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.

When Do We Become Experts?

An ACRL committee membership recently placed me and a handful of colleagues in the position to choose the recipients of two prestigious awards. As the secretary of the committee, I saw my role as a cross between an observer and cautious participant. Here I was, thrown into the big leagues, having to judge whether a particular publication was significant enough in its advancement of the field and I suddenly felt like a tee ball player stepping up to bat against Greg Maddox circa 1993. I felt as though I had a decent grasp of the field, but I began to wonder – at what point will I consider myself an expert?

I read through the nominations, all while taking diligent notes and creating my own scoring system. There were publications where I knew I’d read iterations of the same topics and projects, and then there were publications where I was blown away and knew there it was unique, innovative, and exactly what our profession needed. But then I’d wonder, “Do I really know? Sure, I read a lot of literature in graduate school and even more in the 2 and half years I’ve worked in the profession, but am I qualified enough to make an assessment on whether it’s award worthy or not?”

When the committee met to make the final decisions, I saw that I was right on target with the majority. Of course a few of my top choices were on the periphery, but a few were aligned with the majority of the committee as well. Consensus is a difficult thing, even in small groups, but the discussions which emerged surrounding professional disagreements highlighted the nuances in committee members’ individual expertise.

The entire experience was illuminating, not only as an introduction to ACRL committee work, but also for my own professional development. The nomination and decision process made me a bit uneasy at first, but I finished feeling more confident in my ability to critically examine literature in our field. I left understanding that although I’m not exactly an expert yet, I’m on my way and doing better than perhaps I thought.

So why does this matter in the bigger picture? My greatest struggle with my developing relationship with expertise centered around the idea of how I present my expertise to students and faculty. In the context of researching and helping students become information literate, I do feel as though I’m an expert. I don’t know where the disconnect is when it comes to information knowledge within my own profession. I don’t have the answer, but I’ll keep looking. And isn’t that what experts do – continually look for more knowledge to better answer the types of questions that really have no answers?

Low Instruction Numbers Call for More Aggressive Outreach

As the semester draws to its end, I find myself compiling instruction statistics. While the College of Arts and Science is undergoing a core curriculum revision, which will integrate an information literacy learning outcome into a required course, the current core curriculum lacks such a requirement. There have been two courses which represent our instructional program’s bread and butter – Ratio Studiorum Program (RSP) and Civic Engagement through Public Communication (COM 152).

COM 152 is a speech course that the majority of students take to fulfill a core requirement. This fall, I taught 11 of the 12 sections (92%) of COM 152. This percentage is higher than last fall, which was only 58%. Anecdotally, I attribute the rise to two factors. The first is that I began working at Creighton two days before the start of the Fall 2012 semester; I imagine some instructors hesitated to contact me because of this. The second is that word of mouth of my instruction spread. I know this is true for two instructors who I taught for in the Spring 2013 and Fall 2013 semesters. They told me an information literacy session was recommended by another faculty member. All in all, I’m pleased with the improvement in the raw numbers for this course.

RSP is a required one credit course for freshmen. It focuses on advising, acclimating students to collegiate level academics, and introducing students to Jesuit values taught at Creighton. This fall, librarians taught only 20 of the 49 sections (41%) in the College of Arts and Sciences. The reverse occurred in Fall 2012 when 22 of 39 sections (58%) had an encounter with library instruction. This decrease unsettles me.

I analyzed these numbers to see if there are any patterns or conclusions to draw. Here is what I found:

  • More sections of RSP were taught in Fall 2013 to allow for smaller class sizes
  • Over half of the instructors who taught in Fall 2012 and requested library instruction did not teach a section in Fall 2013
  • No faculty members abandoned ship – if a faculty member requested instruction in Fall 2012, they also requested it in Fall 2013
  • There doesn’t seem to be a pattern in faculty members by department who did or did not request instruction. Notably high departments who did not request instruction for Fall 2013 were Modern Languages and Chemistry

I’d like to note that I’m a firm believer that correlation does not equal causation, but I still see the value in examining observations and data to find patterns that may lead to further research.

I expect numbers to fluctuate each year; however, I have designed instruction for COM 152 to scaffold from instruction in RSP. Information literacy instruction in RSP focuses on Bloom’s lower level skills. We teach students the building blocks of research and show them the various resources the library owns. COM 152 focuses almost exclusively on evaluation and analysis of sources. Perhaps this scaffolded approach is not appropriate if information literacy instruction in RSP is reaching only 40-60% of students?

One of the biggest disappointments in the lowered numbers is that as an instructor for a section of RSP this Fall semester I seemed to have failed at recruiting more faculty requests for instruction. Not only was I at all of the instructor meets, networking with faculty, but I also presented multiple times to the faculty. I believed this would encourage more faculty to utilize our instructional program, but this did not happen.

Perhaps our liaisons, myself included, need to encourage faculty to bring their sections to the library more aggressively. Another idea emerged from teaching a section instructed by a Chemistry faculty member. He showed high interest in RefWorks and wanted me to teach his students about it. I typically don’t mention RefWorks during instruction for RSP. Maybe we need to appeal more to the interests of each faculty member’s discipline. For example, the faculty in the sciences may request sessions if we advertise teaching how to use RefWorks and the differences between primary and secondary sources.

