ALA Annual Conference

It has been a while since I posted! Keeping up with the blog dropped a few notches on the list of priorities as other things have come up, in part because I didn’t think anybody was really reading this. It’s a good exercise in reflective practice to write up events and teaching experiences for myself, but it’s easy to set that aside for more pressing tasks if that’s all you’re doing.

At ALA, though, I attended a lunch hosted by EBSCO for academic librarians. I got there late and needed to run out early, so sat at a table in the back with one seat left open, though I didn’t know anyone at that table. The person sitting next to me recognized me because she has read my blog! That is so freaking cool! So I guess I should make more time to post here, even if it is just to organize my thoughts and reflect on projects I’ve done.

For now, though, here is the presentation that a colleague and I gave at the 19th Annual Reference Research Forum at ALA in Chicago, June 29, 2013. Or you can visit the full google presentation with notes on what we planned to say about each slide. Some of that got cut due to time in the actual presentation, though we probably elaborated more than we had planned for in other parts!

Andrew Walsh was one of our Information Literacy Fellows, 2012-13. He is starting a new permanent position at a library in Dayton, OH this month.

Adriana Gerena and Aundryel (Auni) Breland are/were graduate research assistants in the Instructional Services department at Ingram Library. They both ran the usability tests, and Adriana ran the focus groups after Auni left us for bigger and better things (an internship in her field and perhaps graduation by now!).

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Teaching Outcomes

This past Friday night, I went out for dinner and drinks with a friend. It was a full week after the last day of final exams here, so we expected our tiny little town square to be free of students. We had dinner at one place, then moved to another location and just took seats at the bar and continued catching up.

And then a student that was in my class this fall came over and gave me a hug. He told me that my class was the first time he had gotten an A (I assumed he meant just in college, but who knows). And that he had asked his mom to proofread his paper, and she was so impressed that she asked him whether he had really written it himself. I didn’t know what to say, except that I didn’t give him an A, he earned that A, and just keep putting in that effort in future classes.

That was pretty awesome. But seeing this student progress through the semester was pretty awesome, even before Friday.

At the beginning of the semester, I warned them that my class would be a LOT of work. I told them that it wouldn’t be hard like calculus, but it would be a lot of work. I built in a lot of small assignments at the beginning so that I could do a lot of formative assessment and have lots of low-risk opportunities for feedback… In hindsight, I did too much of that, because it took up an inordinate amount of my time to give all of that feedback, but it was better than not enough feedback until it’s too late.

My class is capped at 24 students. There were a few who stood out from the beginning as really putting a lot of thought into assignments. They might not have always gotten to the conclusion I hoped they would on the first try, but they were thinking about it instead of just tossing out a simple superficial response. And a few stood out as really on top of this stuff – probably the “over-achiever wonder-weenies” that have always found school pretty easy as they skate through with straight As. They make teaching much easier, though the best part is when you catch them helping a classmate along, explaining things in a different way than how I presented it to help that other student get the underlying concept.

This guy, though, was one of a handful that I had pegged as slackers. I teach information literacy, not rocket science – every single one of those kids is fully capable of getting these concepts, but they have to be willing to put in the time and effort. I can’t just pour the knowledge straight into their brains without their cooperation.

For the first month or so, all of the stuff he turned in seemed kind of half-assed. And then he stayed after class one day to talk about his low grades on some assignments, and I told him what he needed to do to get better grades. I include a minimum word count on each assignment, not because I want to be a bean counter, but because I want to see that they’re actually thinking about the question and trying to apply the concept to the real world. I want more than two basic sentences giving a simple superficial answer. I also gave him a couple of options to go back and add some information to at least one earlier assignment to make up points, but stressed that the most important part was just to meet all of the requirements and show me that he’s thinking about this stuff on future assignments.

After that, he improved, but it was his annotated bibliography that really made my day. Backing up, I suppose I should explain the way I structured my class this semester. I assigned groups in the second week of classes and had each group pick a topic to research through the semester. And then each member of that group had to come up with a research question related to that group topic. I made sure to mix up the majors, so that I could point out the wide variety of ways different researchers could approach a single topic. They worked with these research questions through the semester, culminating in a final project. This includes a “state of the presentation presentation,” an annotated bibliography, a short paper, and a final presentation. You can see more details over here, if you’re interested.

On the annotated bibliographies, they had to do proper citations in either APA or MLA format, and they had to do the standard annotation fodder of telling me what the source is about and how it will help answer their research question. But I also made them include how they evaluated the source. Critically evaluating a source in order to select quality, credible sources is an important learning outcome in my class, so I wanted to see that they actually thought about the author’s credentials or the reputation of the publication or whatever other evaluation criteria applies when selecting their sources. My goal is to teach how to do good library research, so I’m more interested in their process than in the actual information found in those sources.

This kid knocked it out of the park on the annotated bibliography. He had plenty of formatting errors and whatnot, which I pointed out because other profs will take off points for those sorts of errors, but his was one of the best at addressing the relevant evaluation criteria for each source and how he applied it. It seriously made my day.

And, again, on the paper, he did a great job. I gave them a fairly detailed outline to follow, all they had to do was follow directions. I had them include an overview of what they found, but then hammered again on the evaluation stuff – they had to talk about a source that surprised them and how they evaluated the credibility. Is it something that looks credible to begin with, but turns out to be the equivalent of a climate change denier, or it actually good information about some new breakthrough in that field or something? His paper followed all of the directions and he did a great job talking about how he evaluated his surprising source. I really hate having to mark up papers, and I love when students give me A quality work!

