The week behind – August 12, 2022

So this was one of those weeks where I got a lot done and finished nothing. There should be a word for those, they happen often enough. Is there a word for those? I bet there is in German. Anyway, forward progress yes, dopamine hit from crossing things off the to-do list, not so much.

The Associate Dean PD is very, very close. I think it will be ready to send to a couple of readers on Monday. I wouldn’t send something like that out on a Friday afternoon anyway, so I am calling that a win. Strategic planning — I am close to a plan in my head. But I still need to translate that to something out of my head and that is not as far along as I would like. I am going to be visiting all of the library departments to talk about it, but that can’t happen until September because of vacations and already-finished agendas for August, so I have a little more processing time I can do. The good news is that I think there is going to be a solid dovetail between the strategic planning work and the external relations work and that makes me happy for a few reasons, most of them efficiency-related.

A few things came up during the week, but they weren’t as weighty as last week’s capital planning conversations and they didn’t weigh me down as much. The university pushed out information about a new flexible work arrangement policy to supervisors (to go to the whole campus next week) and I had to review that. We are largely out in front of the policy, so reviewing primarily meant making sure we hadn’t veered in a wildly different direction on any of our specifics. We haven’t. There are a number of places where we are at the upper end of flexible, but we’re not doing anything specifically precluded by the new policy.

And finally, I still haven’t settled on the next book to read.

The week ahead — August 8, 2022

What I’m reading

Misconceiving Merit (Blair-Loy & Cech) –> still 20% done. I left it at home and didn’t read it there.

The Promise of Access (Greene) –> 10% done

The End of Ownership (Perzanowski and Schultz) –> this is a reread, focused on refreshing the legal principles in the first few chapters. Highly recommend this book, btw.

I need to start something new to replace Beyond Accommodation, but I am not sure what yet. I usually move on to a similarly focused book, but I am feeling a desire to read some history. I know I could do both, but we’re edging up on not-really-reading-anything-well territory with five work-related books going at the same time.

What I’m thinking about

What I am preparing for

Strategic planning. Our strategic plan ends in 2023, so we really should be on developing a new one. Talking to the library about it, I am getting a lot of understandable exhaustion. From this I know that we are not interested in a full-on, consultant led process (the last one took 18 months). But at the same time, I get enough questions about the plan – current and future — that I know I have to figure something out. I think I have the outlines of a strategy in mind, but I am going to need to have some conversations. How to get that done is the problem I am working now.

Associate Dean hire. We have had an interim Associate Dean for over a year — and that’s too long. Getting this PD done and the search ready to launch is a priority.

Meetings of note

Records Manager search committee. Of note, this is the first new position my library has been funded for since like 2008, and only the second in my 18 years here. Needless to say, we are pretty excited. I worked hard on the proposal for this position and I did it collaboratively with colleagues from the general counsel’s office, the compliance office, the research office, and university relations and marketing. I’m super excited that some of those people also agreed to join the search committee. I’m not the hiring manager for this search, so I don’t technically have to be there, but I’m going to anyway.

LOTS of 1:1s. When I was trying to figure out how to reorganize the library administration department post-COVID and post-me-as-Dean I talked to lots of people and one thing I found out was that our culture here where supervisors and direct reports meet 1:1 weekly or (more commonly) biweekly is both 1) not as common as I thought and 2) very appreciated.

Admin briefing. This is a 1/2 hour to 1 hour meeting once a month that could definitely be an email. BUT, one thing I have learned in my time in big organizations is that you can’t ever find the perfect communication channel. You have to communicate things multiple ways using multiple platforms (and sometimes also multiple times). So this is a briefing on stuff different people in Admin are working on, hearing about, needing help with, etc.

College of Vet Med library prep. This is a really hard problem that all of us who are currently working on it — from university admin, the library and the college — inherited. TL;DR — this is a library that’s independently staffed, managed and funded and which is struggling. All of us from that list above are meeting next week to talk about the future, so this week I’m meeting with the librarian who has been the liaison for this situation to get our thoughts in order.

Donor/stewardship strategy. When we reorganized admin, part of the goal was for me, my executive assistant and the building and space manager to have more capacity with external and donor relations. This is one of several meetings figuring out what that looks like and how it fits with the other work already happening in admin.

The week behind — August 5, 2022

All of the meetings I listed on my week ahead post were productive and useful and that’s usually a recipe for a good attitude going into the weekend, but this time I still ended the week feeling stuck and disheartened. A meeting that wasn’t on my calendar when I wrote that post was our annual capital planning meeting to discuss space issues and needs — not the internal to the library stuff that we manage, but the big-picture and big-ticket pieces that we rely on the university to support. And the capital planners and facilities managers and project managers are dealing with major, huge issues out of their control — inflation and supply lines — and you can just see it in their faces. It’s a lot.

