Affinity love


I made my FYS class do an affinity wall. No one cried. Not even me. In fact, it was an incredibly successful exercise.

I had always been somewhat amazed at the affinity wall that my team created in grad school while working with a local toy store in project management class. The insights we gained were nothing that any of us could have come to on our own, even though the information we had in front of us was the exact same information on hundreds of little post-its. Our final recommendations were based entirely off the insights we gained from our affinity wall. Yeah, it was a lot of work, but it was completely worth it.

When I came across a very similar exercise in Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo, I knew I would be doing an affinity wall early on in my FYS class. We are working with the idea of resilience in class. In order to create a group understanding of what resilience is and then build future assignments off that understanding, I first had to establish what the class knew about resilience. Enter: Affinity Wall.

I handed out small stacks of post-its and asked the class to spend 5 minutes brainstorming everything they could think about resilience – words, images, ideas. Each word, image, or idea got a new post-it, and each student needed to have at least 5 and could have many more. All the post-its were put on the whiteboard and then the fun began. I asked the students to rearrange the notes to put things together that seemed to belong together. There doesn’t need to be a defined reason, just a feeling. Soon large collections of things will start to develop. Once a majority of the post-its had found a group, I walked around with a marker and started loosely defining the groups that I saw developing. Notes that didn’t seem to belong anywhere got put in a “parking lot” and the others needed to find or make a group. When all of the notes had found a spot, we created a label for each of the groups. I would read aloud some of what was inside the circles and the students would shoot ideas back at me for what to call it. Sometimes there was complete agreement and sometimes we used a couple of words. In the end, we had a much deeper understanding of what resilience is and what it looks like. I now have a touchstone on which I can base any number of other assignments and reflections. We will be using it all semester.

There are, of course, any number of different brainstorming techniques and approaches. I like the affinity wall because it requires input and participation from every member of the class. I love a technique that requires the students to do most of the hard work of thinking and participating while I act as a guide. Every student has literally touched the project, and I hope that this means they have more buy-in to the end result. We’ll see as the semester goes on. In the mean time, you can see a transcribed copy of our affinity wall here.

Happy first day of class! Here’s your syllabus.

I realize I didn’t have to make my syllabus pretty. I did it anyway. I’m a big believer in creating materials that engage and invite exploration. While I don’t always have the time to dedicate to making the prettiest possible materials, I put the effort in for this instance. I was heavily inspired by work that others have done on their syllabi, particularly Tona Hangen’s highlighted in this article from ProfHacker.

syllabus 2014

syllabus 20142

syllabus 20143

I used my beloved InDesign as per usual. The images are all ones that Col. Chris Hadfield (whose book we will be reading in class) took from space. The first is of a former-island-now-peninsula in Italy and the second is the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in winter.  The colors look slightly different on screen but you get the idea. Have a great start to your school year!

The Collaboration Question

While I was traveling this summer, I had lunch with the fantastic Kristin Fontichiaro at my favorite falafel place in all the land – Haifa Falafel in Ann Arbor. We landed on the subject of librarian/teacher collaboration and talked about the roots of librarian dislike of teaching a class solo. I’m still thinking about it.

As librarians, I think our default reaction when asked to teach a class without the professor present is one of resistance. We might feel that this indicates a lack of respect from the professor or a lack of buy-in on the importance of library instruction. We may rely on the presence of the professor to subtly communicate to students that library instruction is important and to manage class behavior. If asked on short notice and/or while the professor is still on campus, we might feel that we are being asked to babysit a class at the professor’s convenience. And sometimes we might feel we are being tested by the old guard professors for our ability not only to think on our feet but also to be effective in our instructional goals without their support. I have been in each of these situations and felt all these things at different times myself.

But what if, Kristin asks, the professor is asking out of profound respect? What if their request represents complete confidence in our ability to do our job well instead of representing on-call convenience? As Kristin said to me, “I don’t let just anyone take my classes.”

Obviously, each interaction between librarian and professor is different, but what if, instead of raising our hackles at professors’ requests to take classes without their presence, we choose to read their request as confidence? How would that mindset effect our interactions?

Kristin and Jo Angela Oehrli wrote two interesting articles for Library Media Connection on collaboration between teachers and librarians. Each have been both a classroom teacher and a librarian and have lots of insights on what makes collaboration work and what points of miscommunication seem to happen frequently. The articles are written for a school library audience, but there are plenty of solid pieces of advice that apply to all teachers and librarians. Citations:

  1. Fontichiaro, K., & Oehrli, J. A. (2014). Turning the tables on collaboration part I: planning for success. Library Media Connection, 34(4), 36–38.
  2. Fontichiaro, K., & Oehrli, J. A. (2014). Turning the tables on collaboration part II: reflecting on success. Library Media Connection, 34(5), 34–36.

3 Design Tips (plus miscellaneous advice)

Image credit: Austin Kleon

Image credit: Austin Kleon

I’ve received a few questions lately about how I go about designing things for my library. There’s some good info in past posts if you follow the “design” category, but I thought I’d put together some tips and strategies in a more formalized post.

I use InDesign almost exclusively for my design work, but you don’t have to. I like it because I like control. Haha. InDesign is an Adobe product that you can access through a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud. I happen to have a desktop version from before Creative Cloud existed. If you’re not in the market for the whole Adobe suite, you can pay subscription access to just one or two products. You can, however, do similar work in other programs like Publisher and Powerpoint. I learned InDesign through a combination of help from slightly more informed friends, Google, and Lynda, which I have access to through the Northern New York Library Network. I can’t say that I use it “correctly” but I get the job done. I’ve heard good things about this book, and I’ll be adding it to my office soon.