This was one really great experience of watching a student turn things around and really get the important learning outcomes in the class. But I love teaching this semester-long credit-bearing class because I get to have little victories like this every week. I have the pleasure of getting to know the students as individuals, and seeing how they progress through the semester. One shots are fun, and it’s great working with smaller departments where you can get to know some of the majors. But having a whole semester with a small group of kids is great.

And to think, when I did my practicum in my second-to-last semester of library school, I wasn’t even planning to include any instruction! My previous experience of teaching was pretty harrowing – basically tossed to the wolves to teach a 200-person lecture course with very little training. I am so thankful to the library director who suggested I include some instruction time in my practicum, too, since I had a fair bit of teaching experience already on my CV. I don’t know what area I would have gone into if it hadn’t been for that, but I’m pretty sure it would not have been nearly as awesome as the job I have now!

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ACRL Immersion 2012

This past summer I got to attend the ACRL Immersion Teacher Track program. I probably should have written something up about it sooner… But, then again, there was so much information that giving it time to marinate was probably a good thing!

For those who are unfamiliar with the Immersion program, it’s a week-long training program to improve your skills in teaching information literacy. It started on Sunday afternoon/evening with a dinner and an icebreaker activity. On Monday through Friday, breakfast was from 7:30 to 8:30 (in the campus dining hall, so no need to be there right at 7:30)… And then we launched into a full day of lessons and activities. Some lessons were presented to the whole group, and then some of the time we were split according to our tracks (teacher or program), and then we also split off to work with our smaller cohorts (around 10 or 12 people) for some activities. Monday was grueling, lasting until around 8:30 pm. The rest of the days were shorter, ending around 5:30 pm, but there is SOOO much information to take in that that was still pretty heavy.

The thing I most wanted to get out of the program before going was a grounding in learning theory and a way to be more systematic in my instruction. Many of the librarians with me in the teacher track only teach one-shots, so I don’t know how they viewed some of the learning theory stuff, but I really wanted to build a more systematic approach to my semester-long course. Luckily, that’s what I got out of the program!

Many of the activities were geared toward teaching us to use active learning techniques to get students more engaged in class. As you may guess from a glance at my list of presentations, I’ve been drinking that kool-aid since I started at UWG. The head of my department has done the teacher track, program track, and just finished the assessment track of the ACRL Immersion program offerings. Another member of my department, who did the program track this summer, did the teacher track a few years ago. And these two had the biggest influence on the type of teaching I tried in my first year here.

On the first day, we watched a Nightline segment about a corporate design firm, IDEO — you can catch it on youtube. While everyone else was reacting like “that’s such a great idea,” it just reminded me of May, when my department worked together to rework our info lit course for a summer bridge program! I also recognized several of the activities that we did at Immersion from exercises we have already been using in classes at UWG… So that aspect of the program wasn’t nearly as enlightening for me as it may have been for other participants.

The parts that I found most useful were the basic grounding in educational theory, a way of thinking about different learning styles, and an overview of assessment techniques.

I have a decent amount of teaching experience, but had no real training in how to teach before Immersion. My first teaching gig was as a grad student at UVA – I got a TA position in which I led 3 discussion sections of about 20 students each. I had no frickin’ clue what I was doing! But, with only 20 students in each section, it worked out ok. My next time in front of a class was much more nerve-wracking: teaching a 225 person lecture course as the graduate instructor! After getting my MA at UVA and starting the PhD program in anthropology at Mizzou, I got a TA position my first year, but there were no discussion sections. I just helped with grading and lectured when the instructor was ill or had a family emergency. And that was considered my training for teaching the course the following year. Eeep! I kind of pity the students who were in that class that year… Or, really, most years, because my experience was pretty typical of the grad students who taught that course. And, so, I did straight up lecture with powerpoint slides. Snooze-fest. I only did 4 scantron exams each semseter, and the questions were almost all drawn from the textbook’s test bank. Which, by the way, you’d think those questions should be clear and unambiguous, since they’re written by “experts”, but I think every time I had a problem with a bad question on a test, it was one from the test bank, not one I had written over an example from the lecture that wasn’t in the book.

So I learned from trial and error, but was flying kind of blind when it comes to planning.

At Immersion, Char Booth took the lead on teaching learning theory. She covered different learning theories, including behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. Behaviorism is basically the Pavlov’s dog approach of providing information and repeating it until it is “learned”. You can have engagement with students in this approach, but it’s more in the form of questioning, with a call and response type of environment. They are awake and responding, but trained to respond with a correct answer to a given cue. Cognitivism pays more attention to the cognitive processes involved in learning – so scaffolding to build on prior knowledge, parceling out the new information to avoid overloading the learner. This is the approach that got us to start telling people what they’re going to get out of the instruction session at the beginning to make it more relevant to them. This approach involves using problem solving to create “aha” moments, where the learner has some insight into the concept and reaches the next level on the scaffold. Constructivism is the trendy one right now – as you might guess from the name, this theory suggests that learners construct their own meaning. So, learning is: process based, socially and culturally influenced, rooted in experience (in contrast to abstract ideas), interpreted through individual lenses, and dependent on motivation and reflection. (And that list is copied directly from my notes, not sure whether I copied exactly or paraphrased Char Booth’s lecture on this!) This is where a lot of the inquiry-based teaching approaches come into play.