I am a root causes, fix it the right way kind of person and that is always going to be a challenge as a middle manager in a big organization — stuff’s out of our control, that’s just real. But when the world is this broken, I need to be able to think on a level that is not root causes — because if I can’t that’s a recipe for anxiety and burnout and the kind of deep existential dread that we’re experiencing enough in our non-work lives — but thinking at non-root causes can also feel kind of pointless. This is a tough thing to navigate.

a book cover with a brown scribble drawing on a white background. The title of the book is Beyond Accommodation Creating an Inclusive Workplace for Disabled Library Workers and the authors are Jessica Schomberg and Wendy Highby

Anyway, that’s why I want to shout out that I finished Beyond Accommodation: Creating an Inclusive Workplace for Disabled Library Workers by Jessica Schomberg and Wendy Highby. I mean, I am always pretty proud when I manage to finish a book, but what I really want to shout out is the book itself.

A lot of times when I read things that are about building an inclusive workplace, no matter what the focus of that inclusion is, I come away with one of two things — a really good understanding of the structural issues creating the marginalization, exclusion or oppression and why I should want my workplace to be inclusive, or a handful of concrete strategies that I can take or an individual library worker can take, with no real connection back to root causes. As a big-picture, root causes, type of person I gravitate towards reading the first type of book, which means that I often end up with an unfocused desire to do more and an ongoing feeling of not enough.

This book navigated that tension really beautifully. The authors discuss and theorize and analyze root causes and structural issues (and what needs to be done about them) while also using local, organizational and individual lenses to address the same issues. It was a breath of fresh air in a frustrating week and I highly, highly recommend it.

The week ahead – August 1, 2022

What I’m reading:

Beyond Accommodation (Schoenberg & Highby) –> 75% done

Misconceiving Merit (Blair-Loy & Cech) –> 20% done

The Promise of Access (Greene) –> barely started

What I’m thinking about

this thread —

and this one –

and this too –

Meetings of note:

(Beyond normal 1:1s with colleagues)

Elsevier negotiation prep. Oregon’s 3 major research universities (OSU, UO and PSU) negotiate with Elsevier as a group. The group is meeting Monday to finalize a proposal about one of our major sticking points – cost transparency. Then we are either meeting with Elsevier reps on Wednesday or a week from Wednesday, depending upon how much time they need with our proposal.

Meeting with the classified staff association. We have a long-standing endowed fund set up by a library donor to support professional development and research activities for library faculty. Several years ago Faye Chadwell, University Libarian, set up a similar fund for the Classified Staff Association to manage. We’re going to meet to discuss the logistics of the fund and some new ideas for managing it.

Library management team standing meeting. We meed biweekly for two hours. In the interim weeks we have a 1 hour meeting scheduled that we sometimes use for regular business, sometimes for professional development, and sometimes we cancel. This week is a two hour meeting. On the agenda: faculty performance reviews, a couple of policy reviews, a reorganization proposal from a library unit and I am giving a short update on some reorganization I’m doing with our library advisory council.

Meeting with faculty reps to discuss and document hiring with tenure processes. This one is pretty self-explanatory.

My first library session

“You don’t need to be nervous with us”

I don’t remember a lot about my first library session, but I have a really clear memory of that comment from a student feedback form. I have never figured out exactly what they meant — I didn’t need to be nervous with this class, this group of students, specifically?  The nerves were unnecessary, full stop?  But I do know what it meant to me at the time.  It meant that yes, they noticed I was nervous.  I didn’t like that.  But it made me feel like  they saw me as a person, hoped I saw them as people, and I did like that.

It would have been 2003. I was in a part-time wage appointment covering history for the OSU libraries. I was an intern working on a metadata project and the librarians found out that I also taught history (as an adjunct).  They were about to launch a triple search – hiring three new subject librarians – and maybe I could cover one of their subject gaps!  Within the week I had my first instruction request.

I visited the archives a few times as a history major and as a history graduate student, but I have no memory of going to the library for a traditional one-shot. So I didn’t really have a mental model I could use to prepare for this class.  I remember a colleague — a wonderful and supportive mentor — sharing activities I could do and concepts I should  demonstrate.

The class went fine. My colleague observed. I was more nervous than I expected to be because I didn’t know what to expect. None of the strategies and identities I had developed in my teaching career really helped me in this strange new context — learning names, building habits, building trust over time — so I felt very without a net. And I’m afraid of heights at the best of times. As we know, my nerves were visible, even though I didn’t name them. Now I always name them. The professor wasn’t thrilled, wasn’t disappointed. It was fine. The students, as you know, were kind. At least, I don’t remember those who weren’t.

