Library Instruction West 2018 was held at Colorado Mesa University (CMU), in Grand Junction, Colorado in July. (I’ve been working on this post since early August, and it’s now almost mid-September!). The campus is absolutely beautiful.
My colleague and friend Laureen Cantwell also did a tremendous job organizing the conference at CMU.
This was my second time attending LIW, and its become one of my favorite conferences, and not just because Christal and I had a successful presentation. I like its smaller size, and its focus is specific to the work I do. I met some wonderful folks (I need to contact them as a follow-up!), and all of the talks and workshops I attended were useful and interesting.
Here’s a round-up of what I attended, along with some notes.
Pre-Conference Workshop with Maria Konnikova
Psychologist, science writer, and professional poker player, Konnikova is the author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (2013), emphasizes the importance of slowing down, especially when it comes to solving problems, which is the tactic that Sherlock Holmes uses to solve crimes. In this workshop, she walked us through breathing and visualization exercises and then we played a game of Mafia. (I don’t really enjoy playing games, especially in front of people I don’t know, so when it came for my turn to be accused, I just wasn’t into making my plea and said I was okay with the group just voting me out. LOL! This is a true story. I felt incredible relief leaving the circle.) The point I took was that slowing down really is helpful for creativity.
She also shared two mindfulness apps that she uses, Primed Mind and Headspace.
Embracing the Mystery: Mindfulness, Creativity, and Critical Thinking Techniques from Sherlock Holmes
In this keynote, Konnikova continued her mindfulness theme. Mindfulness helps unclutter your mind, or better organize your mind attic, as Sherlock Holmes calls it. It helps train attention muscles as our brains can’t actually multitask (our brains just switch rapidly through something called rapid task-switching).
If you read the Konnikova piece I linked re: the mind attic, she references a really interesting study that was done about the effect of technology on our mind attics. In our networked world, we are able deploy memory but in a different way.
In a recent study in Science, Betsy Sparrow and a team of researchers from Columbia, Harvard, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found two important effects: first, when people are primed to think about computers, or when they expect to have access to information in the future, they are far less able to recall the information. However—and this is the second effect—they are far better able to remember where (and how) to find the information. (Konnikova, n.d.)
In the piece, she asks us to consider going through our mind attics on occasion, as the information we’re storing helps us with making decisions. While the post doesn’t necessarily say how, if you consider her book, mindfulness can help.
Just 5-10 minutes of mindfulness a day has many benefits, including clarity of thought, emotional stability, and better problem-solving skills (the Bill and Linda problem). For an example of how mindfulness can help in education, Dr. Amishi Jha‘s research has been very influential.
Mindfulness helps broaden your visual field. I wrote a big fat YES!!! in my notes when she mentioned that folks who are depressed aren’t able to pay attention to as many details. When I was 21, I went through something that really put me in a fog, so I started seeing a counselor. Almost a year later, I walked into his office and asked about the new painting behind his couch. It had actually been there the entire time! I was absolutely shocked. That’s when I knew I was feeling better. I had more clarity.) This keynote also encouraged me to get back into my yoga practice. It’s difficult, but slowing down is something I need to do to help me reset, allowing me to look at things more clearly.
Discovering Student-Centered Instruction: Applying the Framework Using Backward Design
I attended this mostly as a refresher. It reminded me a lot about a planning session my colleagues and I had to begin drafting some digital learning objects for a new GE course. I had also just finished the Thing 22 module of the 23 Framework Things.
I had just given my presentation before this one, so I wasn’t quite in the right mindset to fully engage with the task. I was still trying to tackle one section of the worksheet by the end, but the worksheet is a really helpful planning tool. I’m having trouble locating it and will need to reach out to Cordova and Wanucha to post it here, but it is adapted from the Information Literacy by Design template at ulinstructors.web.unc.edu.
Checklists Are Not Enough: Exploring Emotional Intelligence as Information Literacy
For some students, the issues they are choosing to investigate are highly personal. As a librarian who teaches in a one-shot environment, one of the greatest challenges is rapport. We don’t know the students, and the students don’t know us. I really care about students’ feelings, and I could be inadvertently causing some kind of internal crisis when I’m asking students to consider other factors when developing research questions and finding information.
So often, students are creating questions for which they have already decided what the answer should be, even if its not supported by the literature, but how we approach this issue needs to be done sensitively. Because humans have the tendency to reject information that doesn’t line up with our preexisting beliefs [an interesting study that was referenced is Kahan (2011)], it can be challenging for students to accept reliable sources of information that contradict their experiences and values. Passing the CRAAP test or other checklists isn’t enough (I think most of us agree that these are too simplistic; in the library literature, Meola began discussing this in 2004). How can we help students work through this? How can we help students cultivate awareness of their values? This is an important part of information literacy but one that isn’t addressed specifically in our practice, but there are elements of it in the Framework, and several librarians have done some writing on the role of emotional intelligence in library instruction.
