 

Well, I have some reasons.  (The following is heavily cribbed from an assessment report I sent to the chair of the department & thanks to her for sparking me to think about and write it)

  • One is logistical – the faculty of the School of Writing, Literature and Film (formerly known as the Department of English) at OSU is not quite big enough to support individual projects for all 40-50 students. Not to mention that a number of faculty members are very busy working on the transition to the new model. At the same time, I don’t want to overburden individual  faculty members which precludes me from letting students to choose their own faculty member to focus on.  This means that the challenges students face with the assignment are very different depending on the faculty member they draw, and their learning is sometimes affected more by their topic than by their own motivation or effort.
  • The second reason is more important.  One of my students pointed out in the course evaluation that the process I was teaching — asking students to search comprehensively on a topic (to find everything their faculty member has published) before they evaluate and decide which sources to include on the final bibliography — doesn’t reflect what they need to do for almost all of the research that they will ever do.  There are only a few contexts where people are asked to search in this manner (the literature review for a dissertation would be one example) which meant that this assignment was emphasizing the wrong skills.

I should say that I think one reason that student was able to make such an insightful observation was that I was more successful communicating the process aspects of what I was trying to do this term — but that fact, that I want to provide students with a way to reflect on research and writing as intertwined processes – is exactly why I need to change to something that will be more authentic for them.

I need to shift to topics that will allow them to follow a more exploratory process, but that’s not the part I am struggling with.  I am struggling with – what do I want this final project to look like?  The person who taught this course before me had the students do research to create a “critical edition” of a favorite novel.  I was in on some of the early brainstorms about that assignment, and I think it worked out well for her.  So I am thinking of returning to that – maybe have the final project be an introduction to their “critical edition” where they analyze and cite the sources they want to include?  We’ll see.

After all, this is a process too.

Previous posts on this topic:

Zotero Group Bibliography Assignment (10/2010)

Zotero Assignment Update (11/2010)

Zotero Assignment Revisions (12/2010)

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

Zotero assignment revisions

So, in the end the Zotero assignment worked very well on the Zotero side, and less well on the information literacy side.  So I’m spending this week revising it and designing some new activities.  A few quick takeaways:

The assignment was trying to do too much.  It was the main way to assess:

  • Students’ ability to recognize different source types and explain where the fit into the scholarly process.
  • Students’ ability to track down those different source types.
  • Students’ understanding of what the scholarly and creative output of their department (and by extension the scope of intellectual activity within their discipline).
  • Students’ ability to use research tools to organize and manage their sources.

Way too much.  Illustrated mainly by the fact that there were a few students to managed to do all of those things in their work.  That made it very clear what others were missing and made me want to figure out a way for all students to be able to get to where the few did in this class.

So here’s the thing – the first two outcomes up there were the problem, not the technology or logistics of syncing libraries and the like.  The bibliography project should really be about the 3rd and 4th outcomes.  The collaborative nature of the bibliography (and ability to see the breadth of what our faculty produces) was lost on students who had to work to hard to meet all of the format requirements that were in place to measure the first two outcomes.  All of the format requirements I put in to meet the first two outcomes took away from the authenticity of the experience, and of the evaluation and contextualization I had hoped the students would be able to do.

So this term, I am planning to get at those first two outcomes in different ways, and then make some changes to the bibliography assignment:

  1. drop the number of sources required in the annotated bibliography from 5 to 3.
  2. increase the emphasis on evaluation (and multiple methods of evaluation) in the annotations.
  3. change the workflow a bit – have students create a broad, pre-evaluated body of resources in a personal library and then have them select their 3 sources from that larger pool, annotate them and add them to the collaborative bibliography.
  4. build in a required conference so that I talk directly to each student about the process fairly early on.
  5. drop the format requirements altogether and allow students to add any 3 resources they want (while increasing their responsibility to justify those choices in multiple ways in their annotations).
  6. push the due date for the sources up a week, add a week between the final sources due date and the final reflection due date, and target and focus the scope final reflection essay significantly.

