Fresh Career Advice: The Future Academic Librarian’s Toolkit

futureaclibtoolkit

A few years ago, librarian Megan Hodge (Virginia Commonwealth University) announced a project that I truly believe in. Her project has now come to fruition: The Future Academic Librarian’s Toolkit was published by the American Library Association earlier this month. I’m honored to have written a chapter titled “Making Yourself Marketable for Academic Librarian Positions,” which you can read via my institution’s repository (thanks, ALA, for making the book Creative Commons-friendly).

I love the depth and honesty of the discussion. How do I plan my search? What do I do if it isn’t going well? Are there interesting career paths that I may not have heard about? (The answer is “yes.”) Highly recommended for institutions and libraries that teach and employ LIS students.

Critical Thinking: Maybe Today Isn’t the Day Your World Changes

Hi, friends– If you haven’t seen me, it’s probably because I’ve been hacking away at my dissertation data. Right now I’m working my way through writing samples that students shared with me, evaluating them in terms of critical thinking and information literacy performance, based on the AAC&U VALUE Rubrics.

Here’s something that struck me as I was working on critical thinking components: part of what interests me (as a researcher, a teacher, and a human) is identifying places where students challenged their own thinking. AND instances where you challenged your own thinking — those can be pivotal moments in your life!

On a train ride after working with the rubric, I started thinking–how likely is it that I’ll see major shifts in students’ opinions or beliefs reflected in these papers? I’ve seen a couple of instances in which students mention thoughtfully considering new viewpoints in a much more internalized way than simply responding to others’ writing. And that’s important in and of itself.

I remember one major shift in belief that I had an an undergraduate. It was the first time that I was eligible to vote and, after primary elections, a close friend told me that he was surprised at my political affiliation since it didn’t seem to align with my beliefs. I was somewhat taken aback at the time–for my teenage self, my sense of politics were still rooted in my small-town upbringing. The exchange stayed in my mind, though, and a few weeks later, I officially changed political parties. It was a massive shift in mindset.

So, here’s hoping that I may be privy to a few major changes reflected in students’ writing! I do, however, understand that, for many students, this may be the day when you thoughtfully consider a few outside sources and opinions and write a carefully crafted essay. I respect that as a teacher and a fellow student. This may not be the day your world changes. Or it might.

Teachers & librarians who teach, I’m interested in your reactions! What signs of real, powerful critical thinking can we hope to see in student writing? What are some [anonymous] examples that you’ve seen?

Tiny AOT: Actor-Oriented Transfer on a Short Timeline

What a whirlwind couple of weeks–the LILAC conference in Nottingham, UK, a few days of fun travel in Denmark, and then jumping back into my students’ preparation for finals week here in Denver. Jet lag on both sides of the “pond,” too!

A number of people have followed up with me on the subject of my presentation on the actor-oriented transfer perspective in the information literacy classroom. About half of the questions have focused on how to apply it given realistic time constraints. Let’s talk about the heart of the actor-oriented transfer perspective (“AOT”) and how we can apply it on a short timeline. The “tiny version” of AOT, so to speak. 🙂

The Foci of AOT

AOT helps us to explore the processes that students use to solve problems on their own. It helps us design strategies to learn more about (1) the step-by-step processes that students design for themselves and (2) the reasoning behind those processes. Even more specifically, it helps us to understand why students decided to follow the steps that they did when they were aware of multiple ways that they could have approached a problem.

Just a reminder, AOT is *not* a method for evaluating student work or assigning scores.

AOT and the “One-Shot” Instruction Session

Many of us library instructors have some mixed feelings toward the one-shot model (where we see students once a semester, for 60 minutes or so). To me, the positive side is that we have that time with them–let’s make the most of it. We can absolutely fit an AOT-inspired activity into that class time, and make it productive for the students and for our own learning. It can also support the relationships that we form with their professors.

My current “short” version of AOT looks like this. It’s a half-sheet of paper that I give to students five or six minutes before the end of class. I always run this by their professor ahead of time, and ask whether they would like to review some major findings a few weeks after class. When I introduce it to the students, I emphasize that this will give them a moment to think about parts of the process that have worked (or not worked) for them. That reflection can support their future success. Additionally, I explain that this will help me identify successful and less-successful aspects of the lesson that I used that day, and to refine them for future classes. Students tend to be altruistic in that way.

The items on my current sheet are:

  1. Describe a resource (article, book, website, etc.) that you found & that you will use in your research. (Tell me about it in a few words.)
  2. How did you find this resource? (2 sentences)
  3. How will this resource support the ideas you share in your research? (2 sentences)
  4. Do you have any questions for me? If so, please share them here, with your email address. (I’ll write back within 2 business days!)

