Back to the scene of the crime.

Last summer I got hit by a car while riding my bike outside the Colorado Convention Center. I was headed home from work when a car started to pull toward the curb – and into the bike lane. My left hand collided with the car’s passenger side view mirror. The mirror was smashed, my hand was cut, and I toppled over.

I watched bright red blood drip from my fingers onto the sidewalk. I had a white kitchen towel in my backpack, so I wrapped my hand in it. The driver asked if I was okay. I asked for her license and insurance. Strangers put my bike in their minivan and took me to the hospital.

The nurse in the ER frowned at me. She asked why I hadn’t washed my hand right away.

“Uh, I got hit by a car. And then I came here.”

She made me wash my hands thoroughly. I sucked air in through my teeth.

Once my hand was clean, another nurse came in and examined the wounds. No stitches necessary. He smiled. “Skin is the best band-aid,” he declared, delicately placing my flayed flesh in bandages.

After I was released, I went to the bar near my apartment and ordered a whiskey soda. I wiggled my mummy fingers at the bartender and showed off my ER admission bracelet. We laughed. Eventually the lacerations healed and left scars.

I later learned from the insurance company that the driver was an exhibitor. She was unfamiliar with the area. She didn’t see me.

The week after I got hit, the city installed a barrier between the car lane and the bike lane to protect cyclists.

I guess I just had bad timing.

Life must be a circle because I’m headed back to the Colorado Convention Center this weekend for ALA Midwinter. As a member of the 2018 Stonewall Book Award Committee for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, I’ll be sequestered all day Saturday to deliberate titles under consideration for the award. I expect it will be a less traumatizing experience than the last time I was there. I hope. The winners will be announced at the Youth Media Awards on Monday at 8am Mountain time. You can watch the livestream here.

(Unsolicited advice: if you are lucky enough to serve on a book award committee, get a PO box. Thank you, publishers. I’m sorry about all the books that never reached me because I moved three times.)

As I prepare to head back to Denver, I’m stuck thinking about the shape of things. About lines and intersections and parallels. About where I was and where I am.

I left Tacoma. I lived in Denver for a year. Then I moved back to Washington. Sometimes I call it a slingshot move. Or a boomerang. A bounce.

When I lived in Denver, I rode my bike and got hit by a car and got scars.

This weekend, I know I won’t be able to stop myself. I’ll circle back. I’ll check the sidewalk for my blood stains.

I’m going to a conference for librarians. But I’m not a librarian anymore.

I work at the same college where I was a librarian for four years. I have the same e-mail address, the same employee ID number. But everything else is different.

What is the shape of the universe?

Is it a circle, or a triangle, or a spiral?

My ex-husband e-mailed me out of the blue last week. He’s selling the house we bought together when we were married.

Part of his message said, “I’m sorry.”

When we were married, I got a job as a librarian in Puyallup. But we owned a house in Portland, two and a half hours away. So I got an apartment in Puyallup and I drove 392 miles every week to go home on the weekends. I spent a lot of time on Interstate 5. After a year of my weekly commutes, I got a tenure-track job. We got divorced.

Now I live in Seattle and I work in Tacoma, at the same college that hired me six years ago.

I spend a lot of time on I-5.

But now it’s different. I come home every night to my husband. We eat dinner together. He makes pasta sauce from scratch and listens to jazz. After dinner, I read The Odyssey out loud while he drinks Coke floats with vanilla ice cream.

Sometimes when my husband holds me, he says, “I like your shape.”

It always makes me laugh. What is my shape, exactly?

 

Am I still a librarian?

I hate debates about what makes someone a librarian. Is it a Master’s degree? Your title? Your rank? Admin, classified, or faculty? Whether you sit at a desk, have an office, or work behind a counter? Work with the public or behind the scenes? I have a lot of thoughts about identity, and I guess it comes down to this: do you identify with the word librarian? Does it feel true? Then sure, you are one. Who am I to decide?

typed sign on white paper that says Librarian Interviews: Please have a seat!

I’m thinking about this a lot right now because I have accepted a new, not-librarian job. As of January 16, my title will be Instructional Designer, and I’ll be back at Pierce College, where I worked as a faculty librarian from 2012 to 2016. In my new role, I’ll be responsible for collaborating with community college faculty to help them develop their courses, and I’ll design trainings and professional development for all college employees. I’ll be working on an incredible team of people that includes another more-experienced instructional designer, the College’s entire e-Learning department, and the OER queen herself, Quill West. I am beyond excited about this opportunity because it brings together so many things I care about: community college education, designing learning experiences with a focus on equity and justice, and lots of conversations about teaching. Most importantly, I will be constantly challenged to learn new things.

For the first time in five years, my title won’t be “librarian”, my co-workers won’t be librarians, and I won’t be working in a library. So am I still a librarian?

I think so. Because it feels true, and because it feels like this new role is a continuation of things I have been working on for years. Librarians do important work in spaces outside of libraries, and we are desperately needed in conversations about online learning, assessment, and faculty development.

Next year will bring tough choices. Do I go to conferences for librarians, or edtech gatherings? How do I keep a foot in the library world while also devoting time to new conversations about instructional design? What will I write and publish?

