My favorite class moment

Well, it is all pretty fun to me, even when I am dying (no comments, no laughter, no answers, no questions), as I know that most anything in the classroom can be turn around and headed in the right direction in a heartbeat.

My latest, favorite image is “How is a library like a drinking fountain?”  My thought process related to this image is that water must (in these lucky United States) go through an exhaustive process of collection, filtration, purification, sanitization, and finally, safe delivery before it ever reaches your favorite water fountain.  That is, in this country, we can approach a water fountain and be pretty doggone confident that we are going to get a cool, clear, pure drink.



Relating this process to the selection  and “purification” process that goes on concerning information in a modern library is an easy leap.  Students immediately say “it’s free” (if they only knew!!!), “you can drink all you want”, or “it’s pure”.  You can extend this image and process as far as you like, given cooperative students (the final, best gift).  I was and am thinking about no specific pedagogical method, tho analogy and imagery have long and dependable histories in teaching critical thinking skills.  Asking anyone how x is similar to y always requires a thinking process on the part of the student, and that is active learning and participation.  Simple.  No props, no whiz bang, just get the brains in gear.

I admire and envy folks who have great (and hip) teaching ideas and tools.  My brain sticks to the facts, and that is great when the facts are needed.  I need to branch out, and rubbing shoulders with this crowd, it is bound to happen.

All good things, gisssteve

Metacognition and Reflective Practice

Well, I so seldom do things right, that this is really a treat for me. Apparently, I have been doing things ok and not necessarily knowing it. The unknown author begins by letting us know that metacognition is “thinking about one’s own thinking” and frankly, I have been thinking about my own thinking processes all my life. Mostly, my thoughts are doubts about my process, in general. That is, so much of what I feel is absolute bare logic seems to meet the world somewhere between “you gotta be kidding me” and “that’s not how things work.”

All this relates to information literacy being characterized as metacognition, in that the info seekers are required to think about their search and evaluation skills—and how to use them. Cool. So all this reflecting I have been doing upon my inadequacies has served a purpose, and maybe my questioning not only of students but of myself has been functional and fits this model of getting feedback from learners and teacher-learners (including yourself) at the same time. That is, the evaluative voice in my head never shuts up. Before I run around in any more circles, let me move on.

The horror always is that the learners are not getting what they need, and the two-part reflection about what worked and what did not work make perfect sense. The third part of this reflection, I think, should be modified to “did the learners achieve their goals?” Not to quibble. And yes, never throw anything away, are you crazy? Just re-name and date your files so you can trace not only evolution but get back to something that you will not be able to re-do in time, when next appropriate.

And, I always start with questions. I want to get folks involved and the fastest way to do that is ask questions, right off the bat. Nobody gets to sit back and hover under the radar.  [My tip for the week: folks who do speak up in class quite often do so hesitantly.  If the instructor says, out loud, “I don’t hear well, so please speak up,” students will be encouraged to actually sing out, and then the instructor is not caught editing or paraphrasing student input.  This is a real plus, in my opinion.]

We gots lots to do. Get involved. Contribute. Give me feedback. Allow me to assist. Ask me your questions; when you trip me up, make me think, make me explain, I am learning something, and I thank you.

Teaching about thinking and thinking about teaching, and ACRL competencies

Well, I did it again. Wrote a blog post, hit save draft, and then there was not even a puff of smoke left. Gone. Just vanished. No tracks, no nuttin.
What I said was some nice things about the folks I work with, including the Boss, who visited a class I was teaching. She said she had fun, which is a good thing, I hope. I also said something about the dedicated librarians I have observed (and learned from) as well as the engaged and involved English instructors. And I remember something about English being a relatively new language back when I was first a student, and Chaucer being all the rage at the time.
And then I moved on to the ACRL standards for library instruction (and management), saying that I was falling far short of that daunting list. Main thing is to keep trying to hit those marks, teach to your objectives (and to the best of your ability), and then there was something about a roomful of freshmen looking to you to assist them with their big gnarly mean scary paper as being a great grip on reality.
Oh, there was something about seeing new opportunities for collaboration and course integration being sought on a daily basis, as well as good communication up and down the library chain of command, both of which were emphasized in the ACRL framework. I wish I had listened to Sara Whitver, and always put up a draft in Word, as this piecemeal reassembly just does not cut it. Doggone.
Just trying to get it back, but it is not necessarily coming back.
Bottom line is, again, it is great to be working in a well-resourced environment with dedicated people who give a durn about their jobs. No slackers here. Something about dragging students into the deep rich waters of UA resources, and making sure they can swim before the class ends. Also something about customer service not being dead (alive and well, no doubt, with lesson plans being modified at the last minute when instructors modify their assignments at that same last minute). Just saying that it feels good to be learning in this environment, and that overall at GIS, the ACRL standards are in good hands. I will hope to feel better about my performance the next time I go over the standards (did I mention daunting list?), and I know some folks I can trust to guide me as I go. Thanks, all.

