Monthly Archives: January 2012

Bonus Feature

So, I was out running this morning, listening to podcasts because I’m a nerd like that, and I rolled my eyes so hard I nearly tripped when, in the midst of Freakonomics radio, I heard the term “financial literacy.” I mean, it’s not that I think librarians have the corner on waving the literacy banner, but the way people are adding the word “literacy” to the end of whatever it is they think is in need of attention is getting a little ridiculous, isn’t it? And it’s certainly not that I think information literacy or financial literacy are ridiculous concepts. They aren’t. It’s just that what we’re all waving our respective fill-in-the-blank literacy banners about is essentially the same thing: People need to know more about the world around them and they need to ask good questions and know where to go to get good answers.

If you listen to the podcast or read the transcript (both are available here) you can hear that although Annamaria Lusardi and Lauren Willis supposedly arguing on either side of the financial literacy debate, they’re really arguing for the same thing. Lusardi says that education is the only solution but the problem is that education is expensive. Willis says that actually, we’re not that great at educating in the first place and that there is no evidence that knowing the difference between a stock and a bond correlates to people doing better in their lives, but knowing math does make a difference. In other words, knowing the difference between a database and Wikipedia doesn’t make a difference in people’s lives, but knowing how to judge information does. Lusardi says that we need to teach people how to drive before we license them for a car, and Willis says that really, all we need to do is hire a knowledgable someone to drive the car for us. In other words, education matters. Whether we’re educating students to find their own information or we’re educating librarians to be the knowledge repositories, education is still central to both of their arguments.

Here’s the thing. If people don’t know enough to know what they don’t know, how can we expect them to value what we do as librarians? To seek us out when they’re having trouble? To ask good questions? Without education, not only don’t they know that a zero-down mortgage with a crazy interest rate is a terrible idea, but they also don’t know who to ask for advice on what might be better.

I’m still considering what the librarian’s role in the banner-waving parade is. I don’t know how effective it is for us to teach one-off workshops, but I’m afraid for what might happen if we don’t. I am very concerned that we never get to see how a student might use our teaching, but I would never suggest that the education we provide isn’t valuable. It’s a kind of black hole of good intentions. What we want and what we can reasonably expect are two very different things, but we just can’t face the possibility of not trying.

Audition CDs with Audacity and iTunes

Here’s the screencast I did for this week’s assignment. I used two different tech tools for one outcome – an audition CD. Audition CDs are typically required as a screening round for graduate programs or as application materials to summer festivals. This is how I have made all of my audition CDs, except there’s usually much more swearing and many more hours involved in the actual production.

You can watch it here.

P.S. Anyone using WordPress who has figured out how to add screencast content to their webpage, please let me know.

3 articles

I’m working on a project with the Education department of the University Musical Society to redesign, reinterpret, and otherwise make more awesome the teacher resource guides that they provide for the youth performances. (Gigantic PDFs can be had here.) We have proposed a solution that requires the migration of most of the content to a new website that is directed at the students rather than the teachers. As a result, I’ve been thinking a lot about learning in an online space and visual literacy. So, my three articles:

  • “Visual Culture and Literacy Online: Image Galleries as Sites of Learning” by B. Stephen Carpenter II and Lauren Cifuentes. Art Education vol. 64, issue 4, July 2011.
  • “New Horizons: The Sea Change Before Us” by Larry Johnson. EDUCASE Review, March/April 2006.
  • “Keep Your Ear-lids Open” by Gary Ferrington. Journal of Visual Literacy, 1994.

The first is a kind of case study about how online image galleries can be used for interpreting examples of visual culture. It’s mostly a case study of a particular curated online image gallery called Seeing Culture.  I think the article has some problems interpreting results and communicating those results to the reader, but it does bring up some interesting points. Particularly this one:

“By engaging in social interpretations of visual culture, viewers construct interpretations they would not derive in isolation. The forum for interpretation provides learners with a space to rethink and broaden their interpretations in relation to interpretations posted by others. In Seeing Culture students learned to recognize the power of photo manipulation to tell a profound story on one hand or to present a dishonest message on the other.” pg. 37

The second article proposes an interesting concept: the idea of a new media literacy. Of course, it was written by the CEO of the New Media Consortium. Let’s put the bias on the table, ok? Still, the article is very short and provides good, concise definitions of  visual literacy, aural literacy, digital literacy, and information literacy. The author proposes that new media literacy inhabits a space of overlap between these areas.

 “The NMC defines new media literacy as the set of abilities and skills required for proficiency where the aural, visual, and digital realms overlap. These include the ability to understand the power of images and sounds, to recognize and use that power, to manipulate, transform, and pervasively distribute digital media, and to easily adapt digital media to new forms.” pg. 72

Lastly, an article about aural literacy. I have to admit, even with all the talking and thinking I’ve been doing about information literacy and all of its off-shoots this year, it never occurred to me that there might be such a thing as aural literacy. Learning to hear, and not in a musical or conversational context but in the context of interpreting the world, is an interesting concept. I think that there are a lot of good points to be made about all of the kinds of literacies, but I’m a little skeptical about how adding the word “literacy” to the end of someone’s pet project supposedly lends it legitimacy. Anyway, it’s an interesting article with lots of good information that would be valuable to a teacher in the lower grades. The main problem, the author asserts, isn’t in the students’ ability to hear but in their ability to pay attention to or “attend” what they hear. Think about all of the information we gain just by listening: the speed of a passing car, the footsteps of someone approaching from behind, the difference between a firecracker and a gun shot. We assume that these skills are learned tacitly, and maybe they are, but what would happen if they were addressed in a more explicit way?

