Identity expression, safe spaces, and advocacy

I recently admitted to a colleague that I had hoped to write in this blog monthly and that my public reflections have become much further apart as my job responsibilities, relationships on campus, and teaching load expands.  I am not able to jump online and immediately share my experiences and reflections, but there is one moment from last month that remains in my mind, and so I’m sharing, and processing some more, now.

As the semester started, I was reminded by April Hathcock of the importance of creating welcoming spaces on campus and of the value in providing microaffirmations to show individuals that they belong.   Since most of my initial interactions with students are in library instruction sessions, I do my best to be approachable and to affirm to students that they belong in the library, that it is my responsibility to help them find and use information resources, and that I am someone that they can rely on and relate to.  In an effort to meet students, I introduce myself by name and pronouns, and ask them to do the same.  Most of the time, this is a non-issue in classes.  Occasionally, students ask what it means to identify their pronouns.  This semester, I had a student refuse, saying he doesn’t believe in “that modern mumbo-jumbo.”  This individual was a white adult male and I was frustrated and baffled about how to deal with the situation.  I blundered my way through a brief conversation with him, while his white male professor stood behind him wide-eyed and silent.  There were a lot of power dynamics at play here and, while I understand that many other things could have happened, I left the class determined that I would handle it better if a similar situation ever happens again.

I later read Veronica Arellano Douglas’ entry about allowing students to create systems of learning that encourage them to “set their own limits and share what they feel comfortable sharing.”  She emphasized that if we require students to share, “it can’t be on the dominant group’s terms.”

So this is where I have landed, though I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.  When I introduce myself I say, “I would appreciate if you share your pronouns with me, as it helps me perform my job with excellence and not make gender-normative assumptions.”  Should a student say rude things in response, I will tell them that it is out of respect for the diversity of human experience and maintain that they don’t need to participate, but they do need to be respectful.

I realize that this scenario is one in which an individual with privileged identities was communicating that he was uncomfortable, but I think it remains true that we cannot force students to share their pronouns, potentially making a space unsafe.  I do think, however, that it is important for me to make a request students share their pronouns with me, so that I’m not assuming the dominant group’s terms.  This is an example of a situation where I am able to leverage my own privilege in order to ally myself with individuals on the margins.  This is what it is like to be an advocate, it is difficult work that doesn’t always go perfectly the first time.  But through reflection and persistence I hope it goes better the next.

Diversity, voice, and community engagement: We are stronger together

It’s been such a long time since I’ve done any serious reflection on my work and consequent writing.  Spring semester ended in a rush of activity and my writing practice went down the drain.  Generally, I’ve been reserving Friday afternoons for an hour or two of writing, which I’ve published here (for the most part).  So, in keeping with that tradition, today I will be reflecting on my Spring semester accomplishments.

I’ve been involved in three planning committees that held programs this spring:  the Allentown Coalition for Economic Dignity (ACED, a committee of POWER), the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL), and the Information Literacy Learning Community of the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges (LVAIC).  Planning these programs took months of committee work.  When these kinds of programs come to a close I feel such a sense of relief and accomplishment.  There are reports, schedules, and resources from each of the programs on their respective websites and I would encourage any curious readers to check them out.   The ACED panel allowed Allentown community members to discuss real estate development and consequent community action with local community leaders, the ACRL DelVal program was about library partnerships, and the theme of the LVAIC information literacy symposium was Structures of Power in Information.  In my mind, these three programs have a lot in common, but this lesson stands out:

Communities are better when everyone’s interests are represented. 

We are stronger together.

Though the marginalized members of communities may be easy to ignore, when they are included their voices bring strength and power.  In my work with ACED, we determined from the beginning that, though we represent the community, we don’t represent all of the community and needed to be able to engage the people of Allentown immediately to determine what their needs and desires were for our home.  This panel was an effort to engage by providing an opportunity for education and communication.  It was followed by round tables where community members could express their ideas and continue conversations with one another.

