Defiance: A Classroom Tale

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the look. As instructors, we’ve seen it many times. We’ve probably seen it by multiple students in one session. The “You’re wrong” look. The look of defiance. The look that often indicates that the student has shut down. They aren’t going to participate anymore, or worse, they’re done learning because the student is unwilling or fearful to tell the instructor that they think they’re wrong.

From Community

Only a slight exaggeration.

How do you deal with students who check out after they appear to no longer trust your expertise?

Learning Styles In and Out of the Classroom

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about learning styles. Settling into a new job requires a lot of learning, and at this point in my career most of this learning involves internal policies, processes, and politics. Or as I’ve been told by a few, mostly just politics.

I’ve been reminded how often times the teacher teaches to their preferred learning style. Everyone is guilty of this, myself included. It takes careful, deliberate effort not to teach solely to your particular style.

If you believe that learning styles exist, there are plenty of approaches to learning styles. Since I had a sip from ACRL’s Immersion Kool Aid, I tend to keep Kolb’s Learning Styles as a model in the back of my mind. I also think that the VARK model has a lot to offer, especially in regards to active learning.

So let’s review Kolb’s Learning Styles Inventory with the graphic below (If you adhere to the VARK model, sorry auditory and kinesthetic learners) …

Kolb's Learning Style Model

Kolb’s Learning Style Model

Another way to think of it:

  • Concrete experience = doing
  • Reflective observation = observing
  • Abstract conceptualization = thinking
  • Active experimentation = planning

You can take a fancy test to determine where you fall. I tested as an Assimilator. If you look at the career characteristics for Assimilators, it’s basically a librarian.

Whether you follow Kolb’s model or another model, what’s important to remember is that everyone learns differently. Just as we try to teach to different learning styles in the classroom, new employee training and professional development training should attempt to teach to different learning styles too. In my case, my new supervisor has created a flexible training environment, capable of molding to how I learn best.

Some will argue that learning styles are a myth. They may be right, but I like to think there is a middle ground and that ground is providing multiple ways to learn the same thing. Teach the same material in different ways. If you can know how your students learn most effectively, that’s ideal, but librarians usually don’t have the time to know students at this level. So we diversify how we teach to reach as many students as possible. We diversify to engage, and when students (or new employees) are engaged with the content, they will learn.

New Chapter

Today is my last day at Creighton University. It’s been a tremendous educational experience. I learned a lot about information literacy instruction, advising, faculty collaboration, and the library’s place within the academy.

In a few short weeks, I will start a new job as Instructional Services and Assessment Librarian at George Mason University. I am really excited about the new job and look forward to the new challenges and opportunities that await me in Virginia.

Mapping the Old to the New: The Future of Information Literacy Instruction

My primary summer project has been developing an information literacy plan for a course offered in Creighton University’s new Magis Core Curriculum. Information literacy skills will be assessed in the foundations level component Criticial Issues in Human Inquiry, which will be required of all Creighton students. These classes will draw largely from the humanities, but also from the social sciences.

The outcome developed by the curriculum revision committee and my predecessor reads:

Students will develop the basic skills of information literacy, including searching for information, critically evaluating information from sources, and appropriately using and citing information.

I am thrilled that the University has taken this approach to information literacy. Our liaison librarians can now target faculty teaching these courses and encourage/convince them to use our expertise in their classes. The down side to all of this is that we only have four reference librarians and each class will require unique preparation. And the classes vary considerably from “Ethical Issues in Art and Architecture: Cultural Heritage and the Art World” to “Diversity and Justice in Education” to “The Human Induced Climate Crisis: Origins and Solutions.”

From the onset I believed that standardizing information literacy instruction for these classes was next to impossible and would cause resistance from some of the librarians. At the same time, I wanted to provide some standardization to ensure that students are learning the same concepts and skills at particular points in their academic career.

What I have attempted to do is draw a compromise between creating structure and allowing librarians and faculty the flexibility of customization. I created a menu of concepts (in black in the image below) mapped to the action words from the learning outcome(in red in the image below).