Reflections upon “Applying active learning methods to the design of library instruction for a freshman seminar,” by Katherine Strober Dabbour

First, this article made me thankful to be working in a resource-rich environment, whereby every student has a computer.  Some folks say that working as a team with the work being broken up aids better learning for all, but I would prefer to learn the whole process in one piece, mainly by doing the whole process by myself.  Not that I do not like to share, but pizza is different from learning.  Just sayin.

California State at San Bernardino had some retention and graduation problems, and did something about it.  Good job.  Library skills were taught as a for-credit freshman seminar (in conjunction with other school and life skills), and outcomes were good.  Involving the students in talking, listening, reading, writing, reflecting activities is called active learning, and sounds like a good collaborative classroom to me.

Again and again, I come upon the ideas that one must begin from the beginning, and the effort at CSUSB did just that, ranging from library skills to computer us, time management, and attitude adjustments.  Right on!!  There is no reason to expect that students would come from a (relatively) highly-monitored high school environment to the freedom of a college campus and have all of the requisite skills in place.  Also, learning life skills (and library use) is not anything that one forgets upon graduation.  Win-win, i say.

Even though this article is 15 years old, i rather doubt that students would rate anything more valuable than computer skills today—so that is where my emphasis will remain.  Yes, get them involved via active learning, but the real work will continue to be building a student’s relationship with the information universe via their computer.  From this article, i can see the value of the worksheets that are being used with EN 102 students, and i will continue to work via this format.

It all boils down to the day and the student(s).  Some days will be better than others.  Some students will be better than others.  Every day, there is every reason to get the best from every student that they can give, that day, date, time.  Give me the perception, the energy, and the skill, please.

Reflections upon Standards for Libraries in Higher Education (ACRL)

Ah, the famous ACRL Standards.  I have heard so much about them, and there is a great deal packed into a fairly compact document.  Floating on the shifting tides of accreditation committee standards, ACRL has gone a great way in simplifying and explaining what we have to do to meet accreditation standards, and in (fairly) plain language, provided guidance to get there (at least in our documentation).  Outcomes assessment is necessary these days, whether you are in medicine or bicycle repair, so….

Outcomes for libraries being measured by “…the ways in which library users are changed as a result of their contact with the library’s resources and programs” is a challenging task.  We have to set up tasks and objectives that have measurable outcomes, then we have to measure the outcomes, and this may mean tracking outcomes (including graduation rates and employment history for academia) for years.  How many things can go wrong here?  Is simple better, or is it the only way?  Sticking to ratio data (number of library holdings per student enrolled) may be simple, but is it a metric that is meaningful?  Number of electronic holdings per student?  In the UA annual report (, I found metrics that made sense, including numbers of actual downloads per year—but outcomes…in search of outcomes.

Using the first year experience and EN 102 as an example, I see great potential in the collaborative process and cooperation with EN faculty.  To knit classroom objectives and facile use of library resources together is a win-win, clearly.  This is not outsourcing of faculty responsibility to library personnel, rather it is an opportunity to reach students who have not yet been reached in their earlier academic careers.  We can get to young scholars who have been satisfied up until now with the canned mushrooms of google and wikipedia, and bring them into the world of fresh mushrooms (if you can stand a kitchen analogy).  Next thing you know, these same young folks will be doing their own balsamic vinegar reductions, deglazing with apple juice, or making their own pizza sauce in the academic world, thoughtfully searching for opposing views in order to sort their own feelings, forming their own philosophies, and contributing effectively to their own education (and their classmates’).  Yay interdisciplinary work!  Yay librarian educators!  Yay thoughtful, skilled scholars who won’t take just anything for an answer!

Excited?  You betcha.  Challenged?  Even more than excited.  Time to dig.  Gotta go.

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.

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.

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.

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.