The panel and round tables were  helpful in guiding the direction of our continued organization work.  This is the kind of democratic community building discussed in Sarah Stanlick’s “Rethinking the expert voice:  Knowledge-making in community engagement,” which was presented at the LVAIC symposium.  Democratic community engagement is important for all library partnerships; it’s important that our work is relational, reciprocal, and that we co-create our knowledge of and in our communities. In my mind, this relates to the way that librarian’s design assessment measures and determine what kind of assessment we value, how we develop research projects and what stakeholders we include in research, and our pedagogical practices within the classroom.

I’ve also been reflecting on voice in preparation for my own presentation at the LVAIC symposium with Kate Richmond titled “Engaging students in identifying voice in scholarship.”  When presenting academic research to students in the classroom, it is often beneficial to discuss the identities of authors and research participants as part of a discussion of authority as constructed and contextual.  Of course, students need to understand the process of information creation that gives academics increased trust in academic journal articles before we break it down.  However, it’s important to remember that many scholarly conversations are only occurring in communities of privilege.  For example, in reviews of peer-reviewed psychology research by Eagly & Riger (2014), the majority of senior authors were found to be are white, upper-class men who were senior professors at top research universities.  And participant populations fall into similar categories.  One of my favorite statistics is in Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan’s (2010) article “The weirdest people in the world?”:

“A randomly selected American undergraduate is more than 4,000 times
more likely to be a research participant [in the behavioral sciences] than is a randomly selected person from outside of the West” (p. 63).

Perhaps this doesn’t affect the way that you read articles, but what if it does?  Sharing this information with students helps them to develop a critical eye towards scholarly work and also allows for conversations about the development and value of different kinds of authority.  The authority of personal experience, or that developed by organic intellectuals (see Mentzell Ryder’s (2015) “Beyond critique: Global activism and the case of Malala Yousafzai”), is valuable and can be valued in the classroom.  One way to do this is by allowing students to design the classroom environment or direct classroom discussion.  We can also increase student’s opportunities to share their own experience and value self-reflection that allows them to contextualize learning.

Co-creation of knowledge in and about libraries is best done through inclusion of all voices. Co-creation of knowledge in and about cities is best done through inclusion of all voices. Co-creation of knowledge in and about communities is best done through inclusion of all voices.

And, in closing, I just want to state that I value the public nature of this blog and the readers who occasionally give me feedback.  I value reading and hope to continue to share my own experiences through publication, but I know that I need to continue my writing practice if I’m ever going to become a valued author.  Today I determined that I needed to write something to exercise my writing muscles.  If you want to be good at a craft, remember that growth comes through practice and process.

References

Eagly, A. H., & Riger, S. (2014). Feminism and psychology: Critiques of methods and epistemology. American Psychologist, 69(7), 685–702. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037372

Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2–3), 61–83. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X0999152X

Ryder, P. M. (2015). Beyond critique: Global activism and the case of Malala Yousafzai. Literacy in Composition Studies, 3(1), 175–187.

Tech tools: Course-specific help guides.

The Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education identifies an important knowledge practice for information literacy learners as matching information needs to appropriate tools.  As we all know, the tools of a university library are no longer solely contained in a physical building, but include numerous databases, digital repositories of information that vary in content and form.  Thus, one could argue that it has become harder to identify the correct tools.  Our library’s discovery service bundles many of these tools in one place in the hopes that students will locate a number of resources without further knowledge of the tools.  However, OCLC discovery is so large it is commonly unwieldy to searchers.  In information literacy instruction sessions, I often direct students to help guides – this way students are able to directly access the tools and resources that are best suited for their disciplinary research needs.

However, a study of library help guides by Roberts and Hunter published in a 2011 issue of the Journal of Library and Information Services in Distance Learning reports that students do not, in fact, connect to subject guides because they do not think of their studies as situation in a discipline. Students are much more likely to connect to guides that are specific to their course.  So, I create them regularly!  Course-specific guides are very important for interdisciplinary research, which is so prominent at Muhlenberg. These guides link to resources across disciplines that meet assignment-specific information needs.

Roberts and Hunter (2011) report that students spend a minute on discipline-specific guides and seven to eight minutes on course-specific guides.  Thus, through course-specific guides I can increase students persistence in research, demonstrate how tools can meet specific information needs, and provide access to resources strategically.  I shared this information with a few faculty today, hoping to encourage them to collaborate on guides with their liaison librarians.  Since I think it is a fairly convincing argument, I thought I would share it here too!

