#stealthgoals

Last summer I was observing a session of ACRL’s Immersion program. My purpose there was to observe the teaching as a future teacher, but as usual in the face of smart people with interesting things to say – my brain went to town on the content.

#stealthgoals

That idea of secret outcomes just grabbed my imagination and I had to share.  It captured Dani’s imagination too and #stealthgoals was born.

Why #stealthgoals?  

To be honest, we think it’s partly because “stealth” is more fun to say than “secret.”  And “goals” is definitely broader (and maybe therefore more interesting) than “outcomes.” Both of us came from the teaching and learning world, but we have also both recently taken on administrative and management responsibilities and let’s face it, #stealthgoals are just as interesting in that context.  And things re much more likely to be “goals” than “outcomes” outside of teaching.

But a conversation earlier today, we also discussed whether one of the reasons that the concept resonated so immediately is tied to our experiences in that teaching role. In library instruction — and really in teaching and learning more broadly in higher ed — we are routinely pushed to think about our goals, our outcomes, our assessment from the students’ perspective, and to communicate that perspective directly to learners.  And as librarians we have to spend a lot of time thinking about what that means for informal learning, for tutorials or point of need services, for learning spaces, and all of the other parts of our teaching lives that go beyond the traditional for-credit course.

And a whole lot of that is fine!  When thoughtfully constructed and intentionally used, things like learning outcomes and rubrics are really great teaching tools, and really great communication tools. Some of our favorite conversations with colleagues and students alike have been sparked by the desire to really come to a shared understanding of why what we are doing matters.

But a little bit of it isn’t fine. Obviously, when it turns into a hoop-jumping exercise — when posting the outcomes becomes the goal, instead of a means to the goal — that can get disheartening. Maybe less obviously, though, we wonder if maybe sometimes we use that focus on the learner to avoid having the real conversations we need to have about our own agendas, priorities and values?  Does it allow us to ignore questions and issues of power and our place in our organizations? And this is a question that’s come up in many contexts, throughout the library — it goes way beyond the classroom and the teaching and learning context. If we limit our vision to the things that we think our users (or learners or clients or investors or stakeholders) value — what do we miss?  What falls outside of that frame?  

And, as you can see, this is where our subsequent conversations about #stealthgoals have gone way beyond the description in the tweets linked above.  

So we are thinking this might be an excellent topic for a panel of librarians, doing different work, and bringing different frames to discuss.  Maybe in public?  At some place like ACRL?  If this sounds like a conversation you might want to have, let one of us know.

Anne-Marie (email) (@amlibrarian)

Dani (email) (@danibcook)

Before you tell me not to take notes

Don’t.

I mean it.  Please don’t. Just don’t.

You’re not encouraging me to engage with your talk; you’re not making your class more fun or easier for me.

hand writing math notes with a green stylus on a tablet computer

some rights reserved by Viking Photography (flickr)

I need to take notes, preferably by hand. These days that means with a tablet and stylus.   I use a tablet and keyboard when I forget and bring the bad stylus and in meetings. And in some situations, I post notes on Twitter.

When you tell me not to do any or all of those things, you’re actually alienating me. You’re making me feel unwelcome. And you’re stressing me out.

(And if any part of your talk has to do with reaching all learners – you’ve lost me already)

Don’t misunderstand.  I’m not saying that everyone should take notes.  I’m not saying that anyone but me should take notes.  I’m not going to project my preferences and my learning habits on to you — I’m just asking that you don’t project yours on to me.

Here’s a secret.  My brain is a super busy place. Not always a productive or focused place. Seriously, say one interesting thing and I am off to the races. It doesn’t even have to be interesting, really. Even something that just reminds me of something that’s interesting will do.

handwritten mindmap describing faceted classification including circles squares arrows and text

some rights reserved by Jason-Morrison (flickr)

(Okay, that probably isn’t much of a secret)

And I’m not complaining about this. I spend a lot of time in my brain and most of the time, I like it there. I like to think. I get excited by ideas and connections. I get an almost visceral thrill when thoughts snap into place.