I do remember this one feeling. Something had gone off script, something unexpected had come up in the example and I remember this intense feeling of wanting to scrap the plan and do something else but also feeling paralyzed about that — I can’t or shouldn’t —  because the person who helped me make the plan was sitting right there watching*.

This post was inspired by Veronica’s Blushing, Sweating, Stammering — the first in a new series — that sent me down a winding path of memories this morning. One thing I realized as I thought about those “firsts” was how often the help I got took the form of “here’s some things from my teaching and my practice that you can take and use.”  My first class, first conference presentation, even first reference interactions, I was encouraged to use other people’s materials, guides, activities, plans, outlines, etc.  I get it – I didn’t have much of my own yet, and there are a lot of safe feelings tied up in the tried and true.

Looking back, I’m okay with the way I floundered when I needed to adapt on the fly within the constraints of someone else’s teaching.  I’ve learned that the real thinking work for facilitating isn’t about how to fill the time, or how specific activities should go. It’s about  flow, connections and transitions, and what I want the experience to look and feel like.  But the second part – feeling stuck because of the colleague in the room — is different. That’s something I’m still working on. And really, the first and the second things are connected.  I like to get things started, hold space, and let things happen – those are important parts of my teaching and my facilitating identity.  But even though I co-teach and co-facilitate a lot I still have a lot to learn about doing those things in the moment and with other people. I still get caught, in the moment and in my head and get stuck on how to make choices together that I would have no trouble making on my own.

I’ve been thinking about this lately in present tense — past me is shaking up that thinking in some really good ways. Here’s to remembering firsts.

 

*To be clear, I am pretty sure she would have had no problem with my going off script, wouldn’t have felt her labor was disrespected, would have been super into talking through what I did and why I did it. This paralysis was created by the pretend standards I made up in my head and imposed on her.

Achievement unlocked – 52 movies

Well, after saying last year that we never accomplish this goal, this year we did.  It did take a last-minute decision to take New Years’ Eve off, but that was something that might have happened anyway.

(Why movies?  I wrote about it last year & the reasons haven’t changed)

We haven’t had our final best movies in the theater discussion yet, but the titles in bold are the ten that would be in the running for me.  As always, these are based on a personal and idiosyncratic set of criteria. Your mileage may vary.  Plus, I can’t promise that these would be the same ten I would pick tomorrow.

JANUARY
Vice
Reefer Madness
If Beale Street Could Talk
On the Basis of Sex
Stan & Ollie

FEBRUARY
Roma
Cold War
Isn’t it Romantic
Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts*

MARCH
Captain Marvel
Apollo 11*
Ruben Brandt, Collector

APRIL
Woman at War
The Mustang
Avengers: Endgame

MAY
Satan & Adam*
Hail Satan?*
Amazing Grace*
Booksmart

JUNE
Rocketman
All is True
Echo in the Canyon*
The River and the Wall*

JULY
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
The Bikes of Wrath*
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

AUGUST
Wild Rose
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am*
Maiden*
The Farewell
Sword of Trust
Blinded by the Light
Mike Wallace Is Here*
Find Me

SEPTEMBER
David Crosby: Remember My Name*
Ad Astra
Official Secrets
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice*

OCTOBER
Judy
One Child Nation*

NOVEMBER
Where Is My Roy Cohn?*
Pain and Glory
Ford vs. Ferrari
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Knives Out
The Irishman

DECEMBER
Dark Waters
Honey Boy
The Two Popes
Little Women
Uncut Gems
Fantastic Fungi*

The asterisks denote documentaries.  The number of documentaries on this list shows that it was, overall, a weaker year for movies than last year was. At least, it was a a weaker year for movies-that-showed-in-Corvallis-theaters than last year was.  Even when things are limited, there is usually a documentary of some interest playing somewhere. And our bar for documentaries is lower, because even when the craft is low, there is still a chance we might learn something.

To be fair, there are some movies that are probably very extremely good that we have not seen, and will not see, because I do not do horror imagery.  For some reason, those images have an outsized effect on me and I can’t shake them. I don’t mean garden-variety violence;  some of the images I still see when I can’t sleep aren’t that violent. Anyway, The Lighthouse and Parasite did play here, but I kept us from seeing them.

Behind the Paywall — Fugitive Practices: Learning in a Settler Colony

Citation

Leigh Patel (2019): Fugitive Practices: Learning in a Settler Colony, Educational Studies, DOI: 10.1080/00131946.2019.1605368.

Access Issues

Paywall: Taylor and Francis

None, really thanks to some information privilege.  The article is paywalled, obviously. It doesn’t show up in any of our indexes yet because it’s still an early article, not really published.  So I had to do the ILL request manually.  At this point, even the ILL request form no longer requires page numbers or anything else that would be hard with a preprint, so the main issue there was knowing that I needed to and could do it.

I submitted the request before logging onto Zoom for an online meeting, and had the article before the meeting was over.