I am very much looking forward to being surrounded by librarian friends in the new year. I’ll be at ALA Midwinter in Denver in February to select the 2018 Stonewall Award Winner, and I’m giving an invited plenary session at CARL in San Francisco in April. I feel so lucky to serve on the 2018-2019 Rainbow Book List Committee and I can’t wait to read and review lots of books for queer youth.

Also upcoming in 2018: I’m visiting London/Glasgow for the first time! I’m taking a trip with my spouse to kick around pubs, eat fish and chips, and visit our family. I’m committed to finishing a draft of my first young adult novel (I am way more nervous about this manuscript than my new job, honestly).

two glass jars filled with white salt, labeled UNSCENTED and LAVENDER
This is what I did on my winter vacation.

More hikes with Charlie. More coffee, movies, homemade pizza, ocean time. More books in the tub (with my neatly organized Epsom salts).

Handwritten list with best books, special places, eats, and big life events in 2017
My “Best Of” list for 2017.

 

I don’t want to do 2017 over again, but I am grateful for it.

In my holiday cards this year, I wrote, “Let’s be victorious in 2018.” Here’s to love & victory, friends.

 

All images in this post are my own.

Libraries & learning analytics: A brief history.

March 5, 2018 — Revised and updated from the original post on November 10, 2017.

 

A slide deck from EDUCAUSE made the rounds on Twitter last week, with many folks expressing shock about libraries & their involvement (complicity) in learning analytics efforts on higher education campuses. But this isn’t new. Academic librarians have been talking about using library data to prove library value for quite a while. Over the past decade, the conversation has been held hostage by one particular professor who has made proving library value the exclusive focus of her scholarly research agenda.

As the old saying goes, if you’re not pissed off, you haven’t been paying attention.

To me, these are some of the significant milestones in the conversation about libraries and their involvement in learning analytics. (Emphasis on “to me” — your timeline might look a bit different!)

2010
Megan Oakleaf, LIS professor at Syracuse University, publishes the Value of Academic Libraries Report, which was commissioned by ACRL. The report suggests that libraries should track individual student behavior to demonstrate correlations between library use and institutional outcomes, such as retention.

2011
Value of Academic Libraries committee is formed by ACRL Executive Committee.

2012
ACRL is awarded a $249,330 grant from IMLS to fund Assessment in Action: Academic Libraries and Student Success.

2013 – 2016
ACRL runs three 1-year cohorts of AiA projects. Assessment in Action aims to teach academic librarians how to collaborate with other stakeholders on their campuses to measure the library’s impact on student success. According to the AiA website: “The projects will result in a variety of approaches to assessing library impact on student learning which will be documented and disseminated for use by the wider academic library and higher education communities.”

Spring 2014
Oakleaf teaches IST 600 “Academic Libraries: Value, Impact & ROI” at Syracuse University for the first time.

October 2014
Bell publishes “Keeping Up With… Learning Analytics” on the ALA website.

August 2014
Margie Jantti presents “Unlocking Value from Your Library’s Data” at the Library Assessment Conference. The presentation highlights how, among other metrics, the University of Wollongong correlated student performance with number of hours of using the library’s electronic resources.

December 2014
Lisa Hinchliffe and Andrew Asher present “Analytics and Privacy: A Proposed Framework for Negotiating Service and Value Boundaries” at the Coalition for Networked Information Fall Membership Meeting.

March 2015
Oakleaf publishes “The Library’s Contribution to Student Learning: Inspirations and Aspirations” in College & Research Libraries.

2016
Jantti and Heath publish “What Role for Libraries in Learning Analytics?” in Performance Measurement and Metrics. The article describes how the integrated existing library analytics and student data (from the “Library Cube”) with institutional learning analytics efforts at the University of Wollongong.

June 2016
College and Research Libraries News declares learning analytics one of the top trends in academic libraries.

July 2016
Oakleaf publishes “Getting Ready & Getting Started: Academic Librarian Involvement in Institutional Learning Analytics Initiatives” in The Journal of Academic Librarianship.

I present “Can we demonstrate library value without violating user privacy?” at Colorado Academic Library Association Workshop in Denver.

2017
Oakleaf secures nearly $100,000 in grant funding from IMLS for “Library Integration in Institutional Learning Analytics (LIILA)“. The full proposal can be read here.

January 2017
ACRL Board discusses “patron privacy” and if, as a core value, it conflicts with support of learning analytics. The minutes record: “Confidentiality/Privacy is in ALA’s core values, and the Board agreed that patron privacy does not need to conflict with learning analytics, as student research can still be confidential.”

Also at Midwinter 2017,  ACRL Board approves Institutional Research as an interest group to incorporate interest in Learning Analytics (but, notably, the Board did not want to name the group the “Learning Analytics” interest group). ACRL Board formally adopts the Proficiencies for Assessment Librarians and Coordinators which makes frequent reference to using learning analytics.

March 2017
Oakleaf et al present “Data in the Library is Safe, But That’s Not What Data is Meant For” at ACRL 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland.