And don’t take this the wrong way, but there’s almost nothing you can do, no amount of humor or engaging activities you can build in, that will be more fun or compelling to me than thinking about what you say. The more awesome you are? The more I want to play with your ideas.

Taking notes is how I stay grounded in your thoughts. Taking notes is how I stay present. Taking notes keeps me from chasing my thoughts down those intellectual rabbit holes right now – I wrote a note, I drew a star and a circle and an arrow to the other thing, I can relax now and go back to it later.

And I know you’ve given me a handout or put up a website with all your references on it. I really appreciate it – I do! I do this too. Who wants to be scrambling to write down sources and links? I don’t, but I’m going to write down the why, and draw the circles and the arrows to show how they fit in and work for me.

(And if I ever gave you the impression I didn’t want you to take notes when I pointed out the URL for one of those resource lists – I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant!)

Man with wedding ring  scanning a handwritten notebook page into Evernote with his cell phone

some rights reserved by Evernote (flickr)

If it makes you feel better, I even take notes when I’m alone. I couldn’t start reading on my tablet until I figured out a note taking workflow.

For marginalia and highlighting, that’s PDF + stylus + Notability, if you’re interested. But there’s also my Evernote moleskine, which I use to create my holding pen notes — a writing trick I learned from Vicki Tolar Burton that I also use now for reading.

The holding pen is basically a place to put all of those questions and thoughts I don’t want to lose, but which will keep me from reading to the end of the article (or writing this paragraph or section) in the time I have if I don’t put them somewhere —

This might explain that theme we pulled out of the interviews, but I can’t remember exactly what she said. Argh, didn’t that Juarez paper I read last year dealt with this trait. Hey, Laurie’d be interested in this to help turn that one project into a paper idea. Oh, maybe that term will work better in PsycINFO. OMG that’s a good example to use in class. Wait, no, I don’t think that’s what she was really arguing in that book. Ooh, that methodology might work for me with the other study.

Basically, I’ve been doing this a long time – learning in classes, in workshops, from books and texts, in lectures and presentations. I’ve had decades at this point to figure out how to make learning work for me, and while there’s always more to learn, I need you to trust me that I know what I’m doing, and to remember that for some of us, engagement looks a little different.

it is too much, let me sum up

There was a little flurry of conversation in my social networks about Mark Bauerlein’s recent offering on the Brainstorm blog (at the Chronicle), and i just realized that it was almost all in the rhet/comp corners of those networks – so in case library friends haven’t seen it – it’s worth looking at:

All Summary, No Critical Thinking 

Pull Quote:

From now on, my syllabus will require no research papers, no analytical tasks, no thesis, no argument, no conclusion.  No critical thinking and no higher-order thinking skills.  Instead, the semester will run up 14 two-page summaries (plus the homework exercises).

Students will read the great books and assignments will ask them to summarize designated parts.

A soft description of the conversations I saw would be “skeptical.” There were those who thought this was an April Fool’s joke, until they noticed the byline.  I think it reads like an effort to solve a problem that’s not really about summary, but about reading.  I italicize “think” there, because I don’t really get the summary idea – it seems to me that people who only engage enough with argumentative writing to cherry-pick quotes from source texts will be just as able to create “summaries” that don’t reflect any more than a superficial understanding of those source texts.

Michael Faris pointed out Alex Reid’s excellent response, which does a much better job of problematizing the summary than I could:

The Role of Summary in Composition (digital digs)

I believe we misidentify the challenges of first-year composition when we focus on student lack and specifically on the lack of “skills.” Our challenge is to take students who do not believe they are writers (despite all the writing they do outside school), who do not value writing, who do not believe they have the capacity to succeed as writers, and who simply wish to get done with this course and give them a path to developing a lasting writing practice that will extend beyond the end of the semester.

Isn’t that a great, um, summary of why writing teaching matters?

