teaching

The Research Project: Scaffolding & Exploring Information as a Freedom & Justice Issue

The research paper. It’s funny–I have my FJS students read Barbara Fister’s article on “Why the Research Paper isn’t Working,” but they still have to write a paper for me. It’s an upper-level class, after all, and for the first iteration of this course, the research paper is how I’m scaffolding in information literacy as well as keeping students well on track to completing a larger project as they consider concepts throughout the course.

Back on topic: for my FJS 340 course, my students are required to work on a research paper. Essentially, they get to explore any conflict or issue of interest to them that involves questions of freedom and justice, but they must explore their conflict from an information perspective (which is our focus for the class). I leave the subject matter wide open for a reason–the course I teach is an upper-level general education course, multidisciplinary and international in scope. I want students to choose a topic of interest to them, since they’ll be living with it for a few months.

Having worked an academic library reference desk for more than a decade now, I know that undergraduate students with wide-open options for paper topics are wild-haired, confused things, dazed by possibility and overwhelmed with options. (An exaggeration? Perhaps not by much.) This confusion often manifests among freshmen and sophomores, who may not have enough grasp of a subject yet to have particularly well-thought out areas of interest.

This semester, I found the largest part of the struggle for my students wasn’t actually identifying a topic of interest, it was in the attempt to articulate the information issue(s) at hand for their particular conflict. The topics themselves are fascinating, and the students were excited to focus on something of their own divining. Topics of interest included felons’ loss of voting rights, Native American land rights issues vis-a-vis the federal government, the illegal car modification and racing community, black women’s experience of violence by law enforcement officers, prisoner access to information through prison libraries, and women’s voting rights, among others.

Refining the Research Topic: Let the Students Hash It Out

More difficult than identifying the social justice issue students wanted to focus on was identifying the information issue at work within the larger social justice context. This go-round, I had students submit their topics to me as part of their weekly assignment early in the semester. Fielding questions about the assignment, I decided to use a portion of class time to have student discuss and white-board their topics, exploring not just what angle of their larger social justice issue they wanted to tackle, but having them attempt to articulate how information was a crucial component of their topic.

At this point in the semester, we had covered not just freedom and justice theory, but some information theory, and readings on information poverty, ways of knowing, and how information is used and viewed in various disciplines. The discussion at this point revolved around deciding what the information issues at hand might be. Questions I had students consider included:

  • How is information at work here?
  • Are there information haves and have-nots in this situation?
  • What processes are being informed, or not, and by whom?

And from here, the students engaged with each other, pressing each other to expand on their topics and to hearken back to the readings for concepts. Three examples that stand out of students taking underdeveloped topics and really hashing out a better way to think of them as information-centric:

  • The student interested in felons’ loss of voting rights refined her idea to focus on how the denial of voting rights means felons cannot inform the political process through voting, and she wants to explore what information loss is there, what alternative avenues felons can pursue to inform the political process, and whether those avenues have the same impact as informing through voting.
  • The student interested in the conflict between Native Americans and the federal government over land ownership was able to articulate the conflict between a dominant culture dependent on written record of ownership and the non-written record-keeping of a minority or oppressed culture, and how different “ways of knowing” come into conflict.
  • The student interested in car modification and police profiling decided to focus on information communities surrounding taboo subculture practices, the information-signaling people use to identify themselves as belonging to the community, and the information-signaling that law enforcement recognizes and uses to police the community.

All of the students’ topics benefitted from the class exploring each topic, and discussing how the information concepts covered to date in class readings could be made a focal point for each research project. Having students lead the discussion for each topic and probe each other for more information to help build a case for a topic was incredibly effective, and received unanimous approval after the exercise. Yet again, something that happened serendipitously I am now going to build into the class for next semester. I love learning better ways to make things happen from my students! I’m also genuinely excited to read their final papers.

Basic Scaffolding: The Annotated Bibliography

To ensure that students actually consider their topics in depth before the paper is actually due, I tried to scaffold assignments related to the project throughout the semester. Like the active journaling assignments for the course, the smaller assignments were for low-stakes grades, but in totality the pieces of the project add up to the major part of the grade for the course.

The annotated bibliography is a wonderful assignment, for a few reasons. First of all, and most important to me, it means my students have to at least do some basic searching of their topic some weeks before the project is due. I scheduled an information literacy session (just like I ask my fellow faculty to do), and it was taught by Awesome Amy, our Dean of the Library. (I would have loved to teach the session, but I wanted students to be exposed to other librarians as much as possible.) They learned to refine research topics, choose appropriate databases, and work with keywording. Most importantly for my purposes, they also learned the need to synthesize information from multiple sources, and that The Perfect Article does not exist.

The annotated bibliography is also a good opportunity for students to make mistakes. I allow students to use either APA or MLA, since the course is a GenEd and I expect to have majors from across the spectrum. (Since I’ve completed graduate theses in both styles, I’m comfortable correcting both, though most faculty I know require one or the other.) Students can murder the annotation style and I can help them at this point, before the higher-stakes paper.

The annotations were also a good way for me to eyeball which students might have difficulty digesting and writing up academic work, catching it early, and supporting them so that the drafting process is not as painful.

The Project Plan Outline

The next stage is what I called the project plan outline, where students submit an outline of their paper. The writeup indicates not just the outline of the overall paper, but initial thoughts for each section, where their different research sources will be used in the paper, where they indicate they’ll use interviews and other information. It forces students to consider how they will structure their paper, and not to believe that simply finding relevant sources was enough. This is a stage where I can indicate where they might need sources in addition to those they discovered earlier, to support assertions or firm up a section of the paper.

