Category Archives: in practice

Choosing new words

rainbowhands

Can I share with you one of my most embarrassing teaching moments to date? Actually, I think I need to just own it and say that it was my MOST embarrassing teaching moment to date, even surpassing the one time I sarcastically asked a fourth grader in a substitute teaching situation which was heading in a distinctly undesirable direction, “How stupid do I look?” That one was mostly about frustration, and my feeling embarrassed mostly had to do with myself, not the student. He was, frankly, delighted to answer the question. This one was about me shoving my foot in my mouth. Three times. In front of a large audience.

A few weeks ago I was asked to talk to a large seminar of students for about 10 minutes. I don’t typically do 10 minute sessions, but I’ve been working to build a relationship with the campus program associated with the class, and I’ll take all the 10 minutes I can get to strengthen the relationship. I knew in advance that it was a very large seminar – 300 students. So large, in fact, that they weren’t able to find space to accommodate the whole seminar in one lecture hall, so they had two lecture halls and were using Zoom to communicate between the two. So I’d be talking to a room full of students, plus video chatting another room that I couldn’t see.

My teaching practice is deeply informed by the Socratic method. Even when I knew the format was best suited to be simply talking for 10 minutes, I found myself asking questions. A student raised a hand, and I acknowledged the student’s response by saying, “Yes, the gentleman in the blue hoodie.” I had made my first mistake.

You see, despite appearances (freshman student, soft face with no obvious facial hair, very short haircut, oversized hoodie in pale blue), it was immediately obvious by the look on the student’s face that I had incorrectly identified gender. The student answered my question and like a good librarian concerned with accessibility, I repeated the question into the microphone for the students who were watching from the other classroom. This time I identified the student as “she.” As I did it, I realized that I didn’t know that the student preferred “she” either. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. That was my second mistake.

And the third mistake? Not acknowledging my previous two assumptions and simply plowing on through the rest of my 10 minutes. I felt just awful.

The next week, I co-taught a fairly routine class. Afterwards a student came up to me and thanked me for talking to the large seminar class from the week before. She said that she knew it wasn’t an easy thing to do to talk to that many students at once and she really appreciated that I came to seminar. I could have cried. First of all, when have you ever gotten such a kind acknowledgement from a student? Second of all, didn’t she notice what a horrible thing I had done?

I’ve been beating myself up over this ever since.

At The Collective conference last month I attended a session on creating inclusive spaces for gender non-conforming students and workers and identifying unconscious bias in ourselves. It’s pretty clear from this interaction what my own unconscious bias is. The piece of advice that sticks with me from that session is that we all mess up, even those of us who are trying really hard to do the right thing. Rather than not trying, we have to forgive these mistakes and identify changes to do better next time.

Trying to change our teaching practice wholesale to make a perfectly inclusive classroom is a task big enough to choke even the most enthusiastic of advocates. I’m paralyzed by the large-scale change (not to mention the research) it would require of me to create a “perfect” classroom, and so I’m choosing and sticking to two very small changes for the next year. I hope these small changes will yield big results, both in how my students feel and how I feel in the classroom.

First, I am removing the words “ladies” and “gentlemen” from my teaching vocabulary. These are words that I picked up as a camp counselor more than a decade ago. It was an arts camp, if you must know, and at the time “ladies and gentlemen” felt more empowering to the campers than “boys and girls” and certainly more correct than “women and men,” not to mention discipline appropriate. While the terms seem respectful from the outside, they are gendered. Instead I will use the word “student” or “learner” to refer to everyone who enters my classroom. Imagine how the situation would have changed had I said, “Yes, the student in the blue hoodie?”

Second, I will choose and learn an “acknowledgement of mistake” script that I can use anytime I’ve made an incorrect assumption (gendered or otherwise). Something along the lines of: “I apologize. I’ve made an assumption that may not be true. Would you please correct me?” By doing this, I hope to never be wordless in one of these situations again, and I hope that by acknowledging and correcting my mistake, I can make the classroom feel like a safe place for others to do the same.

As I’ve said before, words matter. I have power over mine, and I will be choosing better from now on.