The point of learning about learning theory is not just to fill our heads with theory, but to inform our planning. So, if you have X outcome that you want students to learn, which approach will be most effective? Some lessons lend themselves well to constructivist approaches, while others really are best taught through a behaviorist approach. Constructivism is “in” right now, but Char emphasized that we shouldn’t assume that it is good and the older models are bad. You need different tools in your toolbox for different tasks.

Deb Gilchrist took the lead on teaching about assessment. At some point, I need to look back through my notes and the program notebook to pull more nuggets of wisdom out of this section. The main thing I took from this part, so far, is the importance of learning outcomes. To be able to effectively assess student learning, you need to walk in with a clear idea of what you want them to learn! Learning outcomes can come in a variety of levels — what are the overarching outcomes I want students to get from my semester-long course, and then what are the more specific outcomes that will scaffold them up to those overarching outcomes? And then, what are the smaller component outcomes that will build them up to those mid-level outcomes… Of course, you can go the other way with it too – if I want them to learn to use the different limiters and results filtering options in Academic Search Complete, what’s the point? What outcome does that support? If it doesn’t lead to an outcome that I want to teach, what is the point of doing it?

There’s a lot of confusion out there about what is a learning outcome vs. learning objective, and several other terms that I’m blanking on at the moment. Deb defined learning outcomes as “[verb phrase] in order to [why phrase].” So you have two key components – the skill you want them to learn and the reason for learning that skill, separated by “in order to”. As I mentioned above, these can be written at a variety of levels, but it’s important to make sure that the statements are balanced. One way to do this is to use Bloom’s taxonomy (I’m using this list for categories mentioned below). If the first half of your outcome addresses a basic database searching skill that fits in the comprehension category, you want the second half to fit the application category, not jump to the evaluation end of the spectrum. Deb stressed that there isn’t any one correct answer for writing outcomes, the important part is to know why you selected the components you did. Another important detail is to select verbs that are actually observable — how do you assess whether someone “understands” something?

Beth Woodard led the discussions about learning styles. There are all kinds of different approaches people take to this topic, and plenty of skepticism out there about taking learning styles too seriously. But I think Beth’s approach was really useful. Instead of trying to pigeon-hole people into a few pre-defined categories, we talked about different styles as a continuum along two axes: concrete experience <--> abstract conceptualization and reflective observation <--> active experimentation. My Immersion notebook is in the office and I’m at home, so I consulted wikipedia to jog my memory – it tells me that this version is David Kolb’s model.

The take-away for me is that some people do better by getting their hands on a problem and experimenting with it, while others prefer some time to think and create a plan. And on the other axis, some people do better with abstract ideas, while others prefer more concrete examples… We also talked some about social relations being important for the concrete experience end of the spectrum – so those people like to work in groups and build on one anothers’ experiences, while the more abstract folks prefer solitary work. The people with high reflective observation and abstract conceptualization scores would rather sit through a long, boring lecture than have to participate in a lot of constructivist, inquiry-based lesson plans – weirdos! So mix it up. Don’t find one teaching method that you like and use that for everything, try to vary your approaches and incorporate activities that allow time for active experimentation AND reflective observation, group AND individual work. Again, more tools in your toolbox is a good thing, and will help you reach more students.

So, I thought I would also talk some about what I’ve done so far to incorporate these ideas and what I plan to do in the foreseeable future… But this post is already oh-my-god long! So I’ll leave that for another post!

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So much to do, so little time

This poor little blog has been sadly neglected for the past few months. I need to get back into the habit of taking time to reflect on what I’m doing, to slow down and think about things strategically instead of just reacting to the most pressing deadline.

A huge amount of my energy this year has gone into instructional activities. As I wrote about in June, my department spent a large chunk of May working together to collaboratively redesign our credit-bearing info lit course to fit in a summer bridge program. We team-taught that course, with me doing week 2, July 9-13.

As soon as that ended, I shifted my focus to preparing to attend ACRL Immersion July 22-27. When they say “immersion,” they’re not kidding – it’s A LOT of information & a lot of energy investment. I really should write up a post just about Immersion one of these days… I got a lot out of it and am still processing, one chunk at a time.

Fall classes started August 20, which gave me some time to work on implementing at least a little bit of what I learned at Immersion in my section of LIBR1101. I also worked in a lot of the ideas we came up with while collaboratively redesigning the course for summer bridge. I incorporated a lot more little formative assessments early in the semester — which meant that I could give them more chances to try something, risk making mistakes, and get feedback before there was a huge point value hanging over their heads… But that also meant A LOT more time spent giving that feedback. We’re now getting down to the home stretch in the semester, and their annotated bibliographies are due next week — I think that will be the first big test of how well the course design has worked out.

I am behind on grading, need to work on planning for events (fall finals week snacks, a celebration of faculty publications in the spring, and a collaboration with the Center for Public History to showcase student research in the spring), and have other projects that need attention…

But several conference deadlines are looming!

My project today is to examine what I could present on and what conferences would be the best fits for those presentations. Some ideas include:

  • Using blogger for my class
  • A usability study that we’re working on to improve our libguides
  • Working with Empty Bowls – I wrote about it back in January and held another set of bowl-making and glazing workshops in October
  • The library FunFest that we did for the summer bridge program
  • What else?

My greatest difficulty in writing up proposals is that I tend to talk myself out of doing it. Oh, I’m not the first person to have students post to blogs as part of their learning activities, so should I really try to pretend to be an expert on that? I think it worked out well, though there are a few things I’ll change next time around — so I think I would have gotten something out of attending a session on this 6 months ago (before I tried it myself). But, still, I find it easy to minimize what I’ve done and difficult to get my butt in gear to submit proposals!