The Rough Draft

The rough draft is the first draft of the full paper. This is a great opportunity for students to have a full draft done (and to have my comments back before Thanksgiving!) and to have their mistakes or weaknesses again sussed out in a low-stakes assignment. I also discovered that watching student papers grow organically through these scaffolding assignments allowed me to treat them as the experts on the subject, and to make that clear to them. Lots of shy smiles when I would tell a student, “You know more about this particular subject than I do! Seriously. You’ve done the research to support the argument you are making. I am just here to help you work on the structure, to help with your writing, and to identify weaknesses for you to address, given your knowledge and research.” The biggest breakthroughs for me were every time I saw a student smile, and truly take ownership of their topic. It also, I think, helped create a mentor/mentee relationship instead of a more adversarial or intimidating relationship. I’m still waiting for the student reviews of teaching, though.

The Final Paper and Presentation

The presentations happened during the last class session. The students had created the assessment and grading rubric for the final presentation as a class session with Dr. Sohui Lee, our Faculty Director of the Writing and Multiliteracy Center. Students each had 10-12 minutes to present their research and field questions. Previous to the sessions, we explored how academic conferences were populated and presented, and how my intent was for them to conduct themselves in similar fashion. The presentations themselves were excellent, and had a celebratory atmosphere–one student had her husband attend her presentation, and my own husband delivered burritos from a local carniceria. The students were not only responsible for developing the rubric for the assignment, they were also responsible for filling out the rubric and assessment for each of their peers. This assignment earned them credit for participating in the assessment, and was also used as 50% of their grade for the final presentation (the other 50% was my own grading of their presentation). The result was that the students offered considered and thoughtful comments along with a grade for their peers’ presentations, and had a stake in addressing all of the points in the rubric they had themselves created.

Moving Forward: Evolving Into Service Learning

For future iterations, I’m considering a bigger service learning component option. I just requested a meeting with our Center for Community Engagement folks, and we’ll be talking in January about how I might be able to make this happen for the Spring 2016 iteration of the class. Since the focus of my version of the topics course is on information as a freedom and justice issue, developing a service-learning component where students help to identify and address a community information need seems to fit nicely with our university mission pillars and (I hope) with the intent of the Freedom & Justice Studies program itself. (More on this as I find out more and consult with the faculty in charge of the program!)

Serendipitous Syllabus Overload, and Having Students Help Build a Course

Teacher-Librarians

In practice here at CSUCI Broome Library, we are all teaching librarians. when I schedule information literacy sessions, all librarians are up for grabs for me–my Head of Public Services and Outreach, Head of Unique Collections and Scholarly Communication, my Collections & Technical Services Coordinator, my Electronic Resources Librarian, my Original Cataloging Librarian, even my dean/AVP. Everybody’s on deck when there’s an instruction need, and with over 120 information literacy sessions scheduled this fall alone, everybody bats, and everybody bats big. In addition to the many information literacy sessions we teach, many of us also teach semester-long classes.

Before I talk about teaching my credit course this semester, some important background. Here at CSUCI, the librarians (who have tenure-track faculty status) regularly teach and co-teach credit courses in disciplines where we’re qualified, in addition to classes actually certified under the LIB (Library as home department) heading. We’re teaching (or co-teaching in some cases) both lower- and upper-division courses in English, University Studies, Political Science, History, Communication, and Freedom & Justice Studies, among others. It’s pretty difficult not to trip over us anywhere in the curriculum. In theory (and sometimes practice), the home departments get us on buyout either through their budget or through a grant, so that the library dean can hire part-time lecturers to fill behind us for things like reference desk time and other duties that are more easily transferred to another person. (Whether librarians are tenure-track, whether they teach, and how that is decided and practiced varies widely, even in my own experience across a handful of state universities.)

Here at Broome Library, we are encouraged to teach within home departments and effectively become embedded information literacy ninjas, integrating information literacy concepts and work into the regular work of the curriculum, especially since information literacy is specifically written into our general education requirements. I’m still new to the politics of the place, but our teaching seems to go over well with all involved. The struggle becomes when the buyout doesn’t quite happen, and resources get strained. We can easily backfill reference desk hours, but other duties are not so easily re-assigned. General wisdom is that teaching one class per semester is do-able, and most librarians teach one class every or every-other semester. Occasionally opportunities related to grants and new initiatives come up and someone teaches two classes, but from what I’ve seen, it’s a grueling pace to have to keep. Just the one class has kept me pretty well on my toes this semester.

Sooprize Collaboration: Including Students in Syllabus-Building

This semester I’ve been teaching FJS 340: Exploring Freedom and Justice, a first-time course for me. It’s been going very well — my initial syllabus scared the students a bit: because we have a 2 hour 50 minute block for class once a week, I treated each block as two classes, and took seriously the idea that for a 3-credit class, at least 9 hours of work was going into it per week. Add to that what *I* figure I can read and digest across 9 hours, and cue panicked undergrads in a gen-ed course faced with what was essentially a graduate-level workload. My initial misstep actually led to a great activity, though, in which I gave my students the opportunity to choose which readings they would focus on each week. From the initial syllabus, we went week by week, and I indicated which two readings were foundational and would be required. After that, I described each of the remaining readings *and why I chose to include them on the syllabus*, and the students, in collaboration with each other, chose two to three more readings from the remaining four to seven that were listed for the week.