The Formative Assessment Fallacy

Formative Assessment. What a great assessment technique, right? Tell people how they could improve while they’re still working instead of skewering them at the end! Ongoing feedback means that students have a better chance of success, and it also means that they are more likely to develop meaningful relationships with teachers which also means that the feedback the students receive is that much more directed and useful to their learning journey. Kristin says that librarians are naturals at this, and we probably are. I mean, librarians don’t really go around giving exams or research papers, plus we really like to help people which often translates to conversation.

I think we need to be careful in how we position formative assessment and summative assessment against each other. Each has a place, each complements the other, and neither are without significant short comings. As Kelly brought up in class, there comes a point in formative assessment where the number of suggestions and comments becomes overwhelming and completely defeating. We must be careful not to paralyze with helpfulness. Kelly brought this up in the context of creative writing. I think that all the creative arts are excellent about providing formative assessment – peer review, private lessons, supervised studio time, etc. In fact, in the creative arts, we get almost exclusively formative assessment, with little if any feedback happening after a summative experience (in this context a summative experience might be a published story, a performance, a gallery showing, etc.)

This kind of constant scrutiny can be wonderful, especially when you have a teacher who truly wants to help you succeed, because it means that the student knows where to go for help. Under different circumstances, it can also create an intense paranoia, self-consciousness, and defeatist attitudes. It can create students who are more interested in pleasing a teacher than in developing and solidifying their own artistic sensibilities. And it can create students who can’t see the things that they doing well because they are so focused on what they need to improve.

A couple of tips that work well in creative contexts that will translate to other settings:

  • Always acknowledge when a student has made improvement, especially in reference to a skill that takes a while to build. Example: “I can tell how hard you’ve worked on ——-. The difference is really noticeable in they way that you —–. I think that there’s room to get really great at it, so let’s focus on improving —– by doing —–.”
  • Frame comments in a positive light. Example: “I really liked how you used —— but I think that you can —– better.”

The danger of formative assessment is that it becomes a list of shortcomings instead of a useful tool for improvement. Don’t forget to actually provide the student with the tools for improving! It sounds silly and obvious, but trust me it’s not. Simply pointing out what a student can improve is only half the battle.

Librarian Teachers: Questions not Answers

What with Quasi-Con and my internship and this class, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about teaching and libraries and workshops lately. I have a lot observations and questions floating around in my head, most of which are unfit to be called a “position” or a “theory” or anything that might suggest that they have formed into a “soapbox.”

I am concerned about the effectiveness of one-shot workshops, and I am glad that we will be talking about design and implementation in class. I do think that certain kinds of follow-the-directions skills are best to be taught in an online space – things like navigating an interface or a series of steps that results in a commonly sought outcome. Skills that do not have a clear path are best left for in-person teaching – things like how to find or where to look or what am I doing wrong.

I can’t remember who said it at Quasi-Con yesterday, but someone said, “Librarians are terrible at marketing themselves.” It is so true, and this worries me. Are online learning modules effective marketing or are they a replacement for librarians? What does it matter if we make awesome online learning modules or teach awesome workshops if no one knows about them? How do we get the word out about the services we offer?

I know from experience just how hard it is to be an effective teacher in a one-shot environment. As a substitute teacher, I spent a year teaching what boils down to one-shot workshops. The difficulty was not in the lessons themselves (although plenty of teachers left nearly incomprehensible lesson plans) but in the student-teacher relationship. There is base level trust and/or respect necessary to learn. Students must have the belief that you are knowledgable on the subject and have information worthy of sharing. Admittedly, a substitute begins way behind the starting line on these points even in comparison to other workshop-type teachers, but I found that my best and most effective teaching happened when I was able to spend more than one day in a classroom even if it was non-sequential, building relationships and gaining an understanding of the whys and hows of that particular collection of students. How can we create an environment conducive to learning in a 50-minute session? How do we market ourselves in a way that will allow us to develop relationships with students and professors in order to be the most effective teachers possible?

:: Reflection ::

Sparking off of Kristin’s Lands’ End story, a while back my dad asked me for some help finding something on Google. He had recently bought a special kind of shotgun second hand. I can’t tell you what’s special about it. I just know that he was super excited.  He wanted to find the manufacturing date of the shotgun based on the serial number, but he was having no luck finding anything online. He figured there was some secret password he needed to know to find some sort of listing of manufacturing dates. He just didn’t know what it was.

