Dear Faculty, I Get It Now

Dear Faculty,

I never understood. What’s one class period? You’ve always said you want your students to produce the best research papers possible. When your students submit papers with only an assortment of open web sources, you shrugged your shoulders, deducted points, and said, “Well, they should have known better.” But how could they include appropriate, scholarly sources when they know neither what they are nor where to find them?

But I get it now. I’ve spent time in the trenches. My one credit class that meets only 50 minutes a week overflows with content. I struggled to fit in the time. But I did. Granted, I had the advantage of being able to disperse the content throughout the course and not in a one-shot session, but I did it. You can too! Even in your three credit course that meets 2 and half hours a week.

Break the mold of the one-shot session. Embed a librarian into your CMS. Invite the librarian for 15-20 minute segments throughout the semester. Partner with a librarian in way that is meaningful for your class. Don’t just say, “I don’t have enough time.”

But I have now walked a small portion of your journey, and I can promise you this: The next time I hear that you don’t have enough time for librarians to teach information literacy skills, my eyes won’t roll quite as much.

Sincerely,

Your Friendly Instructional Services Librarian

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Librarians and Academic Honesty: “Misusing Academic Resources”

Each fall semester I teach a number of information literacy sessions for freshmen in RSP 101: Introduction to the Culture of Collegiate Life. For the past two years, one of the faculty preceptors for this course asked me to focus on academic honesty, plagiarism, and citing sources. His class session is always one of my favorites. I love a good debate and nothing seems to fire students up like the topic of academic honesty and plagiarism. It’s a chance to witness confirmation bias at its finest; unless I reaffirm what a student already believes as academic honesty and plagiarism, they fight back.

Creighton University’s College of Arts & Science has a six page policy outlining academic honesty. One of the examples of academic dishonesty is “misusing academic resources.” I included this in my presentation and asked students to think of examples of what activities might fall under this ambiguous phrase. After students volunteered a series of examples, the faculty preceptor asked a very interesting question, a question which I have been thinking about for several weeks. He asked, “Could the use of a reference librarian ever fall under this category?”

After much thought, I remembered a student who recently came in for a research appointment. He had an unrefined topic for a political science literature review. All he told me was that he was writing about the causes of war. When I attempted a reference interview, he refused to give me anymore to go off, insisting that his professor wanted it to be that broad. So i showed him a few databases and how many search results he would get with such a broad topic. I urged him to narrow it down and offered a few suggestions based on the results we found. As I prepared to send him on his way, he said this to me:

“I’m confused. I was told that if I came to a reference librarian, you would find all of my sources for me.”

The student needed 20 sources, I helped him get started with about 7. (As a side note, the student and I were both on a time crunch – we only had 20 minutes together.) Now, there are few things that irritates me more than a student who blurts out the untold secret. Sure, we help students find articles, but when you need 20, we’re not going to sit there and handpick them for you. We’re going to give you the skills and tools to discern between the results yourself.

Academic Honesty

Word of mouth: The preferred source of the 21st century

Then I compared this to the student who comes in asking for help that only needs 3 or 4 sources. Usually, we help them find all of their sources. Are we entering a grey area of academic honesty? Are we misusing academic resources – the resources being our own expertise?

After much thought and discussion among my colleagues, I’ve come to the conclusion that the occasion of crossing the line into academic dishonesty is rare. The distinction aligns with the teaching mission of reference. We are working with the student, not for the student. We’re showing them how to search effectively. We’re not telling them how to use the information we help them find. We’re not working in a vacuum. We’re helping them learn the research process. We’re making them information literate students. Rare is the case that the librarian does it all for the student.

I’m aware this is a grey area. Some may think that we need to help the student find the 20 sources; however, I feel as though that’s ultimately doing them a disservice. As a librarian, we are professionals and must use our best judgement to determine how far we’re comfortable pushing the line between academic dishonesty and genuinely helping a student.

I think of this line often and I know where it’s placed in my mind. Whenever I work with a student, I’m very aware of how close we get to that line. And I know that it’ll be crossed occasionally. As a librarian, I want to help students succeed on their own and know it’s OK to ask for help, but they also need to learn to work with me.

Coming Up for Air: Living in a Post-Immersion World

It’s been over two months since attending ACRL Immersion Teacher Track in Seattle and I have yet to post about my experiences because, quite frankly, I haven’t had time. In the weeks following Immersion my mind was racing at over 100mph. How could I do justice to this transformative experience by only summarizing it? And in the immediate weeks following Immersion, a summary seemed the like the only post I could create. This past Friday gave me an opportunity to push beyond a summary.