 

Roberts, S. & Hunter, D. (2011).  New library, new librarian, new student:  Using LibGuides to reach the virtual student.  Journal of Library and Information Services in Distance Learning, 5(1-2), 67-75.  https://doi.org/10.1080/1533290X.2011.570552

Libraries and Librarians are Not Neutral, Real

The first thing that I heard from ALA midwinter was the Twitter response to the library neutrality debate, which I loved.  I shared a lot of Library Twitter’s opinions on the debate, including the question Why are we still debating neutrality?  It got me thinking about my own non-neutral experience.  I work to incorporate a lot of instructional practices that highlight voices and deconstruct power in my one-shot sessions.  My latest endeavor in class is to complicate library/librarian neutrality by sharing my own real-life research.  Showing the work I’m doing outside the library shares my values with students and also shows how research is incorporated into life in a non-scholarly environment.  It is a vulnerable act of non-neutrality that that I believe has an extended impact on the classroom environment because students are able to connect with me and the cyclical, sometimes messy, process of research.

Since November 2017 I’ve been organizing with Pennsylvanians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild (POWER), which is a grassroots movement that empowers members to become “bold agents of liberation, actively pursuing racial, social, and economic justice for us all.”  Most of my work has been towards economic and racial dignity in Allentown in light of unjust development occurring as a result of state-subsidized building in Center City’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone.  The Allentown Coalition for Economic Dignity (ACED) meets weekly – we are working to develop increasing social capital and to identify the needs of the community in order to petition local lawmakers and developers for a community benefits ordinance or agreement.

This work requires a significant amount of research.  Thankfully, many individuals on the team have been involved in researching and educating us all on methods of community organizing, components of successful community benefits agreements, and local community structures.  In order to visualize the way that research contextualizes and advances the work that ACED is doing, I’ve drawn a concept map that I’ve shared in a few advanced research methods courses.

20180226_104941 (1)default

Concept mapping can be a very useful step in a creative research process.  Especially in advanced courses where student’s final product is up to their discretion, I believe concept mapping is a useful tool.  The structure of the concept map lends itself well to organized and thought-out research.  In the middle of the paper is the main topic, with the participants of the scholarly conversation on level 2.  I do introduce the students to Burke’s “Unending Conversation” metaphor and I also emphasize that databases/information resources are often organized by the “who” and so each branch will likely have different resources to search (with some overlap).

One of the things that students don’t often consider is the research that goes into choosing a specific type of product or outcome.  I like to emphasize that ACED has researched the #BlackLivesMatter movement to identify how to use social media to mobilize people around an issue.  Similarly, we are researching the language of successful community benefits ordinances so we have legal precedent as a model for Allentown legislation.  Research is used to gain knowledge on a topic as a basis for strong arguments and it bolsters decisions we make and helps us be effectual.

Providing students with an opportunity for self-guided research and production can result in them being overwhelmed and uncertain.  They may make choices based on their previous experiences with form and miss the joy that comes from work driven by their own interests.  Concept mapping helps!  It creates a structure to the work and a living artifact of what they have done and where they are going.  My own concept map is a little messy and complicated, but it helps me keep track of the work.  It isn’t perfect, but it models a process that has helped me make decisions and learn in a non-scholarly environment.

ACED is a politically oriented group working towards change – an inherently non-neutral effort.  However, I’d argue that many of the decisions we make regarding to use our time are political.  Emily Drabinski says, “each choice we make for something is a choice against some other thing.”  I am making additional choices to position myself as a non-neutral professional in a non-neutral environment.  Sharing my work with students has resulted in personal connections based on real-life vulnerability and shared values.  I think that these kinds of decisions further embed me within the college community, implicitly teach students about the values of librarianship, and position me as an ally in the fight for economic, racial, a social equity.

Introducing Students to Information Privilege: A call for comments!

I’ve just finished a 45-minute lesson in which students learn to distinguish scholarly, trade, and popular resources.

Me:  Can you find scholarly literature in the library? Students: Yes.

Me:  Can you find trade literature in the library?  Students:  Yes.