TL;DR

This is a short article that is more a call to action than a traditional scholarly piece. Patel argues that educators and educational researchers should resist and reject dominant narratives about learning (narratives that are infused and sustained by settler colonialism) to see the practices that create real learning — learning that sustains in the face of violent erasure and dehumanization — which are there in what has been erased.

And here we go…

The stories that individuals tell about themselves, their people, their nation, other people, and success or failure all have material force in the shape and functions that institutions perform in society.” — page 1

Patel starts by giving a whirlwind summary of U.S. history, national-narrative style — one that starts with religious-freedom seeking European settlers and ends with Barack Obama’s election marking the end of racism.  In between we touch on westward expansion, American exceptionalism, bootstraps and rugged individuals, melting pots, freedom and this land of opportunity.

Slavery is in there, but mostly as an unfortunate (and past) period of time. Settler colonialism is “rarely mentioned” and flourishes in that silence. 

Patel pulls out a few key characteristics of this story: it is linear and progressive — concepts illustrated perfectly by American Progressa painting so perfect you probably thought of it when you heard “westward expansion” even if you didn’t know what it was called.  It is also a story that is built on, names and entrenches what Patel calls “hierarchies of humanness.” And, of course, in the American story we have to start with the fact that these hierarchies are historically and currently racial

“The perpetuation of the myth that race is biological categorically served the purposes of rendering Black, Indigenous and other people of color as belonging to groups that were less than human.” — page 3.

After this introduction, we go on to dig into some of these concepts as Patel establishes the theoretical lenses we need, starting with settler colonialism and education. 

ERASE and REPLACE

Drawing on Veracini, 2011 Patel describes these as the “core concept and organizing principle” of settler colonialism, and then she digs deeper into the ways that settler colonialism shapes our understanding of: how we know what we know, what counts as knowing, and the policy and practice built on this shared epistemology.  Key elements to this epistemology include:

  • Property has value;  knowledge is property.
  • Achievement is individual.
  • Learning is linear and progressive.

Think about how an epistemology that reflects values rooted in land — as an interconnected, living, life-giving, shared thing — would shift our understanding of learning, achievement and knowledge.

So that brings us to the second lens, learning as fugitive. 

Patel uses descriptions of the many ways that enslaved peoples shared teaching and learning in secret, when being literate was illegal for them. And while some of this fugitivity is about those concrete practices, some of it is about shared epistemology –how people in this context knew what they knew — starting from a recognition that the truth is not always what is taught, that those national histories that that say some are lesser than and erase others, are not unassailable truth even as they are presented as such.

This fugitivity, this resistance, is not just an individual thing. Dominant cultures are dominant, but they are not the only. There are counternarratives and countercultures that exist at the same time, and these are seen in individuals and communities and in activism and social movements, movements that are frequently sparked and carried forward by young people.

Which brings us to the call to action

Educational researchers (and educators) should shift away from questions of achievement, grounded in the individualist, property-focused progressivism of settler colonialism, towards questions that focus on what learning really is.  And she further argues that the moment we are living in makes this shift essential — “an imperative moment.” She doesn’t deny that this kind of shift could never be neutral or safe and she argues that the risks she’s talking about aren’t romantic, but necessary.

Educational studies scholars can bring in the history, the contextual accuracy of settler state desires, and raise up the authentic and purposeful learning that has been passed from generation to generation. — page 8

Key references: 

Harney, S. & Moten, F. 2013. The undercommons: Fugitive planning and black study.

Mignolo, W.D. 2012. Local histories/ global designs: Coloniality, subaltern knowledges, and border thinkingPrinceton University Press. 

Sleeter, C.E. 2017. Critical race theory and the whiteness of teacher education. Urban Education, 52(2), 155-169

  • This is paywalled (though it might be available out there perhaps on one of those for-profit scholarly social article places) BUT the author has done an open summary here on her blog.

Veracini, L. 2011. Introducing: Settler colonial studies. Settler Colonial Studies, 1(1), 1-12.  (PDF at the Swinburne University of Technology repository)

Wynter, S. 2003. Unsettling the coloniality of being/power/truth/freedom: Toward the human, after man, its overrepresentation — An argument. CR: The New Centennial Review, 3(3), 257-337. 

  • This is paywalled but it might be out there if you did some searching, I mean maybe.  BUT there is an extensive discussion of this article out there on the Always Already critical theory podcast.  I haven’t listened to it, but hey, that’s pretty cool.

Behind the Paywall: Re-Situating Information Poverty

Citation

Link to preprint at the Carolina Digital Repository

Amelia N. Gibson & John D. Martin III.  Re-Situating Information Poverty: Information Marginalization and Parents of Individuals with Disabilities.  JASIST. Preprint. February 11, 2019.  https://doi.org/10.1002/asi.24128

Access Issues

Paywall: Wiley, accessed via Interlibrary Loan

ETA: There is a copy now available at the Carolina Digital Repository. Yay for authors’ rights!