It was an eye-opening experience–I approached building my syllabus as seriously and carefully as any architect, building a list of readings from a broad bibliography painstakingly developed, paring it down to what I thought was essential and including some items I hoped students would find uncomfortable, intriguing, or controversial. Since the course is multidisciplinary in nature, I talked with colleagues both in and out of the library for ideas and readings, but I hadn’t considered consulting students in the building of my syllabus. It turns out that students really engaged in the exercise, and because they are the ones who have effectively chosen the readings for each week, they’ve taken real ownership of the material (to the point of calling folks out for being the deciding vote for choosing a particular article, and then being caught out in discussion as the one not reading it).

We also went through the list of assignments and pared those down, though that was mostly removing one large project, rearranging some due dates, and redistributing point values. I discovered that what some may find tedious in terms of syllabus revision, the students found fascinating–the nuts and bolts behind the decision-making of course creation, how point values were determined, why assignments were included and what they were designed to do in terms of asking students to demonstrate mastery. Course-creation became a real conversation and a bit more of a collaboration with students than I’ve experienced in the past.

The accidental and conversational approach to a too-large syllabus worked so well that I’m actually going to build this in as part of the first day’s activities for the next time I teach the course, in Spring 2016. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to structure this in such a way that I might study it and report out, so any ideas welcome.

Engaged Journaling vs. Weekly Critical Reflection Assignments

This exercise, though accidental, synergized nicely with the way assignments were designed. In addition to a large research project scaffolded through the semester (more on that in a moment), in the past I’ve assigned students to complete a weekly critical reflection on the material they read for class. The intent of the assignment is not to get the students to summarize–I tell them I’ve already read the material, I assume they’re going to do the same–but to have the students think critically about where they see the principles for the week manifested in their own worlds, what that means, and how/whether the week’s material changed how they think about something. Inevitably, though, the weekly reflections become summaries. The students begin to detest writing them, I start to detest reading them. I attended a workshop on building community in the classroom with Dr. Jacob Jenkins (Dr. J) of our Communication faculty, and he generously shared with me his work on active/engaged journaling exercises.

Though I did ask students for critical reflections during a few weeks (particularly where I ask them to consider what information is valued in their field, and how it is valued), for most of the other weeks I asked them to engage the material in different ways. During the week where I ask them to consider readings on various “ways of knowing,” students were asked to write a poem or song lyric capturing a ‘way of knowing’ other than academic, with the option of performing their piece in class live or recording it to play to the class via YouTube. During a week where we considered information as a freedom and justice issue within the context of political science and international conflict, students were tasked with selecting an image that felt significant to them after considering that week’s readings, and speaking for 1-2 minutes on why they chose that image and how it resonated with their understanding of concepts within the readings.

So far, the assignments have been a success. The biggest success has been generating conversation between students regarding the choices they made, and what concepts are more difficult to grasp than others. The assignments are low stakes in terms of points, but really help to start off each class session with energy (not a small thing for a 12:00-2:50pm class), and the chance to work with concepts in a more personal, engaging way than just academic narrative appears to (1) inform how well students understand the concepts presented, and (2) make students much more open to discussing difficulties they encountered in the material, both in terms of comprehension and in terms of struggling with questions of social justice within particular contexts. This is no mean feat–before we explore information in different disciplines (such as economics and business, health, political science, and others), students have to master theories of freedom and justice. This means the first few weeks are heavy on political theory, which can be tough for students to get through. Low stakes assignments designed to elicit questions and identify challenges early mean that by the time we make it out into the disciplines we want to explore, students are comfortable with identifying the concepts of freedom and justice at work, as well as identifying those not actively considered by parties to various information conflicts.

The assignments also prime students for discussion–students have been eager to share their work and creativity, and the way I organize class is usually around a number of larger discussion questions instead of lecture. Because students have just engaged with sharing their assignment, moving into discussion about the readings (which were the foundation for their assignments) works well in terms of transition. We move from sharing the assignment, to covering concepts and lingering questions, and then into application across cultures and connection across disciplines.

It’s not all fun and games; my students are required to work on a research paper throughout the term–more on that in the next post. But so far, both the syllabus-decisions and the engaged journaling exercises (hat-tip to Dr. J!) have been huge successes for my course, and I’m looking forward to seeing how students respond to the next iteration when I intentionally include their feedback. I’m going to be doing a search for some literature on faculty who have involved students this way in syllabus-building, so if you know of any good reads on the subject, please share!

The Teaching Librarian: FJS 340 and Teaching Full-Credit Courses

To my great delight, I’ve been invited to teach in the Freedom and Justice Studies minor in Fall 2015. I’ll be teaching the three-credit upper-division interdisciplinary general education course FJS 340: Exploring Freedom and Justice on Thursday afternoons in fall 2015. The course description as it appears in the catalog is:

Starting from philosophical understandings of identity, community, and democracy the course focuses on themes such as slavery and emancipation; migration, exile, and diaspora; violence and reconciliation. Using an interdisciplinary lens that engages fields as wide-ranging as economics and literature, students will engage in trans-historical, cross-cultural exploration of freedom and justice and the various ways different peoples have attempted to put them into practice. Students will engage tools to analyze the relationship between these concepts and the structure of identity and its material effects.