In “Indigenous Information Literacy: Nêhiyaw Kinship Enabling Self-Care in Research,” a chapter in The Politics of Theory and the Practice of Critical Librarianship, Loyer (2018) explains that “[l]ibrarians need to address the student’s whole self..in IL instruction.” In Critten’s (2016) “Death of the Author (ity): Repositioning Students as Constructors of Meaning in Information Literacy Instruction,” which can be found in Critical Literacy for Information Professionals, argues that “[t]he library classroom should be a place where students confront their prejudices.” In a blog post title “Wiretaps and CRAAP,” Kevin Seeber (2017) writes:
“Our ability to evaluate information, and explain that process to others, has to involve recognizing that we, and the people with whom we interact, are whole human beings, each of us bringing a set of lived experiences that are unique. And those experiences, as much as anything, are going to drive what we accept as ‘real.”
And in “Motivated Reasoning, Political Information, and Information Literacy Education,” Lenker (2016) writes, “Information literacy education should broaden its scope to include more than just knowledge of information and its sources; it should also include knowledge of how people interact with information.”
Heinbach offers some practical ways that we can help students better interact with information. For example, we can ask students to think about questions they should always ask themselves when evaluating information, such as, “What are my existing biases?” We can also have students reflect on any previous life experiences that may have influenced the selection of their research topics. Another method she mentioned that I think would work to help students think a bit more deeply about sources they are evaluating and reading is to have them reflect on how much a particular source helps them learn. Another activity is to have students come up with their own evaluative criteria (I have done this latter activity in an upper division writing class). Heinback also referenced a crowdsourced list of activities and strategies to help counter cognitive dissonance from Kirker and Stonebreaker’s LOEX 2018 presentation.
Check out the presentation at bit.ly/liwfeelingsIL. It was very thought-provoking, and I am looking forward to doing some more reading and work on this topic. I think it has the potential to really help students developing their critical thinking skills in ways that can help shape their responses to information well after college.
Activities for Evolving Student Needs: Teaching Discovery and Citation through Competitive Play
I know what I said earlier about not really liking games (LOL!), but this was a fun session, and it provided me with ideas to bring back to one of the Spanish instructors I have been working with who isn’t thrilled with the citations students have been producing in their composition papers. (Part of that has to do with just not spending any time outside of sending them to Purdue OWL; one three-month freshmen writing course is not enough.) At the end of the spring semester, she and I got together to discuss activities to help her students with MLA, and I had mentioned that an adaptation of Citation Relay might be helpful and fun. I was so pleased to see that Citation Bowl is another version of the Relay, and it’s a better fit since it’s based off of citations created by citation tools, which is what I had suggested since that’s how students are using to cite (I encourage these tools, but students need to know they aren’t perfect).
What I really liked about the Discovery Puzzle is that students have to both use a search tool and focus on the information available at the item record level. In a webinar I recently attended about critical reading, one of the librarians noted that students also need to learn how to read results lists, and this exercise is one way to encourage a closer examination and help students identify the information they need to create citations. Very clever.
Also, for sources that show that play is a helpful way for adults to learn (child development scholars and practitioners already know that children learn through play), check out:
- Tanis, D.J. (2012). Exploring play/playfulness and learning in the adult and higher education classroom (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED554701)
- Whitton, N., & Moseley, A. (2012). Using games to enhance learning and teaching: A beginner’s guide. New York: Routledge.
- Walsh, A. (2015). Playful information literacy: Play and information literacy in higher education. Nordic Journal of Information Literacy in Higher Education, 7(1), 80-94. https://doi.org/10.15845/noril.v7i1.223
Teaching the Craft of Writing an Effective Research Question
Although these lessons are used in a for-credit information literacy course, I think they can work in a one-shot environment if instructors would be willing to have students do some pre-work. I’m going to share these lessons with my colleagues because our hope with the new GE curriculum is that we can spend time on research as inquiry for the in-person lesson. We have developed some digital learning objects to help tackle other things students need to know but that can be more readily done online. Note that these lessons are not necessarily in any order. Also, many of these activities have think-pair-share and group elements, but I’ll leave it up to you to read the full lesson plans.
Lesson: Characteristics of Effective Research Questions
Prior to the first lesson, students have to read a chapter in Turabian’s (2010) Student’s Guide to Writing College Papers, which helps them learn the characteristics of effective research questions. (But I believe Markowski said that even if they don’t read the chapter, it doesn’t break the class activity; for one-shot librarians, I think this is crucial.) In class, the students go over the evaluative criteria again and, working in pairs, are provided with a sample research question to improve upon.
Lesson: Peer Review Research Questions
Markowski noted that while students are able to improve sample research questions, evaluating their own research questions is still challenging, but having students peer review each other’s questions is another way to help them transfer what they have learned about effective research questions.
Lesson: Moving Beyond Scenarios
This lesson can help students narrow down research interests into focused statements about their investigation that can then help them pinpoint a research questions. Students are provided with a real-world research scenario (I believe the examples selected are for a specific course) in which they have to condense the topic into a fill-in-the blank statement (I have used variations of this before):
I am working on the topic of _______________ because I want to find out _______________ so I can suggest to _______________ what to do to improve _______________.
From this statement, they then compose a question. The question must also meet the criteria for an effective research question.