Hoo boy.  So.  First, I couldn’t find this article in our discovery layer, most likely because it’s is an “early view” article and not yet in an official issue.  So I had to search on the journal and browse. But I hit a paywall even though my institutional credentials were showing up, and everything looked like I should have access.  Since I have been around long enough to remember the time when we cut our library science journals to keep from having to cut other fields’ journals, I suspected that that access was pretend, but you never know, things change in journal packages.  I reported the issue to the wonderful people in our E-resources department, who responded within the hour to let me know the real deal, and I placed an ILL request manually. I had the article in my possession within a half of a working day.

Stuff I needed to know to make this work: 1) multiple ways to query the discovery layer; 2) that the volume field in the ILL form will accept any info; 3) to use the Notes field on the ILL form to explain the access issue.

NOW. I feel like it is important to say here that I am not listing these access issues as evidence that we are not doing our jobs in my library.  These are all issues that are inherent to a landscape where you’re dealing with a bunch of different contracts, a bunch of different publishers with their own paywalls and platforms, bundles, consortial partnerships, and those are just one part of the complexity.  No library is going to be playing error-free ball in this information world; what matters is how quickly we are set up to help when these barriers emerge.

TL;DR

I loved loved this article. It applies a critical lens to the information practices of an important population with important needs (moms of children with Downs Syndrome or autism), and the additional theoretical work that the authors have done is sparking thinking about my practice that is super useful, both in an immediate and an extended sense.  Basically, this article uses Chatman’s 1996 model of information poverty, with a particular focus on the intentional, defensive behaviors (including secrecy and deception) that people experiencing information poverty use in risky information-seeking situations. The researchers identify both individual and community-based defensive behaviors and use this data to theorize beyond existing models, which keep their focus on individual behaviors. The authors present a theory of information marginalization, which considers the structural factors and context that create information poverty.

And here we go…

So, one thing off the top – there’s some really useful, clear, definitions in this piece:

  • Information inequity: “the idea that some people have greater difficulty finding, accessing, accepting or using information than others” (1)
  • Information poverty: “a persistent lack of information access as experienced by a group or individual, usually as a result of social factors, embodied by various types of information-related inequalities” (1) (Haider & Bawden, 2007; Yu, 2006)
  • Information marginalization: “the systematic, interactive socio-technical processes that can push and hold certain groups of people at social “margins,” where their needs are persistently ignored or overlooked.” (1)

We start by situating the argument, and this time – it’s within the research discourse on information behavior. Specifically, a reason people point to as moral justification for doing information behavior research in the first place is the existence of information inequity and information poverty.  Most of this research focuses on the behavior(s) of the individual experiencing that inequity or poverty. It doesn’t look at the institutional context, or the structures that create poverty.  “This article pivots away from a focus on the individual toward development of a theory of information marginalization.” (1)

Literature Review

The authors spend some time situating and summarizing a specific article  — Chatman (1996) — which is a key to understanding how information poverty works, and which pushed the existing discourse in its day to deal with the fact that information poverty reflects something deeper than that which can be fixed by simply adding more resources.

Six characteristics that people experiencing information poverty perceive (Chatman 1996):

  1. I lack information sources or access to them.
  2. I am at the lower end of existing class systems.
  3. I need to defensively protect myself when I have to seek info from potentially unsafe people.
  4. Secrecy or deception about my information need is fine if I need it to feel safe.
  5. I have to  weigh the risks of seeking info against the benefits of having it.
  6. I will selectively integrate new information to my info worldview

Now, as important as this particular article was, it didn’t really get into (and the literature it inspired didn’t get into) the structural factors in play.  Neither has the information science literature around disability.

And with that, we’re ready to more specifically name the problem(s) and questions. 

Themes: information access, information poverty, and structures of information marginalization.

Research focus: Mothers of people with Down syndrome and autism

Theoretical model and method: Critical Disability: approaching disability as something made up of individual differences AND socially constructed barriers. This study is built out of a “critical, constructivist grounded theory perspective”

“…we acknowledge that we ourselves (as researchers, educators, and in the case of the first author, as the mother of a child with a disability) are positioned within the social contexts described in this article. From the interview through the data analysis process, we acknowledge the research as being co-constructed between the researchers and the participants (Charmaz, 2014).” 

Research Questions:

  • How do participants describe their information practices and information seeking experiences? Do they fit Chatman’s theory?
  • “What contextual factors contribute to defensive info behaviors and knowledge practices as described by participants.? How can we theorize the relationship between contextual factors and information practices customarily described as indications of information poverty?”
  • “What are the implications of focusing primarily on improving contextual factors, rather than changing individual or community information practices?”