Immersion provided great practical advise on how to improve what I was already doing. Let’s begin with what I incorporated immediately:

  • A vast network of kick ass librarians – Honestly, this is probably the most valuable asset I gained from Immersion. The librarians I met and became friends with offer objective opinions on teaching strategies and tools I want to incorporate into my classes. A simple Tweet about an idea garners response from many of these librarians. I have a connection of information literacy professionals spread throughout the country at my fingertips.
  • More (and better) assessment – I already was assessing in many of my information literacy sessions, but now my assessment actually aligns with the learning theory I was teaching. The new assessment pieces often take more work to analyze, but the students perform better and you can see real learning.
  • Hell hath no fury like learning outcomes scorned – I used learning outcomes before Immersion, but I wasn’t utilizing them to their fullest potential. I feel more confident constructing learning outcomes in order to assess whether or not my students are learning. (See what I did there.)
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A whiskey rubric – because it makes assessment go down easier

There are also some much larger, programmatic components to Immersion that I brought home with me. This past week, I had the opportunity to present to faculty about how the Library can help teach and assess the information literacy learning outcome in a course they’re developing for Creighton’s new Magis Core Curriculum. It’s critical for the Library to become involved because it’s the only course in the new curriculum that is required to assess information literacy.

In preparation for the meeting, I presented to my coworkers in reference. Throughout the course of this preliminary meeting I found myself talking about learning outcomes versus the tasks to achieve them, something I have a distinct memory of Lisa Hinchliffe discussing. For example, learning Boolean operators isn’t a learning outcome, but it’s a skill that can help them to construct an effective search strategy. It was an opportunity to teach the teachers.

The faculty meeting went well. Most faculty seemed on board with incorporating the Library into their courses; however, only time will tell. It’s an exciting opportunity for the information literacy program at Creighton, and one in which I’ll have the experiences and lessons learned at Immersion to help support me in leading the Library in this new and exciting chapter.

The Higher Education Labyrinth

In my new role as advisor to about a dozen incoming freshmen at Creighton, I’m witnessing a group of 17 and 18 year old students navigating the labyrinth that is higher education for the first time. I’m walking them through the process of course selection, registration, and the frustration that comes when all the sections of Spanish 101 are filled. I find myself explaining that it’s unrealistic to expect you can have Fridays off your first semester of college. I find myself wondering how the process felt when I was going through it.

I’m trying to re-imagine my time as a freshman, knowing very little about registering for classes, core requirements, and how to build a schedule that wouldn’t drive me insane. At the University of Wisconsin, Summer Orientation, Advising, and Registration (SOAR) was a program offered by the University to help acclimate students to campus life and culture at Madison in the weeks before the start of the semester. As a student coming from Pennsylvania, I decided not to attend SOAR. In exchange, I received a 4 hour power orientation and advising session 2 days before classes began. The actual advising portion lasted about an hour. The first half included an overview of the core curriculum and the second half included a one-on-one meeting with either a “real” advisor or a student advisor. I had the student advisor and the advise I got as an undecided student was to take whatever classes interested me because they were likely to hit a handful of the core requirements. Oh, and don’t take calculus unless it’s required, which puzzled me because even today I cannot imagine anyone wanting to take calculus as an elective.

The whole process reminds me of an important obstacle information literacy and instruction librarians often face – convincing faculty that their students need to be taught how to research. Librarians often argue that one of the reasons for this obstacle is that faculty cannot remember learning how to research. It has become such a habit of mind that the starting point is lost to them and they can no longer see the value that students can gain from a library session.

Navigating higher education

Navigating higher education

I never gave that reasoning too much weight, but I get it now. As I was helping my incoming freshmen, I realized I was becoming frustrated that they didn’t understand the process. But when I took a step back, I thought about how many times I’ve registered for classes – upwards of 12 times throughout my academic career. I know how to navigate the system. I have the map to the labyrinth of higher education, and they don’t even know that such a map exists. Once I realized this, I think I became more helpful and attuned to their needs. Through self-reflection, I became a better advisor and teacher.

Sometimes we all just need a little reminder of where it all began and how far we’ve come.

Why Use Your Brain When There’s Google?

I’ve played a lot of softball in my days. Catching and throwing a ball is now instinctual. My greatest achievement attributable to softball came one night in high school while I was off the field and babysitting on a Saturday night. I was playing outside with four kids ranging from 4 to 12. The neighbors had a little game of backyard baseball going, and unbeknownst to me, a future Prince Fielder was among us. I hear the crack of a bat and suddenly a baseball is flying, at what seems like 60 miles per hour, towards the 4 year old I’m watching. Without thinking, I pulled a Dottie Hinson:

LOTO GIF

I have no doubt it appeared as cool and collected, too. However it looked, I know that something took over me and I barehanded a baseball that would have led to tears, an emergency room visit, and the inevitable end to my blossoming babysitting career. Instinct took over.

When discussing Millenials, we often refer to them as digital natives. Their working memory exists almost entirely within a world where the World Wide Web was available to them easily and at a relatively low cost. So what happens when their instincts deceive them? When their instincts have been constructed under the belief in the Googlization of everything? When they see this:

they really seem to see this:

Millenials have bestowed the power of Google upon all search boxes. Their instincts tell them, “Oh, here’s a search box. Google is a search box. It must work like Google.” They’re not thinking critically about the tools their using. As librarians, this is by no means an earth shattering revelation. We know this from experience.