April 2017
Kyle M.L. Jones and Dorothea Salo’s article, “Learning Analytics and the Academic Library: Professional Ethics Commitments at a Crossroads“, is available as a preprint from College & Research Libraries.

June 2017
Value of Academic Libraries committee meets at ALA Annual. The minutes reflect that VAL wants to distance itself from learning analytics, now that they have their own interest group.

September 2017
ACRL publishes Academic Library Impact, which explicitly advocates for working with stakeholders to “statistically analyze and predict student learning and success based on shared analytics”.

October 2017
Karen Nicholson presents her paper, “The ‘Value Agenda’: Negotiating a Path Between Compliance and Critical Practice“, at the Canadian Library Assessment Workshop in Victoria, British Columbia.

November 2017
Oakleaf et al present “Closing the Data Gap: Integrating Library Data into Institutional Learning Analytics” at EDUCAUSE 2017 in Philadelphia. The presentation seems to advocate feeding individual patron data into campus-wide learning analytics dashboards so that other campus administrators, faculty, and advisors can see student interactions with the library.

Emily Drabinski asks, “How do we change the table?” In her blog post, she wonders how organizing can help librarians build power to make change. “We need to reject learning analytics,” she declares.

Penny Beile, Associate Director of Research, Education, and Engagement at the University of Central Florida Libraries, publishes “The Academic Library’s (Potential) Contribution to the Learning Analytics Landscape” on the EDUCAUSE blog.

January 2018
April Hathcock responds to the ongoing learning analytics conversation with her own blog post about learning agency. Regarding the need to collaborate with students rather than simply surveil them, she writes, “Essentially, it’s the difference between exploiting a community to study and report on them versus collaborating with that community in studying their needs. It is the very essence of feminist research methods, rooted in an ethic of care, trust, and collaborative empowerment.”

March 2018
Community college librarian Meredith Farkas questions the value of learning analytics in her column in American Libraries.

Kyle M.L. Jones and Ellen LeClere publish “Contextual Expectations and Emerging Informational Harms: A Primer on Academic Library Participation in Learning Analytics Initiatives” in Applying Library Values to Emerging Technology: Decision-Making in the Age of Open Access, Maker Spaces, and the Ever-Changing Library.

April 2018
The Call for Proposals for the special issue of Library Trends about learning analytics and the academic library closes April 1. The issue will be published in March 2019.

Featured image by Lukas Blazek on Unsplash

Teacher identities, empathy, and the beginner’s mind: A conversation with Nicole Gustavsen.

Teaching is terrifying. It’s also exhilarating, fascinating, challenging, and deeply rewarding. Making the transition from being a student to being a teacher is a complex process, as evidenced by the questions raised by librarian Nicole Gustavsen on Twitter last week.

nicoletweets.png

 

I asked Nicole if she would be interested in having a longer conversation about the topic of teacher identity to be published here and she generously agreed. Below you’ll find a lightly-edited transcript of our nearly three-hour conversation, during which we discuss information literacy instruction, teaching philosophies, impostor syndrome, false binaries, classroom management, the importance of community, and more.

Zoe Fisher (Zoe): Tell me a little bit about your experience and background. What’s your current role and how did you come to it?

Nicole Gustavsen (Nicole): I am a new academic librarian, currently in a temporary position as a research & instruction librarian at the University of Washington Bothell & Cascadia College Campus Library. I got this position because during library school (I attended the U of Washington iSchool residential program from 2013-16) I worked at the UW Seattle campus graduate library, Suzzallo & Allen, as a graduate reference assistant. In this position I did a lot of reference and a lot of info lit instruction. After I graduated I wasn’t able to keep the position, of course, but my supervisors recommended me to the head of Teaching & Learning here at UWB when a temporary position opened up, and I’ve been in this position since the beginning of January. It was originally just a 6 month contract but I was recently approved for an additional 12 months, which I’m very excited about.

Zoe: Congratulations on the contract extension! What have you noticed about the differences between the UW grad library and your current role? Specifically, what differences have impacted your role in teaching/your role with students?

Nicole: Just a spot of context about our library: we are in the somewhat unusual situation of serving two schools on one campus: a university (UW Bothell), and a community college (Cascadia College). We teach sessions and provide services for students, staff, and faculty at both institutions. That’s definitely one of the biggest differences off the bat. It affects everything.

At UW Seattle, we were part of a program that was focused on targeting lots of classes for short, 50 minute sessions. Here at UWB, our teaching program is able to do a lot more. There’s significant buy-in from faculty at both institutions, and we are encouraged to experiment. For Cascadia we get to work with a lot of online classes, which I had never done before. Last quarter I got to help with a 100-level English class where we had embedded content throughout the quarter. So cool!

Zoe: That’s excellent! And I definitely understand your context–as you know, I was at Pierce College in Puyallup, Washington (about 50 miles south of UW Bothell) for four years, and we were very familiar with your library. In my current role, I work in an academic library that serves three institutions (University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and the Community College of Denver). It makes sense that the increased emphasis on teaching in your current role would give you reason to reflect on student/teacher identities.