And with that, enough blogging, on to proposing!

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Student Advisory Boards

One of my many projects this semester is to work on establishing a student advisory board for my library. We have established a good relationship with the Student Government Association, so we’re getting really useful feedback and support from them. But we’d also like to get input from students that are not actively involved in SGA — whether that’s because they’re not that connected to the campus yet, because they have other activities taking up most of their time, because they’re commuters, etc. And, of course, we want grad student input as well!

So I’ve been searching around online for examples of student advisory boards. (I LOVE the ones that post bylaws and procedural documents so that I can see exactly what they do!) I’ve found lots of examples and a couple of articles/books on the topic.

So far, it looks like two different approaches are common:
1. Meetings open to everyone with free lunch provided
2. Fill out application and be selected to serve

It seems that the first option would draw a lot of people in, but may be limited in that you might get a group of friends from a single major that see the free food sign, but not get any input from people from other colleges/departments at your university. So the meetings could be really hit-or-miss. The second option might limit how many people get involved, but would let you do more to get a more diverse group involved. The other benefit that I see with the second option is that being selected gives it a bit of added prestige – so might be attractive as something to put on one’s resume.

So now I have a few questions for you, dear readers. Have you worked with a student advisory board in the past? How were students recruited/selected? Which method would you recommend? Did you encounter any unexpected hurdles that I should keep an eye out for?

And, of course, if you have been involved in establishing a student advisory board, I’d love to hear any and all advice you can offer!

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Library FunFest

This post is way overdue!

This summer, our library worked with our university’s new summer bridge (aka college transition) program, which was designed to help at risk students (those at the lower end of our admittance standards) have a better chance of succeeding in college. We taught two sections of our 2-credit hour course – about 1/3 of the students in the program took our course. We also contributed a couple of sessions to the program as a whole: a library game day, dubbed “FunFest,” to do a fun orientation to the library and a workshop on rhetorical devices featuring an episode of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit.

FunFest was, believe it or not, a lot of fun! We blocked off three hours for this during the planning stages, before they knew how many students would enroll in the program. The administrators were hoping for somewhere around 150 students, but they wound up having only about 60 enrolled — which meant that we could spend three hours with all of the students instead of having three shifts of about 50 students for an hour each.

With this amount of time available, we decided to start the day with a pre-test to assess the impact this program would have on students’ information literacy skills. It was a pretty boring way to start the day, but hopefully we made up for it later! So students arrived around 9am, and we planned to have the actual FunFest begin at 9:30.

From 9:30 to 11:00 am, we had game stations for students to move between, and they had a “passport” that had to be signed at each station. Expecting around 60 students to split into groups of around 10, we planned six game stations. In reality, they split into 5 groups, so each person running a station got a break at some point. Students had 12 minutes at each station, then three minutes to get their passports signed and move to the next station.

We tried to come up with fun games for each station:

  • Family Feud morphing into basic trivia, run by a member of our circulation staff.
    1. Family Feud style question asking what sorts of items can be checked out at the circulation desk (books, laptops, earphones, scanners, dry erase markers, study room keys, movies, flip cameras, etc.).
    2. Trivia questions about some of the items on the list from Family Feud.
      • How many books do we have in the library?
      • How many laptops are available to check out?
      • What time do we close?
  • Jeopardy. Questions were related to using the catalog, identifying which floor to go to based on call number (A-H is on the second floor, J-Z on the third), and whatnot.
  • Pictionary.
    1. Draw the various ways to get help in the library
    2. Actually walk over to the reference desk
    3. Actually use the chat reference widget on our home page
  • Some sort of evaluation game, designed and run by a couple of library faculty members.
    • This one looked like it went really well, but I didn’t get the details on it. They seemed to be split into 2 teams, competing for the best answers to questions related to evaluation.
    • Doggie squeak toys standing in for buzzers was a great idea!
  • Pick the best database can
    • This one was inspired by the Google bucket idea from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
    • Due to limited time, each “bucket” was labeled with the sorts of stuff you’ll find there, and teams competed to select the best “bucket” for a given question the fastest. Google was the biggest and had more irrelevant crap, but we did include a question where that was the best place to look – it’s all about fitting the tool to your information need!
  • Call number race, run by our stacks manager. This one looked like the most fun, but that may just be because our stacks manager was having a ridiculous amount of fun (he’s the one waving at the camera)!
    1. Two book carts are loaded with a set of books with similar call number attributes (including potentially confusing stuff like B101.5 and B1015, where many students overlook a tiny detail like a decimal point, leading to trouble finding the book they need). Of course the books are all out of order.
    2. The group splits into two teams and compete to see which team can get them into the correct order first.
    3. When a group raised their hands, Dave would check the order and indicate any books that are out of order (assuming it’s only a few). If they can get those errors fixed before the other team gets all of their correct, they win. By the time he finished checking the first team, the second team was usually ready for him to check their cart.

At every game station, we had a big bowl of candy to use as prizes. I went out and spent around $80 on candy (which was reimbursed) for this day!

Most of the students seemed to really get in to the games. I overheard a few of them comment to one another as they walked by that they thought three hours at the library was going to suck, but that this was pretty cool. The jeopardy questions were probably a little too hard, but if that’s the worst complaint from these games, I’m happy!

One extra detail that we included that made a big difference was a designated time keeper. Her job was to get on the PA system and let everyone know when it was time to rotate to the next station, so that each game-leader could enjoy leading their games instead of watching the clock.