The information needs of this particular group of people are big and important, and also quite specific.  These needs differentiate them from other parents, and they also change situationally – as children age, from place to place, etc. 

A note on language: The authors also take a moment to discuss their use of language (people first language to refer to individuals, and identity-first language to refer to communities), and acknowledge that the language around disability is contested. They have chosen to use the language used by study participants, even when that doesn’t reflect current trends. 

So, let’s dig into the concept of information poverty

Overall, the literature in this area continues to reflect an “cultural deficit model” that compares what people deemed information poor DO against mainstream, institutional cultural standards that reflect mainstream, dominant assumptions and standards — white, male, heterosexual, U.S. based, English speaking, etc.

Basically, there are unexamined, uncritical assumptions embedded within this discourse — that there is a “right” way to access information, that there are “right” amounts and types of information, etc.   The value and effectiveness of those existing systems aren’t questioned — neither in general, nor for the specific population being examined.  This orientation extends to disability.

“This narrow focus on individual behaviors, rather than contextual preconditions for those behaviors also frees information science researchers from the obligation to understand how marginalization works. This, in turn, limits our ability to develop information systems (human, and machine) that reflect and respond to the needs of communities at the margins.”

Methods

Population: a “purposive, theoretically driven sample” (Charmaz, 2014) – 24 moms of individuals with Down Syndrome or autism.

Semi-structured interviews, based on the information horizons protocol (Sonnewald, Wildemuth & Harmon, 2001).

Data was coded individually. Researchers met weekly to compare codes, discuss emerging themes and discuss their way through coding conflicts.

Themes were identified using constant comparative analysis, but the researchers didn’t claim or try to start from a tabula rasa point.  Instead, Chatman’s theory provided a starting point for coding. Later rounds of coding focused on “identification of defensive, proactive, or coping behaviors and contextual factors that contributed to those behaviors” (4).

Results

Information marginalization factors were identified and grouped — four main clusters emerged.  For each of these clusters, the authors present a table that includes: 

  • The factor they have identified and named, broken down into specific dimensions.
  • The individual knowledge behaviors and/or defensive behaviors associated with that factor.
  • The community-level practices and/or defensive behaviors associated with that factor.
  • Examples of data that the researchers associated with that factor.

I’m not going to give you all of that information for each one, but if you’re interested and can track down the article, there is way more in here.

First cluster: Perceived information deficits

This included the perception that info couldn’t be trusted or was being withheld. This was especially important when it came to information about rights.

Defensive behaviors include (but are not limited to):

  • Individual behaviors like: seeking info from other parents instead of professionals; intentionally seeking information from inside or outside of the local community, depending on the situation; fighting or advocating; building strategic professional relationships; being visible and present.
  • Community behaviors like: Social media group development or participation; information seeking/distribution by organizations; being visible & active in the local non-disability community.

Second cluster: Class distinctions

This included a lack of access to info or resources because of the level of disability, information that requires a high level of reading skills or education to navigate; barriers put up by racial bias, economic factors, etc.

Defensive behaviors include:

  • Individual behaviors like: waiting/ hoping/ expressing disappointment; making judgments about personal infolit relative to other parents; uncertainty about paying for services; actively seeking racially diverse settings; hiring private consultants.
  • Community behaviors like: pooling resources; perceived variations in access to information (e.g. subject saying “things are okay for me, but wouldn’t be for others”)

Third cluster: Situational relevance assessment. 

Inadequate support for age (particularly the age of the child),  racial and gender subgroups. 

Defensive behaviors include: 

  • Individual behaviors like choosing friend/support group based on these same factors (e.g. age of child). 
  • Community behaviors: development of cliques or micro-communities.

Fourth cluster: Risk assessment/ Selective introduction of information

This section describes the behaviors parents engaged in to protect themselves from perceived threats (direct threats to children, or threats to the parents’ ability to find information) in their environment, and to increase their agency.

Defensive behaviors include:

  • Individual behaviors like: avoiding seeking info from institutions, or using their own, secret, rubric to evaluate what they hear. Emotions like feeling overloaded, feeling bullied.
  • Community behaviors like establishing a social norm of person to person info sharing.

Discussion

Basically, the specific things experienced by these specific individuals navigating these specific situations matter. And the behaviors they feel they need to engage in to navigate these situations safely also matter — to them, and to those of us who share a mission to get them the information they need to do that navigation.