Nicole: Yes, absolutely. It’s also a great thing that the culture here among the librarians is very collaborative, so if I really tank a class (as I did last quarter), I feel comfortable discussing it with my colleagues and knowing their response will probably be both supportive and something like “Oh that reminds me of the time I [description of an equally horrible classroom experience.]” I was way too nervous to have those conversations at my last position!

Zoe: That sounds like a wonderful environment. I think the advantage of being a community college librarian is that you teach SO much–even if you do have a flubbed class, it’s only one of dozens, so it’s pretty quickly forgotten.

Nicole: I love that in your description of teaching experience on the blog, you identify that you’ve been in teaching roles beginning at 13. Do you have a sense of any particular point at which you began to see yourself as an educator? Was it a natural progression, or did you find it required a lot of deliberate thought or work?

Zoe: Peer teaching became a part of my life at a very young age. In grade school, I was often singled out by teachers for finishing my work quickly or easily meeting their expectations… so they did what teachers often do, and they paired me with students who were struggling. At times, I resented that (I think a lot of younger students feel this way, especially), but after a while, I think teaching and helping others became a really core part of my identity.

Things opened up for me when I realized that I could be a teacher to all kinds of people, and that’s where my experience as a volunteer at a public library significantly shifted my identity. Even though I was very young, I was teaching all sorts of people how to find information, how to use the library, and how to use computers/technology. It was empowering and exhilarating. It still is. So I would say that my teacher identity began informally at a very young age, and it’s something that I continue to refine & reflect on as a professional. I have been called a “natural” teacher, which I don’t like (I reject the idea that there are “naturals”, in general), but I do think that this is an essential part of who I am and it’s a role for which I have a strong affinity.

Nicole: I see this peer teaching and communal education piece comes out in your teaching statement as well. Do you have any signature classroom activities or techniques that you’ve developed that speak to this?

Zoe: Sure, that’s a great question. Anyone who has attended a conference session that I’ve presented, or been in any class that I’ve taught, knows that I do a lot of reflective writing & pair or group sharing. We often teach how we like to learn best and it’s no surprise that, as a writer, I like to write things down and share them with others. I think this is a quick, low-stakes way to get people thinking, reflecting, and talking. I always want to know what other people in the room think, and it can be hard to just stick your hand in the air and say it out loud to a group of strangers. Writing it down for yourself, then sharing it with one person, can help refine and externalize those inner thoughts.

My ultimate goal in almost any learning situation is to surface process. What was your process, why was that your process, why does thinking about our process matter?

Nicole: Something I’ve been dismayed to see in my teaching since starting here is a tendency to lecture, despite all my best intentions (and my normally attention-averse personality). I’m seeing our conversation as part of a bigger reflection process so that by fall quarter, I’m heading confidently away from that tendency.

Zoe: The fact that you recognize that in yourself is a good sign. Try to be patient and give yourself some grace.

On Twitter, you questioned how you could see yourself as an instructor without losing empathy for your students, and, more broadly, you questioned the authority that students see in you that you don’t (yet) see in yourself. Can you talk a little bit about your teaching philosophy and how you see (or don’t see) yourself as a librarian-teacher?

Nicole: My teaching philosophy is constantly expanding and changing, but at its core is a concern with presenting information literacy as a lifelong skill, one that is not limited to the classroom or even school. I want the people I work with to feel empowered to take these skills and apply them all over the place! So I like to do activities that incorporate non-academic sources, contexts, experiences.

When I wrote the tweets that spurred this conversation, I had just got out of a post-quarter meeting with a faculty member. In one of her sections, the students were rowdy, it was hard to keep them on track, I wasn’t happy with the instructional materials I had put together, and it didn’t help that the instructor couldn’t be there on that day. It was a very frustrating experience for me.

I met with the course faculty twice and we talked a lot, in both of our meetings, about classroom management, about managing expectations, those sorts of things.

But what most got me thinking, and worrying, and tweeting, was a comment she made about how no matter how I see myself, the students will always see me as the instructor, and that there’s a divide there that I need to acknowledge.

Having been until just last year a lifer student, I still carry a lot of the student mind-set, and in my head I feel that I can relate to students I work with on that level. Sort of, “Hey, I know what you’re going through, and I want you to know you can do it. That it’s hard, but you can do it.”

Zoe: Thinking about the comments that the faculty made to you, I’m guessing that she was saying that some students might have an oppositional attitude to you no matter what you do because they are so deeply entrenched in the known hierarchies of education. Students’ prior learning experiences inform a lot of their behaviors and choices, especially in the classroom, and it’s true that we can’t always control for how past instructors (or even the current faculty) have treated them. What do you think students expect from you as an instructor? I think about this a lot, and I’ll admit that I try to openly defy expectations of typical teacher roles.

Nicole: Your question about what students expect from me/us is so challenging to answer! Let me think a bit more… I think you’re right about what my faculty member was trying to convey. But I also think it gets, for me, at the truth that if I approach teaching from an “I’m a student too, basically” perspective, it’s gonna look different than if I approach it from a more confident place of feeling like I “am” an instructor, not just studying to eventually be one. As I am typing this out, it sounds a lot like the impostor syndrome problem. Did/do you experience this? Did it get better?