Enter Librarian Mode. I gave him a proper reference interview and came away with the following hard facts (plus a whole lot else):

  • Company name: Merkel
  • Location: Germany, previously behind the Iron Curtain
  • Distribution is handled in the US by dealers and not by the company itself


  • Searching Merkel also brings up results for Angela Merkel, German Chancellor.
  • That darn Iron Curtain and the beating the company took by war and reunification means that record keeping is unlikely to have been robust, extensive, or consistent. Even if good records exist within the company, it is very possible that they are not available online.
  • Very few shotgun companies have serial number listings available online.

I did not find anything. So then I had to sit down with my dad and have The Talk. You know, the one where you explain where information comes from that not everything is on the internet. The history of the company and the practices of the others make it pretty unlikely that the information is available online right now. Just because the information isn’t online doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I suggested that he call the American distributor and ask questions. I found him the contact info. He wrinkled his nose and asked me to show him the advanced search tab in Google, convinced that somehow, somewhere, the information was online.

And maybe it is. Somewhere. (Incidentally, if you happen to have the magic password to this particular question, please let me know.) But what struck me about this interaction is how unwilling my dad was to make a simple phone call and talk to someone with specialized knowledge on the topic. This is a man who spends significant time on a daily basis on the phone. Clearly, he is not afraid of a phone call. He didn’t just want the answer. He wanted the answer to be online.

What kind of implications does this have for librarians? For subject specialists? For learning in general? Patrons don’t want people who know things. They want machines that know things. What do we do about people who will spend hours online looking for something because it is “easier” than asking a question of a real person? How can we teach people if we never find out what they don’t know?

Both the woman in the Lands’ End story and my dad have pre-exisiting knowledge that do not serve them in their instances. The LE woman believed that if her CAPS LOCK search term didn’t find what she was looking for in the database, it didn’t exist. My dad believed that he simply needed to find a new way to search because the answer to his question must exist online. Neither was willing to try a different approach to solving their problem. To what lengths should we go to try to alter that frame of reference?

Virtuosity, Expertise, and Teaching

Unsurprisingly for those who know my background as a freelancing musician, I fixed on the idea of experts “artisans” versus “virtuosos” in this week’s reading. The use of the word “virtuoso” has been applied almost exclusively to the world of music to mean someone who has a masterly ability, technique, or personal style. While I’m not opposed to using the word in the context of expertise outside of a musical connotation, I’m concerned with the example provided in the book. The book poses an example of experts doing client work for information system design (hello, 501). The book explains that an artisan will approach the client problem from the limits stated by the client and that the expert is concerned with using their expertise to do familiar tasks more effectively. A virtuoso sees the client problem as a way to “explore and expand their current level of expertise.” The client problem is a point of departure for the virtuoso. (pg. 42)

I’m concerned that this example does not accurately take into account client relationships. Imagine if you hired a consultant to deliver something specific and the product they delivered was an exploration of the expertise of the consultant. On the other hand, if you as the client had enough metacognition to know that you didn’t know what you needed or wanted, a virtuoso with extraordinarily adaptive techniques and a passion for finding the right answer for your particular circumstances would be exactly what you wanted. This, however, requires a certain level of virtuosity from the client in order to apply metacognitive thinking to the situation.

But, who’s to say that an expert cannot be both and artisan and virtuoso given circumstances?

I did like that the authors later say “virtuosos not only apply expertise to a given problem, they also consider whether the problem is the best way to begin.” (pg. 46) To me, considering the starting point is a crucial first step in expertise and in learning. What do I know? What don’t I know? Where am I trying to go? What do I need to find out to get me there?

My second point of fixation: experts do not always make great teachers. Oh boy has this been my experience.

So often we assume that because someone is good at something they must know a lot about it. This is an extreme fallacy. It is just as likely that this person is naturally talented and this person does not have any idea of how they do what they do. It just happens.

We assume that because they are good at it, they have spent a lot of time thinking about it and that they put effort into acquiring knowledge. This may be true, but it does not mean that they can translate that experience meaningfully to others.

I believe that some of the best teachers are people who have struggled to acquire a skill. They know the frustrations and roadblocks. They have tried multiple paths to acquire a skill, and they know the strengths and limitations of different approaches. They have a much deeper understanding of what it takes to be good at it that someone whose skill has coming largely as a result of innate ability, and, most crucially, they have the ability to communicate and translate that experience to many different types of situations and learners.

As an example, this weekend a friend of mine asked me to fix her clarinet articulation. I feel very qualified to help her get better at a number of things on clarinet – tone control and production, technique, interpretation – but I do not feel that I am a good candidate to help with her articulation. My articulation has always been extraordinarily good, clean, and fast. I don’t know how I do what I do. This does not mean that I have not worked on my articulation, but it does mean that I don’t have an understanding of how and why what I do works. It just does and it always has. I told her that I could tell her what I do. I could give her the exercises I use, and I could talk her through visualizations and techniques I have heard described. I told her that as good a teacher as I can be on other topics, I’m probably not the best person to fix her articulation. I sent her to another friend who went through great and painful lengths to fix her own articulation.

Incidentally, the same thing is true of me in other topic areas. I don’t mind telling you I’m one heck of a math teacher, even though all of my intensive education and “expertise” is in the arts and humanities.