Me:  Can you find popular literature in the library?  Students: Yes.

Me:  Can you find popular literature through Google?  Students: Yes.

Me:  Can you find trade literature through Google?  Students: Yes.

Me:  Can you find scholarly literature through Google?  Students: Yes.

Me (or another voice from the crowd):  So why the library?  Why are we here?

I love this line of questioning because it seems to change the way that students see me, a librarian.  I think that they come to the library with the idea that I’m pro-library NO MATTER WHAT.  I’m going to defend libraries existence instead of convince them that the library is a resource to use.  It also opens up a conversation about open access and information privilege.

Access to an academic library has clear benefits to the experienced researcher, but students often need to be convinced to take the extra step and try out a library database, to disrupt their Google habit.   Librarians choose the best resources, we filter out the garbage.  Library databases are structured in a way that we can retrieve valuable information more efficiently through strategic searching.  In all three of my most recent classes, students have suggested this information in response to my question.  Then I’ve been able to say that, in addition to carefully curated and organized information, the library has access to more information resources because we have paid for access.  Resources from the New York Times to the Journal of the American Medical Association require payment for access to full-text content.  The scholarly articles that are available online are able to be read through Open Access… the publishers have circumvented traditional publishing means in order to allow everyone to read the work.

I say, “Open Access is an ethical imperative because otherwise only those who can pay have access to the most recent information and so knowledge development is limited to the rich.  You are privileged by your access to information based on your affiliation to this institution.”

This is what I’m interested to hear from you, what is the language you use to introduce information privilege to your students?  How do you set it up?

 

Information Literacy Roundtable: Active Learning and Interdisciplinary Exchange

January 11th was Trexler Library’s annual Information Literacy Roundtable.  Nine faculty members joined librarians Kelly Cannon, Rachel Hamelers, Susan Falciani, and myself to discuss ways to integrate information literacy into disciplinary curriculum. Each librarian proposed activities for active instruction to engage students in evaluation of information and information structures.  These activities resulted in engaging conversations around disciplinary values, curriculum design, and student experience.

History professor Lynda Yankaskas joined Kelly Cannon in sharing a source evaluation activity that has helped students make informed decisions around resource selection.  In addition to giving her students source requirements for her annotated bibliography assignment, Yankaskas is transparent about the reasons behind these requirements.  Cannon begins a conversation around sources by asking students to evaluate seven sources  (see bottom of guide) that he specifically chose to challenge student’s evaluation skills.  For example, one resource is old and, therefore, not representative of the current scholarly conversation.  Other resources are not scholarly or not specifically written by historians, which are both requirements Yankaskas set for her students’ development as historians.  Perhaps the most challenging source within this activity is a book that discusses historiography, or the writing of history, but not history itself.  Through a class discussion of these resources students begin to recognize that there is a critical element to selecting the best resources for their projects; not all library resources are the same.

Following Cannon and Yankaskas, Susan Falciani brought out some letters from the Muhlenberg archive.  In classes with faculty from a variety of disciplines, Falciani utilizes these primary resources to excite students and inspire them to ask questions.  The Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education emphasizes that the process of research depends upon an increasingly complex line of inquiry.

In interaction with these manuscripts, students are asked to describe and evaluate the text and then identify missing information.  Students identify an information need based on the questions they have about the resource, and are then inspired to dig deeper.  Falciani connected with various faculty that had not previously considered use of Muhlenberg’s archive.  She mentioned that the archive is “not particularly deep, but wide” and that there are many disciplinary connections that can be made to the primary source material.

I suggested a constructivist approach to teaching students about the strategy required for searching databases.  Through student’s knowledge of social media, particularly Twitter, I proposed that students are posed to understand searching strategies required for efficient database navigation.  In my activity, I ask students to describe to a partner how to navigate to a Twitter post.  I draw direct comparisons to library database searching.  For example, searching for a Twitter handle is compared to Author searching and hashtags are compared to searching or controlled language.  Students quickly identify multiple search strategies that can be used within Twitter, but commonly use only one within databases.  This activity encourages use of multiple strategies and persistent searching, which is in line with the “Searching as Strategic Exploration” frame within the Framework.  Faculty questioned student’s knowledge of Twitter, but seemed to appreciate the comparisons, which can be used to connect student’s prior knowledge of databases with educational research.