Mapping Image

Information Literacy Mapping

The elephant in the room is the Draft Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education. I have mapped the action verbs of Creighton’s learning outcome, which was derived from Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Educationto the frames outlined in the draft framework (in blue in the above image), to the concepts/skills offered to faculty of the Critical Issues in Human Inquiry courses.

I recently met with the Magis Common Core Curriculum Director to discuss the Library’s plan and the changes occurring to the Competency Standards. We discussed if the learning outcome needed to be revised to incorporate the frames. I don’t believe it needs to be changed in that regard, but I explained that adding language in line with the new definition of information literacy may be helpful, in particular “the creation of new knowledge.” He liked this idea.

I’m encouraged about the future of the information literacy program at Creighton University. We have made great strides in the two years I have worked here. I look forward to the challenges ahead with the Critical Issues in Human Inquiry course, the (expected) implementation of the Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education, and reflecting and revising after we have some assessment data.

[Insert Misleading Headline]

Websites need clicks to get advertisers in order to survive in the constantly fluctuating internet marketplace. You’ve seen them – “I’m Not Sure It’s Possible To See This Chart And *Not* Think It’s A Big Problem,” “Everyone I Talk To Says ‘Who Cares?’ Then I Show Them This And They Freak Out A Little,” “This Is The Personality Trait That Most Often Predicts Success,” and the list goes on and on. (I’m intentionally not linking to the related websites because, again, click bait.) More often than not the headline fails to give you any indication about what the article is actually about. “I’m Not Sure It’s Possible To See This Chart And *Not* Think It’s A Big Problem” could be about the rise of poverty in the United States (unlikely), the continued belief in creationism (maybe), or something to do with Kim Kardashian (most likely.) Either way, you probably need to click on the link to actually find out. And that’s what the websites want. I get it.

What I cannot accept is historically reliable news outlets following this trend. As an instruction librarian, I teach students how to critically evaluate information sources. What happens when a source such as The New York Times starts inserting misleading headlines?

The following is a tweet by a friend of mine, Daniel Victor, who is a social media editor at the NYT. Dan always posts interesting content from the NYT, especially when it’s sports related, so I naturally clicked on the article.

Having worked a couple of years with social science students and faculty, who rely heavily on data for their research, I’ve become increasingly critical of the representation of data in news pieces. A few things struck me with this article:

  • “In Terms of Fans, the Heat Have Already Beaten the Spurs” – “Fans” in the sense it’s used in the headline is all encompassing. How did the NYT collect data that accurately represents the demographic spread of NBA fans across the country?

  • Ow, that’s a pretty map!

  • “Based on estimates derived from which teams people “like” on Facebook…” Did you read enough of the article to get to this point? If you did, did you connect this sentence to their definition of “fans”?

So this is a map of fans who use Facebook. More specifically, those fans who use Facebook at a level where they “like” their favorite sports teams. I feel as though we’re getting into a niche group here. A group that doesn’t fully represent NBA fans across the country. (You could also disprove that assertion with a different data set.)

After some tweets back and forth, Dan provided me with links to methodology and I told him my issue was really with the headline and not the data itself:

So what’s the big deal? It’s just a headline and those who are truly interested will read the article and can extrapolate how they define “fans.”  I think it’s a big deal when I think about the students with whom I work. The majority will not read the entire article. They’ll stop at the map. They won’t bridge that final gap of interpreting what the map is actually representing. Maybe this is OK for daily, casual information digestion, but it’s a habit that seeps into the classroom as well. It breeds an information semi-illiterate society.

So what can librarians do? The same thing we’ve always done. Continue to push for information literacy instruction in college classrooms. Push for critical IL instruction and not database demonstrations. Use examples like this! It isn’t egregious, it’s from a reliable news source, it’s an interesting topic, and it demands higher level thinking. A critical evaluation of an article like this represents the lifelong information literacy skills the LIS field espouses. Embrace it!

A Look Back at a Year in Advising

As the semester draws to a close, I’ve begun to reflect seriously on my first year as a freshman advisor through Creighton’s Ratio Studiorum Program. What were may successes? Where were my missteps? What can I improve as I prepare for a new group of freshmen in the 2014-2015 academic year? I could probably write a novella about the experiences, but instead I’ll leave you with some bullet points.