A brief list of things I’ve declined while on research leave (and a list of things I’ve said yes to)

Colored notes paper on a cork board

I’m on research leave. Hooray! I have the 4 weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas to work on my book. At Indiana University, all pre-tenure librarians have up to 5 months of research leave available before tenure. Admittedly, the end-of-semester and holiday season isn’t the most ideal time to do this, but I’m working with what my work schedule and book schedule allows. In order to take research leave, I had to apply to the Grants and Leaves Committee and be approved all up and down the administrative chain.

Many people who apply for leave end up postponing it, not taking it at all, or find that work commitments creep in and eat up the valuable time. I worked very hard to protect my time. As I said previously, the time is a gift but it is my responsibility to protect the time. I’ve spent much of the fall semester working towards these 4 weeks, wrapping up projects, getting a head start on things, putting others on hold, trading reference desk shifts, and making plans for leave and the brief time immediately after leave but before the semester starts. In addition to all the self-organization, I’ve been setting expectations with others about what I will and (mostly) won’t be doing during leave. Here’s a short list of things I’ve declined:

  1. Most committee meetings (with two exceptions in which I can participate remotely and in which my presence is critical to ongoing agenda items.)
  2. All requests for my in-person attendance/input/presentation, including (especially) those that asked for “5 minutes” of my time. Even when those requests have come from friends or for causes I would typically support. You and I both know that 5 minutes doesn’t include travel time or “oh hey, I haven’t seen you in a while” catch-up time.
  3. All work-related holiday parties. So many holiday parties.
  4. Being readily available by email or chat. I’m loud and proud on that out-of-office reply.
  5. Any work-related request or project that doesn’t directly advance my scholarship. I have a few other scholarly irons in the fire aside from my book. These qualify for some time (but with less urgency than the book) during my leave. Anything else can wait.

In addition to setting up strong boundaries to protect my valuable research leave time, I’ve also worked hard to set reasonable and achievable goals for myself. I don’t want to get to the end of leave and find that I didn’t get very far on what I hoped to do. These goals all shift and change as the projects develop but having a short, reasonable list is critical to my process. Being on research leave, however, has certain perks, and I also don’t want to be such a taskmaster that I can’t appreciate the flexibility research leave provides. Here are some things I’m saying yes to:

  1. A detailed daily schedule and goals list.
  2. The final two Faculty Writing Group meetings of the semester.
  3. A $50 unlimited pass to a local yoga studio.
  4. Working:
    1. in coffee shops (and trying a few new-to-me places)
    2. in the public library
    3. on my couch with the fireplace on
  5. Co-working with others on research leave
  6. Grocery shopping on a non-weekend day
  7. Way too many snacks from the way too convenient pantry

I’ve had no resistance to the boundaries I’ve set at work. I love my co-workers and will be excited to see them in January. I love them even more that they have all been as respectful and careful of my research leave as I’d hoped.

Do you have access to research leave? How does scholarship support work at your institution?

Recent advice

backtoschool

In this early moment in the semester (Although I did just hear a faculty member in the business school reference midterms happening next week. Is that… a thing?), I want to take a moment to share some advice I’ve recently passed along to members of the Teaching Librarians Community here at Indiana University.

When a professor reaches out for instruction, treat this initial contact as a conversation opener, not a contract or requirement. You don’t have to say yes to the class as a whole or yes to agenda as they’ve proposed it. Instead, you can see this as an opportunity to engage in a conversation in order to arrive at a compromise that satisfies you both. Generally, conversations are much like a reference interview: What the person is asking about is often not what they need.

Additionally, you’re the expert in research. When we are too much in a service mindset, we can forget that we are experts in our own right. We try to do exactly as we are told and believe that this translates to respect from the faculty. It might, but often the service mentality means that our professional skills are lost in subservience. When you engage in a conversation with a professor, you’re asserting your expertise and competence.

As a professional, you do not need to ask permission to teach class the way you want or to add things you think are important. Personally, I do not send my lesson plans to professors for approval. I do confirm with them the generalities of what I plan to cover and I do ask if they observe things in their students that they feel I should be aware of. I ask for feedback after the session and I am open to constructive criticism. But I do not ask for approval before I teach. When I teach a class I feel good about (not the one I’ve been told to teach or received faculty approval for beforehand), I’m automatically a better teacher. This translates to a better classroom environment, better discussions, and more learning for students. Invariably, the class is better, and the professor is happier. I even have data to prove it. At my previous institution, I gathered data among ENG101 faculty over the course of 4 years. They were happy enough when I did what they told me to do, but they were thrilled when I did what I felt was necessary. In other words, they were happier when I didn’t do what they told me to do.