Rachel Hamelers completed the day by leading a discussion around disciplinary values.  She asked participants to consider what barriers to creation, access, and use of information exist within their disciplines.  Then, she asked what disciplines values in information and how we can make these values transparent to students within their coursework.  Faculty in history shared the challenges that result from language barriers and how international multilingual conferences are breaking down barriers and resulting in greater exchange of information.  In psychology, the traditional value of quantitative methodologies and large sample sizes is being tempered by research within smaller, local contexts.  Interdisciplinary conversation around these challenges and values showed the variation in information literacy instruction across disciplines.

Faculty and librarians parted with knowledge applicable to classroom instruction and assignment development.  Keep an eye out for an additional conversation around information literacy later this spring over wine and cheese.

This post was initially published on 1/12/18 for the Muhlenberg College community on the Trexler Library blog.  I’m sharing it here because I think it’s valuable to the larger librarian community!

Oppression and Information, Learning from One Another

I suggested in a previous post that active learning pedagogies allow students to learn from one another and share different perspectives and experiences.  I’m very invested in increasing my skills at facilitating active learning and recently participated in an Intergroup Dialogue workshop on campus in hopes that I will be able to lead conversation around difficult topics, in particular information privilege.

Unlike race or gender, class (especially as it relates to information literacy) is hard to distinguish.  It’s hard to discuss.  However, I propose that information literacy is a privilege and that our society exhibits similar racial and economic disparities in information literacy as we do in other social sectors. Education affects one’s ability to achieve information literacy and funding for higher education is unequally applied in detriment to low-income Americans.  Access to the internet at usable speeds is increasingly required for access to information and digital redlining plagues our communities.  There are many other ways that systems of power and information literacy are tied.

In a library instruction session, what are the questions that could begin a conversation around information privilege?  How do we better understand each other through the lens of oppression?  If I’m proposing that active learning would allow students with privilege to come into contact with individuals not afforded the same privileges (I think this is truly what Seale means when she identifies students from the “global North” and those who are “subaltern”) how do I make this happen in a classroom space?  Is it even possible in a one shot session?

My answer to that last question is likely not.  It takes time to create spaces of trust and community in order for safe dialogue around privilege to occur.  However, let’s imagine a best case scenario in which students have come together to share their identities and listen to one another.  Here are the questions I’ve come up with:

  1. What information resources are available to you?
  2. What identities/memberships allow you access to these resources?
  3. Has your access changed over time?

It is in this hypothetical ideal scenario that students would be able to link their experiences and social identities with their information privilege,  share moments in their life when they have not had the same access, and explore next steps in advocating for others.  This ideal scenario is not the scenario in which I teach, and I imagine that it isn’t the scenario that many other librarians experience.  I’m going to continue to think about how conversations around information privilege can occur, and I’ll share them here if I have any great ideas.  In the past, I’ve emphasized the privilege of the access and education that my students have now that they are at Muhlenberg, however this is just a momentary declaration and doesn’t allow for the creation of information activists.  I think that the group dialogue discussed above would inspire students to impassioned work for social change.

Thoughts?

 

Power, Generalizations, and Information Literacy

This year my colleagues and I have focused our collective attention on the politics of information.  The actions of congress (tax reform, budget changes) and the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality make this topic a classroom imperative (if given the time, control of discussion, etc.).  If we do not address the relationship between power and information in the classroom we are not preparing our students to resist the structures and individuals who seek to maintain power by controlling access to information, nevermind producing information that speaks to their ideologies.

Earlier this month our local librarian community had a reading group, which focused on Maura Seale’s (2016) “Enlightenment, Neoliberalism, and Information Literacy.”  Seale (2016) critically evaluates the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education by addressing its liberal and neoliberal epistemological tendencies, which went unnoticed by me (which is proof of my own bias – a good reminder that I am not a neutral reader).  Both liberalism and neoliberalism emphasize the individual over the group and ignore, or “transcend” depending on how you feel about it, historical, social, and cultural differences to achieve a universal goal (Seale, 2016, p. 85).