Effectively the course chooses a wicked problem and explores it in an interdisciplinary way from a foundation of freedom and justice philosophy. Unsurprisingly, as a librarian, the wicked problem that struck me immediately was information. Access to information (the haves and have-nots), privileged authorship and dissemination of information, control (or lack thereof) of information, personal information issues–all critically important, and all related to our understanding and exercise of freedom and justice. As an interdisciplinary creature myself, that part of the course description also appealed to me as a way to integrate my own studies, and engage students in various fields. Happily, Dr. Julia Balén who runs the program agreed that information is an interesting lens for the course, and my Library chair and AVP agreed that not only is it a great topic to teach, but it also matches up with our library’s engagement with information literacy as a general education outcome and as something we would like to see more prominently featured in the curriculum.

Because balance is something I am working hard to achieve, my chair recommended a reduction in my committee work because of the increase on the teaching side. I will be taking on the course as part of my teaching duties. Occasionally (and optimally), departments bringing in folks from outside their department to teach a course offer what we call a “buy-out,” where the department would pay the library for my WTU (weighted teaching unit) time, and the Library could (in the best -case scenario) use those funds to hire a part-time person to replace me on the reference desk, or in some of my other duties. (I’ve worked at other universities where librarians were not expected to engage in teaching, and those teaching duties would fall outside my regular assignment, to be done outside Library time. In that case, a department would hire me as an adjunct and pay me separately from my regular paycheck. So, things may be handled differently depending on your institution. It’s a good question to ask during  the interview if you are interested in teaching semester-long courses, since it does have political, budgetary, and workload repercussions depending on the system.)

I am currently working on designing the course, and am developing a working bibliography crossing  disciplines, cultures, and kinds of information (For those interested, see FJS 340 Bibliography-In-Progress). After a foundation in philosophies of freedom and justice, theories of information, and readings on information poverty and information literacy, the course will be structured weekly by discipline (health, economics, politics, conflict and war, education, etc.). In an attempt to have students think about information broadly, we won’t only be using book chapters and research articles (though right now the bibliography is mostly just that). Students will also be considering art, poetry, fiction, memoir, testimonio, music, video, and other forms of information.

The course is a writing-intensive one, so I am also working on developing the writing assignments . I have used weekly critical reflection papers in previous courses as a way to make students engage with the material, but a weekly paper can become rote and dull. As an ISLAS Faculty Fellow, I recently attended a workshop by Dr. Jacob Jenkins (affectionately known on campus as Dr. J) on building community in the classroom, and he was kind enough to share with me a number of his efforts¹ to engage students in journaling that allowed students to be creative in engaging the material.  Another ISLAS workshop by Dr. Jenny Luna addressed the power of testimonio in capturing the experience of the disenfranchised and incorporating testimonio in the college classroom, which inspired me to make sure that I include readings on this valuable kind of information. I have a vague idea for an assignment that asks students to identify an information issue in their communities, identify stakeholders and the freedom and justice concepts involved, and explore the information issue in depth, both with background research and active engagement through interviews. (I’m currently working with the Center for Community Engagement since I know they will have great ideas for helping me turn this general idea into a dynamite engagement opportunity.) Working on this has been a great way to pick my library and campus colleagues’ brains about their favorite readings in their area of study on the issue of information (hello, undercover outreach!), as well as an exercise for myself in both creativity and restraint. (I know the linked bibliography is already too long and complicated for a single undergrad gen-ed course. I know. But it’s nice to know I have options!)

In reality, designing this course is a dream assignment for a librarian. What do we want students to know about information, and its impact on freedom and justice? How do our conceptions of freedom and justice shape our thoughts about information? My intent is to offer the students a smorgasbord of readings in various disciplines to whet their appetites and engage both their critical thinking and their imaginations. Right now I’m working on this on weekends and evenings, but I imagine it will creep into my summer days as I work on the actual syllabus and day-by-day structure of the course. You can expect more from me on this, I’m sure, and I am also looking forward to reflecting on the course as I teach it. If you have any ideas for readings, assignments, or other information you would recommend for this kind of course, please do share. I will share the final bibliography as well as the syllabus once they’re completed.

References

¹ Jenkins, Jacob. “Engaged Journaling: Using Experiential Learning Theory to Employ Multiple Learning Styles.” with T. Clarke. Paper delivered at Western States Communication Association Annual Convention. Spokane, WA, Feb 20, 2015. (https://www.westcomm.org/convention/documents/2015WSCAProgram.pdf)

 

 

 

Barreling Toward the End of My First CSUCI Spring Semester

In order of importance, the things going on as the semester careens to a close:

On the library front:

  • Finals are coming, finals are coming! Students are feeling the pressure, which means we at the library do, too. ALL OF THE PRINTING.  On an admittedly less-than-superior printing setup. And the last papers of the semester, so we’re seeing some hail-Marys at the reference desk;
  • This will be my first finals where I take lead on the end of semester feedback. We set up “graffiti” boards with giant post-it’s on whiteboards asking what we’re doing right, and what we can improve, and collect all that information. We also have a student survey, and a faculty survey. My colleagues all tabulate and organize the data, and we’ll see what we can do to improve for next finals season;
  • The 24-hour library. The week before and the week of finals, we stretch the library and its staff to 24 hours for our students. Thank goodness for the folks who work the overnight! I’m picking up some 6am shifts, but those are easier for me than the late evening or midnight shifts, now that I’ve apparently become an elder;
  • The Party of the Year is later this month: The Faculty Accomplishments Party. Cited by faculty as THE party of the year, and something that spurs them to get some research published or presented by the deadline, this bash is where the library celebrates our faculty here at Channel Islands. There are awards, faculty who have published or presented something in the past year get a spiffy poster of their work, and there is general merriment. And wine and beer. And laughter. This will be my first, and I’m excited, since when I was here for the interview, nearly everyone cited it as The Most Important Thing to Know About Being A Faculty Member Here.

