Random reflections

Just thought I would mention that i was in a meeting the other day for which the other attendees were prepared, and the subject was teaching philosophies.  Up until that time, i did not think i had a teaching philosophy, but when a “six word philosophical statement” was shared with the group, i almost immediately came up with mine.  “Bouncing ideas from student to student.”  All we need to do is keep what is bouncing more or less in bounds, and show students the tools and how to use them.  I really admire what i see happening with the professional staff here.  Certainly a worthy aim, this library instruction, and i am happy to think of all the competent information consumers being spawned on this campus.

I also sat in on a portion of a class taught by Michael Pearce, who took the students (and me) on a 360 degree tour of the basic Scout page.  Picked up some valuable tips, and now all i need to do is find them again, my constant problem.  Practice, practice, practice.

Reading #3–Sara Franks Article

Sara Franks’ article on interdisciplinary study and critical thinking regarding sources of information was quite thought-provoking, given it’s focus on how to impart the latter on students during library instruction sessions. The author cites postmodern ideas, driven by Lyotard, that the grand narratives traditionally taught in academia are insufficient in representing the course of human history. I agree with this notion–think about how we think of periods of time within countries. We think of “Nazis” as every single German who lived in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. We think of North Koreans as crazy, as brainwashed sociopaths. Imagine the people of those countries, talking about Americans as a homogeneous people. My point is, we generalize to move quickly through material, but to me this seems insufficient and incorrect.

As for library instruction, I agree that we should teach students to question or sources, their motives, and their funding and organizations. We should not teach them that popular sources are all bad and academic sources are all good. Ideally, students should question all sources, should question motives, should question the process through which academic articles are produced.

The reality is, we have limited time, and too many lessons to impart. A theoretical discussion about academic sources and how many are produced through a formula and not through genius could be better suited for an advanced library instruction class, but maybe not for an introductory one. In short, these sorts of lessons are important, but I am skeptical about how well one might move through this sort of material in a short session.

Make-up Reading

This inspirational article called “The Courage to Teach” was quite moving and made me believe I might actually be able to teach. The author, I thought, was very convincing in arguing that a teacher cannot merely ‘go through the motions’–instead, a teacher must commit his or herself completely to the task, leaving them open to success or failure, acceptance or rejection, achievement or heartbreak. I myself have struggled with this dilemma. On the one hand, I want to inspire my students, to teach them useful tools that will better serve them in their academic careers. On the other, I have received the same advice from quite a few peers–‘don’t stress out so much, in the long run, they’ll never remember your class.’ This is, certainly, terrible advice. No teacher should venture into the classroom ensuring themselves that at the end of the day what they do won’t matter. It is self-defeating with the intention of being self-preserving. The sliver of truth here is that ‘it is not the end of the world if I fail.’ I cannot live and die by my sessions. I should put my best effort into them, but they should not paralyze me.

In the end, I really liked this article. Not only was it inspiring, it put me in the correct frame of mind for teaching. That is to say, I should not go into this half-hearted, acting like I don’t care, just to make sure my ego is not damaged. This is something I am really looking forward to, and so I should go into it with a committed mind.

Second Mock Session

This week we presented our mock exercises for keyword recognition in broad, narrow and related form. While I initially wanted to use Apples to Apples cards, as they are more visually inviting, I could not get a hold of the game. It is most likely just as well, as I believe it would have been difficult to find enough Apples to Apples cards that could fit together in broad, narrow and related terms. Instead I made up my own terms, and I made two groups of term cards so that I could split the Jedi counsel into two teams. These two groups consisted of two topics–Bigfoot and Lance Armstrong.

I would first like to discuss what I think went well with the game. Because the teams were forced to organize the cards on the table in order of broad to narrow, with related terms beside one another, I believe it was a visually stimulating game because you actually had to move the cards around, not just rank them on a word document. You could pick them up; you could actually see how broad terms relate to narrow terms in a real way, how related terms are defined in a real and simple way. The ‘Bigfoot’ group was by far the better of the two. The terms ‘legend,’ ‘folklore,’ ‘cryptozoology,’ ‘bigfoot,’ ‘sasquatch’ and ‘Washington State sightings’ move from broad to narrow in very defined and easily recognizable ways, and related terms are also easy to spot. This group of terms will certainly be used again.

