Bias in Your Search Results Lesson @ CCLI 2019

In early May, I presented a lightning talk at the California Conference on Library Instruction about a lesson I designed for an upper-division Critical Race and Ethnic Studies course at UC Merced. I’m a little shy about sharing instructional materials, so this was actually the first time I shared a lesson plan and activity I’ve designed for a class with folks who aren’t my colleagues. I first designed the lesson in Spring 2018, and I’ve tweaked it a few times since then.

As promised at the conference, I got my act together and put up my lesson plan and materials on Project CORA. Let me know if I have typos or broken links. Of course, if you end up using or adapting this, I’d love to know, as well.

Endings & Beginnings

An image of a split fortune cookie with a fortune that reads,

June 1 marked my third year at UC Merced, and it was the same day I was offered a Reference Librarian position at Merced College. If you’ve been here long enough, I worked for Merced College before but at the small campus one hour west in Los Baños. My first day at Merced College will be August 6.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work at UC Merced. During these last three years, I learned so much from my instruction colleagues, and I have become a more confident teacher. I’m now ready to take on the challenge of leading and expanding research education at the community college where I started my professional career just a few years ago. I’m excited to pursue some of the goals my former/soon-to-be current colleagues and I could only dream about six years ago.

I’m back.

Celebrating Student Re$earch

selective focus photography of multicolored confetti lot

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

I love graduation season. I love seeing pictures of folks in caps and gowns and reading posts about gratitude and accomplishment. (If you or a loved one just graduated, congratulations!) In the spirit of celebration and reflection, I started thinking about the library award committee I have been chairing the last two years and discovered that I never blogged about the first award cycle for the Abresch-Kranich Library Award, and the UC Merced Library just finished awarding the second set of scholarships this spring.

In 2018, we had two winners, Melissa Becerra and Nathan Parmeter. Each student received a $500 scholarship thanks to our donor, Arlene Kranich. You can read more about the award and our student winners in “New Scholarship Pays Homage to Persistence and Research.”

Last spring, my former Central Valley colleague Ray Pun also interviewed me about the award for the Credo Reference blog for the HIP (high-impact practices) in Action series. You can read the interview in “HIP in Action: Undergraduate Research & Awards.” It was great exposure for our library and UC Merced, and I hope the interview helped inspire other libraries.

In 2019, we also had two student winners, Marisela Padilla Alcalá and Sarah Lee. You can read more about our student winners in “Two Students Honored for Excellence in Use of Library Resources.”

After the second award cycle, I have a better idea of when and in what specific areas I need to ask for help. I also have ideas for changes to the workflow. I’m currently on vacation, but before I left, I started drafting my process with changes I might want to make regarding the timeline. The review and reception happens during the busiest time in the instruction season, and the process will go much more smoothly if we can open and close the application earlier. Currently, it opens Nov. 1 and closes Feb. 1, but opening it on Oct. 1 and closing it in mid-January will help me get the applications out to the five-member review committee more quickly. After a quick chat with the university librarian, he agreed with the earlier deadline, and we also determined that we should hold the reception before spring break, which is always in March. There are also some other changes I want to make, and I’m very thankful that two of my colleagues who have helped with reviewing student applications are interested in helping me streamline this process, which may also involve changing the award rubric. We’ll be doing this work in June.

Does your college or university library have a research award of some kind?

Read If Organizing Work Things Sparks Joy

Image of assorted color markers in a glass jar next to a blank notebookPhoto by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

I couldn’t help the Marie Kondo reference. (I really enjoyed Season 1 of “Tidying Up.” I go through purging periods every so often, so I am here for it.)

The longer I am at my job, the better I am getting at figuring out a system to keep track of what I work on. Who knew that some simple templates and a planner could help me feel better during those moments of one-shot instruction fatigue? As I’m not involved with meaningful assessment, it’s challenging for me to see the long-term effects of the work I do, so documenting my activities helps keep me motivated.

After I received the final documentation for my first review, I created a template in Google Docs for the documentation that I am responsible for turning in (visit “UC Librarian Review Process“), and I’ll be in much better shape for my next review in January 2020 as I have been filling it out with more significant projects and partnerships as I go along.

For instruction, I typically put all of my classes into Outlook because our research appointment calendar syncs with Outlook, but I learned that it is miserable to go back into your calendar to figure out how many classes and workshops you taught during a particular semester. Our research instruction request forms are also connected to the system we use for submitting post-class statistics. The library’s programmer was able to enhance our system so that we can see which classes have not had statistics submitted, but once you submit, it’s clunky to run a query.

I created yet another template to help me out in Google Sheets: bit.ly/class_stats_template It has a tab for classes and a tab for workshops. The Guide column is the URL to the class LibGuide. Students refers to the number of students. The Stats Recorded column is just a note for myself as I submit statistics into our system because I sometimes let it pile up. The Google Folder column is the key to what I actually did in class, as it links to a folder in Google Drive that contains the class syllabus, research assignment, and my lesson plan. In Google Drive, I have a 2018-2019 folder with subfolders for Fall 2018 and Spring 2019. My basic folder structure looks like the following: Semester > Instructor Name > Course. It’s now super simple for me to find all the corresponding documentation for each class I taught. If you’re interested, I also started using a new lesson plan template that I adapted from another librarian: bit.ly/lesson_plan_template I’m bummed to say that I don’t remember who shared it, but I need to comb through some librarian listserv archives to find out because I really need to thank them!