On the personal/life front:

  • Lots of doctor appointments, since I’ve been feeling crappy. Turns out I’m gluten intolerant, and nightshade intolerant, and all-sorts-of-foodstuff-intolerant, so I’m going on the autoimmune protocol diet. A royal PITA in terms of food lists and preparation, but apparently it’s what I need, so. Hrmp. Think super-restricted Paleo-style. No grains/gluten (but corn! But rice!), legumes, dairy, eggs. nuts, seeds, sweeteners, nightshades (white potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, etc.), modern vegetable oils, refined sugars,  and processed food chemicals. Since part of my reaction is histamine-related (a bad reaction and all of my tattoos actually raise up on my skin!), that also means no lemon, lime, kiwi, mango, processed meat (ONOES BACON), bananas, and strawberries, among other things. SAD. PANDA;
  • Fabulous Husband and I have gotten into the habit of walking the dogs to the dog park. There’s nothing quite so silly as a duo of basset hounds running a few laps, and then collapsing for the rest of the hour. Except maybe the sight of Fabulous Husband and I running, trying to encourage them to get up and chase us;
  • Fabulous Husband and I are signed up to do a 5k at the end of the month, right before our 2-ear wedding anniversary. Which I have not at all begun training for (the 5k, not the anniversary), and is the result of a New Year’s Resolution when I was feeling feisty. Oh, New Year Colleen. You were so optimistic. *pats self on head*

On the research front:

  • The magical and hard-working copy-editors at The Journal of Academic Librarianship have done their work, fixed my gaffes, and that article should be coming online shortly;
  • Today was the deadline for book chapter proposals from library directors discussion leadership skill lessons learned. 36 excellent proposals received (woohoo!), and now (well, likely next weekend) I have to go through them and do some selecting, and respond to the authors by May 1;
  • I’m finishing up editing the chapters for another book on contemporary women poets and mythology. These authors have been extremely patient with me as timelines were extended due to my health, the move, the new job, my health, etc. I’m looking forward to having these out of my hands, and this project out into the world;
  • I have a few articles in the works. One more coming out of the dissertation on leadership development at different levels of the organization (probably to submit to College & Research Libraries), one on using ritual theory to explore chronic illness (proposal accepted by New Directions in the Humanities), and one on intersections of myth, technology, and information literacy;
  • I’ll be presenting in mid-June at CaVraCon (California Visual Resources Association conference) on using digital images in information literacy instruction;
  • I’m waiting to hear back about my proposals to present at the internet Librarian conference in October. I think those announcements usually go out in late June or early July;
  • I have a full-length poetry manuscript out and under review at a few different small presses;
  • I have 3 manuscripts in-progress and one data-collection project that I won’t fool with until summer;
  • Oh, yeah, still working on that Ph.D. in Mythological Studies. Which reminds me to pack my reading for the first spring session.

And in teaching:

  • My last information literacy sessions are next week, early Monday morning and late Tuesday evening;
  • Which means it’s time to look back at the stats and see how we’re doing, and who we’re touching;
  • And I’m in super informal discussions with the chair of the Freedom & Justice Studies minor about the possibility of my teaching FJS 340 in the Fall semester. Titled Explorations of Freedom and Justice, it’s an opportunity to pick a wicked problem and look at it across time, cultures, and disciplines. I’d like to look at information access as the wicked problem, and am having a grand old time culling building a bibliography, structuring a syllabus, and thinking about how I can develop engaging assignments.
Possible sources for FJS 340 readings

Possible sources for FJS 340 readings (minus the 50+ journal articles under consideration). Do you have recommendations?

What Does an Information Literacy Coordinator Do?

As I’ve mentioned previously, I started my position as Information Literacy Coordinator at CSU Channel Islands on July 1 of this year (2014). My libraryfolk have a general idea of what my position entails, but I’m pretty sure my friends and family just nod their heads and smile and have no earthly clue what I do. So, here’s a post about what exactly it is that I do all day.

Information Literacy

First, let me start with a brief statement about Information Literacy, since that. Is a huge part of my job. What is it? It’s the set of skills and critical thinking applied to a person’s need for information. So, the recognition that one needs information to solve a problem or question; determining the best place to find that information; critically reviewing the information and its source for relevance, validity and reliability; deciding on the best way to incorporate that information into decision-making…all of these fall into the realm of information literacy. Generally in higher ed, the librarians on a campus engage in information literacy instruction (or just ‘library instruction’) to help train students in these skills, particularly as it relates to their particular assignment in a class, and more broadly as it relates to their academic discipline. So we teach students about critically reviewing information, choosing databases, publication cycles, different types of publications and their target audiences.

We also teach students research skills, such as developing keywords for their topic, researching and reviewing relevant information, and refining their topics and searches as they go through the iterative research process. We teach them how to navigate the often confusing and unintuitive interfaces of various research databases. We teach our students that research is a process, one that comes with various twists and turns, and that the deeper they get into the research process, the more likely it is that they may refine or change their research questions. We teach class sessions, some of us teach semester-long classes, we lead workshops for students, we lead workshops for faculty interested in targeting information literacy in their syllabi and assignments.