Now, on to the negatives. I wish I had defined one term in each group–‘Lance Armstrong’ and ‘Bigfoot’–as the ‘anchor’ terms. That would have been much better. I also wish I had remembered to think like someone who is very inexperienced in keyword recognition. The reason I wish that is the ‘Lance Armstrong’ group contained a lot of terms that could easily trip you up; I myself did not organize them correctly when I was preparing for the session. ‘Sports scandals,’ ‘performance enhancing drugs’ and ‘steroids’ move from broad to narrow pretty easily, but where does ‘Lance Armstrong’ fit in? Are ‘2000 Olympic Bronze Medal’ and ‘Tour de France titles’ more broad or narrow than ‘Lance Armstrong’? These I got incorrect, so I can guarantee that freshmen students will not understand them immediately. I believe this word grouping should be scrapped.

Overall, I believe my two mock sessions went well. I learned what works and what doesn’t, and I also was surprised to find myself pretty comfortable in front of the group. While a room full of students will be much different, I felt calm and collected, and I hope that demeanor holds up under pressure.

Watching the Classes

On Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon, I was able to observe my first two instruction sessions as an intern. They were very different subjects, very different class dynamics, and very different instruction topics, but some of the reactions and responses were the same. I enjoyed the experiences of watching Sara teach keywords through ads to freshman, and seeing some of the contrast when Brett went into some advanced search techniques for a 400 European History seminar. This first session helped me realize one of weaknesses and the second gave me a chance to use one of my strengths.

Stronger than Aunt Bertha’s Breath: Genderads.com

My first session was the freshman session taught by Sara. Farren Stanley’s EN 102 was not a completely normal instruction session due to the nature of their assignment, which involved visual sources, including the photo above, which was one of examples during class. Here are some of the things I learned from Sara during class:

  • Sometimes getting freshman to volunteer answers seems much like pulling teeth, even when the English Instructor helps.
  • Activities are good! …Start with one.
  • Movement helps keep the freshman involved and, I believe, mildly frightened of you seeing were they are not supposed to be on the internet.
  • Eye contact with the group also helps with the above statement.
  • Treat the lesson like a one-on-one conversation with a group, not a presentation or performance.
  • The “No More Than Four” rule, which was something I had never known before Wednesday.
  • Let the students choose their own path and examples.

Of these lessons, the one that I think was hardest and most important for me was the last. Silence is not always my strongest suit, and in this session, it was particularly hard for me to not to try to help the students with their keyword examples. Part of it was the awkward silences waiting for the students to answer, and part it was prior knowledge of important literary stereotypes. I desperately wanted to inform the group, “She’s a hag!”, but I came to realize that the right answer is not always the right answer, and that me sharing my “right answer” with them wasn’t what they needed: They needed what Sara gave them–a chance to develop their search on the their own. I feel like this might be one of my greatest instruction weakness, and I’m going to learn not to mother them along their path, but allow them to find it, as slow as they want, on their own.

The second session, Brett’s advanced session for a History seminar class on the long 19th century in Europe, was a joy to watch and help with consulting. The class subject was one of my favorites as an undergraduate, and being able to sit in on this reminded me of why I wanted to go into library instruction in the first place–to be able to listen to a whole new generation of topics on the subjects I love. Some of things I learned from Brett’s session are included below:

  • Sometimes getting upperclassmen to volunteer answers seems much like pulling teeth, even when the History Instructor helps.
  • It easier to get students to respond and ask questions when they’re not in a group, but working on their own.
  • That some instances of primary and secondary are hard even for a masters student, so they’ve got to be hard for an undergraduate (That was a hard handout, Brett!)
  • Some students don’t need your help with topics and keywords, and some do. Ask anyway.
  • The moment when you help turn a topic and a search around and you get to help a student understand is one the best moments a reference librarian can have.