We scheduled these games to run until 11:00, with the students scheduled to be in the library until noon. So, at 11:00, we called them all together, instructed them to split into groups of 3-4 people, and work on the scavenger hunt that was on the back of their “passport” that had been stamped at the game stations. Questions included:

  • Where is the Quiet Floor?
    • This is important to know, since our main floor is designed for collaboration and social use, so it gets pretty loud sometimes.
  • Grab a computer to look up the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. What is the call number of this book?
    • The goal here is to convey that we some have fun books in the library too.
  • Find the book with the call number LB1631 .L69 2011. What is it about? (If it has been moved by the time you get there, what are the books in that area about? Guess from the titles.)
    • The intention here was to get them to use their new knowledge of call numbers to actually go find a book on the shelves.
  • Take the stairs from the third to second floor. Find the clue posted there and write your answer here!
    • The goal here was really just to make them find the stairs. We have inadequate signage, so many students have trouble finding the stairs. Of course, the best fix for this is better signage, but that’s complicated at my library.
  • Go to the print periodicals area on the ground floor. Choose one of the clues posted on the wall. Write the number of the clue and the correct answer.

The first group to get back with correct answers won a little prize pack — a travel coffee mug, a spiral notebook, and a window decal branded with our university logo.

In addition, our wonderful Starbucks gave away free samples of some flavored iced coffee to everyone that got every station signed and completed the scavenger hunt.

While students were working on the scavenger hunt, I pulled out my fancy little button maker for the students to use after they finished. I had some print-outs of Char Booth’s “love your library” design, some blank circles, and some coloring books (in case they want to color a picture and make a button of it?)… And of course some crayons they could use to draw their own designs on the blank templates or color in the coloring books. The buttons were really popular! In addition to drawing cute designs and making the “love your library” buttons, I was surprised how many of them just wrote their twitter handle with a “follow me” type of message. Twitter is apparently more popular among that set of students that I had realized!

Overall, it was a great day.

Sadly, I tried doing the scavenger hunt again during the first week of the fall semester — total flop. I’m not sure how much of it was the prizes, the captive audience, or the game stations to get them in a gaming mood, but a lot less people were interested this time around. But, on the bright side, the director of the First Year Programs happened to run into my boss in Starbucks that day — she now wants to use our scavenger hunt with her freshman orientation class. Yay!

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LOEX of the West

Last week, I went to Burbank, CA to attend the LOEX of the West conference — the best conference I’ve been to so far. It was also my first time presenting at a professional conference!

On Wednesday, I went to a preconference on conducting ethnographic research in libraries. Given my background in cultural anthropology, it should be no surprise that I’d be interested! The presenters had taken a workshop on ethnographic methods, done a study using a few different methods, and were working on their analysis of their results. While I probably had more training specifically in ethnographic methods in my anthropological studies, I was thinking about those methods in terms of learning a whole new culture — so getting practical tips on applying those methods in the library was useful.

The methods they used included observations of people in the library space, student-drawn ideal library designs, student-drawn comic strips about their research process, focused interviews with students & faculty, and poster & display board surveys. During the workshop, they brought in some of the students that had participated in the drawing portions of the study so that we could practice interviewing them about their drawings. It’s easy to accidentally ask a leading question when trying to ask an open ended question — which was part of the point of that exercise.

For the poster & display board survey, they just put signs (posterboard or large format post-it notes) around the library asking simple questions — “why did you come to the library today?”, “what do you like about the library?” and “do you have any suggestions for the library?” That’s an easy way to get quick feedback! We have some new whiteboards on wheels (so that students can take them wherever they need ‘em) — I wonder how it would work to write some questions & put them in random spots in the library. Would people erase other peoples’ answers in favor of their own? Write over them? Respond to them?

On Thursday, we had a keynote address from Esther Grassian, “Occupy their minds! The politics of information literacy”.

After that, I went to a session on keeping students engaged in a three credit hour IL course. I was both happy and a bit disappointed that a lot of the active learning exercises they used were things we’ve at least talked about using — happy that I’ve learned a lot of great stuff from my colleagues, disappointed that I didn’t hear about any brilliant new ideas. They have a libguide posted for the class, with a lot of their course materials posted — might be worth checking out if you teach a credit bearing course and want some ideas!

After lunch, it was our turn to present! Six of us — nearly the entire Instructional Services department at UWG — co-presented about the interview tactics they used when hiring me and another new librarian last summer. Instead of the standard prepared-in-advance presentation with superficial interview meetings all day, they reduced the time spent meeting with people and answering interview questions in favor of some brainstorming sessions. Instead of the prepared presentation, they had us do two separate (and not back-to-back) hour-long brainstorming sessions, then gave us an hour to prepare a presentation about what we came up with in those sessions. Long story short, it was a much better way for them to get to know us and evaluate how we would interact with the social dynamics of the department, and I walked away with a much better sense of how I would like working here than a lot of candidates get in standard interviews.

On Friday, I went to “Building and sustaining a culture of assessment in your instruction program” by Meredith Farkas. Honestly, I probably should have gone instead to the one on designing an online library orientation game, but I read Meredith’s blog so was excited to see her presentation. The main thing it drove home for me was just how lucky I am. We don’t have all of the suggested components (more money would be nice!) at all levels, but we have a lot of support in my department and within the library for building a culture of assessment.

