Reflections upon “What do first year students know about information research? And what can we teach them?” by Kate Manuel

What I really need to do is sit at the keyboard, read, and write as I am reading.  Things get assimilated so quickly, i forget what i knew before i read an article, and then it (new info) is inside my head, and i cannot unknow it for the purposes of writing a reflection.  How unanalytical is that, i wanna know?

Anyway, Ms. Manuel begins with an amusing litany of the supposed flaws of undergraduates’ intellectual, ethical, and scientific capabilities, and bearing in mind that it is every generation’s duty to drive older generations nuts, I say “so?”  In my limited time with GIS and riding the reference desk at Bruno, I have seen the breaking light in undergraduate faces when they see a search being constructed for the first time or they make a connection between a resource and the fact that it is at their fingertips.  Put me down as one who says that gaining “information literacy” is what undergraduates need, and if they have not caught on by the time they reach us, then they need that floatation device.  It is what feeding or gaining an inquiring mind is all about, and THAT is the beginning of any intellectual career.

One of the first things I learned via GIS is how important it is to begin at the beginning, and Manuel’s paper illustrates the many gaps that may exist among students.  Exploring exactly what a “source” is.  Giving students a good 360 tour of the Scout interface or the library homepage.  All good stuff.  Our boy, George Boole, and his scion, Professor Venn.  More good stuff than can be covered in an hour, but getting students interested and involved means that they can return to us with the next-level questions in their journeys.  Yay librarians.

Sobering thoughts: things like the Production Paradox and the Principle of Least Effort are always peeking over our shoulders, but each person’s education is that person’s responsibility.  If someone is determined to “C” their way through school and life, I cannot do much about that, even if they do wind up pushing my wheelchair (or hovercraft or whatever).  Education is a selective and a selection process—we can help pique interest, we can help construct searches, we can teach those who want to fish well how to fish well.

I like being involved with the EN 102 crew, and have found that the instructor participation and assistance really makes a difference, and now I understand Sara Whitver’s willingness to modify lesson plans at the last minute because an EN instructor has done so.  Being the most effective and flexible instructor that I can be is where it is at.  Find a way to get the “C” people interested in doing at least “B” work, and you may have just helped create a solid B student who aspires to be an A student.  One never knows.  I have teachers I remember.  I can’t stop and wonder right now if anyone will ever remember me.   Too much to do.  Too many young folks out there who have not yet seen the information literacy sun come up.  Just heard the alarm clock.  Later.

Reflections upon Becoming Critically Reflective, by Stephen D. Brookfield

First, if anyone ever sees me clinging too tightly to my “assumptive clusters”, I want you to tell me…immediately.  And then, you can tell me what assumptive clusters are.  All snarkiness aside, Brookfield has made a good effort to condense a cloud of feelings and knowledge about being a good teacher into several pages of text, for which I thank him.

Using our own self-knowledge (and histories or autobiographies) to inform our teaching philosophies makes sense, as does trying to gain insight into our styles and function via our students’ eyes and opinions.  These are the tools we have.  Our colleagues can inform us about the assumptive clusters that we exhibit, among other not-so-great characteristics that may affect our teaching abilities, and the theoretical literature can enlighten us, but only if we can clearly understand it and put theory into practice.

I am 100% behind Brookfield’s estimation of classroom teachers’ estimations of academic literature as being written to impress tenure committees rather than to assist teachers in their work and professional growth.  Even when topics or concepts are hard to pin down, simple is better, and Einstein seemed to think that the heart of genius is simplicity.  Me, not arguing with ole Albert, no way.

Dismissing personal teaching experience as “merely anecdotal” is not only demeaning (Brookfield), but mad.  We are, each of us, our own experimental universe, and this includes students.  Our personal experience is all we have, as we do not have interchangeable chips that can be inserted while we do this task or that.  We ride around with and within ourselves, 24/7/365, and I think being truly reflective (on the road to being effective) must acknowledge and use that experience, as well as invite criticism from those around us.  What we do well in one’s eyes may be a fault in another’s.  Finding the balance—where is it; does it exist?  Of course it does, but the balance point is different every day, in every class, and for every student.