It was a joy to be able to help consult with the students. One of my favorite moments is when I was able to help one of the women in the class go from this nebulous idea of Britain and High Society and maybe Colonial India to a few more specific topics, and then to have her ask me a question on how to search one of the topics I had helped suggest (19th Century British Travel Writings on the Colonies, especially Colonial India) was so much fun to me. It made me feel like I had an active role on affecting a student.

Reflections upon Reading #3–Grand Narratives and Higher Education, by Sara Franks

Well, I had a draft of this saved, which has vanished into thin electrons, and at this point, I cannot reconstruct it as my first impressions of the reading have been lost.  The short version is that I found myself being told that we should be all-inclusive in our worldview, and yet the idea of a “grand narrative” was used as a disparaging term in reference to some folks’ way of framing the sweep of time and history (and perhaps, the teaching of it).  Yes, I agree that those who think that Western Civilization is synonymous with World History have missed the boat, but not having the absolute diversity of opinions on the table is not my idea of a good discussion, either.

Interdisciplinary work makes all the sense in the world, especially as I see it being played out here at UA.  English instructors are collaborating with library instructors to help beginning freshmen find their feet in library use and scholarly communication.  Being aware that the Information Cycle is born and bred to be a survivor in this 24/7/365 world and is driven by commercial and power-structure interests should be no surprise to freshmen.  Showing them a way around an information power structure that seems more interested in Jersey Shore than their (the students’) long-term health and well-being is to assist in developing life skills that will be with those students forever.  Sign me up, and I thank you for the opportunity.

Reflections upon EN 102 observation

Had the pleasure of observing Mr. Brett Spencer working with 24 reluctant to cooperative students this morning beginning about 0930, and by 1030 they were all cooperative and pleased to have useful information in their hands or emails. Brett started with an Alabama football quiz for those students who came early enough, and by the time he started explaining Scout, most of the class was awake.

I realized how one had to begin at the beginning, assuming nothing in terms of library and computer use in order to make sure we were all on the same page, and the active learning component (following along with Brett) was an important part of getting the class material across to the students.  Brett did the step by step rollup to using the basic search in Scout, got things rolling toward keywords (southern culture as a taking off point) using Bubbl.us, and the five or six various groups in the class all followed along in learning the Scout tool.  Sooner than expected, Brett turned them loose to discuss among themselves what topics they wanted to explore, and they were busily selecting keywords as Brett waded into them waist deep, helping out where he could.

Again, the importance of beginning at the beginning was impressed upon me as I was called upon to escort a student to find books the group had selected about Southern foodways (call number guides at the elevators), and this student had never been beyond the first or second floor of Gorgas.  Another group (football, religion, politics) had found some items held in the Hoole collections and were very excited to hear that it would be a treat just to go to Hoole to use their holdings.  One student had bad experiences in high school trying to use databases, and a few limiters and a bit of encouragement pulled it all out of the ditch and put it back on the road again.  Got a chance to assist in keyword selection with one group that was interested in Southern clothing fashion (Southeastern United States; clothing/garment design; sales and marketing).  Yet another group was going to get their first experience with inter-library loan, so the diversity of requests and needs was also impressive.

Overall, a great learning experience for me, and a productive experience for the students, if I can judge by what they left the classroom with.  This flipped classroom thing seems to be quite effective, and getting productive work done in class pleases students in that they have a leg up on their projects, and their homework is on the way to getting done.  Many thanks to Brett for allowing me to observe, and I was glad to have some student contact again after years out of the classroom.  Oh yeah, the snow that started during class was only a small part of the excitement.

First Week Readings

I found the reading extremely informative and encouraging. I found myself, while reading, trying to reason through practical ways to get students to change the way they think about libraries. For example, I thought about starting out with a simple question like, “why do your professors reject Wikipedia as a source for your papers?” After receiving answers, I thought perhaps I would ask, “what is a peer-reviewed journal, and why is that an acceptable source?”