During the second session of the day, it was our turn to present again! This time, it was just Jean, Jessica, and me, presenting on building complementary exercises for freshman IL instruction. Before Jessica and I started, the librarians were tired of using the kitchen sink method in every freshman orientation, freshman composition, and public speaking course. So they started to try to be strategic and design smaller chunks of instruction; after we started, Jessica and I jumped in to help work on that. We went back to basics to figure out the bare minimum students need to know for each course and design exercises around a single learning outcome. Then we decided on just one or two learning outcomes for library instruction sessions for each course and built standard exercises. Because of the way the exercises and lessons are structured, we can now draw on other librarians and staff members to help teach these lower-level high-demand sessions.

After lunch, I went to a session titled “Rubber chickens and wild west shootouts.” Really, how can you go wrong with that? We played games, and I got several good ideas to use in class. It was a fun session. They did end about 20 minutes early, but my reaction when it ended was “it’s over already? bummer!”

For the final session, I went to one on outreach ideas. They had a button maker, and instead of making a bunch of buttons, they print out sheets and let students color their own designs. They also set up a “photo booth”, where they provide goofy props and/or cut-outs of famous characters and/or whiteboard signs and take photos to post on flickr. Also, custom printed temporary tattoos are apparently pretty popular!

And, finally, after dinner, they hosted a battledecks competition, where my boss kicked ass — seriously, like 60ish% of the vote.

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Teaching adventures

This poor little blog has been all but abandoned for a few months now. So much has happened that it’s almost overwhelming to try to update. And, though my previous posts mostly focused on outreach activities, most of my attention has gone to instruction this year.

I taught our 2-credit hour information literacy course, LIBR1101, for the first time in the spring semester. My goal going in was really simple – just don’t completely flop. In planning the syllabus, I relied pretty heavily on what some of my colleagues had done last fall. That was wonderful in that it provided a framework to plan within, instead of having to completely develop the whole thing. The down side was that it sometimes felt like I was wearing someone else’s shoes – some of the ideas worked great for them but didn’t go over so well when I tried it.

Three of us taught it for the first time last spring. We did get together and talk some about how to structure the course, discussing some issues of why X should be done in this week while Y should be covered in that week… But, I still sometimes felt like I was just following a script without really knowing the underlying pedagogical reason for the choices we made (and that I made in writing my syllabus based on that collaborative framework).

Despite that, the class went fine. I did have an unfortunate tendency to come up with one plan, then throw that out and come up with something different, then hem and haw about whether I should throw that one out too up till the point that it was time to leave for class. Some of the lessons flopped. Some of the 23 students in my class seemed pretty mentally checked-out during a lot of classes. But some of my students were actively engaged and seemed to have learned some valuable skills.

One of my non-traditional students that came to class regularly, emailed when he was going to miss class, and actually came to office hours told me at the end of the semester that I was an “awesome professor.” That was pretty cool!

Also very cool, particularly in the context of feeling pedagogically lost when designing a course, is the fact that I was accepted to attend ACRL Immersion (Teacher Track) this summer in Burlington, VT. Part of me wishes for one more semester of teaching before going – I already have lots of ideas for re-working what I did this semester – but then I’d rather work on getting a solid pedagogical foundation under my teaching instead of running along on trial and error for too long. So I’m looking forward to that in the end of July!

The spring semester wrapped up at the end of April, and May brought many intense days of working with my whole department (7 instruction librarians) to redesign our course for a specific section. Our university is starting a summer bridge program this summer. Since one of our librarians has done research and presented it to some university officials showing that taking our info lit course has a positive correlation with increased retention & progression to graduation rates, as well as with better grades in future courses,* they strongly wanted us to offer sections of our course in this program. Of course, the cynical view is that they don’t have to pay extra for us to teach in the summer, since we are 12 month faculty while most other appropriate courses would be taught by faculty with 9 month contracts, so require additional summer contracts & pay. But, you know, we can try to be idealistic here!

Cramming a full semester worth of material into 4 weeks – specifically 12 class meetings of 120 min. each (plus one 60 min. intro session) – brings up all kinds of issues. We try to do active learning exercises regularly, but keeping these kids engaged for 120 minutes instead of just 50 minutes at a time will be tough. We cover a LOT of ground – one of the most common complaints about the course is that it’s too much work for a 2 credit hour course, so we’re actually trying to get it moved to 3 credit hours. How do we make sure that borderline students will be able to handle the material and actually learn the skills needed without dumbing it down? And, how do we manage this without leaving our library faculty completely burned out?

We decided to divide the actual teaching duties up into 4 1-week sessions. We’re doing two sections, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. So for each week, one librarian will teach both morning and afternoon, but each librarian will only do one week. But, to make that work, we needed to plan out the sequence, assignments, etc. in advance. And, of course, the three of us that are not teaching did not get off the hook! We all worked together to outline every stinking day of the course.

That was incredibly intense. We had several all day sessions, and a lot more 3-4 hour meetings to hammer it out. With seven of us – all with different levels of teaching experience, different academic backgrounds, different personalities, different teaching habits, etc. – we wound up going back and forth for hours about some relatively miniscule details. It wouldn’t have worked if we didn’t like one another and enjoy working together.

But we came up with some great ideas. That process of hashing out every miniscule detail made us really think through many possible ways of doing things and picking the best ones – or combining the best parts of two or three best ways! I plan to use several of the ideas when I teach this fall. Of course, planning and implementation are two separate things, so things that sound like brilliant ideas may flop in practice, but they’re pretty exciting now!