(Big hat tip to my students.  Many of these changes were also articulated by them when I asked them to help – in some cases their input was what really allowed me to put my finger on the problems).

What about the tech?

In the end, syncing did cause problems for a few, and Zotero hurdles did cause problems for a few.  Students who were, for whatever reason, not able to spend a focused amount of time at some point earlier in the term learning the mechanics of Zotero found it very challenging to manage finding sources and figuring out Zotero in the context of a last-minute scramble.

I had thought that my students would have to do the bulk of their Zotero work at home because of having to re-download and sync Zotero every time in the classroom.  MY Zotero library was still very difficult to sync in the classroom (I assume the hugeness is a factor) but the students rarely had to wait for more than 2-3 minutes.  Clearly, I can and should rely a lot more on classroom time as a place where students can be working with Zotero.

Most students were very positive about Zotero.  A few found it cumbersome.  There was a clear pattern though that I found interesting, but troubling in that there is nothing I can do with it.  The pattern was this — those students who had reason to use Zotero for real, for a real research project, during the term were much, much clearer in their evaluation of its value.  And by extension, I believe that they are the ones most likely to keep using it.

My class is a 1-credit class.  I can’t assign an authentic student-y scholarly research project that would take that little work.  But whether or not they have reason to use it in another class is nothing I can control.  It’s troubling because it points to a deeper issue about this class’ place within the major – issues we all know about but aren’t sure how to fix.

Zotero assignment update

So the first mini-deadline on the Zotero assignment has come and gone, and I’m pretty happy with the results so far.  They’re not very impressive to look at, but when you compare what is actually happening with what I thought could happen, I think we are well on our way to getting this done.

For the first section, which has 21 students:

  • 11 successfully added a scholarly source to their Zotero library AND successfully synced to the group library.  Another one got the sync to work, but what got saved isn’t in very good shape yet.  Three more are waiting on ILL to decide which article they want to save to the bibliography.
  • Of those 11, 6 have added an original annotation and tags.

There are a few who added something in another format (and I’m not sure if that is a result of still not knowing how to find a scholarly article for their person, or if it is a matter of the best sources authored by their person not being scholarly articles)  I’ll find out more about that in class this week.

In the second, which has 24 students registered:

  • 13 successfully added a source to their Zotero library AND successfully synced.  Another one did the sync okay, but what got added was wonky.  There is one person who has added two things.  There is also an example article that I added still in there.
  • And there is a weird article from the medical literature that is still mysterious.  The author doesn’t share a last name with one of our target authors, so I am thinking maybe it was left in one of the classroom computers’ Zotero libraries and accidentally got dragged into our group library?
  • Nine have added original annotations.
  • Another handful are waiting on their articles from ILL.

Most of these have wonky notes/ attachments from the databases, and some need some of their metadata cleared up.  Batting 500+, though, was more than I expected at this point.  Why?  A few reasons, actually -