The very definition of information literacy, in conjunction with a framework written around threshold concepts, emphasizes this focus on the individual and their progress towards an ultimate enlightened status of information literacy.  Thinking about it now, it seems ridiculous that every individual in the world could have the same target for understanding information.  The very notion that there is an objective truth about information needs, structures, processes, … well, I’m still growing.

Library and information science has fallen into a common trap of social science research – belief that our goals or conclusions can be generalized, that the work of some is representative of the whole (see Henrich, Heine, & Norenzayan, 2010).  My primary takeaway from Seale’s (2016) article is that different students require different knowledge of information; their contexts change their understanding of and access to information.

[The education of metropolitan students in the global North] needs to be supplemented with responsibility to the other and rooted in recognition of difference in order to contest neoliberalism.  …Enlightenment notions of liberal subjectivity and rights are also important; they are aspects that are needed in subaltern education, so that subaltern cultures are able to act politically, within the institutions that are invested in those ideas. Seale, 2016, p. 88

This is a reminder to focus on the “local context,” emphasized by Emily Drabinski’s (2014) “Toward a kairos of Library Instruction,” of each class and each reference appointment.  In the places where the Framework does not successfully consider the context of power in regards to information, it is important to address these flaws.  Seale (2016) specifically mentions the failure of Searching as Strategic Exploration, Information Creation as a Process, and Research as Inquiry, which do not successfully recognize the constructedness of information systems and the complexities of knowledge production and the creation process (p. 83).

Active learning pedagogies allow for students to learn and contextualize new information according to their individualized experience.  As teachers, we have the opportunity to present problems in an effort for them to learn through inquiry, application of previous knowledge, and interactions with peers.  Through active learning and open discussions, metropolitan and subaltern students might interact with and learn from one another.

I have many more thoughts surrounding this theme and will continue to write.  I am challenged by these ideas and feel an ever-increasing need to reflect on my experiences in an effort to solidify them within my own mind and grow.

References

Drabinski, E. (2014). Toward a kairos of library instruction. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40(5), 480–485.

Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2–3), 61–83. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X0999152X

Seale, M. (2016). Enlightenment, neoliberalism, and information literacy. Canadian Journal of Academic Librarianship, 1. Retrieved from http://cjal.ca/index.php/capal/article/view/24308

 

October 12 – Reflections on Teaching

Two days ago I saw a student taking notes at the end of class and my heart soared when I noticed that she gave the lesson a perfect score.  I laughed when I realized that she had just dated her notes.

I think this moment reveals how eager I am to perform well.  I’m interested in recognition from professors, students, and my colleagues that I have succeeded in communicating the lesson and have been engaging, created safe space, developed relationships.  It’s a lot to expect from an hour and fifteen minutes and, yet, I do continually.

I write learning outcomes before every class.  They never include the following, the implicit outcomes I hope for my students:

Students will be feel safe talking to the librarian.

Students will feel safe asking questions.

Students will be able to articulate their experience in the class.

Students will consider the library a place to experiment, think critically and creatively, and grow.

Today I read a librarian conversation on Twitter where librarians discuss the fact that we are rarely lauded for our teaching capabilities, and I wonder what exactly that means in the context of my classroom endeavors.  I am one of those who did not study instruction in school, but immediately sought out resources and advice upon receiving a job in higher education.  I haven’t been a librarian for long, but my teaching hasn’t stagnated once.  I am reading, processing, and changing my lessons to include activities, opportunities for guided exploration, and conversations.  These changes in the lessons require changes in myself and it is a struggle to remain confident in my instruction when my classroom persona is evolving.  Not that I perform a lot differently in class then I do during the day, but it is challenging to show my character in front of 22 individuals with whom I often don’t have any additional context.

I know from experience that teaching becomes easier with time as relationships are developed between professor and students.  In an attempt to establish relationships quickly I have begun personally introducing myself as students enter the classroom, shaking hands and asking names.  I’ve been able to start a few conversations this way and can occasionally use an individual’s name to call on them in class.  The primary form of library instruction, the one-shot, doesn’t allow time for relationships to be established and context to be created and so the content of instruction has a harder time being embedded in memory.  This is a great argument for why the one-shot should petrify and join the lecture in the cemetery of pedagogical practices behind the library under the tall oak trees.