So this post has gotten pretty long. I’m writing while aboard a flight from Atlanta to Phoenix, on my way to Burbank, CA for the LOEX of the West conference. I’ll be co-presenting two presentations – my first real professional conference presentations! One of those presentations will address the tactics that my department used when interviewing candidates for my job. They designed the interview process specifically to evaluate our fit with the library and the Instructional Services department – so that we CAN build a strong collaborative team and do things like our redesign of the LIBR1101 curriculum for the summer bridge program! Wish us luck in our presentations!

* Before you ask, no she has not yet published this research. We’re harassing her to get it done asap, and I’ll post a citation as soon as it’s up!

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Friday Night Live @ the library

I’ve been pretty bad about keeping up with posting here this semester. Instead of backing up and catching up on all of the cool stuff I’ve done since February, let’s jump back in with my most recent event!

Friday Night Live @ the library — live music in the library from 6-8pm on Friday nights.

We extended our hours this spring, staying open until 11pm on Friday nights instead of closing at 6pm… But a couple of weeks into the semester, a friend in circulation suggested that I needed to do something to get more traffic into the library on Fridays, because we had more staff than students in the library after 6pm on Fridays.

Part of the reasoning for extending those hours was that students complained that there is not much for them to do on Friday nights unless they want to go to some frat party or bar and get drunk. Live music performances in the library — a well-lit, alcohol-free, safe setting — seemed like a good idea to increase traffic and address that complaint.

I originally envisioned this as something we would do every other week or so, featuring as many student musicians as possible. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten much response from the people I’ve contacted and have been too busy to put a huge amount of time or effort into recruiting performers. Plus, I’m working with no budget to pay performers, which probably doesn’t help!

This semester, we’ve had two performances that I organized, plus a third performance that was organized by an outside group. Shortly after getting the go-ahead from my boss, I saw my neighbors leaving as I was retuning from walking my dogs. I hear them practicing on the weekends sometimes, but it’s kind of muted (they live across the street), so I can’t tell much more than that a band is practicing.

So I took a chance and asked if they would be interested in playing at the library, since I had this fun idea and wanted to run with it. They agreed, and wound up playing on Feb. 3.

They were loud. Like, blowing away the circulation staff loud. Oops! So, clearly I need to be a bit less wishy-washy and a bit more clear about volume levels — amplification is fine, just keep it reasonable, the circulation staff need to be able to hear anyone that comes up to the desk with a question! I did learn something about our building that night, though — you could barely hear any hint that a band was playing if you went to the second floor, and no sound from them made it to the third floor, aka the quiet floor. Woot!

Otherwise, it was a fun night. They weren’t the most polished band ever — they had several songs that they said they had just written “yesterday” or “today”… And, after about 45 minutes they had played everything they knew and decided to start over (since most of the folks there by that time weren’t there at the beginning).

After they played through their set a second time, the audience participation portion of the evening began! Some audience members asked if they could join in and just freestyle.

(My favorite part starts at about the 5:45 minute mark!)

The dean of the library was there for the performance and said that she counted about 40 people there, which is pretty good for a library event on a Friday night!

Sadly, that was it for a little while. In March, a committee on campus that plans fun weekend events asked to hold a concert in the library. Unfortunately, that was just two days after the exciting Ingram Library Flood of 2012… Which was caused by contractors working on the sprinkler system, and which kept setting off the fire alarms in the library. So, as luck would have it, the fire alarm went off in the middle of this performance, causing everyone to evacuate the building.

The next installment of Friday Night Live @ the library was a significant change of pace from the first one — intentionally, since I want to include a wide variety of musical genres. Lisdoonvarna is a local band that plays Celtic music and some soft rock & oldies. They were loud enough to be heard throughout the main floor of the library without blowing the audience away.

The only problem with this performance was the scheduling — Christian holidays that don’t involve a day off work don’t tend to be on my radar… But traffic was even lower than usual on Good Friday. So we only had about 20 people in the audience, and several of those were community members (friends of my boss). Only a few students stopped by. But, we had more people in the audience than I counted throughout the rest of the main floor, so I’ll call that a win!

For next fall, I plan to start earlier in recruiting musicians. This year has involved a bunch of jumping in to try new ideas — which has been great, but most of these ideas would have worked out better with more planning… I feel like jumping in and seeing what works and what needs more planning was better than sitting around and waiting until I could feel confident that everything was planned adequately. After all, if it had to be perfect before I put it on, I’d never actually host any events! So, hopefully by starting in the summer, before classes even start, then getting the word out at the beginning of the semester that I’m looking for musicians will enable me to book more of these Friday Night Live @ the library events. I’m learning more as I go about advertising options around campus, too, so that will help.

What other suggestions do you have for recruiting musicians? You know, other than paying them, since I don’t expect a budget for that to suddenly appear!

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Library Day in the Life Project, Days 2 & 3

I was too tired last night to write up day 2… So here we go!

I caught up on email and worked on some grading at home in the morning, then arrived at the library around 10 am… To discover that the movers had already been in to remove tables from the “flex space” of our main floor in preparation for an event today (Wed.)… The problem being that I had an event planned that afternoon (Tues.)! So I went into “oh shit” mode and ran around figuring out how to manage the situation.

It wound up working out better with the furniture moved anyway. The event I had planned for that day was a glazing workshop to glaze the bowls that we made for Empty Bowls two weeks ago. We needed to put down plastic to protect the carpeting, so we would have had to move the tables out of the way anyway. Instead of using the tables that are usually in that area — and that are connected by power cords so are kind of a pain to move around — we had to run around and steal unconnected tables from other areas of the main floor. The worst part was that I had to ask a staff member to manage that, because I had to run off to a dentist appointment that was scheduled months before this event was planned!