Zoe: You know, it’s funny, I never felt like an imposter with community college students. Not once. But sometimes I feel out of place in my current role and have had imposter syndrome related to other things–teaching graduate students (I don’t have another graduate degree beyond my MLS so I feel awkward in front of them), or presenting to administration who have no idea what information literacy is, or talking about my own research agenda. I will say that after getting a journal article rejected three times, I definitely felt like an impostor when it comes to conducting/executing research. To answer, “Does it get better?” — Yes, infinitely. Your relationship to teaching will change constantly the more you do it!

Nicole: Something I have discovered over the years that never fails to amaze me and make me feel (weirdly) hopeful is how many people around me, who are doing work I admire and who are my definition of success, also experience impostor syndrome. You’re a great example of this; from my vantage point you seem very confident and accomplished, so if you’re having these feelings too (and if as you say they do change and get better) then I feel like I can also manage them.

I think you sort of spoke to my second question just above, but I wanted to ask it again in case you had more thoughts to add on it:   A lot of what I’m thinking about at the moment around this topic is identity: what it means to self-identify as a teacher or educator, and how self-identifying this way might change how I relate to my students. One of my fears right now is that if I embrace the identity of an instructor too closely, I’ll lose touch with what it was like to be a student. Where are you on all of this, having been a library instructor for several years yet not terribly far from your own student days?

Zoe: I think the fact that you’re asking yourself these questions about identity means that you’re a great teacher already! Seriously, it’s awesome that you care so much and you’re already reflecting so deeply about what you do and HOW you do what you do, and you acknowledge the fact that how you identify also impacts your praxis.

Your question is extremely provocative to me because it seems to suggest (and correct me if I’m wrong) that teacher and student are separate identities. To me, they’re not. And the identities of student and teacher don’t exist in opposition.

(We could go into a whole discussion about binaries right now! Are there really oppositional identities, or are they just mirrors/shadows of each other? But, I’ll set that aside.)

I guess I would suggest a minor tweak in language. “Student” is the role you might assign to yourself while you’re actively enrolled in a program or a course. But “learner” is an internalized identity you can hold onto for the rest of your life. I want to be a teacher forever because I want to be a learner forever. I’m convinced that I’ll never stop learning new things as long as I’m teaching others. That really excites me and drives me. So, while my formal “student” days ended in August 2010 when I finished my Master’s in Library Science, I’ve never stopped seeing myself as a learner.

Nicole: You are bringing up something very important with binaries! I just last week gave an LGBTQ+ 101 talk to staff at my library, and a big chunk of the first part is dissecting false binaries in gender, sexuality, and even biological sex. So I’m really glad you pointed out this OTHER false binary that I have been trying to shove myself into.

Zoe: In general, I don’t trust simple binaries, especially relating to gender and sexuality–perhaps that extends to my pedagogy, too? To say I don’t believe in those binaries, I mean, it’s not like they’re the tooth fairy–obviously lots of people structure their lives around those binaries, but it’s just that I don’t live my life by them. Hope that makes sense.

Nicole: Makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s important to acknowledge that these binaries, while socially constructed, do have an enormous effect on every aspect of our culture, so they’re very real in that way. I’m not in the “down with all gender distinctions” camp, so much as the “up with genders beyond ‘male’ and ‘female’!” Similarly, the dichotomy between student and teacher is social, but also very very real!

Zoe: I’m curious about experiences you’ve had that may have reinforced this (as you just called it) false binary. What were some of the key learning experiences you had (at any point in your education) that informed your identity as a student?

Nicole: Well, I think the fact that most of my formal educational experiences have been in classroom, students sit and respectfully listen to the teacher, situations. So some of it’s conditioning. That “sage on the stage” phenomenon made the binary seem even more real and, for a shy person like me, almost insurmountable.

Zoe: Have you come across Geneva Gay’s work regarding culturally responsive pedagogy? I was introduced to her work by your (past) colleagues at UW Bothell. They gave a presentation about culturally responsive pedagogy at Library Instruction West 2014. The presenters included Dave Ellenwood, Althea Lazzaro, Sharde Mills, and Megan Watson.

Nicole: I have not heard of Geneva Gay! Thank you! I had been hoping you would suggest some reading, and this looks excellent.

All of my best learning experiences have been experiential in some way. I learn by doing. I want to bring as much “doing” as possible into my classes.

I don’t know everything about what students want, but based on two quarters of feedback and my own gut feelings, nobody really loves it when I lecture too much or make them sit quietly and listen to a video or w/e.

Zoe: Exactly. And I think the “doing” part of learning throws off some students who expect typically passive learning environments.

Nicole: Yes, that is true.

There’s always at least a few students who clearly came to the session expecting to be able to do whatever on their computers while someone stood in the front and said words.

Probably what I’m most sensitive to in classrooms is the students who are quiet (which usually includes those students who came to chill on facebook or do some homework). People are quiet for lots of reasons. One thing I am nervous about when I plan these activities is that I might be pushing some of the students past their healthy growing zone and into the zone of true fear, where they aren’t learning at all. How do you navigate incorporating these sorts of emotional concerns in your classes?