Here at CSUCI, information literacy is actually one of our general education outcomes, which means that faculty teaching GenEd courses *must* integrate information literacy components into their courses. What this means for me in my role is that there is great support University-wide for our information literacy efforts and outreach.

The nuts and bolts of my work as InfoLit Coordinator in my first semester has largely been getting my feet wet in teaching information literacy sessions. When I am assigned a session, I contact the faculty member to set up a meeting to discuss their assignment, and what they want students to get out of our session. (This doubles as an opportunity to get some face-to-face time with faculty and build relationships. more on that in a minute.) From that discussion and the faculty member’s assignment, I draft an outline for the session, and send it to the faculty member to make sure we are on the same page. Then I teach the session, and those range from 45 minutes to 90 minutes, depending on the class.

Sometime between next week and next semester, I’ll also be the one assigning session requests to librarians. All form requests for requesting information literacy sessions will come to my email inbox, and I’ll distribute them around to whomever is available. I’ve got access to everyone’s Outlook calendars, access to classroom scheduling, and access to the Excel log where we keep track of info lit sessions by class, library instructor, class instructor, time to prepare, length of session, and number of students. Having seen my Chair, Debi, do this effectively and in an orderly fashion all semester, I’m ready to take the reins.

Another part of my infolit job is outreach to faculty. I’ve spent a lot of time this semester inviting faculty out for a coffee, stopping by offices to introduce myself, and generally making a benign nuisance of myself to get to know as many faculty across as many disciplines as possible. I’m starting to understand what faculty want most from our information literacy program, and areas that we might be able to grow into.

I do outreach to other campus offices. We are currently hiring a director for our Writing and Multiliteracy Center, and I imagine I’ll be involved in partnerships and programming with that entity. I’ve spoken with our director of disability services; as a graduate student who struggled with an acquired disability, I have a particular passion for making connections with that office and their students to help them be as successful as possible. I’m building a great relationship with our director of Teaching and Learning Innovation, who offers resources to train faculty to deliver blended (a combination of online and in-person) learning. I’ve chatted with our director of Academic Technology, English faculty, Business faculty, Math faculty, Econ faculty, Education faculty, Spanish faculty…the list goes on. In every case, I’ve been met with enthusiasm and open-mindedness. In most cases, I’ve been able to either get them to schedule an information literacy session, or we’ve discussed partnering for other things. An example: a meeting with a member of the Spanish faculty has turned into a possible spring term plagiarism workshop for the Spanish department students and a possible initiative to involve gringa faculty in some Spanish language learning. (We are designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, and 40% of our students are Hispanic.)

Yet another aspect of my work is outreach to students. Students I’ve taught in my information literacy sessions all get my contact information, and I exhort them to please contact myself or the reference desk if they come across any stumbling blocks or want guidance as they navigate through various resources. This means I see a steady stream of students for research consults, where we take the time to discuss their research assignment in-depth, and we craft a strategy for their research together. I’ve found our students to be enthusiastic, and having just a little bit of direction or support makes them much more confident in their research. I’ve started some notes about what kinds of workshops our students might benefit from, and hope to pilot a few of those in the coming years.

I also work the reference desk about 5 hours per week, where I (wo)man the desk, and answer questions of all sorts – directional, research, printing, and whatever else comes up.

Service
 
Because I’m in a tenure-track Assistant Librarian position, I have  service responsibilities as well. In the University setting, “service” usually refers to serving on various department and campus committees and serving the community in a way related to your position.

In terms of service, my plate looks a little weird for my first year on the job. I’m currently a member of the Academic Senate Executive team. I was interested in seeing how the campus sausage and Senate agendas were made, and not many folks volunteered. We meet about once every two to three weeks during the semester, and review items for the upcoming Academic Senate meeting, respond to faculty concerns by serving as a clearinghouse for questions and other issues, and sometimes we get to see announcements or other information items before the general university faculty. Generally, we route concerns to the proper authority or committee. Occasionally we are asked to review system or campus issues.

Due to the serendipity of starting the semester relatively uncommitted compared to most of the other members, I am also co-chairing the Faculty Affairs committee with a veteran faculty member. This committee reviews (and creates, as necessary) issues and policies impacting the faculty. A few of the things that crossed our plate (though some are still there, much like broccoli) this semester included developing a policy on student rating of faculty instruction, discussing a nepotism policy, reviewing General Personnel Standards, and making a recommendation on requirements for online courses. It’s intriguing to see how everything hangs together, and to see how the work impacts the faculty at large. Many of the issues that come to the Faculty Affairs Committee are sent by the Academic Senate Executive team.

Both of those positions are odd for a first-year faculty member, since a lot of campus knowledge and historical context is important for both. I became involved because I was interested and because few others could clear their schedules to do so. Both appointments end in May 2015, and in August I will most likely become a committee member on (an)other committee(s), such as curriculum.

I’ve not yet been involved in local community service, since I’ve spent my first semester getting acclimated to campus responsibilities and recovering from some health issues, but I am excited to start exploring local volunteer opportunities in the spring.

Research

Research is also a requirement of tenure-track faculty. For those not familiar, in the traditional sense this usually means that you conduct some sort of study, write it up in official academic-sounding language, and either try to get that paper published in an academic journal that other scholars in your field read, or present the paper at a professional conference. Here at CI this commitment isn’t just called “research,” but “research, scholarship, and creative activities.” So, for English faculty, having a novel published may count as a creative activity under the research umbrella; for computer science faculty, developing a successful new program may count for this requirement. We are encouraged to be creative,and to be able to articulate how it furthers knowledge in our subject areas. CI is also not shy about the fact that our community places a great deal of value on interdisciplinary work, and collaborations with faculty in other disciplines is highly encouraged.