Working through Students’ Responses

Students tend to respond thoughtfully. They pack quite a lot of information into the five or six sentences that typically appear on their sheets. For me as an instructor, this is incredibly beneficial to helping me understand the choices that they made.

Also, good news–working through 25 or 30 AOT-based sheets does not have to take ages. If I’m in data-gathering mode, I can gather meaningful information from a class’s worth of sheets in 60-90 minutes.

Much like researchers who use AOT on the larger scale, I employ emergent coding. Basically, I make notes on the steps that students mentioned (in question 2 on the sheet) and aspects of reasoning that they mentioned (in question 3 on the sheet). I keep track of the frequency of those responses and allow the list to grow as students identify new steps or aspects of reasoning.

As a person with a lot on my plate, I’ll also note: unlike many other classroom tools, I can get a LOT of useful information just by giving these forms a quick read. I can save more in-depth exploration for the summer, when I have more flexible time.

The Beauty of Imperfect Responses

How many of us have met students who learn about a new source of information in class, then turn to JSTOR (or Google) because that’s where they always go? Or those who try to get every piece of information from peer-reviewed articles because those are always the “best” resources? That’s all of us, right? These areas of confusion come through when you use AOT-based tools in the classroom. AOT helps us to identify points at which students made less-effective choices in their processes. It also gives us information on *why* students made those choices. All of this helps to continually improve teaching.

Focusing Phenomena

Last thing–at the presentation, I talked quite a bit about the idea of focusing phenomena (See Lobato 2003 for more information). Focusing phenomena are all the tools and techniques that we use to reinforce what students should focus on in their decision-making. For me, that might mean (a) a section of a lesson plan that helps students with a certain information literacy concept, (b) an activity we use in the classroom to practice that concept, and (c) information on a course guide that they can refer to later.

As a teacher, I can use this idea to communicate with a class’s professor about how they may reinforce a concept later in the semester. I can offer examples of how they may reinforce information literacy skills in lessons or assignments. I can also offer to create or share ideas and materials that they may use.

As a researcher, I investigate the focusing phenomena that have been used to support a particular aspect of students’ information literacy practice. I explore (a) what the students have been told to focus on  and (b) how that has been reinforced. I look for evidence of those messages appearing in students’ performance.

The Good News

You can probably share an AOT-based tool in your classroom in less time than it’s taken you to read this post! Taking this approach can help you to better understand your students’ processes and reasoning, and to redefine your teaching.

AOT is flexible, and you can use its principles to shape many other tools as well. I’ll be interested to see what you come up with! Please feel free to get in touch to share your tools and ideas, and to talk them through as you’re planning.

Thanks for reading. Best wishes for joyful teaching– Karen

Work Cited

Lobato, J. (2003). How design experiments can inform a rethinking of transfer and vice versa. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 17–20.

Conferences & the Environment: High Five to LILAC!

This afternoon I returned from the LILAC 2019 library conference in Nottingham, England. I need some time (and sleep) before I put together major information literacy messages that I took away–and there are many! In the meantime, I wanted to praise LILAC and its organizer, CILIP’s Information Literacy Group, for the subtle yet noticeable efforts they took to make LILAC more environmentally sustainable. Here are a few that stood out to me. Any readers who attended, please feel free to comment and highlight more!

  1. Give only one piece of swag–and make it the best swag EVER. Case in point, this gorgeous notebook with rainbows on the sides! Quality alilac-notebooknd pragmatism. I also noticed that one vendor was giving away Cadbury eggs; those are useful, too.
  2. Speaking of vendors, focusing on sharing product information verbally, with additional material online. I chatted with a vendor for Hublet. He carefully explained that he only had one flier to give me; the bulk of the information was online. You know what? Perfect!
  3. Speaking of fliers and presenting information, many speakers either skipped using paper handouts and offered links to their information online, or provided fairly minimalist handouts. Additionally, the conference organizers asked attendees to sign up for sessions in advance (pros and cons), which allowed those who did create handouts to estimate numbers accurately.
  4. Hot beverages were served by waitstaff instead of through self-serve methods. This was subtle, but I imagine that it saved quite a lot of coffee and tea that otherwise might have been over-consumed.
  5. Holding the conference on an impressively sustainable campus, the University of Nottingham. Besides saving energy, water, and more while we were there, the various buildings on campus shared information on aspects of their sustainability through signage.

As I’m writing this, I do feel a good deal of tension over the fact that I flew to attend the conference–quite a long way, in fact. That’s something that I need to reconcile: my carbon footprint….with the fresh ideas, new contexts, and joy that I get from conference opportunities like this. I am heartened, though, at several working relationships that I formed through the conference that can be developed over Zoom.

Fellow attendees, what else stood out to you? I’d love to hear your observations, as well as ways you’ve worked balancing all the benefits of travel with a minimal carbon footprint.