Can we substitute “researchers” for “writers” here?  I kind of like the resulting statement, but it makes me uncomfortable as well, because – can we do, are we doing that with our current models?

doodling as pedagogy

ResearchBlogging.org

This one has been all over the news in the last two days, but if you haven’t seen it, it’s an Early View article in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology. The article suggests that people who doodle while they are listening to stuff retain more of what they hear than non-doodlers do.

As an unabashed doodler, for me it’s usually fancy typography-like versions of my dog’s name, this isn’t all that surprising. But my brain keeps going back to it — should we be figuring out ways to encourage our students to doodle in library sessions?

See, the article doesn’t say definitively why the doodling works.  But the author, Jackie Andrade, does suggest that it might have something to do with keeping the brain engaged just enough to prevent daydreaming, but not enough to be truly distracting:

A more specific hypothesis is that doodling aids concentration by reducing daydreaming, in situations where daydreaming might be more detrimental to perfomance than doodling itself.

So you’ve got an information literacy session in the library, with a librarian-teacher you have no relationship at all, about a topic about which you may or may not think you need instruction.  That sounds like a perfect situation for daydreaming.

And it’s not too hard to think of ways to encourage doodling.  Handouts with screenshots of the stuff you’re talking about – encourage them to draw on the handouts.  Maybe even provide pencils?  I don’t know – it’s not an idea where I’ve fully figured out the execution, but I’m interested.

My students, most of the time, don’t take notes while I’m talking.  Part of this is my style, I talk fast and I don’t talk for very long in any one stretch before switching to hands-on.  But I don’t think that’s all of it – most of them don’t even take out note-taking materials unless they are told to do so by their professor (and then they ALL do) or unless I say “you should make a note of this” (then most of them do).   And this isn’t something I’ve worried about.  I have course pages they can look at if they need to return to something, and I’m confident that most of them know how to get help after the fact if they need it.

But the no-notetaking thing means that they aren’t even in a position to do any doodling.  And as someone who needs that constant hands/part of the brain occupation to stay focused, I wonder why I’ve never thought about that as a problem before.

This study specifically tried to make sure that the subjects were prone to boredom.  They had them do this task right after they had just finished another colleagues experiment, thinking that would increase the chance that they would be bored.  And they gave them a boring task – monitoring a voice message.  Half doodled, half did not, and then they were tested on their recall of the voice message.

I don’t mean to suggest that information literacy sessions are inherently boring; I don’t actually think they are.  But I think some of the conditions for boredom are there, particularly in the one-shot setting, and I don’t think there’s stuff that we can do about all of those conditions.  Some of them are inherent.  The idea of using the brain research that’s out there to figure out some strategies for dealing with that interests me a lot.

——————–
Jackie Andrade (2009). What does doodling do? Applied Cognitive Psychology DOI: 10.1002/acp.1561

words that mean pretty

This blog will never die.  It will never die because of this post.  Written in, I think, in about 15 minutes this post was just a quick thing to share a new tool that I was (and still am) really excited about.  And I’m not the only one.

So I never expected that this post would have more legs than any other post I’ve ever made – it doesn’t have the highest hit count, but of all of the posts on this blog it is the tortoise-est one.  Every day it picks up one or two or three views.

Unfortunately, those views come from people who are looking for something else.  Well, I shouldn’t say “unfortunately.”  I suspect a decent number of those people have never seen Wordle, and think it’s pretty cool.  So it’s cool by extension that they see that post here.  But they come here looking for (and this is almost always the exact wording of the search, it’s weird) – “words that mean pretty.” So, they want synonyms for the word pretty.  I’m thinking that they know what pretty means, and that they want some other words that mean that same thing.

So there are a couple of information literacy issues here, right?  The first, and probably most obvious, is that entering keywords into a search engine is not the best way to answer this particular question.  There are better tools out there.

Information Literacy issue #1

Using Google, the Wordle post comes up #8 on the result list for the words that mean pretty search right now.  So I assume that this is where most of the hits are coming from.  It doesn’t appear on Yahoo  (though there is a result about “how do I increase my dog’s understanding of words” which I find really intriguing).  Anyway, sometimes it’s a little higher on the Google list, sometimes a little lower.  Always on the first page.  The reason why people click on it is clear – most of the other results are obviously not relevant.  We have:

#1 – this one seems like it might be relevant, but it is actually a dictionary page for the word perhaps, not the word pretty.