  1. First, these students have never used Zotero before at all.  Most of them have never used any kind of Firefox plugin.  That whole process of downloading and installing Firefox, then the plugin, was conceptually something new.  I expected this to be a hurdle in and of itself, before we even got to the the group library and syncing piece of the puzzle.  And it was, for sure, for some.  But not for most – most got themselves set up with Firefox no problem, and got the plug in working just fine.
  2. I want to be really clear here – it’s not that I thought these students weren’t intelligent enough to do this nor did I think it was really hard – I just thought it was going to be new and made more difficult by the fact that I asked them to do most of this new thing on their own on their own computers.  I did this mostly because I wasn’t at all certain that syncing the classroom computers to the Zotero group library would work with any kind of reliability.  So it comes down to -  I thought that showing them in class and then asking them to do the work at home was not necessarily setting them up for success (for all that that is how homework usually works).
  3. I really didn’t give them much instruction on how to do this at all.  We went over Zotero on the first day of class, and then I asked them to test different features of it along the way.  But here’s the thing – most of them didn’t do that along the way stuff because I wasn’t grading it and it wasn’t on the syllabus.  It was mostly a “please do this for your own good” thing and wasn’t at the top of anybody’s priority list.  So that .500+ batting average comes from students figuring stuff out with the tutorial I provided and what they could find in their notes and on the Zotero website.
  4. Some of the problems that have happened are undoubtedly not about Zotero at all, but are about navigating library systems and databases and the difficulties that come up during the process of finding scholarly articles — those are the primary reason for this class, after all!
  5. The syncing with the classroom computers is working really well – or at least it has for the last two sessions.  I have to tell you that I was worried about this with good reason.  Every time I have attempted to show this in the classroom, the sync has churned and churned and churned without any end (or any sync) in sight.  So when the students were having no trouble syncing the Zotero libraries in the classroom to their group accounts in class two weeks ago and again last week, I was shocked.  But what this means is that this week we can treat the classroom like a lab and troubleshoot most of the remaining problems together.

Onward!

Citations 101

This term our first-year seminar/orientation classes (called U-Engage) have given me the opportunity to do some different things, teaching-wise.  One of the sections asked for resources for a “Citations 101″ unit.  This is what I’ve put together so far.

Does this work because it has a workable focus, and because it treats citing like something that has value, instead of something to do to avoid getting in trouble (or because no one respects the ideas of college students, which is a message that I think some students take away from lessons about the rhetorical uses of outside sources).  I do think the rhetorical uses are crucial, but they were beyond the scope here – and I think would have taken the focus beyond “workable.”

ALS 199: Citations 101

(Built with our Library a la Carte tutorials extension.)

Zotero group bibliography assignment

I decided before the start of this term, the first term in which I would be teaching a credit class in almost eight years (and I’m teaching 2!) that my Library Skills for English Majors class would collaboratively create an annotated bibliography in Zotero for their main group project.

I want them to develop some facility with Zotero, and this seems like a good way to do this.  The ins and outs of working with metadata on Zotero connects back to a lot of the course themes, making even those that are a little abstract seem more concrete.  At least I hope so.

I’ve barely explored the Zotero group settings for all that I have been there for a while (and for all that I have group libraries and everything) so I was not at all sure how well it would work or even if it would work for students in this class.  I’m still not sure because I’d like them to do a lot of the work in-class, and they don’t have their own computers there.  It should be possible for them to sync what they do on library machines to their online libraries, but until we try it, I just won’t know.

So yeah, that’s the reason why I was so happy to find that I’m not the first person to try this -(Profhacker author) Brian Croxall at Clemson did it before and he did it for English and he wrote about it extensively which is so amazingly awesome.  I drew heavily from it even when it didn’t directly – it’s amazing how working with someone else’s assignment online is like talking it through, having someone to get you thinking about the stuff you’re forgetting.

Anyway, so the theme they’re building this bibliography around is the scholarly and creative output of their own faculty,  This is only a 1-credit class (more on the challenges of doing anything meaningful in a 1 credit class later, I promise) and they don’t have a common research assignment in other classes (or any research assignment, in many cases) so it’s really hard to make it relevant.  I am hoping that this focus will add a note of relevance to a kind of abstract skills-for-skills-sake class.  I am also fascinated by what our faculty are producing and will enjoy what the students find and choose to add in any event.

The full text of the assignment is under the cut.

Continue reading

tutorials a la carte

So the thing about DIY tutorials is that even though the technology bar required to build them is pretty low, there are some back-end logistical issues that have to be navigated.  When I decided I wanted to try these with some of my distance learning classes, I had to figure out how to create a locally hosted blog, and we ended up doing it in a way that hadn’t been tried before (using Drupal) so we had to go through some rounds of figuring out settings and styling.

Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a bad thing to go through for me, or for the library.  And when colleagues wanted a similar tool, we were that much further down the road and had some good reasons to try a different tool.  Still, when the goal is “I want to get a tutorial up” these kinds of barriers aren’t necessarily what you want to go through.

I realize that a local option wasn’t the only option – if all I cared about was putting up a blog for tutorials quick and fast there are obviously tons of options out there.  But that wasn’t the only problem I wanted to solve.  I didn’t just want to make tutorials myself, I wanted to do something that would make it easy for all of us to create tutorials and other instructional aids.

The issue of how to share the burden of creating instructional materials has been around for a long time.  Learning objects repositories like MERLOT offer lots of options for teachers – the ability to borrow online instructional modules, and the ability to comment on and rate those tools.  Shared tutorial projects like ANTS let librarians share tutorials, collaborate on prioritizing and creating tutorials, and also provide a social space to talk about tutorial-related issues.  Here, locally, we have  CLIP (Collaborative Library Instruction Project) which takes a good step in the right direction – making source files available and shareable, letting librarians share some but not all of the work of tutorial-building.

CLIP is just getting off the ground, so I don’t know what will happen there.  But here’s the thing.  Whenever I have talked to anyone involved with projects like these, or heard them speaking about the larger issues, they say the same thing – getting participation from educators is really, really hard.  They spend a lot of time gathering the content for the repositories themselves, they have a core group of committed people sharing, but getting the concept of sharing — of taking the time to participate in these types of projects and communities – to be part of the normal workflow for teachers is super difficult.

My own experience with the Library Instruction Wiki (now offline due to basement server room flood) left me feeling pessimistic about that project’s stop reinventing the wheel tagline.  I have come to believe some things – some things that got me thinking that instead of sharing the final product of tutorials, the way to go is to figure out ways groups of teaching librarians can share a process:

1. Teachers like reinventing the wheel.

This is something Jean Caspers said to me once, and its stuck with me because I think it’s essentially true.  Not that teachers don’t want to borrow and adapt and take advantage of other people’s cool ideas and good work, but to really feel comfortable going into a classroom and teaching a group of students something, a lot of us need to feel like we’ve made the stuff we’re teaching ours.  And the only way to do that is to adapt, and reshape, and refine.  So we don’t want to just point to other people’s handouts and tutorials (sometimes we do, but go with it).  We want to make them ours.

And an important part of the cognitive process that a lot of us go through preparing to teach is preparing the materials.  I know that when I create a course page for a class, I’m thinking about how I am going to present the material in class, and about how I am going to transition from one topic to the next.  And when I make a tutorial for an online class, I want to tailor it to their assignment, and the process of putting it together helps me clarify what they need to know/do for that assignment.

So, it’s not a bad thing that teachers want to reinvent the wheel, not at all.  And I think it’s a need teachers have that should be considered by anyone trying to help them work collaboratively.

2. The hard part of developing tutorials isn’t technical, it’s in the content.  And that’s the hardest piece to share.

One piece of this is practical – try teaching anyone how to do anything research-related on your campus and see how long it takes before there is some local quirk that you need or want to explain.  It doesn’t take long.  There’s a reason why the tutorials we’re most likely to share are on topics like plagiarism or citations — things where we are all working on basically the same standards and rules, defined outside of our local institutions.

One piece of this is related to the above point.  We want the content to be tailored to the students’ needs – we have strong opinions about how to do research and about how to teach it and about what students need to know about it.  I don’t know, I haven’t talked to many people who say things like “I would totally borrow X’s tutorial, but it’s built in Camtasia and I would rather it be in Captivate. The people I talk to are more likely to forgo borrowing a tutorial because they don’t like something about it — they’d like to change the way it explains a concept, or to add just one more piece.

3.  There is one sure-fire way to make the technical part hard – that is to tell everyone they have to use the same tool at every stage of the process.

