Friday, September 27, 2013

Ask the Masses: Evaluation Classes

For this week's Ask the Masses, I want to ask you about your favorite lesson.

What is that one information literacy session that you just can't wait to deliver? Why is it your favorite? Do you get to teach it often?

I really look forward to reading some of these answers.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Evaluations via Blind Textual Analysis

It's evaluation time in lots of my classes. As I'm sure many librarians would agree, this is one of my favorite units to teach. I like to take it one step further than just giving students ideas on how to evaluate sources.

First Steps
I find that I need to provide at least some framework for students to evaluate sources. I typically will share with them several criteria. Many in our field have snazzy names for these criteria. (I'm looking at you, CRAAP test.) I take a somewhat simplified approach. I simply ask students to critically think about a source; ask themselves if this source good enough to earn a place in your paper?

Here are the slides, in which I offer some framework to evaluate sources:

Providing Source Material 
Once students have this very basic framework, I like to introduce them to raw source material. Here are three quotes from various sources, which I have used in class. When presenting these, I have a different student read each paragraph. Can you spot where each are from?

Source One: 
State schools, also known as public schools or government schools, generally refer to primary or secondary schools mandated for or offered to all children by the government, whether national, regional, or local, provided by an institution of civil government, and paid for, in whole or in part, by public funding from taxation. The term may also refer to institutions of post-secondary education funded, in whole or in part, and overseen by government.
Source Two:
Public schools in the United States have become predominantly liberal and atheistic government institutions that employ 3 million people and spend $411.5 billion annually at a cost of $10,770 per student. Liberals censor classroom prayer, the Ten Commandments, sharing of faith in classrooms during school hours, and teaching Bible-based morality. Mandatory homosexual indoctrination is common as early as elementary school in more liberal states. The failures of underperforming public schools are paradigm of socialism, along with landfills and the Canadian healthcare system. 
Source Three:
Since the mid-1800s, most Americans have had access to free public education at the elementary and secondary school levels. The availability of universal schooling is based on the notion that all children have a right to a basic education. However, concerns about the quality of public education in recent years have led to significant changes in the nation's public school system. Some people consider these changes a long-overdue remedy to a failing system. Others worry that the changes will undermine the nation's commitment to providing equal educational opportunity to all Americans.
My favorite part of having students read these three paragraphs comes after they finish the second one. I ask them to raise their hands if they went to public school. Normally 3/4's if not more raise their hands. Then, I ask how their "mandatory homosexual indoctrination" went. Sure that's a comical moment, but it opens the door to a discussion of face validity and how a simple critical reading can prevent a students from using a bad source.

The first quote came from a wikipedia and is actually my choice. The second came from Conservapedia. The third quote is from a subject encyclopedia in Credo Reference.  Many students tend to like the third quote best.

Next term, I want to use a source from a left-leaning organization to reduce bias. Rational Wiki seems to be a good place to find that type of information.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ask the Masses: Teaching Energy

We've all been in this situation, no matter how committed to or excited you are about your job. How do you recoop spent energy after a particularly draining instruction session? There are some classes that are exhausting but energizing at the same time. The students' energy and your energy are combining to help them learn and you see those light bulb moments happening. Sometimes there are classes that simply exhaust you. How do you recover so you have the energy you need to be successful in your next session (whether it's immediately after a particularly draining session, or a little later in the day)?

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Research Process: Now with More Detail!

Teaching the research process isn't anything new to me. Many of the classes I work with (especially those I work with in an embedded librarian capacity) request that "module" (which is what we call the lesson plans from the First-Year Core Seminar's recommended "menu" of sessions). When I most recently taught the research process session to one of my embedded Core Seminar I groups, however, I took a new approach (while building off of what we've previously used in our instruction). Why a new approach? Well, it came down to necessity. The class I was working with presented a few challenges:

  1. This semester was the first time the instructor had worked with first-year students, especially those outside her field of expertise.
  2. Within the student population there was a wide range of experience levels in regards to research, writing, and study skills.
  3. Usually the research process takes no longer than 20-30 minutes, with time to work at the end of class. This time, however, I had 1 hour and 20 minutes with the group, and was teaching in their classroom, not a computer lab.
  4. Even though I had only worked with this group of students once, I knew from visiting with the instructor, and from observing classroom behavior, that they would need a highly structured lesson in order to stay focused on the content. 

All of the steps below are included in more detail in the presentation (embedded at the end).

In order to further my understanding of the students' background knowledge and experience with research I began the class with some prewriting and reflection. I allowed them plenty of time to reflect and write, then had them partner up with someone next to them. Then I had them switch partners and talk to someone who was sitting across the room. This helped them realize the wide range of experience levels within their class, and it helped me learn more about the students as I wandered from group to group and listened. (I also had students turn in their papers so I could review them in more detail and discuss them with the course instructor.)

