Round Table Discussion: The Great CRAAP Debate

Since starting at George Mason University, my department regularly holds a  Round Table group. One of my colleagues began it shortly before I arrived. Someone in the department selects a couple of articles, book chapters, etc., around a theme; we read the articles; and then meet to talk about them. It’s not a particularity novel idea, but it has been instrumental in professional development in my department. Since my research often focuses on communities of practice, I’ve found it as an effective way to develop library instructors who are not in professional positions, who have limited teaching experience, or who do not have an MLS – our legitimate peripheral participants in the profession. As applicable, we’ll follow up these round tables with a workshop where we work on instructional ideas related to the readings.

As the spring instructional load wanes, we’ll be meeting for the first time since August to discuss a new set of readings. I chose the topic for next week (April 19th). We’ll be reading about teaching source evaluation to undergraduates. My (personal) goal as instruction coordinator is to begin pushing our library instructors beyond teaching to the CRAAP Test or other checklist-like device. We are reading the following articles:

Caulfield, M. (2016, December 19). Yes, digital literacy. But which one? Retrieved from https://hapgood.us/2016/12/19/yes-digital-literacy-but-which-one/

Caulfield, M. (2017, April 4). How “news literacy” gets web misinformation wrong. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@holden/how-media-literacy-gets-web-misinformation-wrong-45aa6323829d

Radcliff, S., & Wong, E. Y. (2015). Evaluation of sources: A new sustainable approach. Reference Services Review, 43, 231–250. https://doi.org/10.1108/RSR-09-2014-0041

Seeber, K. (2017, March 18). Wiretaps and CRAAP. Retrieved from http://kevinseeber.com/blog/wiretaps-and-craap/

Do you teach students how to evaluate sources without using a checklist approach? If so, how? Have any readings you’d suggest for future reading? Let me know!

Radical Information Literacy Assessment

It happened over falafel.

Once a week, I work from one of my university’s distributed campuses. The primary reason that I work there is to work with the two subject librarians stationed there on a regular basis. Last week I went to lunch with one of the librarians and as usual, we talked a lot of shop. She asked me how assessment was going. I’m sure she heard more from me than she bargained. But then she asked, “What would radical assessment look like?” I think she asked it to herself as much as she asked me.

We spit-balled the first ideas that came to mind. What I landed on was this: Radical assessment removes assessment from the institutional accountability prerogative. In other words, I don’t think it’s possible as a singular form of assessment; however, I think it’s what assessment should aspire to be. Radical assessment is collecting evidence of student learning in order to improve instruction so that students are able to have a higher quality learning experience.

You might be saying to yourself, “but that is assessment.” I would argue that is what assessment is supposed to be, but not what it is in reality. Too often we assess because we’re told we must. We’re told by our accreditation agencies, our administrators, and by our assessment librarians.

Don’t get me wrong, we need to be assessing. Accountability, and whatnot. And so for me, radical assessment is designing assessments that are meaningful first, and evidence for institutional accountability second.

What does “meaningful” mean in this context? I get asked this a lot since my Library’s Student Learning Assessment Plan is based on the concept of meaningful assessment. Each librarian who teaches is asked to complete one meaningful assessment project over an academic year. Meaningful is at the interpretation of the librarian. I tell them: It should be meaningful to your instruction while applying to one of our learning outcomes (the institutional, non-radical aspect). How will it improve your instruction? How can you use it as evidence to teach more (or less)? How can it help your students learn? To me, if you start and build from there, you’re assessing radically.

I know there are plenty of different interpretations of what radical assessment looks like. One of my colleagues had some interesting thoughts. He has multiple interesting tweets, which I encourage you to read, but this one has me thinking. . .

What is radical assessment, particularly in context of information literacy, to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Building Opportunities for Shared Work

Why hello there, strangers. It’s been a while… over two years actually. We’re still friends though right? OK. Good. So…. Let’s talk about communication.

I’ve noticed that people tend to talk about communication only when it’s broken in some way. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “Oh yeah, we communicate really well here,” which makes sense. Systems, or parts of a system, often only come into focus when they are not working well.

While I consider myself a fairly optimistic person in the workplace and (often naively) believe that I can breakdown institutionally ingrained barriers and cultural attitudes, I am limited within my Library’s hierarchy on how much I can accomplish alone. My current conundrum is by no means unique – I’ve experienced the same tie up at other schools and I’ve heard many similar stories from peers across the country. How do we break down the walls that individual units, departments, and institutions unintentionally (and intentionally) create?

The classic example of these barriers is the public-facing vs. behind the scenes division, i.e. public services vs. technical services. But these barriers can exist within a discrete unit, such as public services. Institutional constraints are likely to impede how often, in what format, and degrees of transparency of traditional communication. What I would like to explore is how to circumvent these barriers through shared work.

What do I mean by shared work? Great question, and I don’t know that I have the full answer yet, but I certainly have a growing understanding. By shared work I am referring to the types of work that get us thinking beyond our individual positions and responsibilities. Not ignoring our jobs, but figuring out ways to leverage our skills, talents, and experience in conjunction with our coworkers’ skills, talents, and experiences.One could argue that in most libraries, mine included, this is already being done in some capacities.

So what do I feel is missing? I don’t think we do it enough, nor that we do it in meaningful ways that encourage cross-departmental communication and collegiality. Current venues for this type of work at my institution are committee work on Librarians’ Council, committee work at the University Libraries’ level, and search committees. These groups not only share work, but they also enable casual conversations about day-to-day duties; they afford members opportunities to share their joys, frustrations, and accomplishments in their work; they bring to light areas of overlap in job duties which hopefully leads to partnerships or collaborative projects. But the fact of the matter is that I have never heard someone say, “I really enjoy committee work.”

So what can we do to encourage these kinds of interactions outside the context of committee work? And what does this different kind of shared work look like? This is what I’m left wondering. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for almost two years. (Maybe that’s why I haven’t written a blog post in two years!) I clearly haven’t come to any solid conclusions. If you have an thoughts or suggestions, please share them in the comments.

In the mean time, I’ll continue to go to happy hours with my coworkers and see where that takes me.

Is a Theoretical Division Such a Bad Thing?

The ACRL Board of Directors has decided to adopt the Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education. Taking the lead from professional sports, the Board has adopted the Framework with an asterisk. The Board decided not to sunset the current Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education until the profession sees how the Framework plays out.

Much has been written about the new Framework and within the past 24 hours there have been many blog posts and tweets about the Board’s decision. Although I’m not fully sold on the threshold concept theory, I can support the new Framework. I can also support the Competency Standards, if they were updated. But I’m not writing about that today. What really struck me during all of the Twitter chatter, was a particular tweet from the open mic session at ALA Midwinter:

I read a handful of tweets and blog posts over the course of the Task Force’s activities that mirrored this sentiment. The Framework has the potential to divide instructional librarians across the country – those who support the new Framework and those who reject it. And last night, as I read the Board’s decision, which poses a greater possibility of this happening, I thought to myself, “Is a theoretical division such a bad thing?”

Of course having a clear vision and direction for information literacy instruction has its benefits. It unites the profession; it gives us clear direction; we’re all on the same (theoretical) page. But if we want to continuously move forward as a profession, doesn’t a division into various camps help guide and accelerate that progress? Sure, there will be some camps that stagnate or even regress, but I’m optimistic enough to believe those would be in the extreme minority. But a division into different theoretical or practical approaches to information literacy instruction might be exactly what our profession needs to keep pushing us forward.

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.

[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.