Where’s Karen? 3/17/19

Hello, Friends and Followers–

Many of you have not seen or heard from me in weeks! And you may not hear much from me for several months to follow. I will begin collecting data for my dissertation on 2 April (avoiding April Fools’ Day just in case potential participants might think that the invitation was a joke). Throughout the month of April, I will be either anxiously trying to gather more participants or celebrating data successfully gathered. Probably both at various points.

Throughout the month of May, I plan to crunch data with my kind assistant. Then I will analyze and write about my data, finish up the dissertation, and defend in August. That’s the plan, at least!

On top of that, I’ll be at the LILAC conference in the UK from April 24-26. By good fortune/slightly overenthusiastic planning, I will be presenting four times. So, uh, if you’re at LILAC…please come join me!

And then there’s life. Lots of things going on. So you may not hear from me–but please feel free to drop me a line any time.

Take good care of yourselves!

🙂 Karen

Whispered questions: Is active learning ever *not quite* the answer?

A couple of weeks ago, one of my favorite faculty members and I were talking on the phone. She began telling me a story about a recent situation in which her students had completely failed to construct knowledge together during an active learning exercise. Everyone was frustrated. The hour was wasted. It’s okay, I told her–we all [platitudes about how the very best teachers learn through experimentation and occasional flops. I’ve flopped; you’ve flopped; it happens]. Do you think…maybe just TELLING them some of these things would have helped? she asked. Was active learning the WRONG tactic? At that point, I realized that we were whispering–and it wasn’t just the thin walls. We felt that we were speaking the unspeakable.

This conversation clearly stuck with me, and several days ago, I was thrilled to connect with David Goobar’s recent article in Chronicle Vitae, “Is it Ever OK to Lecture?” This good-natured and pragmatic article begins with the story of one of Goobar’s graduate teaching assistants: a young man, deeply dedicated to active learning, who brings this question to the author.

The article has several major points that are of use to academic librarians: (1) The article provides several specific strategies for overlaying brief lectures with tools or activities for actively gathering information. (2) When we tell graduate assistants and other new teachers (or teachers who are revising their methods) to use active learning strategies, we need to coach them. Active learning strategies need to be selected and used well. (3) Sometimes *telling* students about areas of knowledge that you know in depth gets them off to an efficient start in their learning, which supports & accelerates the active part of your class time. I appreciated the article’s brief mention of types of knowledge that students may struggle to develop through active learning.

Goobar’s thoughts are particularly helpful to me as I work to make my own information literacy instruction more and more active. I appreciate learning more about when & how to strategically supplement active learning with straight-up information.

I may report back as I experiment with some of the tools mentioned in the study — such as the “quiz on the go.” Please let me know if you try them! Here’s to honest questions. May we never hesitate to ask them!

This Week’s Eureka Moment: Focusing Phenomena

Those of you who know me well have probably heard me say that if I had lived during Puritan times, my name would have been Pragmatism. Useful objects, useful processes, and useful concepts make me inordinately happy. Pragmatism Sobel–that would have been me. 🙂 Of course I would not have fared well during the witch trials, but that…that is another story.

So, this week, I have been working on the presentation I’ll be giving at LILAC 2019 on using the actor-oriented transfer perspective (“AOT”) in information literacy instruction. I’ve been hyper-preparing to discuss major concepts within AOT at LILAC. As part of that, I spent time pulling together multiple examples of all the terminology, applied in information literacy. Would you like to know which AOT term sparked a “eureka moment”? Focusing phenomena.

The words “focusing phenomena” may not have lit up all of the synapses of professional excitement in your mind. But let me explain. When you’re working with AOT, “focusing phenomena” refers to all of the things that the instructor uses to help students know where to focus their attention in a particular situation. The word “things” is purposefully vague. The focusing phenomena used in a single classroom for a single purpose often refer to a collection of lesson plans, powerpoints, worksheets, posters(!), plans for activities, and more. The collection of focusing phenomena also includes completed student work. (For much more information, see Lobato, Ellis, & Munoz, 2003).

Although I’ve been working with this concept for several years now, here’s what excited me this week. One idea that I haven’t tried yet is discussing reinforcement for information literacy concepts in terms of focusing phenomena–particularly with the faculty for whom I teach. So–here are the focusing phenomena that I use to introduce and practice concepts of information literacy during my 75-minute session. What kinds of focusing phenomena can we use to help reinforce, and to help your students continue their connection with this concept throughout the semester? Pragmatic, yes?

My instruction sessions start on February 5th. Updates to come! And if you try this method, please give me a shout!

Reference

Lobato, J., Ellis, A. B., & Munoz, R. (2003). How “Focusing phenomena” in the instructional environment support individual students’ generalizations, mathematical thinking and learning, 5(1): 1-36. DOI: 10.1207/S15327833MTL0501_01