While these are broad and perhaps bad questions, I felt like maybe they would be beneficial in introducing students to ‘why libraries exist’. This article also made me think critically about my 10 minute teaching session next week. I want to do my session on the boolean operators in Scout advanced searching. I want to explain what the AND and OR features do, and why they are useful. I started thinking about it in terms of a visual graph, with words leading to different databases. Perhaps this is all getting a little too MLIS, but I feel like it would help if students understood why search terms are not always successful, and how the OR function can help them turn up more relevant searches. I also found myself wondering if I could plan searches for this session. For example, I could give my students a phrase to search, say ‘capital punishment’. I could then ask them to search ‘capital punishment’ OR ‘death penalty’. Through demonstration, I could possibly help them understand why this type of search is beneficial.

Further reflections upon the EN 102 instructional sessions

Had the pleasure of observing Ms. Sara Whitver teaching a group of young folks re search strings, key words, Boolean operators, and Scout.  A great deal was packed into about 50 minutes, and the one difference I noted in the session when compared to an earlier observation with Mr. Brett Spencer was that the EN 102 instructor was there.  Mr. Spencer had someone who showed up to take the EN roll, but the instructor was unavoidably out.

In Ms. Whitver’s class, the instructor was there, “driving” the process.  That is, she was there with immediate feedback and comments to direct her students, giving examples how Ms. Whitver’s material applied to things already discussed in the EN class, and brainstorming live with Ms. Whitver as to how to make the entire process more relevant and effective for the students.  Great example of team teaching, and I trust that Ms. Whitver’s examples will be further discussed in the EN class to good effect.

“Begin at the beginning” was again impressed upon me, and the class slowly awakened to taking part and contributing their answers and ideas, because it really was a brainstorming session among everyone in the room–it felt like time well spent.

All I have to say, just wanted to get it down before it got covered up in what is left of my brain.  All good things, gissteve.

First Practice Session Review

I have just finished presenting my first practice lesson to the group on Scout. Since I have never created a lesson to teach anyone anything, I spent an incredible amount of time preparing for this ten minute session. When it was all said and done, I think I spent about ten hours creating a ten minute lesson. Yeesh.

Though I probably spent way too much time creating this lesson, I am actually glad I did. I feel really good about how I whittled my lesson down to the basic elements. I feel I did a good job limiting my lesson to certain features of Scout that are easy to use and understand. My major concern going into today was that my lesson, if not carefully thought out, would quickly balloon into an aimless discussion of Scout features that are overly complicated or take too long to explain. I wanted to keep my lesson clear, concise, and simple. I did not want to fall into a stammering explanation of what a ‘boolean operator’ is (I called the boolean operator ‘AND’ a ‘function’ to avoid just that) or even how we use all three boolean operators. These discussions can become complicated really fast. I also did not want to skip any steps, as I kept reminding myself that I could not assume my audience knew anything, even something so simple as what a keyword is. In those aspects, I believe I succeeded.

Where I feel I did not succeed, and I knew this would be the case, was in visual presentation and classroom interaction. I used powerpoint because, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure what else to do. My powerpoint helped me personally because when I get up in front of a group of people I quickly forget what I need to say, so it is nice to have something to reference so I do not freeze up. Obviously this is not good for my class, however, because they do not want to look at a dull, wordy powerpoint while I read it word-for-word to them.  As for classroom interaction, I suppose I did a good job of incorporating questions into my lesson. In other words, I asked a few questions that were meant to force the class through the logical process of deriving keywords from ideas and putting them into Scout in the most effective way possible. However, I was hoping to come up with some sort of game or activity that would really engage the classroom, but I was not able to develop anything concrete before our meeting.

Overall, I am very happy with the way my lesson went, given that it was my first time up there. I feel it gave me the confidence to move forward in my user instruction experience.