When we talk about the challenges of faculty/librarian relationships, one of the most often cited frustrations of librarians is that faculty don’t “respect” us. While professional excellence is not the whole answer to the respect question, we certainly can’t have respect without excellence. So as we get into the swing of the semester, I challenge you to trust your skills as a professional and assert yourself enough to show them off.

REFRAMING: The Generic Instruction Request

reframing-POST

Welcome to an occasional series I’m calling REFRAMING. The idea behind the series is to take some common pain points for librarians and turn them around. You might as well call it “The Flip.” What I’m looking to do is take scenarios that are usually considered challenges and flip them into opportunities. This is an outgrowth of the work I currently do in supporting teaching librarians. It is, of course, just my own perspective, but I think there’s a lot of room in the world (especially today’s world?) for reframing. I’m an action oriented individual, and rather than wallowing in difficulty, I strive to look for the chance to do something about it, even if that something is just changing the way I’m thinking. Let’s consider the generic instruction request.

Here’s an accurate description, courtesy of a colleague: “We really need you to come do an instruction session. There’s no research assignment, but they are engaged in working on types of research for various other professors. Oh! And I won’t be there…” We’ve all been here, or some variation of here. These types of requests seem to be the bane of a librarian’s existence judging from conference and coffee break conversation. They feel disrespectful of our time and expertise. Convenient for the professor (the word “babysitter” comes to mind) but ultimately unhelpful for students. We mourn how much better a session could be with deliberate placement in the course, with some collaboration with the faculty member, with a damn assignment. Many librarians feel they can’t say no to this kind of request and resentment builds. In the instance of my colleague, above, she said that she already knew she was going to say yes, but that she struggled with how it felt. What to do? Put together a class while feeling disrespected or resentful?

First, let me say that “not at this time” is a valid response to this kind of request. Your time and expertise are valuable and possibly not best used by fulfilling this request in the spirit in which it was requested; however, there are reasons why you might say yes. I find that there is often a period of time at the beginning of a new job where you say yes to things that you don’t ultimately plan to say yes to in the long term, such as this kind of request. For one thing, these sessions can be really useful for learning about students and making connections with faculty that you later try to shift in a different direction. Ultimately, what we have here is an opportunity disguised as a challenge.

Here’s what I said to my colleague: “This kind of thing can be either a sad occurrence or a huge opportunity for you to do exactly whatever it is that you want to do and feel is most important without feeling like you have to meet faculty expectations. What do you think would be fun/necessary? Have you been itching to try something out? Talk about a concept? Fill in a blank? This is your opportunity. This is a place that the particular Frames you feel are important but underrepresented could find life. You’ve been given a whole class period to do exactly what you want. What do you want to do?

What might happen if we got excited about this kind of request instead of feeling obligated to it?

Thank you

thank you

We say thank you to people out of courtesy and genuine gratitude, but how often do we put our gratitude in writing? Sure, you probably send a card when grandma sends a little something for you or the kiddo. But do you do it in your professional life?

One thing I’m working on adding to my professional practice is saying thank you more often. Crafting a precise, heartfelt message takes practice, but it is a practice I’m happy to work on. I’ve been trying to give personal, heartfelt thanks in person but I’m realizing as I’ve been on the receiving end of a few thank you notes this year that having it in writing can mean so much more. Written words can be brought out on a rainy day and enjoyed over and over again. From a purely opportunistic perspective, written words of thanks can be included in tenure dossiers.

I keep both an email folder and a physical folder to save things like this in my office. You can tuck them away until you really need them, and then, lo! A whole stack of thanks for a needy heart! I’ve also started stocking my desk with inexpensive thank you notes, ready and waiting. You can usually find stuff like this in the dollar spot at Target or Michael’s. And, of course, an email works too, but without the fun of new stationary.

And for the parents among you: One of my favorite mom-hacks is to purchase blank card stock and have my toddler draw all over it. Sometimes I add a little something extra to signify the season (heart stickers for Valentine’s for example) and then send it out with a note inside. This works for thank yous or any other holiday real or imagined that you could dream up. It’s as simple or complicated as you make it, and it’s a big hit with grandparents or other doting adults.

I challenge you. Send a thank you to someone deserving today. It takes 5 minutes but the benefits last much longer.