I got back to the library around noon, which left adequate time to make sure everything else was in order for the 1pm glazing workshop. The Empty Bowls coordinator and volunteers arrived, we got everything set up, and students started to arrive! We didn’t have as many people participate as we did for the first one, largely because one professor had brought two classes of students over for the bowl making workshop, but he was out of town yesterday and suggested that they use that time to come back to glaze bowls… So several did come back, but not all of them. I had fun and glazed the two bowls I made two weeks ago!

We glazed until 4, then got everything cleaned up. Around 4:30, I slipped upstairs to my office to check my email — one of my colleagues had gotten her emailed acceptance to ACRL Immersion while I was glazing. I got in too! Yay! Though, when I got back downstairs to finish the cleaning up, I apparently seemed pretty quiet, so she didn’t ask for fear that I hadn’t gotten in — I just was out of it because I hadn’t eaten lunch!

After cleaning up and putting stuff away (or at least on a cart right outside my office!), catching up on email, and rewriting my super high tech whiteboard sign to promote live music on Friday, I finally left around 5:30 or 6:00.

Later that evening, I worked on more grading and chatted on facebook with a friend that works the 3-11 pm shift at the library. She asked if she could redo my sign, because I had used a marker color that wasn’t showing up well. I said “Absolutely! And if you’re feeling artistic, feel free to pretty it up!” And boy did she! It now looks fabulous!

OK, so on to today, #libday8 day 3.

I felt like crap today. I hope it’s just allergies… Or maybe it would be better if it’s the flu, because that would come and go and be over, whereas allergies will hit repeatedly and every year. Ugh.

The main items on my agenda today were to attend a lunch for new faculty members (those of us that started in the past year) with the university president and teach my class. The lunch was only an hour and there were several of us there, but I wound up getting out the door later than I had meant to because I was fussing about what to wear. Of course, I caught up on email as I always do over breakfast and as a way to procrastinate actually getting out the door…

Since I arrived after 9:00 and before 11:30, I had to park in “the grumpy lot,” so named by my boss because it makes her grumpy when she has to park there! Realistically, we’re just spoiled. It’s not that far, especially compared to some of the parking-to-building distances I was used to at Mizzou — but that’s a much larger campus!

So I went in the back door to the library and went upstairs, where my boss asked about the lovely sign in the lobby… Which I hadn’t seen yet! I checked email again, chatted with a colleague about her class, printed off a worksheet for my class today, and headed out. Our systems librarian just started a couple of months before I did, so he was also headed over for the lunch. We talked about walking, but I offered to drive in the hopes of getting a better parking spot after lunch! OK, super lazy, but it rained all afternoon, so I’m glad I did it!

Lunch with the university president was interesting. I don’t know that I’ve ever eaten in a university cafeteria (lived off campus as an undergrad, opted for Subway or comparable when I had to eat on campus), so I was clearly a n00b at navigating that.

Then we headed in to the reserved room. We all introduced ourselves, and then the president outlined his agenda. We are a small regional university — well, small compared to University of Missouri or University of Virginia, we only have around 10,000-11,000 students enrolled. But the goal is to become a “destination university”. That means promoting what we’re good at, plus focusing on improving graduation rates, improving on campus culture (more events, more fun), and increasing graduate program enrollment.

So, when the discussion turned to what sets us apart from other Georgia universities, I got to bring up our “academic research & the library” information literacy course. Last fall, my boss and another colleague had been chatting via email with someone from another USG (University System of Georgia) library about our credit-bearing info lit course. Then someone else heard about it. Then our dean mentioned it at some state-level meeting… In mid December, we started planning to have representatives from those first two universities come to meet with us to talk about it — a super informal get-together. When we got back from winter break on Jan. 2, we learned that it had grown to about 30 librarians from 10 different colleges/universities across the state! It may not mean as much to non-librarians, but I think it’s pretty awesome that we’ve got people coming from across the state to learn how to do what we do!

After we wrapped up, I gave him one of the “love your library” buttons that I made using Char Booth’s template. He put it on right away, which is of course the politic thing to do. I wonder if I’ll see him wearing it again! (I’m so cynical.)

Anyway, after lunch I did manage to get one of the close parking spots in front of the library, so I finally saw the sign near the front entrance. Holy crap! I had been just writing in dry erase marker on a whiteboard. The night crew had printed & cut out big letters to tape on to the board, using it like a schoolteacher’s bulletin board. It looks so much better than anything I am creative enough or have time to do! So they just made themselves my go-to folks for signage!

From then until class, I’m not really sure what I did, other than wish my headache would go away. I probably checked email, chatted with colleagues, and checked facebook. I made copies of the worksheet for class and printed off a sign to put up in my regular classroom to remind them that we were meeting in the library classroom today.

This was the first time I had brought them as a class to the library, so we met in the lobby and I did the 5-min. pointing tour that we normally do for the first year experience classes. Then we headed in to class, where they worked through a worksheet that led them through developing a research topic, searching the library catalog, and going to actually retrieve a selected book. I think it went pretty well! Though, some took a bit longer than others, so they left to get their books after others had already returned and didn’t get back until 10+ min. after class was scheduled to be over. I hope it’s a good sign that they willingly did that — if they had pointed out the time, I would have accepted the worksheet as it was, since they had all been actually working every time I walked by. So hopefully it means that they were enjoying it!

After class, I went home pretty much as soon as I could get out, took some ibuprofen and a nap. I can’t say I’ve done anything work related since then! I even forgot about #libchat tonight.

Here’s hoping tomorrow is better!

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