Library Instruction West 2014

I flew out to Portland, OR in July to attend the Library Instruction West (formerly known as LOEX of the West) conference. I was excited to visit Portland for my first time, but a little apprehensive about my expectations for the conference. I attended LOEX of the West in Burbank in 2012. I was in my first year of my first librarian job, and I fondly remember it as an amazing conference. Would LIW in Portland live up to those memories, or did it just seem that amazing because I was still so new to the field?

I’m happy to say that it lived up to, and maybe exceeded, my expectations. I remember very different aspects of the conference this time around than I remember from last time, though. In 2012, I remember coming back with more specific ideas about exercises to try in class or for outreach. This time, though, most of what I remember are the higher level discussions about what we should even be teaching. I can’t say how much of that is because of the range of presentations and how much of that is because I’m more settled in to my position. It may also be because I spent less time meeting new people and more time discussing these things with a small group of friends.

The conference started with a keynote from Alison Head discussing Project Information Literacy findings. The latest study asked recent grads about their perception of their information literacy skills and asked companies about their perception of the information literacy skills newly hired recent grads bring with them. While Alison discussed the specifics of the disconnect between these two different perspectives, the take-away message for me was just how important my credit-bearing semester long course is. The skills that employers say they want are skills that I can work to develop over the course of the semester. I don’t know how to go about addressing those skills in one 50-minute session. Though I had some reservations about some of the details, the keynote did the job of getting people talking and thinking.

The highlight for me of Thursdsay’s sessions was the last session of the day. Larissa Gordon talked about assessment at the level of the institution. She worked with an upper level administrator (I think provost, but didn’t write that detail down!) to plan the survey, which helped with getting buy in from faculty. Surprisingly, better faculty buy in leads to more complete responses from students!* When the professors explained the reasoning for doing the survey and stayed in the room while students completed it, they got more responses and more detailed responses. Following this, Mark Lenker talked about bias in the information receivers. We spend a lot of time on teaching students to evaluate the reliability of the information source, including looking for biases, but neglect the impact of the receiver’s biases in terms of how they interpret that information. When faced with information that contradicts one’s ideology, some will just become more entrenched in their convictions and reject information from credible sources. I don’t remember any clear solutions or strategies being offered, but I’m not sure there is any one size fits all strategy for this. Regardless, it’s an issue that we need to grapple with. And finally, Zoe Fisher wrapped up the session by talking about incorporating an inquiry-based approach in one-shots. Hers was one of the few talks I went to that talked specifically about ideas to use in instruction sessions, instead of the big picture discussions that caught my eye more often. I really like her idea of having students record their observations about library space AND questions that they have based on what they saw.
(* Not surprising. I hope the sarcasm translates on screen. Though this wasn’t surprising, it was good to hear how this was done. )

My Friday highlight was Nancy Noe’s session on teaching without technology… Though it was pointed out on twitter that pen and paper IS technology… And the most popular technology at my library are the whiteboards… But I digress! Nancy handed out carbonless copy paper and asked us put away our devices and take notes by hand. She went over the evidence-based reasons for stepping away from the computer sometimes. These included research on how the brain fires when writing by hand versus typing on a computer, benefits of increased blood flow in active exercises, and research showing how poorly most people are able to multitask. Throughout, she had us do some small active learning exercises, to demonstrate ways of teaching concepts without the computer. I don’t know that any of this was new to me, but I hadn’t put it together that way before. The major outcome of this session for me was rethinking how to design a study I’m planning to do with my classes this fall. But I’ll leave that for a later post!

During Nancy’s time slot, Kevin Seeber was giving his talk on teaching format as process. According to twitter, his session was excellent:

I don’t feel too bad about missing his session, though, since I got the small group seminar version over drinks with Kevin, Jessica Critten, and Craig Schroer. As awesome as it is to work with Jessica and Craig, often the demands of day to day deadlines get in the way of these higher level discussions. I spent a good chunk of each evening just listening to Jessica and Kevin discuss the issues each addressed in their presentations.

So now it’s two weeks later and I’m just sitting down to write this up (and then left this to languish as a draft for another month!). Thanks to Nicholas Schiller having set up a storify archive of the tweets from LIW, I was able to go through and fill in gaps in my notes this morning. Between going over my notes, reading the tweets, and being reminded of details that weren’t in either place, I had to start a list of ideas to incorporate into my class this fall.

The grand narratives of the conference, for me, were that we need to focus on larger threshold concepts instead of simple, easily measured skills, and it is ok to say no. Really. We’ve been saying this at my library for years, but this is the first time I’ve heard it said so clearly by so many presenters. We are the experts in what we do, and it is good to say no to doing a bad lesson. Of course, it’s better to say “no, that is pedagogically problematic, but here’s how we could more effectively achieve that learning outcome”.