YES, BOTH, AND

Both-And

I’m always interested to go to LOEX. One of the most valuable benefits I find from this conference is often the push to better understanding my own thoughts and feelings about a given topic. Usually, there’s a presentation I can’t stop thinking about, even (especially?) when I don’t agree with what’s being said.

This year, the session I can’t stop thinking about was Eamon Tewell’s The Problem with Grit: Dismantling Deficit Models in Information Literacy Instruction. Tewell had a well-argued point that the pervasive theories of grit and growth mindset (as espoused by Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck, respectively) place the responsibility for learning at the individual level without regard for the “systemic forces (that) control individual behavior.” Mindset, he says, doesn’t provide resources. Without resources, all the positive thinking in the world won’t get you far if it “require(s) students to adapt to a broken system.” This is, unsurprisingly, a call for the application of critical pedagogy.

In his rhetoric, Tewell suggests that passion and perseverance are less than social structures. The individual can’t swim upstream against the power and pressure of the group. While I wholeheartedly agree that social structures, institutions, and systems are often broken and often do not serve the individual, I do not agree that individual agency makes no difference in the “success and achievement” equation.

I do not see the concepts of grit and growth mindset as being at odds with the asset-based pedagogy Tewell advocated for towards the end of his presentation. These concepts as examples of deficit mindset, he says, are focused on “fixing” what is “wrong” with the individual, rather than fixing what is wrong with institutions. I would argue that victimizing the individual by telling them that they are powerless to overcome broken systems is the original deficit mindset. And yet, this approach does not directly fix a broken system, so I maybe I’m teaching deficit models by default? Somewhat unsurprising, I suppose, given that I taught Mindset by Carol Dweck in First Year Seminar.

While I do not agree with disregarding concepts of grit and growth mindset comprehensively, I can wholeheartedly get on board with the concepts of asset-based pedagogy. I have worked for many years to advocate for dismantling deficit models of information literacy education in my institutions. Part of this work involves repeatedly reminding myself and others that students are not ignorant, empty vessels waiting to be filled with our expert knowledge, but instead people who know things that they can contribute to the classroom. When we begin an instruction session with what students can do rather than what they can’t do, we are not only getting at information literacy but also at metaliteracy, all while empowering them to use the knowledge they already have as groundwork for new information. This focus on can instead of can’t is the core of asset-based pedagogy.

One of the things I’m working on in my personal life is the “AND” principle – holding more than one thought or feeling together at the same time. For example, our transition to a new living situation this year has been really hard AND it has been an amazing opportunity. I’m sad that my son is no longer a baby AND I’m excited for what comes next for him.

And so, I’m wondering if we can apply the “AND” principle to these discussions surrounding the role of individuals and institutions. Can we say that an individual’s belief in the his/her power to grow, learn, and change is a critical component in the ability to grow, learn, and change AND that having a great mindset isn’t always (usually?) enough to overcome broken systems and social structures? Can we say that perseverance is the main predictor of long-term achievement AND that perseverance alone won’t help a human grow wings any time in the near future?

Here’s what I know from my own experience. All the positive thinking in the world won’t make much difference without access to good medical care; however, access to good medical care won’t make a difference without the perseverance to commit to treatment. In music school we used to say, “Work beats talent when talent doesn’t work,” and yet, all the work I put in didn’t magically launch me past all of the brokenness of modern classical music. But neither would fixing what’s broken with the system have made a difference if I hadn’t put in the work.

So I guess what I’m saying is YES, BOTH, AND. Growth mindset AND asset-based pedagogy. Improving the individual AND improving the institution. Can we have BOTH?

AND also, maybe, sometimes, your house doesn’t need renovating.

So thanks, Eamon Tewell, for pushing me to push back. It was worth the trip to Houston.

P. S. For more thoughts on this presentation, you can read Veronica’s take on academia’s emphasis on text, another great mind-bender from this presentation.

Making space for the next great thing

sssposter2016final

This week was supposed to be the 4th annual Student Speaker Series. The Student Speaker Series is an event that allows students to share their expertise with the larger community. With the support and mentoring of the library, students gain experience in public speaking and have a platform for synthesizing the skills they learn in a classroom setting with the ideas they find especially intriguing regardless of their major. This is a program I started in my first year at PSC, and one that I consider a personal passion project. I’m passionate about giving students opportunity to become great speakers and articulators, and I believe that my background in performance puts me in a unique position to make a difference. The first year, the Student Speaker Series made the front page of the local newspaper entirely by accident and attracted crowds of around 100. Those of you who live in small towns know that this is a Big Deal.