Missteps:

  • Share, but don’t over share – This is really difficult. As an advisor, you want to help students avoid some major pitfalls. Learning to do this without sharing too much personal information or college stories I found very, very difficult. A fellow librarian pointed out early on in the fall semester that by over sharing I may be unintentionally blurring the line between instructor and friend. Because I’m not their friend; I’m their instructor and advisor. I need to work on this for the new year.
  • My students are not me – The problems and challenges I faced as a student are not the same as the ones my students face. The same can be said for what came easily to me. This may seem obvious to some, but as I grew comfortable with my students, it was difficult to draw this distinction. Over time, I improved at this. When students asked about Greek life, studying abroad, or classes at Wisconsin, I began to give the response, “You can’t compare my experiences at Wisconsin to yours at Creighton. They are two completely different schools in almost every way imaginable.” They seemed to accept this. As they grew accustomed to Creighton, they understood this more.
  • Effective assignment design – So I’m instructor now… I guess I need to create graded assignments? I had a nonchalant attitude about this at the start of the semester and by the time I recognized this, it was too late. I will be applying what I learned at Immersion and various campus professional development workshops to my next class.

Successes:

  • Building community with students – An essential goal of the course is building community to retain students at Creighton. I believe I accomplished this. From day one I tried to build a comfortable, safe classroom environment for my students. Our candid discussions about roommates, mental health, alcohol, diversity, and becoming an independent adult reflect this. I see it when I pass a student on the mall and they’re with another classmate.
  • Building community with faculty – Librarians at Creighton do not have faculty status. One of my goals in becoming a Preceptor was to build stronger relationships with faculty and academic staff across the College of Arts and Sciences. Since I’m nearing the conclusion of my second year at the University, relationship building remains an essential part of my job. Teaching RSP allowed me to meet faculty in and out of my liaison areas and strengthened existing relationships, evidence of which can be seen in the Library’s instructional programming.
  • “Can you help my friend?” - Being as an advisor made me a little nervous. I had to learn the curriculum and campus resources quickly. There were definitely some rough spots, but I knew I had done my job well when my students began bringing in friends with their advising questions. I’d be sitting at my desk, when one of my students would walk in with a friend who had an advising question. They brought them to me because they valued my advise. An advisor’s goal is the success of their students, which aligns perfectly with the Library’s mission. It was a perfect marriage between my goals as a librarian and instructor/advisor.

It has been an incredibly rewarding experience both professionally and personally. My love for teaching and working with students increased exponentially. I’ll continue to work at it, learning as I go. Modeling lifelong learning for my students as their instructor, their advisor, and their reference librarian.

It’s All Smoke and Mirrors: E-Cigarettes in the Library

 from http://isostock.deviantart.com/

Honestly, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. I only caught it out of the corner of my eye, but I couldn’t deny what it was – smoke. A student was blatantly smoking in the Library. And then upon closer inspection, I saw it was an electronic cigarette. Not smoke at all, just  water vapor.

Nonetheless I was at a loss with what to do. My gut told me the student wasn’t doing anything wrong and they should be left alone. The Library certainly doesn’t have a policy against it and as far as I know neither does the University. The former public librarian in me thought, “Someone’s going to complain and we’ll need to have a plan.” I decided to ignore it.

When I returned to my office, my coworkers were all gathered together so I brought it up to them. We were all in agreement – the student has every right to smoke the e-cigarette. Shouldn’t we be encouraging students to quit smoking? If no one complains, let the student continue.

But again, what happens when someone does complain? The long term health risks of e-cigarettes are still questionable, as well as the risks of second hand exposure. The Library and University have no policy in place. Do we need to start considering writing such a policy?

I’m nervous of what universities might decide. Our society already tramples on the rights of cigarette smokers, are we going to see e-cigarette smokers’ rights trampled as well? I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that librarians need to start thinking today about how they will handle e-cigarettes in their libraries.