Lesson: Topic Brainstorm
I believe this lesson is taken or adapted from Rebuilding Research Writing: Strategies for Sparking Informational Inquiry (2014), which is aimed at high school instructors (I’m adding this to my Goodreads account!).
This lesson has students think about how their specific interest links to a bigger (societal) issue. I think this could be a really effective way to help students who may be selecting specific topics based on current events be better equipped, at least in mindset, to find scholarly information that connects to, but is not exactly the same as), their chosen topic. For example, a student from a Spanish composition class (think of this as the equivalent of first-year writing but in Spanish) wanted to write about a racially-charged incident involving a Republican student group on campus, but the issue was that she needed to use scholarly sources…in Spanish. It was challenging encouraging her to think about, say, activism on college campuses or how colleges and universities are grappling with free speech, etc.
In the Problems Around the World activity, students draw a series of three concentric circles. In the middle (Me) circle, students list something that effects them. In the next circle (Community), they try to tie the issue to something in the community, and then try to tie that to something happening in the country (Nation). I’m sure that there are other ways to label the circles, but I think this is a clever exercise.
Lesson: Narrowing a Topic Brainstorm
What I like about this is that it really shows students that pre-research is a valuable part of the research process. It’s a step that needs to be more clearly spelled out for students. It’s not enough to say to do it; we need to show them how.
In this lesson, the instructor shows students how to develop a topic based on sources. The instructor comes to class with three peer-reviewed articles related to a topic, such as sustainable agriculture and then produces a topical mindmap. From the results of the mindmap, the instructor then poses who, what, where, when questions to the topics in order to fish out a particular line of inquiry. Students then work with a partner to discuss their interests and pose who, what, where, when questions to each other’s topics.
Socially Responsible Pedagogy: Critical Information Literacy through Social Justice
Ernesto Hernández is a former University of California (UC Irvine) and Instruction for Diverse Populations (IS-IDP) committee colleague, and I was excited to attend his program. Before I left to LIW, I had taught a lesson for CRES 101 Race and the Media, and the instructor invited me back to teach for her class again the spring. I plan to write to her about the assignment shared in this presentation because I think it ties in nicely.
Hernández and his colleague Beatty teach Information Navigator (LIBS 1704), which is a required, lower-division course at Weber State University. General education courses must meet the following outcomes: content knowledge, intellectual tools, responsibility to self and others, and must also emphasize connected and applied learning. Courses also must involve a big question and signature assignment. LIBS 1704 is anchored in critical librarianship and based on the understanding that “librarians have a political responsibility to students to engage in critical inquiry that interrogates information about race, class, dis/ability, sexual orientation or gender.” The big question is “How does information literacy help bring awareness to social justice issues?”
For the signature assignment, students produce a research project based on social justice-oriented imagery. Students have to create a group presentation using sources that tie to their topic and the class’ big question. They can choose from seven different images and can opt to write about the artwork itself, or they can use it to launch an investigation about the themes central to the art. The students actually select the “topic” by selecting an image. For example, students who choose “Sun Mad” might write a paper about how pesticides affect farmworkers. Both Hernandez and Beatty agree that using images in this way is a helpful way for students to learn about social justice topics and also provides librarians opportunities to tie topics like these into courses.
Check out the slides at bit.ly/liw18images for more details.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Bias
In many ways, this was a perfect pairing with Heinbach’s Checklists Are Not Enough: Exploring Emotional Intelligence as Information Literacy presentation. I was really happy I went to both of these.
I realized that my notes at this session were not good, so I reached out to Leuzinger about obtaining a copy of his slides. Here is the PDF version of his presentation: What We Talk About When We Talk About Bias
Research as Inquiry in First-Year Composition
Springmier, a librarian, and Miller, a composition instructor and writing center director, delivered a presentation about how Sonoma State University has been able to re-imagine its first-year composition program. Using Baer’s (2016) Information Literacy and Writing Studies in Conversation: Reenvisioning Library-Writing Program Connections, ACRL’s Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, and the WPA’s Framework for Success in Post-Secondary Writing, they worked to change the conversation about research and move away from one-shot instruction to collaborative work focused on the research as inquiry frame of the ACRL Framework. (It many ways, I feel like this parallels with the work we are trying to do for the new Spark Seminars at UC Merced.)
Springmier and Miller developed a new, accessible language that brings together both librarian and composition pedagogy, which also shows that the library is an equal partner in teaching research and information literacy. The library then re-marketed its library instruction by packaging instructional activities on a library guide that correspond to the new pedagogy. They introduced these activities, which can be taught by either librarians or instructors, in a series of workshops aimed at writing instructors. (We do this with TRAIL at UC Merced, but, with Spark, we are creating learning objects in Canvas.) I’d really love to talk to Springmier about the research as inquiry guidelines that she and Miller created at Sonoma; I think this could potentially help us be better able to communicate with faculty about the ideas behind the Framework.
Check out the slides at schd.ws/hosted_files/liw2018/e5/LIW.pptx for more information.
I have so much reading to do and ideas to try out as a result of LIW 2018. I’m really looking forward to LIW 2020! If you haven’t attended before, I highly recommend it.