Gibson and Martin, though, are making an argument that theorizes beyond these specifics to name a broader phenomenon: information marginalization. They look at the information behaviors that they observe and explain them not as errors but as rational responses (developed by individuals and by communities) to injustice.  This is really important. Re-framing these behaviors in this way reveals a whole different set of solutions to the problems that these mothers face:

“Although some time, energy, and resources should clearly be dedicated to ensuring that these mothers have the information seeking and literacy skills to successfully find desired information and make quality judgments, equal, if not more, emphasis should be placed on ensuring that the information systems they use are intentionally and thoughtfully designed so they do not prompt mothers to engage in defensive information practices in the first place.” (10)

And a whole different way of looking at our practice:

“If we acknowledge that what we call information poverty is often a result of systemic failure of information systems to meet the needs of marginalized groups of people, we must also acknowledge that the solution lies in the development and improvement of those systems, rather than existentialist statements about those groups of people. This might also demand reassessment of the field’s own constructions of relevance, quality, and authority, and centering of a diverse range of information values, rather than imposition of those currently embraced by the field.” (11)

Continue reading “Behind the Paywall: Re-Situating Information Poverty”

Behind the Paywall: Grading, Bias and Class Participation

This article was recommended all over my twitter the other day, and the topic looks pretty interesting.  So let’s launch a new (hopefully) regular feature, Behind the Paywall. 

Citation

Alanna Gillis. “Reconceptualizing Participation Grading as Skill Building.” Teaching Sociology, 47:1, 10-21. January 2019.  DOI: 10.1177/0092055X18798006

The Access Experience

Paywall: Sage, accessed at my library.

I had a lot of trouble loading the PDF, which I blamed on my local wifi for a while. Seriously, for a college town, we have terrible wifi options in Corvallis.  But when the same thing happened a few days later, and everything else around it loaded okay?  I think it was clearly a problem with Sage.

TL;DR

Untangling everything that is wrong with how we measure and reward class participation would take forever. Not only do our dominant methods rely on instructors to be free from bias and have perfect recall, but they rest on assumptions about students’ willingness, ability and preparedness to participate in class that are deeply problematic. By continuing to reward participation in these ways, teachers — even when they do not want to — are replicating and reinforcing inequalities. Reframing class participation as a skill-building opportunity and building in robust opportunities for students to reflect on their performance is a better way to go.

Here we go…

So we start off by situating this paper within the context of teaching and learning in the classroom. We know that students who are engaged and participating in class learn more.  Knowing this, professors have an interest in motivating students to participate, so many of them grade class participation.

I am liking this problem statement in its recognition that the target audience has spent many years in school, knows that participation grading is a thing, and doesn’t need eight different citations showing that to be true.  The author goes on to say, yes, I haven’t done any systematic inquiry to nail down objective participation grading themes, but I also don’t have to pretend we don’t all know what we know.  And based on living in the world as both students and teachers, we know that there are two basic ways that participation grading works:

  • Teacher gives grades based on recall. A few times a term (or once at the end) they remember how many times each student talked, and assign a grade based on that.  
  • Teacher gives grades based on actually counting how many times students talk during the term. More complex applications of this method might count specific types of participation (asking questions, answering questions, etc.).

There are issues with both of these methods. Teachers do not have perfect recall. Teachers are human and subject to bias in all the ways humans are biased. And, finally, more talking does not necessarily mean more learning.

OH. I think this next bit though is why this paper is getting so much love.  It’s because it goes down to the next level and points out that the deeper problem with all of this participation grading is that these method of motivating class participation are built on several problematic assumptions: that all students are equally prepared to speak in class; that students all understand class participation in the same way; that students have all been rewarded (or not) for classroom behaviors in the same way; that all students are bringing the same skill set to the classroom.

There’s truly no reason to believe that those things are true. And there are a lot of good reasons to believe that they are not.

SO.

Gillis has three intersecting goals in this paper:

  1. Unpack the assumptions behind participation grading as it happens most frequently now.
  2. Re-frame participation grading as an opportunity for skill development, and re-focus it on more meaningful goals.
  3. Show the evidence that says this new framework is worth implementing in real classrooms.

Literature Review

Let’s unpack some assumptions.

We know student evals of teachers are super biased.  We acknowledge and understand that that bias works in both directions:  students’ biases affect their evaluations of teachers AND teachers’ biases affect their evaluations  of students.  However, when it comes to participation grading, we have a tendency to acknowledge that bias as a reality without really understanding or unpacking its dynamics.

(I’m going to summarize the lit review pretty significantly, and link to some key sources)

The research documents general biases that affect student evaluation: teachers tend to reward students they like,  squishy factors like attitude affect evaluations, and factors like race, gender, ability, and socioeconomic class definitely affect assessment in many ways.

We also know that we work in a world where teachers don’t always remember their students’ names, so systems that rely on accurate recall are inherently suspect.  But the issues with memory go beyond this.  Teachers are more likely to remember extreme situations (outbursts, falling asleep in class) than mundane normalcy. Teachers tend to remember giving students more chances to participate than students remember getting.  