This morning my boss was reviewing usage statistics from our LibGuide pages. She found that users were searching the LibGuides with terms more applicable for our discovery service Summon. Terms ranged from authors’ names to journal titles to terms like “romanticism” or “effects of cocaine on fetuses.” To be fair, some searches were more appropriate, such as “psychology” or “EBSCO,” but most were misplaced. As the instructional services librarian, she asked me if I thought we were doing something wrong in either failing to teach our users the difference between Summon and LibGuides or if the wording on our LibGuides is misleading.

I’ve been thinking about this throughout the day. Information literacy is an imperative skill for the 21st century citizen. In most instructional sessions, we focus on teaching students how to critically evaluate information sources, but perhaps we’re overlooking teaching students to critically evaluate the tools they use when researching. And then I think about the one-shot session. I think about adding this piece to the larger instruction puzzle and I feel like I’m no longer teaching students to use their instincts and barehanded catch the baseball, but now I’ve got to take 10 steps back and teach students the difference between a baseball, a basketball, and a tennis ball. And then how to throw. And then how to catch. And so on.

None of these things is exactly like the other.

I’m still reflecting on these findings and their implication for future information literacy sessions. I still am unsure what I will do with this information. Has anyone else noticed this trend in searches done in LibGuides?

Do We Need to Teach This?

As Reference and Instructional Services Librarian, a significant percentage of my work focuses on assessment. One of my favorite classes to teach as the social science liaison is Communication Studies 152: Civic Engagement through Public Communication. Throughout the semester students produce a series of informative, persuasive, and group speeches. Instructors encourage students to speak about topics that not only interest them, but that also engage with the current civic discourse.

Because topics generally focus on current issues, sources run the gamut from open web sources to scholarly articles. Most speeches utilize an array of government statistical sources, local newspaper articles, and scholarly, peer-reviewed material. On top of this breadth lies the fact that a majority of COM 152 students are freshmen, many of whom have never been exposed to college-level research or library databases. This leaves 50 minutes to teach students the information cycle, the difference between scholarly and popular, how to effectively use databases (and a wide variety of them, since topics can fall under any discipline), and how to critically evaluate the information they find. A daunting task, but one that instruction librarians regularly face.

Working with course instructors, information literacy librarians make tough decisions about what to teach and what not to teach on a daily basis. Creating clear, relevant, and measurable learning outcomes helps us prioritize and focus our learning objectives. Assessing these outcomes illustrates if students learn what we teach. We then close the assessment loop by using the results to inform our future teaching. But what do we do if the results continue to show students aren’t grasping a particular concept? We can incorporate different teaching techniques. We can ensure we’re teaching to various learning styles. We can develop different active learning exercises. In sum, we go back to the drawing board. We don’t give up. But how often do we take a step back and ask ourselves, “Is this a skill a students (still) need? Do we need to move on and focus our attention elsewhere?” After all, time is precious and we may be letting one piece distract us from the greater puzzle.

This spring I piloted a pre- and post-test assessment piece in four of the sections of COM 152. I learned a lot about the effectiveness of my teaching and how students conceptualize some of the material. The tests also revealed that students repeatedly failed to grasp the difference between keywords and subjects. A handful of conclusions can be drawn from the results, but I began to wonder if this was an essential skill for students in this course to master. A large portion of students’ sources (for better or worse) come from open web sources and newspapers, both of which typically do not use controlled vocabulary and often allow for full text searching. Recognizing the difference between subjects and keywords might prove useful when searching for scholarly articles or using the catalog, but since sources need to be within the past 5 years, students often ignore the catalog and their scholarly sources trend toward broad pieces on general issues.

Through working with students one-on-one in research consultations, I think students often discover controlled vocabulary serendipitously. They’ll search a database and begin to look through the records. They notice that within each record are hyperlinked terms that often reflect their initial keyword search. Since Millennials are so accustomed to URLs, they’ll click on the subject term and realize that the database has now returned more relevant records. Some students will ask why it happened, while other students don’t care why it happened but realize that they’ve “done something right.” They begin to notice the database limiters. Serendipity.

Is it possible to quantify which learning method is more valuable – learning within the classroom or learning by doing? Are the two separate? I can create active learning exercises that incorporate this same process, but the activity is divorced from the students’ point of need. Or is this all irrelevant? Knowing the difference between controlled vocabulary and keywords is a lower order skill. Should my efforts focus on higher order information literacy skills? Is this possible without knowing the difference between keyword searching and controlled vocabulary?

I believe it is possible. Teaching the difference between keywords and subjects may be a traditional learning objective, but its time may have run out. In an increasingly digital educational landscape where information overload is almost inevitable, this is one piece that I’m growing increasingly comfortable removing from the puzzle.