This year, there is no Student Speaker Series. The surface explanation for why is lack of student interest. The number of applications (one) certainly supports that theory.  The deeper explanation is more complicated.

The environment changed. When I started, there were very few opportunities for students to publicly share ideas in an academically supported way outside of Capstone. In the last few years, more and more student-run organizations are providing space for public discourse, including one using the title “The Wildlife Society’s Student Speaker Series.” I did have a chat with this particular organization about naming and branding and the availability of a very similar platform through the library, but the fact remains that other venues are now available.

The Student Speaker Series has been a positive touchstone for the library with the faculty and administration. They LOVE the idea of it, but nevertheless when faculty rally about the “lack of opportunity for public presentation on campus,” they are startled when I mention the Student Speaker Series as such an opportunity. It isn’t what comes to mind for them, and without faculty support it is quite difficult to convince students to stand in front of a group of peers and talk for 40 minutes.

It is impossible to know if I could have made a stronger pitch to faculty and students about the Student Speaker Series. It is hard to get past the feeling that I could have done something better or more. But then I look at the list of places and ways I reached out and ask myself what more I could possibly have done.

  • Multiple, escalating emails to students and faculty
  • Posters large and small all over campus including dorms
  • Digital signage
  • Table tents
  • Restroom newsletter spots
  • Wrote a short blurb for The Apollos
  • Posted to The Apollos Facebook page
  • Posted to the Library Facebook page
  • Announcements in large and small faculty meetings
  • Announcements in classrooms
  • Individual outreach to a few key professors asking for support in actionable ways
  • Incentives offered to students

Sometimes the time has passed for an idea. Sometimes the right time hasn’t happened yet. It could be a great idea, but so much about the success of an initiative has to do with external circumstances and timing. The Student Speaker Series no longer has the right circumstances to succeed and it is time to consider what is right for right now.

We talk a lot about maximizing our resources and doing more with less, but the fact is in many instances that the more important and more difficult question is “what can we stop doing?” What is holding us back from serving the needs of now? What has become burdensome and more work than reward? What needs to be shelved for a year or so to be reconsidered when the right time comes? What is central to our core and what is simply pretty? Even without the threat of budget cuts and “downsizing,” we need to make space for the next great thing.

I am sad to see it go. It was mine. It had so much potential. It failed. In this time of incredible change and transition at our institution, however, it is probably just as well to let this baby go in service of other babies in progress. My days have been filled with the kind of revisioning that generally happens with large scale administrative turn-over – strategic planning (college and library), reorganizing of structures and jobs, policy and procedure. There has also been a lot of the dirty, day-to-day that is technically my job but would fall under “other duties as assigned” on my job description – hiring, contract issues, and budgets. There hasn’t been as much as I would like of the kind of work that has a direct impact on students, and I am sad to miss the thrill from seeing students rise to a challenge and exceed their own expectations this year. This is not the time and the Student Speaker Series is no longer where my effort is most needed.

Nor can I forget about this other baby that I’m growing, the one with a due date in mid-September, right at the beginning of the busiest time for library instruction. The baby that means this fall I expect to be spending a lot more time on the couch lovingly immobilized by an 8 pound weight than in the classroom challenging students to ask better questions. The baby for whom I am planning to complete my promotion portfolio  6 months early so that I won’t be doing it while on leave or while making the transition back to work. The baby for whom my effort is most definitely needed.

(And with that, a plea to other librarians and academic parents for support and advice on how one does this baby-raising thing, particularly as it relates to leave and daycare and, egads, the million other huge and tiny ways that academic life and rural living makes things both easier and harder.)

What needs to shift to make room for the next great thing? I debated for a long time about what or whether to write in this space. None of us would prefer to dwell on the initiatives and projects that haven’t gone according to plan. I suspect it would be in my best professional interest to wait for the next great thing to come along before writing and to completely omit the seismic change my personal life is about to undergo with the introduction of a child, but this space for me has always been about my personal learning, reflection, and growth. I do not write for my professional interest, but for my own.