There is also a ton of research that challenges the idea that all students are equally ready and willing to participate in class.  There are  a ton of things going into how students are socialized to understand their role in the classroom, or what appropriate interactions with teachers look like.  Some come from outside school — parents’ messages to children are shaped by their own experiences with school or authority structures, for example. Some come from the lived experience of being in school. Students bring very different experiences with consequences and rewards when it comes to asking questions, offering opinions, sharing stories, suggesting counternarratives, and classroom behavior.  And all of these dynamics — inside the school and out — are shaped by factors (including race, gender, class, ability, language and more) that create and reinforce inequality, and which also need to be analyzed and understood intersectionally. 

Then, we have one of the most pervasive dynamics in the teaching literature, at least in the literature that focuses on motivation and learning.  There is a lot of work in this area coming from psychology, using lenses that focus inquiry on personality. This shapes the discourse and produces research (and policy) that frames behaviors like class participation as the result of hardwired personality traits — shyness, introversion or extraversion — and not as behaviors that are built out of skills that can be learned. 

Selected Sources:

New Framework, Different from the Old Framework

“Instead, I propose that instructors conceptualize participation grades in undergraduate classrooms as opportunities to incentivize and reward skill building” (13).

This framework:

  • Conceptualizes participation as a set of learnable, interconnected skills
  • Recognizes and rewards skills that students already believe reflect their engagement in class (peer editing, prepping with classmates in study groups, active listening, coming to office ours) but which are usually not captured by “class participation” grades.
  • Encourages students to work in different skills simultaneously, and to start to understand these skills as interconnected.

Application (Methods)

This is how the author applied the framework in class.

  • 2 sociology classes. 1 400-level and 1 100-level.
  • 45 students per class.
  • Class participation is broken into 5 dimensions:Attendance and tardiness
    • Preparation for each class meeting
    • Participation in small group discussions
    • Participation in full class discussions
    • Participation in other ways (office hours, writing center visits, study groups, and more)
  • Evaluation is conducted using a “self-reporting goal-centered approach.”

Start of the term:

  • Students use a 5 point Likert scale to self-rate along each of the 5 dimensions: How well do you usually do in classes like this with this behavior.  They also write 1 sentence justifying their numerical rating.
  • Students identify 3 concrete, measurable goals for themselves during the term and write out a plan to achieve these goals.
  • Teacher reads and gives feedback on the goals and plan.

During the term:

  • Periodic, informal check-ins.
  • At least one formal self-reflection.  Students re-rate themselves along each dimension and submit a reflection justifying their rating, reporting on progress twoards goals, and adjusting goals/plan as needed.
  • Instructor gives feedback on goals and plan, and if there is a disconnect between the students’ self-rating and the instructor’s perception, meets to calibrate this.

End of the term: 

  • Student submits a self-report that is similar to the mid-term report, but in which they assign themselves a participation grade and justify it.
  • Instructor reviews the reflective material from throughout the term, and the students’ progress towards goals, assigns a grade, and explains it with written feedback.

The instructor reports that there was rarely a disconnect between the students self-reported grade and the instructor’s perception.

(Note, I would expect from my experience that there would be a group of students who would grade themselves too harshly, describing similar activities and evidence to other students but assigning themselves a lower grade than I would, or than those other students would. I wonder if that happened.  It would be pretty easy to re-calibrate at midterm).

Goals/benefits of this approach:

  • Reward a fuller range of behaviors.
  • Reward something more than quantity.

Analysis:

  • Did math with their numerical evaluations and counted how many achieved goals
  • Also inductively distilled themes from the written reflections.

Results

Skill building: Students came to see speaking in class as a skill.  Related to this — they were able to articulate progress even when they were still feeling nervous about participation, or still identified as “shy” or “introverted.”

Starting is the hard part, and then it gets easier.

(Note: most students focused on participating more, but some students worked on skills around participating less, or participating intentionally. These themes cut across both of these goals.)

Connections: The five dimensions of participation are interconnected.

Transfer: Some students reported that they practiced their participation skills in other classes too.

Discussion

I am going to skip most of the discussion because this is super long, and I feel like many of the insights are grounded really well in the rest of the paper.  But I will tell you what the author identified as limitations:

  • Having to rely of self-reporting.  This is the big one.  They tried some forms of triangulation, but most came up short for obvious reasons, like, “I am trying to evaluate things that happen both inside and outside the classroom.”   So far, in the rare cases when there was a significant teacher/student mismatch, course correcting at the midterm check in addressed the problem.
  • The experience so far demonstrates the need to do more, intentionally and formally, to train students how to participate in class.

Final thought

“Sociologists must take issues of inequality as seriously in our grading as we do in our instructional content, and moving toward a skill development participation assessment system is a good step in that direction.” (20)