Zoe: I’ll say that’s probably a weak area for me. I’m an extrovert and an external processor, so I legit have trouble remembering that some people aren’t like me. I know I’ve upset students in the past by expecting their participation. It’s something I could work on, in terms of finding ways to be sensitive to folks who are quiet/anxious about participating, while also encouraging all voices in the room.

One thing I do regularly is acknowledge repeat participants. For example, “Okay, I see your hand, but you’ve already shared a couple times today. Let me just pause for a moment and open it up to anyone else who might like to jump in.”Sometimes doing a second call for participation, or acknowledging repeat participants, will get more folks to join in. I’m also comfortable waiting several seconds if people need time to think.

Nicole: The waiting in silence thing is something I find anxiety-inducing, but it does sometimes get people to talk. I am the opposite of you in that I am very introverted and am challenged more by the extroverted students and how to keep them from dominating my classroom.

I like to do activities where students work in small groups and then present to each other, and I think that can give quieter students the opportunity to contribute without forcing them to also present in front of their peers if they don’t want to. Just having the group stand in front can be activating enough for some students, I think, so it’s not completely challenge-free.

Zoe: We have a wireless keyboard/mouse in our classrooms–we can pass around the keyboard and mouse to the groups so they can share on the projector from wherever they’re sitting. It helps a lot!

Nicole: Part of my “student-identity” is that of struggle. I had a lot of difficulty in college and grad school due to mental illness.

When I see students struggling, especially with anything related to mood or self-image, I relate and want to help and reassure.

However, I don’t know how best to convey this in my instruction, and I wonder often if the “I lived it too” bit is even something my students would find helpful (especially coming from me, a very young-looking white woman with a graduate degree). It could read as presumptuous. Do you see value in bringing these kinds of lived experiences into our instruction? If so, what does that look like in your classes?

Zoe: I think that new teachers get the idea that teaching is all about them—like, you feel this pressure to be the most interesting, engaging, dynamic person in the room. (I won’t lie, I love that feeling.)

But, as time goes on, I think you develop the habit of being interested rather than interesting.

And you develop strategies for making students interested in each other. So when it comes to surfacing lived experience, I am less interested in sharing mine and I am more interested in helping students hear about the lived experiences of their peers. What can we learn from the way Tristan, a father of three, approached this assignment? How does Jessica’s comment inform our thinking about evaluating this source of information, given her background in the health professions? What about the person who hasn’t spoken up yet today, what can they contribute to our shared understanding?

Nicole: This is exactly the sort of thing I need to hear right now. I do feel a lot of pressure to perform, to keep the students’ interest, to teach them in a way that’s meaningful, to hit as many of the IL frames as possible, and on and on and on. Which isn’t bad in itself. But what you’re bringing up is a complete reframing of this work. The more I can redirect the students’ attention away from me the more comfortable I am working with them and presenting the material in meaningful ways.

Zoe: The typical response you’ll hear from folks who want to be the focus of attention is, “But what about the content!”

“If they’re not paying attention to me, I can’t show them the databases!”

“If they’re not listening to me, they’ll never know Boolean!”

“They can’t learn from each other because they’re all bad at research and they use Wikipedia!”

Nicole: Students don’t learn Boolean from me telling them how it works. However I choose to present it, they learn by applying it. So the question is how to present it so that’s the emphasis.

I thought what you wrote about what we can learn from our peers was really great. One of my coworkers here told me that her pedagogy is really focused around having the students teach each other, and I thought that was so neat when she told me but it got lost in the rush of the quarter.

Zoe: Well, it’s a theory, right? Which has to be put into practice.

Nicole: Therein lies the challenge.

Zoe: With that in mind, what do you think are some advantages of keeping a student-mindset as a librarian-teacher?

Nicole: There are so many aspects involved in being a student at a college that are outside of the bounds of going to class, doing homework, amassing credits, etc.

One of my greatest fears is that I will one day forget just how scary and uncertain and all-consuming it can be to be a student.

Part of keeping a student-mindset, for me, is remembering that emotional aspect of student-hood, and being sensitive to it as I work with students in classrooms, at the reference desk, and elsewhere.

I have a quote written up on my whiteboard that I think is foundational to how I’ll move forward in all aspects of my life: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki

Zoe: Ooh, I love that quote! That’s a great one.

Nicole: Right?? It’s so powerful.

Zoe: Are there any experiences you’d like to have (but haven’t had yet) that you think would help you more fully adopt a teacher identity? What do you think you might lose in the process of developing that teacher identity?

Nicole: I think the experiences I need to have are more conversations like the one I had with my faculty member last week. Conversations that are genuinely challenging but push me forward. I also think I need to continue to teach and teach and teach, and get back into the groove of reading widely and obsessively. I will learn who I am as a teacher by doing, I think, and by accepting internally that I am good enough and competent enough to embody this new role.

Zoe: You definitely are! And I think you’re right that it takes time.

Nicole: That’s the key, really. I need to be patient, and continue to be reflective, and continue to push myself, and probably one day I’ll wake up and I’ll realize I’ve been a teacher for awhile, and that’ll feel right.

What parts of your student experience did you initially bring into your instruction? What parts of your student experience still inform your teaching? What have you let go of?