Then we discussed the steps of the research process and how to select or narrow your research topic. This is typically all I've done in the past, and then spent some time focusing on selecting a topic. Usually I have students brainstorm three possible topics and do some background searching to see how they want to explore that topic within the requirements of their paper or project. With this group, I spent more time focusing on understanding the requirements of the paper (which had not been introduced or provided to the students before my class session), and study strategies/planning. With each required element for the paper, I also put a date next to it. I explained to the students that the dates listed were the class periods when we would discuss how to do each element, so if they didn't know what something was or were unsure how to go about completing a part of the assignment, that's okay! We're going to discuss it and learn how to do it on the dates listed.

I then provided them with a Research Progress Plan for them to write out on a calendar what they planned to do & when. Though it was only for this one project for this one class, I recommended they do this for all of their assignments and put the information in their planners. This way they could see when big deadlines are coming up for all of their classes and plan ahead in order to do well with all of them. After they took some time to plot out their action plan steps on their own, I showed them my detailed research plan and explained why I planned certain things at certain times. I think seeing the level of detail in my research plan helped the students understand that they are facing a new level of research and writing than what they have done in the past. Though we spent a lot of time focusing on study strategies rather than research strategies, I think it was something important we needed to cover in order for the students to have the foundation they need in order to be successful in their research.

In their reflective pieces they completed at the end of class I was encouraged that several students listed having a research plan as a new strategy they would use in their approach to the project. Others noted the research process as something that was new to them. Previously they had just picked a topic and started writing. I'm hoping that once they put their plan into action and follow the recommended steps of the research process they'll see that having this structure to help guide them helps make their research easier and helps them produce a better written product.

What is something new you've used in your classes that doesn't typically fall under your purview as an instruction librarian, but was something you knew the students needed anyway in order to be successful with the library concepts you were teaching?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Faculty-Librarian collaboration: co-hosting the class

Faculty/librarian collaboration too often is code for what librarians may see as 'faculty acquiescence' and what faculty may see as 'librarian takeover.' Yes, the librarian is helping the faculty by teaching valuable skills, and yes, faculty provide access to the students that the librarian lacks otherwise. But that's not true collaboration. That's substitution.

What we really need to do is co-host the class. Think of it as a balancing of expertise. Or two experts for the price of one. In small college settings, librarians can easily find themselves helping in classes or areas in which they aren't experts (or even have much content experience). Instead of seeing this as a weakness, use this to your advantage. Ask the professor to stay with you at the front of the classroom instead of escaping to the back. Have them interact with you. Ask them clarifying questions or let them introduce the assignment with you in class. Have them introduce you as another resource to take advantage of. And return the favor by praising their expertise in the field. (This works particularly well when discussing scholarly articles and just what kinds of people are authoring those studies!)

I'll be the first to admit this probably won't work with every professor, but I think for a few types of professors it will. Try it with that faculty member you know well and has seen you teach before. The one who knows how you roll. Or start with that faculty member who just can't help but interject in class. Take the interruption and make it part of the instruction. Or that professor who insists on talking with students during class. Make them have that conversation with you so you can guide it toward your instruction.

This idea comes from a colleague of mine who actually responded to my comment about him answering my question instead of the students with..."I was just helping out. We've got this thing going. It's like we're co-hosting the Emmys." It made me and the students chuckle. Later, while the students were helping me brainstorm topics we had the following exchange.

"That's a great topic. I know someone, a friend, that writes about that topic."
"To be fair, you know someone who researches each of these topics. You know everyone."
"What can I say? I go to a lot of conferences and make friends."

Have fun with it. If the students are engaged they'll absorb the lesson better. Bring them into the research conversation by modeling a conversation. No one is expecting teaching (or comedy) gold.  But may we all aspire to be the library version of that Neil Patrick Harris/Hugh Jackman duet on the Tonys a few years ago.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ask the Masses: Encouraging reading and it's domino effect

This week I'm asking my own question!

Our campus is encouraging and promoting a "culture of reading" this year. Some of the faculty have jumped on the reading train and are assigning particular books for class. Others have allowed their students to pick a title themselves (relevant to their course) and read and write about it. Even the traditionally non-reading courses have gotten in on the act: computer graphics students are illustrating short stories they're reading.

I'm really excited about people jumping in to this. My question is what other ways can we encourage professors to add reading elements to assignments? And how do we do so without simply turning our information literacy sessions into "how to find a book on the shelf" ones?