With the new core curriculum beginning in Fall 2014, this all may be needless extrapolation. The information literacy outcome imposed on one of the new core courses poses promise for the future of the instructional program. What the Library needs to do going into the future is try to emphasize the partnering of faculty with librarians to achieve this outcome. I know there will be faculty who choose to go at it alone, but it is our job to show that we can be collaborators with them to help their students learn how to become information literate students.

It has occurred to me that I’m putting a lot of emphasis on “usage” numbers. Student outcomes are the most important assessment piece when dealing with information literacy. If students are not learning anything, then the library is failing. But in order to teach students, we need to get them inside the doors, whether physically or virtually.

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

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?

Vine & the Library

In January, my library created a Twitter account to respond to student complaints about library renovations. Although the creation of the account was reactionary, it has since yielded some great feedback, both positive and negative, for the library. We’ve stuck with updating the account regularly and it has grown into a successful outreach initiative. By following students that follow us, we can see what their social media interests are. As one of the co-moderators of the account, I’ve noticed a recent uptick in Vine postings from our students.

I’m not one to jump on trendy technology, but I firmly believe that the best way to reach undergraduate students is to meet them where they’re at, not necessarily where we* think they should be. With that, I created a Vine account for the Library and today I posted our first Vine:

It’s a simple message for our new students attending Summer Preview to stop by and visit the Library. I’m very excited about the outreach potential of Vine. I’m already thinking about student contest ideas, answers to popular reference questions, and many other possibilities!

Do you use Vine at your library? I’d love to hear how!

*Royal we of academic libraries

Listservs: Think Tanks or Shark Tanks?

When you decided to become a librarian, did you know about the power of listservs? I certainly did not. During my premiere week as an “official” librarian, my coworkers provided me with a laundry list of recommended listservs. Eager to learn from the collective wisdom of librarians across the country and world, I joined the ones I felt best suited my position, research interests, and institution.

Overall, I find  the listservs to which I subscribe very useful. In addition to sparking new ideas ranging from library instruction to organizational culture, listservs provide a continuous, professional pressure cooker for collaboration. Depending on the size and location of your library, you may feel as though you’re on a deserted island with limited flares to signal for help. Listservs not only bring the professional community to you, but you also have the power to decide how much you choose to interact with the community. You can simply be a receiver of the collective wisdom or you can actively contribute.

Because of the lack of immediate feedback that comes with email communications, your first contribution to a listserv may require a tremendous act of bravery. Your name and institution are attached for all of your colleagues to read. This could inhibit someone from asking a question they may deem as “stupid.” But as the old saying goes, there are no stupid questions except those that aren’t asked. While feedback is expected in these forums, feedback in the form of criticism should always remain constructive, not destructive. When feedback becomes destructive, it not only discourages participation, but it generally reflects poorly on both the criticizer and the profession as a whole. Additionally, when you provide constructive criticism, you should think about whether it’s appropriate to reply on or off list. Place yourself in the shoes of the recipient and ask yourself if you’d want to receive your comments individually or for the entire listserv to read.

Recently, a thread in one of my subscribed listservs experienced this jump from collegial to antagonistic. It began with a librarian asking if we would complete a short survey about librarian demographics and attitudes for her MBA market research class. The survey had standard demographic questions, but then asked a series of questions related to cats – whether or not you owned one, your attitudes about them, etc. You could see where she was going with the survey. The survey evoked a series of responses that ranged from amusement to pro-dog outcries to anger. The outraged questioned statistical methods, offensive stereotypes, and what they perceived as a misleading introduction to the survey. After a few days, the surveyor notified the group that 1600 self-identified librarians responded and that her group’s hypothesis, one to which the listserv was not privy, was proven mostly wrong. She concluded her summation by mentioning the possibility for publishing the study, which incited a series of critical responses regarding IRB approval, institutional affiliation, survey transparency, and the differences between data collection for research vs. educational purposes (as though the two are not inherently bond).

Although some of the questions asked by respondents are pertinent, I struggle with how they were posed. The tone was largely condescending and demeaning. They were destructive, not constructive. In many of the instances, respondents probably should have provided feedback off list. However, a handful of librarians quickly defended the surveyor. One such defended perfectly expressed my feelings:

Is it possible to ask these questions with a little humility? Why would anyone attempt anything new, let alone share it with a group of peers if they knew that any slip would be seized upon by a heavy dose of tactless criticism?

My fear is that if listservs continually see aggressive, self-satisfying, and humiliating responses, librarians may hesitate to participate. That would be the real tragedy.*

Finally, what if I and the handful of defenders are mistaken? Is it possible that we inferred a tone that wasn’t intended in the criticism? Were the critics truly attempting to be constructive? Was something lost in digital translation? How can we use this as a self-teaching moment? More specifically, can we use these digital miscommunications in our professional interactions to inform our instructional design choices when creating online courses and tutorials for distance learners?

When creating information literacy tutorials or interacting in an online course as an embedded librarian, there are plenty of opportunities for miscommunication and misinterpretation. When a simple question or statement can easily be misinterpreted in a face-to-face environment, just think how a seemingly straightforward question or comment can be misinterpreted by an audience in a digital environment.

perfect-date

Miss Congeniality, 2000

* I’d be curious to research how many and how often threads divert down such negative paths, but I’m pretty sure I’d refrain from mentioning it on any listserv for fear of inciting an ironic series of antagonistic replies.