Zoe: I’ll go back to what I said earlier, which is that I think we tend to teach in the ways we prefer to learn. I also think we teach in the style that we’ve experienced as students. So, if I’m honest, I think I initially brought a lot of lecture to my instruction and that induced a lot of passivity for my students. But I also experimented a lot, tried a lot of labor-intensive things that were fun and interesting, but probably overwhelmed some students.

Nicole: Do you have any examples of things you tried early on that went spectacularly wrong?

Zoe: Haha! Oh, sure. I can think of a time I tried to split a class into pairs using cards with letters on them. Like, two A cards, two B cards, and so on. It just fell apart. Not enough students, several people didn’t have partners. We spent 5 minutes with students staring at each other, not knowing who their partner was. It was a total waste of time. Just one of many fabulous failures.

When I was a student, the teachers I enjoyed the most expressed love in some way–for students, for the act of learning, for their subject, for whatever. They had passion and curiosity. I remember seeing that as a student, and it’s what I try to emulate as a teacher.

I want students to feel seen and loved.

I think that is the greatest gift I can give them in a learning setting, whether it’s face to face or online or whatever else. If I’m a “natural” teacher, I think it’s because I have the capacity to love and to see others fully. That’s what I try to carry with me.

Nicole: Yes! And the flip version of that, being in classes with profs so checked out you wonder if they even know or care there’s a class of people in front of them.

Zoe: I guess I’ve always believed that learning is a shared experience. I’m trying to let go of some of my ideas of what that should look like, and I’m trying to acknowledge that there are lots of ways to have a shared experience.

I think one of my strengths is community-keeping–making sure everyone is together, being heard, being seen. But I think sometimes that can express itself as control, and that’s really what I want to let go of. I’d like to develop more learning scenarios that require less and less control on my part, but that still hold the experience together as a shared experience.

Nicole: I’m really impressed by your emphasis on community here. It can be easy, at least for me, to miss some of the community aspect in my desire to reach each student individually. What you’re thinking about with community-sustained learning scenarios sounds challenging, but could ultimately be rewarding in many ways.

These are complex questions with no clear answers or ways forward. Do you have any words of reassurance for new librarian-instructors such as myself who are wrestling with all of this? (Of course, new folks aren’t the only ones who are struggling in these ways!)

Zoe: Speaking of community, I think the most important thing that new folks can do is reach out–in person, to other librarians, to other faculty on campus, to the Center for Faculty Development (or its equivalent on your campus), on Twitter, at conferences, on listservs, and so on.

There are so many great resources available to new information literacy instructors, from blogs to discussion groups to conferences, etc. A couple of things I will plug that have been great for me:

  1. I attended Immersion Teacher Track in 2013 and it was fabulous! I made some lifelong friends and I really started to refine my pedagogy in meaningful ways.
  2. I attended Library Instruction West in 2014 and 2016, and it’s probably my favorite conference. It’s affordable, focused on infolit issues, and full of fabulous people. LI West 2018 will be in Grand Junction, Colorado in July 2018.
  3. I stay really connected to folks on Twitter and through my blog. That’s my own personal way of going about things, but it’s not for everybody. I think Twitter can be a great place just to listen/learn/observe, even if you don’t want to jump into conversation. But if you do, there are scheduled chats (like the #critlib chats), or, you know, you might make an offhanded comment someday that turns into a conversation like this one!

Nicole: I would like to cosign from personal experience on a few of these: librarians and the library community are honestly the best people and as I have integrated myself into the community and gone out of my comfort zone to meet librarians, go to conferences,  participate in orgs, and use Twitter more intentionally, I’ve learned so much and been challenged and all sorts of things that wouldn’t have happened if I had followed my internal impulse to stay quiet and removed.

This conversation we have had today, and the original tweet conversations, and all of the worrying and thinking and writing and rewriting and bugging my delightful colleagues for their opinion on teacher identity, it’s all part of my choice to integrate more into our shared community, and your choice to invite me further into it.

So for that I’ve gotta thank you.

Zoe: You’re so very welcome. Let’s do it again sometime!

Nicole: Yeah, let’s do!

 

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Journal of Information Literacy. (Day 99/100)

The Journal of Information Literacy (JIL) and Communications in Information Literacy (CIL) both celebrated 10-year anniversaries this year–something I only figured out through a very confusing conversation with Kevin Seeber wherein I congratulated him on having a book review published in the 10th anniversary issue of JIL (it’s actually published in the 10th-anniversary issue of CIL). With the last two days of my ridiculously ambitious project (which I’m nowhere near finishing), I’m going to deviate from my pre-planned reading list to talk about some of the articles from these anniversary issues.

Let’s start with the Journal of Information Literacy. I’ll talk about CIL tomorrow. Glancing at the contents for the inaugural issue of JIL in 2007, I was struck by the number of articles about online learning. The articles I browsed referred to cutting-edge technology like Blackboard, Flash, and Captivate. To me, the article that best represents its time is “Show Them How to Do It: Using Macromedia Captivate to Deliver Remote Demonstrations.” tl;dr–they created tutorials that students didn’t use (nothing changes, does it?).