Research Project #1
Those of you who know me know that I love school, so papers tend to be my strength. I like to connect my research to my librarianship work, so I have a few research projects in the pipeline right now. In the spring, a faculty member in Communication and I are going to conduct a study comparing two classes she will be teaching (on the same subject). One class will get a traditional face-to-face library session, the other class will receive online multimedia training and an “Ask-the-Librarian” discussion board. Then we’ll compare the learning outcomes of both classes to see if there is any difference in how students exhibit information literacy learning outcomes. Why this research? (This question is important–my time is valuable, and I want my research to be important to my work.) We want to identify whether or not online modes of information literacy instruction are as effective as in-person. If they are, this may be an option we can add as a supplement to the work we already do for faculty, and it may be an option if we have to scale our operations to a larger student body in the future.

Research Project #2
Another research project involving a bunch (a cardigan?) of librarians as well as a collaborative partner in Florida will measure our students on a library anxiety scale, to see if this phenomenon, which tends to be negatively correlated with critical thinking and information literacy, exists in our student body. At other universities, the scale has shown some serious disparities between students of different races. Why this research? If we find that CI students do suffer from library anxiety, we can target interventions to new and existing students in at-risk populations to help them overcome it. That would hopefully mean better student use of library resources, our students becoming better critical thinkers, and ultimately a mor gratifying path to graduation for our students.

Research Project #3
This project has actually been in-progress for nearly a year–my dissertation to complete the EdD program. Currently, academic librarians as a profession have a very good idea of what leadership skills and qualities are necessary to be a good library director. What we do not know is where academic librarians develop those leadership skills and qualities before they become directors. This project does that sort of career-path analysis on academic library directors at master’s-granting colleges and universities. Why? Well, if a librarian wants to become a director some day, it would be nice if they had a map of what sort of work is most likely to best prepare them for the role. In addition, you can hardly walk three steps without tripping over a leadership institute nowadays. This research could actually inform those institutes as to where their applicants are most likely to have skill gaps, allowing them to better target both their audience and training opportunities.

I’m in the death throes of finishing this up; my dissertation advisor currently has a revised Chapter 4 (the data analysis) and is reviewing it. The dissertation will only go through Chapter 5, so I can see the finish line. I’m hoping to have the whole thing done, dusted, and degreed with a defense sometime in February, and to graduate and be Doctor Harris-Keith in May.

Research Project #4

This project does exactly the same thing as Project #3, but it collects data from academic library directors at baccalaureate-granting institutions instead of the master’s level schools. Why? Well, there are over 800 baccalaureate-only colleges. That’s a lot of academic library directors. It would be useful to know if the leadership development opportunities along their career paths mirrored directors at different institutions, or if they differ in some important way. Plus all of the reasons given for #3.

The Nutshell

In a nutshell (albeit a large one), that is my job. I love it. I enjoy teaching enormously, and I get jazzed at seeing the light bulbs go off in a class when students really start to understand things. I love helping a student on the edge of a breakdown find that they knew what to do all along, they just needed a wee bit of guidance. I love working with faculty, and seeing other grown folks nerd out about their love for their subject area, the way I do about librarianship. I get a kick out of finding intersections between my work and ways to improve teaching and learning in other disciplines. I enjoy reading journal articles by others researching in librarianship, and hearing about what my colleagues at CI and around the world are doing. There are always new ways to present old information, better teaching practices to test out, and new sparks of inspiration.

Most of all, I love that I get to be a part of a student’s college experience, hopefully in a way that empowers them and helps them toward graduation. I had the very good fortune to attend a college where the faculty were highly invested in helping us succeed and helping us find our passions, and I try to do my best to pass along that personal helping hand to each generation coming through college. I have a lot of questions about life, but wondering what sort of work I should do is not one of them.

Pondering the Digital Divide and e-Learning

Writing this book chapter on the digital divide made me consider my university’s current push for offering increased online learning opportunities. Because we serve students who generally come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, I’m wondering if administration isn’t going about this the wrong way.

Is it really about offering more online classes and more online-only degrees and gen-eds? Or would it be more useful to decrease the digital divide that exists within our student body, between the higher-income kids who grew up with computers and gadgetry and those who may have had to make-do with less access? Many of our students still don’t own computers and make constant use of those available in our student labs and library. Many of our students – at least, the ones I see in our library – are not terribly comfortable navigating technologies used in learning environments, including BlackBoard and the library databases they are expected to use to conduct their research. These are the students you are encouraging to sign up for newly developed online classes, often taught by professors with no prior online teaching experience?

The cynic in me wonders if this isn’t simply a ploy to look ‘up-to-date’ and simply schlep folks into online courses so we can open up our cramped classrooms a bit. We already have severe retention problems. Throwing students into an online learning environment, or giving them the impression that they already have the skills and understanding they need to operate successfully in such an environment when that is not true is worse than foolishness. My other concern is that students already have a difficult time asking for help. (Do you remember how much pride you had at 18?) We already know from various studies (and from librarian observation) that students tend to overestimate their tech-savvy when it comes to deal with judging and finding information. Knowing this, how can you in good conscience encourage these kids to jump into online learning when they may well not have the requisite skills? In an online classroom, there are few ways for a professor to see the “Hunh?” look on a student’s face. Knowing that you are dealing with an environment populated largely by students coming from underprivileged or low-access backgrounds, moving classes online should not be the first step in a successful push to rectify the digital divide. Ensuring that students develop core technology competencies early in their academic careers – even if that’s once they start college – would help.