#2 – this is a Yelp San Francisco query looking for non-english words that mean pretty.

#3-5 are random blog posts that use phrases like ‘words fail me” coupled with “pretty boring,” or “pretty words mean nothing.”

#6 is a link to the lyrics to Dirty Pretty Words.

#7 – we finally get a result that might work.  It’s a WikiAnswers question that just says –  “words that have pretty much the same meaning.”  But the description says “other words for pretty, same meaning as pretty” and so forth.  But when you click through to the page, you don’t see those questions. Instead, you find out that the initial question was looking for a definition of the word “synonym.”  Still, asking the question on WikiAnswers would probably work.

And then my post at #8.  Not that I really have to convince anyone who reads this blog that a search engine isn’t the place to find synonyms and antonyms.  So the first information literacy issue is a tool issue – there are things called thesauri and they can be really useful!  Check them out.

Information Literacy issue the second

Which connects to the more subtle information literacy issue here.  Which goes beyond how search engines aren’t a great starting point when you’re trying to find or generate synonyms – to finding and generating synonyms is a pretty fundamental part of effective keyword searching in search engines.  If you understand how keyword searching works, you know that the search  words that mean pretty will bring back anything with the disconnected terms words, mean and pretty. Which as the result list above indicates, is a whole lot of stuff you’re not interested in, including a random blog post about Wordle.   So when you get that result list, if you know how keyword searching works, you can troubleshoot that search and say “hey, I think I need a more specific term to get at the concept words that mean.”  If you’re really savvy at that point you might get the word “synonyms” from the WikiAnswers result and re-search using the terms synonyms and pretty.  That search works – you get result after result listing other words that mean the same thing as “pretty” does.

But here’s the thing – a lot of people don’t know how keyword searching works, in search engines or elsewhere.  Or they maybe kind of know, but they don’t really think about it.  And they don’t know how to troubleshoot that first failed search, or to find synonyms that will work better.  So I went looking – what would work better?  Because, as it happens, I’m working on a new keyword assignment – that I started talking about a few days ago, and that Sara talked about here – for beginning composition that will try to get at some of these issues about keywords and how they connect to critical reading, writing, thinking, as well as searching.

So, if you are wondering where you can find some information about other words that mean pretty – check these out:

Lexipedia: Where Words Have Meaning:  This one is interesting – it is based on the WordNet project at Princeton, and it creates, fairly quickly, cool webs of related words —  synonyms, antonyms,  fuzzynyms and more.   The webs are color coded so that you can glance at them and know that synonyms are olive green and antonyms are dark red.   The site looks a little bit messy, and it is hard to find.  While it has the domain “lexipedia.com” – a search on “lexipedia” brings back a lot of references to another project, about Wikipedia and handhelds.  Still, this one works pretty fast, provides a lot of terms that might be useful, and I like the glanceability of it.

Similar to this is Visuwords – an online graphical dictionary.  This one is prettier, but the resulting display isn’t as complete, and I’m not sure as a tool for finding additional terms and synonyms it would be more useful

And for the more textually oriented, there’s Definr, that also uses the WordNet project data.  Interestingly, it’s main selling point seems to be speed.  And it does define words really, really fast.  Not surprisingly, given the source data, it also provides some synonyms and related terms.

Both definr and lexipedia are user interfaces on top of the data generated by WordNet at Princeton.  This project, which groups words into “sets of cognitive synonyms” has about a million related projects listed on its website.  And the idea of cognitive synonyms is interesting, right?  For thinking about connecting terms to concepts and troubleshooting searches?

And now, as a bonus librarian answer – according to the OED, the first definition of the word pretty (adj.) is “cunning,” “crafty” (originally), and “clever,” “skillful” or “able” (later).  It was first used in this way in 1450.  “Aesthetically pleasing” is the second meaning, and it was first used this way about 10 years earlier.