And on that note here is a short list of great things I am looking forward to:

  • Immersion, oh yes.
  • LOEX
  • Continuing to develop our faculty liaison plan and organization
  • Benchmarking IL skills in our Natural Sciences department
  • Working to assess library student learning outcomes, possibly in ENG101

What you get when you ask

In my last post, I suggested that one of the great things about teaching FYS is a captive freshmen audience. The thing is, when you ask questions of students, very often the answer is different than you thought. Their answers sometimes confirm what you suspect from observation but their reasoning may not align with your assumptions. Understanding why something is happening that way, not just that it is happening, is crucial to accurately meet a need. Here are three ways we’ve asked questions of our library community, with answers that both confirm our observations and open new avenues for services and effective learning.

EXHIBIT A: Extra hours poll. For various reasons, extended hours at the end of the semester have always been a bit fraught in our library. With Capstones due at varying times, Capstone presentations happening the weekend before finals, and “finals” themselves being less formal than the name suggests, answering the question “when would extended hours be most helpful?” has never been clear for us. We tried a number of approaches, but never felt that participation met our expectations. Last spring after midterm, I conducted a quick and dirty poll (slips of paper in a box at the front desk) to see if students had a preference for when extended hours would take place. They had three options: Week before Capstones, weekend before finals, week of finals. Results: Students would prefer that the library be open all the time, always. With a near three-way tie, the results weren’t as helpful as we wanted, but we did modify our usual extended hours to include extended weekend hours for the first time and were able to use the semi-magic words “in response to your feedback, we are now offering more extended hours than ever before” in our marketing. Outcome: Students felt heard, we confirmed that there was no objectively “best” time for extended hours, and student participation in extended hours increased.

noise level 1

 

noise level 2

EXHIBIT B: Where is it noisy? Our library is a beautiful space. Though small by most academic library standards, it is wonderfully useful, with different types of working spaces to accommodate all kinds of student learning from individual to group study. It is also one of the only spaces on campus where students can do work outside of their dorms. While the library is rarely noisy by our standards, noise can be difficult to contain due to the open design and lofted second floor. In addition, our efforts to reserve space within the library as “silent study” during midterms and finals had been ineffective for years owing to ongoing misunderstanding and miscommunication between the library, Conference Services, and parties interested in reserving library space. We received a few complaints about noise in the library this fall that lead us to believe that the students’ definition of “noisy” was different from our own. Our wonderful new Student Outreach Librarian, Amy Pajewski, created this brilliant pinboard to allow students to indicate their perceived noise levels throughout the library. Results: Indeed, student perception of noise is different from the library staff’s perception. In fact, students themselves differ in noise perception. (It cracks me up that they rated the noise levels in the bathrooms, and that the men’s room is perceived to be much louder than the women’s room.) Outcome: We’re working with Conference Services and our Provost to regain access to silent study space in the library (the Adirondack Room on the map) for midterms and finals. Amy is working developing a plan for communicating the results to students so they can more effectively choose spaces that match their noise preferences.

EXHIBIT C: Why didn’t you reference sources in your presentation? As I mentioned in my last post, my FYS students engaged in a problem-based learning unit with embedded library instruction. The idea was that they would find sources to support their problems or solutions. When it came to their presentations, however, the sources were largely absent from the work, present only on a works cited slide and mentioned nowhere else. I was curious to know why this was, since the rubric required the use of sources in the presentation, which we had gone over together in class. In the class following the presentations, I asked the students to do a minute paper addressing the following questions: 1. Why didn’t you make use of your sources in your presentation? and 2. What can I do to help you do this better next time? Results (summarized):

  • Why didn’t you make use of your sources in your presentation?
    • We thought the project was about our opinions and therefore didn’t understand the need for citations.
    • We didn’t know how to use the sources in our presentations.
    • The sources were too broad or didn’t provide any new information.
    • We thought that including the sources on a works cited slide was enough.
    • We asked peers for their opinions. They were our sources.
  • What can I do to help you do this better next time?
    • Give us more time to prepare.
    • Maybe we could practice in front of you for feedback before the presentation.
    • Be clearer.
    • Show us how.
    • Require citations on each slide.
    • (Plus many responses of “I don’t know.”)