I am not suggesting that online courses are *bad*. They are useful, and a great option for students who require more flexible schedules. However, there seems to be little acceptance at the administrative level that offering more online classes is not a panacea. It will not necessarily help retention (and may well harm it), and it may not even help the divide in digital skills if the students in the course don’t have the required skills to succeed in the first place. There seems to be a lot of assuming going on in higher education (or at least at my institution) with regards to bigger pushes for online course availability. And we all know what happens when you assume…

Given that there still exist severe divisions based on income level, class, and gender when discussing access to computer technology and digital learning, I have to say that I remain unconvinced that throwing kids into an online learning environment because you assume that’s what they want more of is not the answer. Getting them some basic technology and information literacy core competencies may be a start, though.

Info Lit Course: Musings

Coming from a private liberal arts background, I do have to admit that I didn’t immediately understand why universities would offer for-credit classes in information literacy. Isn’t all that information essentially interwoven through the courses students take? I mean, it’s essential for any discipline.

Let’s back up. I went to a very small, private, expensive (I will have student loans to bequeath my grandchildren) liberal arts college. You know the sort – kids who drive cars daddy bought practically (if not actually) new, who clerk at daddy’s law firm during the summers, and who don’t drink beer because frankly, that sort of thing is for state school fraternity boys – Crown and Jack welcome, all others will be booted at the door. On the other hand, it was an extraordinarily rigorous academic atmosphere: if you missed three classes, you automatically failed. Fifteen page papers were the norm. There was no such thing as multiple choice, and we regularly hobnobbed with professors afterhours. Our professors would go to the library and look at the books we had cited to be certain we weren’t just making up information and a page number in our citations. (No, really. I swear.) Information literacy may not have been called that as we learned it, but it was woven through our classes and education nonetheless, and our faculty actually enforced its application through rigorous academic training. When I was presented with the concept of info literacy in library school and asked what it was called, I said “Common sense.” (Yeah, I was totally that student.)

It comes as no surprise, then, that my alma mater pumps out folks who attend grad school as a matter of course. Now that I’m working in academia at a larger state school where absences go practically unnoticed, professors are overworked and multiple choice is a godsend, and papers rarely exceed 8-10 pages, I have to say I’m a teensy bit appalled at how easily student can slip through the system all the way to graduation and rarely come across anyone who challenges them to rigorously examine the information they use. This has made me reconsider my formerly skeptical stance on offering a for-credit information literacy course.

I mean, we offer a “Freshman Life” course for credit, and that pretty much teaches the kids how to come and go from school without getting hit by a bus, or taking candy from the old man in the van down by the river. It is not a terribly rigorous class, it covers a hodgepodge of basic life-skills topics, and is generally taught by staff members from around the university. If something like this can be touted as something that helps increase retention of out students who come in as borderline, how much better for them a class focusing on information literacy? Not just citation, but why we cite and why there are different ways to do it; not just a one-shot 45 minute instruction session on the difference between popular and scholarly sources, but time to actually delve into the source of information and its production so they become more knowledgeable consumers and users; not just saying “no Wikipedia or Google!” but actual academic assignments exploring the uses and shortcomings of those tools. There are a lot of things that aren’t covered in Freshman Comp because technically they don’t fall under tis rubric, but that students still need to be exposed to in an academic setting to be successful students.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has a retention problem. We know it, admin knows it, and they’re trying to cobble together a strategy that addresses it. having been here a year as a reference and instruction librarian, and seeing the absolutely lost faces begging for salvation during finals, I’m beginning to think that this may be an invaluable tool for these kids. Many of our students are the first in their families to go to college. Others come from low income backgrounds and can’t afford to go anywhere but a state school. Some students come in on a HOPE scholarship awarded to high school students who can scrape up a 21 on the ACT and a 3.0 high school GPA. The problem is that college is not high school, and a 3.0 in college is (arguably, I suppose) more difficult to obtain than the work that got them to college in the first place. Unless some of these students, who begin as borderline keepers to begin with, are given some extra tools to firm up their academic endeavors, a good many of them won’t make it.

I consider it my job as a librarian not only to find you the information you need, but to make sure I teach you just enough to empower you and find it yourself. hitting students at point of need at the reference desk is wonderful, but they’re not in learning mode then. They’re in OMGWTFBBQ emergencygimmearticlepaperdueHALP!!111!!11!!!eleven! mode. They’re not processing research steps. And the 50-minute one-shot is not enough to teach them how judgment of information is integrated through their entire lives, not just related to their 5 page argumentative essay on the death penalty.

Now, the question is, of course, whether or not a for-credit info lit class has any impact. I’ve printed out the bibliography of articles I want to read on it (thank you, ili listserv!). I’ll have to pitch it and will likely get pushback from it, since we don’t have enough library bodies as it is, and other faculty may see it as unnecessary.

Come September, when I can breathe again, I am going to seriously bring this up as a project to my bossladies. I absolutely want to expand our instruction program into upper level courses, and we’ll be working on that program plan this summer, among myriad other things. But I’d like to see an info lit course piloted, at least. Maybe I’ll make this part of my 3-year plan.