Patalong and Llewellyn’s article made me laugh out loud, in the sense that comedy equals tragedy plus time. Theirs is a disastrous case study in how things can go totally sideways with online tutorials. Significant time and energy were invested in creating a suite of tutorials for business students as part of an online module–but the tutorials were buried in the “Resources” section of the LMS. Although over five hundred students were enrolled in the module, the tutorials were used only a few dozen times. They discovered hundreds of clicks on course documents the library knew nothing about–specifically, Word files and Powerpoint files about accessing the library, search strategies, and plagiarism located in the more prominent “Content” section of the course.

Fun fact: the phrase “instructional design” does not appear once in Patalong & Llewellyn’s article, but the words “inadvertently sabotaged” appear on page 34.

In her introduction for the 10th anniversary issue of JIL, Emma Coonan notes that Mark Hepworth contributed to two of the articles in the first issue and was intended to be an invited scholar for the anniversary issue, but he passed away in December 2016. I feel it’s important to note that the anniversary issue is dedicated to him.

When I look at the list of contributors, I see several names that mean a lot to me, including Barbara Fister, Alison J. Head, Margy MacMillan, and James Elmborg. A bit of context about my reverence for these folks:

Jim Elmborg began his graduate degree in English at the University of Kansas in 1982.

Margy MacMillan finished her MLS degree in 1986.

Barbara Fister began working at Gustavus Adolphus College in 1987.

Alison J. Head was a lecturer at the San Jose State University School of Library & Information Science in 1989.

I was born in 1986.

I cannot overstate how much respect I have for these folks, their wisdom, their passion, and their contributions to librarianship. The work they’ve done for the past thirty years makes my career interesting and meaningful every day. I count all of them as role models; I can only hope to have a career even a fraction as fruitful as any of theirs. If this post is your introduction to their work, you are so very welcome.

Jim Elmborg uses his identity as a literacy educator to reflect on his career, first as a writing teacher and then as a librarian. His article contextualizes many big themes in information literacy and academic libraries, including the integration of constructivism in modern IL pedagogy, the disparaging distance between the evolution of rhetoric/composition studies and information literacy, and the pernicious rise of neoliberalism in higher education. (His takedown of MBAs as University Presidents is hot.)

I regularly refer to Alison J. Head and her work with Project Information Literacy, especially when I’m asked why I don’t (generally) believe in providing database demonstrations, checklists for source evaluation, or quizzes about library vocabulary. Her research investigates what workplace and lifelong information literacy actually looks like for our students after they graduate. Guess what? They’re not using ProQuest to search for articles about buying their first home or how to get a raise. Her article gives a summary of PIL’s findings about the expectations of employers and new graduates in the workplace, and the implications for IL pedagogy. I especially like the emphasis on cultivating curiosity in our students. Being able to ask and answer questions will serve our learners much better than mastery of Boolean operators.

Barbara Fister’s autoethnography is simply gorgeous to read. The long arc of her career traces the transitions from bibliographic instruction to information literacy, the “Information Age” to “fake news”, the Standards to the Framework, from holding a planning document at the beginning of her career to questioning how to frame her achievements as she approaches retirement. Reflecting on the messy, incomplete nature of her work, she closes her article with this lovely line:

This is our work. It is made of fleeting moments. It is never quite right. It matters. (Fister, 2017)

Margy MacMillan’s contribution to this issue is, like her, humble and understated. She is one of several co-authors on the conference review of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) conference in Los Angeles in 2016. But, if you are a close reader, you will note that Alison Head also thanks Margy for her help and feedback with Head’s article. If you don’t know Margy (yet), that’s her way. If you offer to help her, she’ll ask how can she help you. If she follows you on Twitter, she likes all of your tweets. If you say that you’re inspired by her (as I often have said), she says she’s inspired by you. When I saw her present at Library Instruction West in Salt Lake City last year, she commented that she was close to retirement but still went to work every day filled with curiosity about students and their learning. What. A. Babe.

One of the things I love about reading is that there are no rules about where to start. In her introduction, Coonan said that they endeavored to create a “landmark” issue. I think they’ve done so. So start here in 2017, or go back to 2007 and start with volume one, issue one, or anywhere in between.

References

Elmborg, J. (2017). Lessons from Forty Years as a Literacy Educator: An Information Literacy Narrative. Journal of Information Literacy, 11(1), 54-67.

Fister, B. (2017). The warp and weft of Information Literacy: Changing contexts, enduring challenges. Journal of Information Literacy, 11(1), 68-79.

Head, A. J. (2017). Posing the million dollar question: What happens after graduation?. Journal of Information Literacy, 11(1), 80-90.

Jefferson, C., MacMillan, M. E., Manginelli, A., McClurg, C., & Winterman, B. (2017). ISSOTL 2016: exploring opportunities for librarians. Journal of Information Literacy, 11(1), 227-231.

Patalong, S., & Llewellyn, O. (2007). Show them how to do it: using Macromedia Captivate to deliver remote demonstrations. Journal of Information Literacy, 1(1), 31-34.

Featured image includes head shots of Barbara Fister, Margy MacMillan, Jim Elmborg, and Alison J. Head.