“Sitting pretty” dates back to 1915, in Lincoln, Nebraska and “pretty please” dates back to 1891.

fancy search everywhere

Not quite on the heels of why I don’t like Ebsco’s new visual search, parts one and two, there are suddenly all kinds of different ways to search for news and information to try. I’ll admit, I don’t totally get any of these yet. I’ve barely played with them, which is part of the reason for that. I think that they’re not fully ready to be gotten yet, though as well.

What’s interesting to me is this common thread running through all of these attempts — the idea that people searching want to see how their results connect to each other. They want to see connections and context. I think this is true, and I think that it’s something we have a hard time doing when we research, especially keyword-research, online. I’m liking the trend, though I’m still a little unclear on the execution to date.

First, from Google Labs

Google Experimental Search. If you have a Google account, and you choose to “join” this experiment, you get some additional options for your results. (A note – all of these images are to screenshots. You have to be logged in and part of the experimental search to see what I’m seeing)

search results page

At the top, you can choose to look at these results in info view, timeline view or map view.

The “info view” seems to be about refining your results. You can choose to focus on a particular location, or a particular period in time. Here’s the WGA strike search, refined by “Vancouver.”

screenshot

I’m not sure exactly what the cool factor is with the timeline refining feature – it seems to pull out results about a particular time, not so much results that were from a particular time. So things like Wikipedia articles, which include lots and lots of dates tend to appear pretty high on those results, no matter which timeframe you try to limit to. I appreciate the concept behind these options, but really, I didn’t find nearly as much to play with as I did in the next two options, at least not yet.

Silobreaker

Next, we have Silobreaker. From the site:

More than a news aggregator, Silobreaker provides relevance by looking at the data it finds like a person does. It recognises people, companies, topics, places and keywords; understands how they relate to each other in the news flow, and puts them in context for the user.

As you can probably imagine, the idea that it’s looking at things just like a person would is a little bit suspect. And from what I can see, it does better recognizing fairly concrete things like people and places than more abstract concepts or (especially) keywords that can mean more than one thing.

The default search is called the 360 search and it brings back a big bunch of different ways of looking at results. At the top is the expected list of articles and other resources, with things like photographs and YouTube videos in the right-hand sidebar. Below the fold, you’ll find the additional options:

screenshot from below the fold

On the right, you can choose to look at a network view of your results, or a “hotspot” map. You can also choose to just do your initial search in any of these views.

Of these, I found the network view to be the most fun. It was really more fun for me to see the people and places that Silobreaker included in the network than it was for me to drill down to the articles and webpages associated with those people and places, but I can see where this would be valuable for certain searches. There’s also the “trends” view at the bottom, but I haven’t figured out why that’s cool yet. I don’t think I’ve been doing the right kinds of searches.

TextMap

Finally, TextMap. From the site:

s a search engine for entities: the important (and not so important)people, places, and things in the news. Our news analysis system automatically identifies and monitors these entities, and identifies meaningful relationships between them.

Time and place are some factors TextMap uses to contextualize results, but its main point of organization is the “entity.” Do a search, and your results come back listed by “entities” – which can be people, places, companies and more. From the main TextMap page, you can also browse by predefined entities. Click on an entity – and your results come back clustered around that entity.

(And at this point, the word “entity” has started to look really weird to me)

screenshot of different visualizations -

Like Silobuster, TextMap’s options include a network view and a heatmap view. There is also a “reference time” view and juxtapositions between your entity and others.

There’s some awkwardness and “not quite getting it” pieces to all of these options for me. Part of this, of course, is from the fact that I just haven’t played with them very much. Part of it is probably that the underlying metadata won’t really support the types of visualizations they’re trying to provide well enough – or that the sites they’re drawing data from are uneven in their metadata, so the existence of the metadata is skewing what you see in the results. Still, the idea that the user needs and wants to see the contextualization, and the relationships between the information sources they’re using, is exciting.