Now this may seem to undercut the whole process-sharing thing I mentioned above but bear with me – I’m really talking about all of the component parts of the final product.  If you tell everyone that they have to use the same tool to build webpages, that’s going to leave you with a few people upset yes.  You’ll also have a lot of people that don’t really care.

But if you tell them that they have to use the same thing to take screenshots, the same thing to do screencasts, the same thing to create word clouds, or to display bookmarks, or to push useful links — then you’re going to start getting the kind of resistance that makes people decide not to create the thing at all.  This is especially true if people have been left on their own to figure out their own best way to do those things before.

So, to get to the point already…

So, Hannah and I were working on redoing our big tutorial – and one of the problems we wanted to address was the bottleneck that occurs when only a few people can edit or make changes to a tool.  We also wanted to de-Blackboard our beginning composition assignments, and make them more lightweight and dynamic.  Thinking to kill two birds with one stone, we decided to look at content-management-izing our tutorial building process.

The brain trust behind Library a la Carte (an open-source, lightweight CMS for building course pages and subject guides) works down the hall from us, so we had a place to go with this problem.  We were initially open to a variety of approaches (including Drupal and WordPress) for building these tutorials, but we ended up deciding that extending LALC to include a tutorial-building function made the most sense.

We launched it barely-alpha, with the fall term beginning composition students.  We found a bunch of things that wanted fixing, but even in this sub-optimal situation, there was an awful lot of it that worked well.   Now it is in barely-beta, and with about 40 sections of beginning composition using it, the reports we have had about it not working for the students have been in the single digits.

This is what the tutorials look like:

(Here’s a link if you want to look at the whole tutorial.  This one is cool because it has modules that feature: images, cartoons, videos and text included.  You have to log in to see the quizzes, but not to see the rest)

There’s a few things I really like about it -

First, it allows our teaching librarians to share at a pretty granular (modular) level – I can borrow Hannah’s catalog-using screencast, and put it into one tutorial that is really about how distance students can have books delivered to them by mail, and also into another tutorial that is really about the serendipitous process of browsing for books on the shelves.

And even at that granular level, it lets us borrow-and-then-tweak — keeping things right in most teachers’ comfort zone.

Using an incredibly scientific data gathering method (n=1; n=me) I have determined that instruction librarians just may be more likely to borrow from each other and to remember to share with each other in this format.

Secondly, it solves the problem of where everything is going to live.  Because it is integrated with our subject and class guides, the system lets us create tutorials and then automatically puts them on the website, with no pesky decisionmaking steps beyond what to call the thing.  Which admittedly, can stymie me for a while, but…

Using the same data collection method (this time n=me and Hannah) I have determined that with this tool available, we are more likely to include tutorials and learning modules in the things we do for our classes, whether we meet with them face-to-face or not.

It also lets the librarian pull in content from elsewhere, so they can use any method they are comfortable with to create the content initially.  If I want to store my photos on flickr, and edit with Picnik, that works fine. But so does uploading the photos that I edited with Photoshop.  If I want to embed a video I edited with iMovie, I do the same thing I would do to drop in a screencast video I created with Camtasia.

Editing a video module:

It also lets us easily use dynamic content (which sometimes breaks the styling but, live and learn) so if I want to embed a delicious linkroll to recommend links to three different classes of students, I can, and then of course I can update all 3 class pages at the same time when I update my Delicious.  Or if I want to do the same thing by embedding a Twitter feed, no problem.

Again, because this is integrated with our class pages system, we’ve already made a lot of decisions about where to share some of our resources.  But even though we have a flickr archive, lots of us don’t use that for building the modules.  And even though we have a YouTube channel, the videos there can be created in lots of ways.

I have no idea at this point if anyone else is going to start using this, or if it will mostly be used to update our main tutorial and in beginning composition.  But I do like the concept of process-sharing, and I think this might be a way that idea makes sense.

what I’ve been doing instead of blogging

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

It starts here –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and ends here.

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

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

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