Thus, the challenge of teaching.  We enter classrooms inhabited by universes of unknown experience and capacity, unknown wounds, unknown accomplishments (also, unknown lack of sleep).  No one can tread every line in this environment without flaw.  No one.  For those who enjoy the unattainable challenge, this is it.

Btw, calling brownie points deviance credits?  Please.  Bottom line, no institutional brownie points, no voice.  No service, no voice.  Be heard, and if you need a life preserver, count upon your colleagues to throw you one, as carrying one with you all the time impedes progress and ensures mediocrity.  Just sayin.  Bouncing ideas.

Reflective Reading

After reading this article on reflection, I started to think about my experiences in the classroom last week. Honestly, it is a little hard to think critically about my teaching methods–after all, I just (co)taught my first week of classes, and be the end I was just happy I was able to get through a class without sweating through my shirt! For the first couple of classes I was sort of focused on performing well. Looking back, I realize my best classes were those in which I was relaxed, and not concerned about delivering a great performance.

I would have to say my second class with Mark Robison and my second class with Josh Sahib were the classes I feel best about. In those classes, I was completely relaxed, delivered my material well, and I actually felt like I helped some people. I wasn’t concerned with ‘not messing up’; I was more concerned with connecting with the students and hoping they were picking up on some of what I was talking about. I believe that once my nerves were out of the way, I was able to do what I was there to do.

Teaching is really an interesting experience, when new. I was so nervous last week, and I just wanted to do well in the classroom for my own sake. But as teachers, we are really there for the students–it should be that I am nervous for their experience, not mine. So there is a very interesting intersection that happens here, an intersection where we as teachers are trying to deliver for others and for ourselves. I am not sure how to resolve this, but I think if I was more concerned with what my students were learning or not learning I would be less concerned about my own success or failure as a presenter of material.

On the whole, I am mostly pleased with how my week of teaching went. After reading this article, I realize that professors I have had that were particularly great at both lecturing and classroom interaction are those that I have been trying to emulate. Though I want to branch out and try new things, it will be hard for me because I personally do not feel passionately about games in the classroom. I personally feel that whatever I am doing in the classroom needs to be geared toward the students’ assignments, coursework or life in an academic setting. I want to make it matter for them; I want to make them understand why it is important. I am not sure if I could pull off a teaching session built around games that ‘trick’ them into learning the material. That said, I think it is very important for me to realize that I favor lecture-style settings, and I need to realize that so I will always remember to interact with my classes and not go off the deep-end of lecturing students to sleep.

Hats off

Forgot to mention that i had also sat in on part of a session that Melissa Fortson Green conducted.  She tackled the new Facebook tool, Graph Chart, just one day after it had made news in that all sorts of unintended consequences were possible.  That is, privacy settings or no privacy settings, Graph Chart can apparently pull up some “interesting” results, and Ms. Green dove right in and got the class going and interested by using the newest and greatest buzz.  My bravery is not equal, I am just sayin.

Don’t Panic, It’s Just Information Literacy!

I spent my morning on Monday co-teaching two EN102 classes with Sara Whitver; both classes had the same English instructor and both chose the same topic (It’s funny how much college students like football). These sessions were an opportunity for me to understand two things about what my future as an instructor can look like in time. The first is that I hope that sooner or later these instruction butterflies die down and let me get on with my sessions. Secondly, I realized that with time and experience I can make a better connection to the students. I learned this fact through the third co-teaching session suddenly seeming easier than the second and the first, and because of Sara’s confidence with the group. My first session included a lesson I was glad I learned early, which is always be more than prepared, because I definitely was not. All in all, I feel that repetition (and the guidance of Sara) will keep me on my feet, even when I’m scared out of my wits.

(P.S. Sara, you totally are a super-special snowflake)