Seeing some of my work reflected in my Classes & Workshops spreadsheet this past semester has made me feel a lot better.

When I worked at the community college, one of my librarian mentors suggested that I get a paper planner that has both a monthly and weekly format, so that I take brief notes about what I work on within the planner. This semester, I’m going to utilize a planner to reflect on my teaching. While I print my lesson plans and write on them during class, they can look pretty cruddy. I need to do a better job about writing down what worked, what didn’t, observations, etc. (On that note, I do plan to finally finish reading char booth’s Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literature for Library Educators, though I think char is working on a new edition.)

I also feel like this could be a fun workshop at conference–sharing instructional planning materials and tools and methods for keeping track of work. Like New Year library programming but for academic librarians.

Thankful

Thankful

“Thankful note on tree” by Jessica Castro on Unsplash

The day before Thanksgiving, I got an email from the Chancellor’s Office letting me know that a student who graduated in the spring (AKA my worst semester) indicated in an exit survey that I was one of three staff or faculty members who made a memorable impact during their time at UC Merced.

This recognition means a great deal to me.

As a non-faculty librarian (we’re academic appointees at the University of California) who teaches one-shot research lessons, the only student feedback I receive, besides formative assessment, is through post-lesson satisfaction surveys. While the librarians have been involved with projects to assess student learning, I, personally, haven’t yet had opportunities to see the impact of my and my colleagues’ work over time. (I am hopeful through liaison work and some other contacts I’ve made this fall that this can change somewhat, and we might be in a good position due to campus growth, a new general education curriculum, and a new department structure.) Outside of classes and workshops, my other source of student engagement is through research consultations.

I sometimes feel disconnected from my purpose in this kind of library environment. In my previous position, if I wasn’t teaching, I was at the desk, which proved to have its own challenges, but I really enjoyed knowing students’ names and about their lives. I may not feel as connected to students as I did before, but I’m very thankful to know that I really am helping students on their path to earn a degree and accomplish their life goals.

This is something I needed to hear. I go back to work tomorrow, and I’m looking forward to the two research consultations I have scheduled in the afternoon.

Language

I’m a member of the California chapter of ACRL, CARL, but I’m not very active, mostly because I got involved with National first. I’ve really been impressed with Talitha Matlin‘s leadership. The Fall CARL Newsletter was just released, and her presidential message really hit home with me.

In the message, she asks:

What are some words or phrases you’ve been trying to change in your vocabulary?

As a large state with almost 400 institutes of higher education, we play a large role in shaping the discourse surrounding libraries and library work. I realize that some people may roll their eyes at the idea of spending so much time agonizing over language choice. However, using words that demonstrate confidence and do not diminish the important roles we play in our institutions is one step we can all take. We may not all arrive at the same words, but I hope we are all able to speak about our work in ways that feel authentic and affirming.

Her message left me with my mouth hanging open.

I have been doing this lately when it comes to my work as an instruction librarian. It really started with the day a well-meaning writing instructor commented, in reference to my handwriting, that I should have been a teacher as I was writing the URL to the class research guide and the learning outcomes! Ever since then, when someone says presentation, I offer lesson. I don’t correct people outright, but, rather, I use the adjusted language somewhere in my response. When accepting research instruction requests, I’ll write or say, “Let’s meet to discuss learning outcomes…” or “What learning outcomes would you like for me to design my lesson around? In looking at the assignment…[offer my two cents].”

Sometimes instructors also realize the inherent problem of calling research instruction “presentations” or “lectures” on their own. Recently, I was discussing a class with an instructor over the phone, and she hesitated using the word presentation.

Anytime I find myself wanting to write or say library instruction session, I revise it to research instruction or research lesson.

Now that I’m also more organized–and I admit that I mostly got my act together to prove a point–I have been sending a Google Doc with the lesson plan, titled as such, in advance. (It’s not that I didn’t have plans before; I just rarely shared them after getting in touch with instructors about their upcoming classes.) I don’t actually think folks take a look at my plans, but, if they do, it shows evidence that I plan for checks for understanding and learning activities. Even if things change up in the classroom, it shows that I have been thinking about how to teach both concepts and procedures in a way that maximizes the tiny amount of time I have with students.

Making these changes with language and involving the instructor into my process (it’s not always as collaborative as one might like) has helped my confidence. I am more honest about what can and can’t be done in a single lesson, and I’m a bit more bold in offering suggestions. It’s as though I believe that I’m a real educator now!

I haven’t implemented this yet, but, in September, there was a post on JoVE’s librarian blog called “How Librarians Can Really Explain What Their Jobs Are Like” that advises that when you are asked what you do for a living, resist the urge to use the word librarian at the beginning of your response. Brandy King writes:

These days, instead of starting with “I’m a librarian,” I first talk about the difference my work makes and then end by saying “I’m a librarian.”

How smart is this? This has forever changed how I will be addressing this question.

Library Instruction West 2018

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:

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.