There are many instructional opportunities here, mostly indicated in their response to the first question, and none of which point to the informal rhetoric “kids these days,” “they just don’t want to, that’s why,” and “plagiarism.” Outcome: In order to overcome student tendency to believe that their opinions are formulated in a vacuum, prior to the final presentation for class related to a different assignment we talked about the nature of ideas, standing on the shoulders of giants, showing your work, and otherwise acknowledging the ideation process. I also told them that I hadn’t created their final project assignment in a vacuum either, and publicly noted the faculty member whose work I had used as a springboard as an example of both practicing what I preach and showing them how someone might incorporate “citations” into speech. In their final presentation, citation and verbal recognition were much more present than in their previous presentation, if still clunky in execution. Had I not run out of time, two more lessons could have been constructed around finding useful information and citing informal conversations.

Asking for information is not without its pitfalls. Here are some important pieces to understand and think through before asking for information at all:

  • Be sure you want to know the outcome, because they will be honest, often brutally. Separate your own feelings about your work and your library from survey results. I have never administered a survey without feeling at least one sting. You have two choices in these circumstances: 1. Feel hurt and respond ad hominem 2. Feel hurt and find a more constructive way to voice the same response in order to understand the underlying issue. You’re human. Feel hurt. Acknowledge the hurt, then get to work.
  • Be prepared to make actual changes in response, because otherwise there is no point in asking in the first place. If you aren’t prepared to do anything with the information, or the information gathering isn’t structured in such a way as to point to an actionable solution, save your time and theirs for something else. For instance, rather than asking students how they felt about noise levels in the library in general, Amy asked students to populate a map, because one of the desired products of this information gathering is to construct a “noise map” of the library. Information that states “50% of students feel the library is too loud” would not have had an actionable outcome.
  • Understand the role of student expectations versus your library’s priorities and ability/desire to meet those expectations. We are not able to have the library open all the time, always. We are also not able to control noise levels with an iron fist to meet everyone’s needs all the time, always. We can, however, take steps to give the students information and more of what they want within our own constraints in such a way that they understand their own role in making the best decisions for themselves.
  • And finally, always acknowledge that opinions have been heard. We can increase credibility with our community by communicating the outcomes of the information they provided us. Feeling heard is often more important than being right. When we respond to our community’s needs, our community is more likely to communicate those needs to us.

What are some ways that you take your community’s opinions into account? Have you fallen into any information gathering pitfalls?

 

5 reasons you should teach FYS

first-year-seminar-310I have exactly two FYS classes left in the semester. It’s bittersweet to see the semester end. I have enjoyed this class so much this fall. They have been such a fun group of personalities and I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished and the community they have built. On the other hand, can the semester be over already? I’ve struggled to find a groove. 2015 has been a banner year for me, but it has been incredibly challenging, and I won’t be sad to see the turning of the calendar.

I have grown hugely as a teacher with the help of FYS, and I’ve grown as a librarian serving a community, too. My FYS experiences have been a valuable education, second only to grad school in understanding how to best do my job. I would recommend this experience to anyone who works in instruction or public services in academia. Here are 5 ways that teaching FYS can change how you do your job:

  1. Develop relationships with the students. As a teacher, their teacher, you have a different relationship with students than as a workshop coordinator. Asking students to do difficult things requires trust, and trust takes time. This is part of why we struggle in one-shots to reach teach “threshold concepts.” Presenting difficult, wiggly, profound instructional moments requires that students trust you enough to follow you. As you begin to know students, their daily concerns and difficulties, you begin to understand how to best be of use to them in the library. This is what we mean when we say “point of need.” Identifying needs is the first step, and getting to the heart of the need requires trust.
  2. Relate to faculty in a different way. The faculty respect you more when you’ve been in the trenches and are more willing meet you halfway when you have experience in classrooms like theirs. Teaching in the classroom changes your perspective on what’s hard from both a student and faculty perspective. This is the basis of building those ever-important liaison relationships. FYS at my institution, and at many others I’m guessing, is a bit of a scapegoat for “things the students should know.” When students have difficulty with everything from Excel to how to register for classes to (yes) research FYS is usually identified as the place this thing should exist. When you know and understand the role of FYS in the curriculum, you are better positioned to provide workable solutions to pedagogical problems.
  3. Try new pedagogies. Unless you’re in a team-teaching situation, there are certain pedagogies that just don’t fit into traditional library instruction. Problem-based learning, service learning, and inquiry take time. In a classroom of your own devising, you can try and test these pedagogies and consider how they might complement or enhance library instruction. With that experience, you can consider how you might support or suggest changes to assignments or how you might approach library instruction differently in the future.
  4. Ask the questions you always wanted answers to. You have a captive audience. When students don’t seem to be meeting your expectations you have two options: 1. Get frustrated and blame yourself or others. 2. Ask them about it. For example, my students completed a 6-week problem based learning unit. I embedded library instruction into the unit with the intention that they would find some resources to support either their problem statement or their solutions. In practice, the students listed the articles on a works cited page but did not use them in their presentations. I wanted to know why this was, so I asked them to do a minute paper to answer the following two questions: Why didn’t you make use of your sources in your presentations and what can I do to help you do this better next time? I got some very interesting responses, which I will talk about more specifically another time.
  5. Understand the space between libraries and classrooms. If you’ve never had to find space in your syllabus for library instruction, you will never know how difficult it is to do it right. As a librarian, even I had trouble inserting library instruction meaningfully into my FYS class given the learning objectives of the class. Attending conference presentations on library instruction, the underlying message seems to be that if teaching is happening, we should have some hand in it – helping design assignments, providing resources, educating faculty, inserting ourselves irrevocably into the fabric of teaching. There is a space between libraries and classrooms. We should not fool ourselves that it does not exist or that we will ever completely eliminate the gap. The gap isn’t bad. It’s a feature of the landscape. When we see the landscape for what it is, we can appreciate it’s unique features and start devising plans for building bridges and structures to complement it.

I certainly can’t say that my FYS class is perfect, but I believe I’ve learned 80% of what I set out to learn from FYS and I have new perspectives from which to approach my job as librarian. Would you teach FYS? What’s holding you back?

An Ode to Post-its

Please allow me the space to discuss my favorite instructional tools: index cards, post-its, and whiteboards. What would we do without these endlessly versatile receptacles for written thought? More public than social media, more shareable than a listicle, more mobile than Padlet, their only downside is one that our sustainability students don’t hesitate to point out. They’re disposable. (Ok, the index cards and post-its are technically recyclable and the whiteboard is reusable. Let’s not let perfect be the enemy of the good in this circumstance, agreed?) Here’s what you can do with them:

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Index cards

  • Super quick in-class assessments. An index card has two sides, so have the students write the answers to two questions, one on each side. Examples: What are your expectations of this class/What are your concerns? What’s one thing that’s going well in this class/What’s one thing that isn’t going well? What one technique you learned in class today do you plan to use again/What are you still confused about?
  • “Trading Card” warm-up activity. Have each student make a little trading card about themselves as they come into the class and before class is underway. It should include a caricature/doodle, and the answer to at least one funny question.
  • Post-It note substitute. I’ve found that post-its don’t always stick well to whiteboard surfaces. Some tape and index cards works, too, and some students prefer to lay cards on the ground or table for sorting purposes rather than putting them on a wall.

Post-Its

  • Affinity Wall! I did this again in my FYS class and it worked well. Veronica has also tried out an adaptation of this in an instruction session.
  • A few favorite games from Gamestorming use them. The 4-C’s is one I tried in orientation workshops with moderate success. I also did Brainwriting with my students as they worked on solutions to problem statements in their problem based learning unit.
  • Whiteboard Substitute. Giant post-its can stand in for whiteboards if you don’t have enough whiteboard space. I developed a thesis peer-review activity for English 101 using giant post-its that was very well received. Significant inspiration for the activity came from Anne Barnhart’s presentation at LibTech. (Thanks, Anne!)

Whiteboards

  • Like a giant post-it! (Kidding. Kind of.)
  • Post-it note repository. Important secondary component to the affinity wall exercise and generally a great place to stick post-its, organize them, and write things about them.
  • PowerPoint substitute. We totally revamped our FYS library instruction on evaluating information to ditch the PowerPoint. Instead, we deliver the same material by accessing what students already do when making decisions about information, asking uncomfortable questions, and giving them framing principles for what they’re already doing. This requires lots of writing down what they say.

IMG_0013And on the technological side of things, I’m loving my new iPad for instruction. My tendency towards Evernote really makes sense when I can access my teaching notes right then and there. I’d love to know more about your favorite instructional tools. What am I missing out on?