I think that the theory of threshold concepts upon which the Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education has been written increases the anxiety I feel for my instruction sessions.  Thresholds are barriers that, once crossed, are permanent.  Thus, every instruction session feels like an opportunity to lead students to the threshold and beckon them to cross.  I can’t help but feel a sort of desperation – these lessons are so valuable to life and are given a few short minutes for students to “get it.”  Do you get it?  Do you get it?

I suppose these reflections are leading up to my ultimate pondering – am I a bad teacher?  The kind that librarians are talking about when they discuss how I’ve managed to graduate without a course on instruction?  I don’t want to pursue that line of thought.  Instead, I just want to encourage assessment, peer review, and personal reflection among my peers.  What do you think makes a good teacher and how do you measure against your own unspoken learning outcomes?

 

You can be what you want to be…

One of my favorite activities to do with students is a source card activity shared at the 2015 LOEX Conference by Meagan Christensen, Todd Burks, and Meredith Wolnick of the University of Virginia.  This activity begins by the librarian explaining to students that a citation provides readers with key information about an information resource (namely author, date of publication, title, resource) and that through this information we can deduce what we are looking at and begin to evaluate the resource’s value for our intended goals.  The students are then given a card that contains a citation and a screenshot of a resource.  They meet in groups, try to determine if their resource would be valuable to the task at hand, and then return to the larger group to share their findings.  I always enjoy the conversation that follows:  students wonder aloud if their source is too old, what the difference is between a book and an article, and why one website seems so much better than the next.

Next week I’ll be visiting one professor’s Exploratory Studies classes (the DeSales mash-up of First Year Experience and “Undecided”) to work on source evaluation with a homemade source deck built around the question “Can you be whatever you want?”  In putting together this source deck I found a whole bunch of resources that can be used to argue ‘yes’ or ‘no.’  The resources fit into seven categories and I find them incredibly interesting:

  • Do you have the right character traits?
  • Do you have the right skills?
  • Are you following your passion?
  • How will your education level and marketplace demands impact your options?
  • What if you face discrimination?
  • How strong is your network of support?
  • Is luck is on your side?

Basically, you can be whatever you want to be if you have the right character, skills, passion, education level, skin color (and weight, level of attractiveness, abilities, etc.), support network, and a bit o’ luck!  Isn’t that encouraging?!

Preparing this activity has me reflecting on my own professional journey.  I became a librarian, in part, because my dad told me I had “soft skills,” that my character made me suitable for serving others. My skills resulted in a quick and painless college experience and I found that I’m passionate about encouraging people to consider others’ perspectives, read to learn, and use technology.  The marketplace hasn’t been great – I graduated high school in 2008 (read: recession) and college in 2012 (read: another recession) and had a bit of trouble finding work.  But the job I did find after graduate school, though  not a perfect fit, led to some great friendships and a lot of self reflection.  I’ve faced minor discrimination and though it was frustrating it lead to compassion for others who encounter injustice more regularly.  I’ve been supported by friends, family, and coworkers and luck seems to be on my side!

If “Life is luck” (Thompson, 2014) I’ve managed to hit the jackpot.  Kim, Rhee, Ha, Yang, and Lee (2016) note that being tolerant of uncertainty links an individuals’ circumstances, career decision self-efficacy, and career satisfaction.  My tolerance of uncertainty is high but not 100%.  My experience interviewing of a new job exemplifies my tolerance level and is always the same.  After an interview I feel confident for 48 hours and then I start shrinking in the face of uncertainty – perhaps my answers could have been misconstrued, of course not everyone understands my brand of self-deprecation…

I relived the interview uncertainty recently because I applied for another job!  I’m happy to announce that I’ll be transitioning to the Muhlenberg College Trexler Library where I will continue my practice as their Assessment and Outreach librarian.  If you remember my first post to this blog you understand how this job seems uniquely fit for my passions, skills, and experience.   I’m lucky that my colleagues at DeSales support my move and recognize this as a growing opportunity.  To me this seems like luck, but I guess that’s all of life!