There are two, no three, things that will help your poster level up, no matter what software program you’re using: fonts, color, and layout.

  1. Free fonts are great. I never pay for them. My two favorite free font sites are Dafont and 1001 Fonts. Browsing is helpful if you have a specific idea of what you’re looking for (see below on inspiration). I often use Pinterest to help track down free fonts and font combinations. I even keep a board for fonts specifically. Another thing to keep in mind about fonts is dingbats. You don’t have to figure out a way to make artful frames, curls, and tiny robots on a computer screen. There’s a dingbat for that. Save yourself the headache.
  2. Limiting your color palette and using color wisely are the difference between chocolate chip cookie dough and superman ice cream. Colorzilla, a browser add-on, is a good place to start and help you pick up exact colors that you like from the web. Pinterest is another good place to look for color palettes. They’re mostly for home decor, but there’s no reason you couldn’t use them elsewhere. Sometimes I really care about getting an exact color, like the colors used on my school website, and sometimes I just use a standard color picker in the software to slide around until I find something I like.
  3. Layout is the most fundamental piece of poster design. What is the hierarchy? How much info is necessary? Does the flow make sense? Is it clear? I like to block out rough shapes on a piece of paper before going to the computer, and then I constantly check the layout on screen and also in print. Printing out a rough copy on a standard sized piece of paper helps you make the little tweaks in color, gradient, size, and shape that make a difference. I can’t emphasize how powerful seeing your design in print can be.

When looking for inspiration, I often do an image search in Google, especially for an event poster. I take advantage of the fact that other places have art school students who help with graphic design for events. I don’t copy directly, but I do use the images for text layout, fonts, color combinations, and other assorted pretties. I have a board on Pinterest to collect poster ideas because I’m already on Pinterest, but you could just as easily use Evernote Web Clipper or something else to save the images for future reference. For instance, for the Student Speaker Series poster this year, I started with the top image, which inspired the following pieces of advertising:

Inspiration image

final poster

I also teach a class on poster design for culinary capstone students who present their capstone in poster format rather than as a formal presentation or paper. You can see the subject guide here. I’d like to present the workshop to campus in general this year, since it is one of my favorite workshops to teach. I’m happy to share my materials for this workshop. Just send me an email.

Happy designing!

Catching up before leaving again


Paul Smith’s College, the most beautiful campus in America

Why, hello there. It’s been a full summer so far. Balancing being at work and not being at work is sometimes a challenge. For instance, I meant to talk a bit about ALA, but then I was traveling directly after, and then I was enjoying being at home and not traveling, and by the time I got back to work and sat down to write out some observations here on this blog they seemed flat. Not that ALA was flat. It was, as it always is, hit and miss. In between discussion groups in which no discussion was being had and patronizing primers on how to recognize when your audience is disengaged (while failing to notice that the audience was, in fact, disengaged) there were a number of really great presentations. Two standouts for me were a presentation on threshold concepts for information literacy and “Sticking with STEM,” which had so much incredible info that transcended STEM I wanted to kick myself for not attending more diverse programs.

In the mean time, I’ve been working on FYS and trying to get as organized as possible before the fall starts. FYS is an extra contract for me, and, given how thin the library staff has recently been spread, choosing which balls to deliberately set aside and planning ahead as much as possible is key. My FYS syllabus is basically done (and, yes, I put in the effort to make it pretty) and the course schedule is falling into place. This makes me feel good, considering that I am leaving tomorrow for two weeks of vacation and then it’s a steep climb into the semester. Maybe I’ll share the syllabus when I get back? Would that be interesting?

So. How about some links?

Feature on Librarian Design Share

design share image

Librarian Design Share is one of my favorite practical librarian websites. There are all kinds of good, reusable ideas there. I’ve definitely run with a few of them myself. Today I’m featured with  my approach to the book talk poster – an easy, eye-catching template that works both large-scale and small-scale. Head on over to check it out, and don’t forget to follow Librarian Design Share while you’re there!

New Digital Scholar



If you’re an instructional librarian or teach writing and/or research skills, you’re going to want to get your hands on a copy of The New Digital Scholar: Exploring and Enriching the Research and Writing Practices of NextGen Students edited by Randall McClure and James Purdy. Despite the buzzwordy title, this book is full of essays that explore the intersection of writing and research for undergraduate students. With a balance of theoretical and practical ideas to think about, it is an invaluable resource for people who work to engage undergraduates in meaningful fact-and-logic-based writing. I particularly enjoyed Can I Google That? Research Strategies of Undergraduate Students by Mary Lourdes Silva and Re-Envisioning Research: Alternative Approaches to Engaging NextGen Students by Rachel A. Milloy. Both lean towards practicality but show evidence of deep, methodical thinking. This is exactly the kind of work that easily pairs with the foundational writing assessment committee I’ve participated in for the last two years. Highly recommended.

First Year Seminar update


Here’s what my current process for planning my FYS class looks like. Merging two ideas in the comments from Kristin and Ilana, I have created a giant post-it note calendar of the semester. In the process, I learned that our weeks during the semester actually run Wednesday-Wednesday with the last Wednesday being a Monday. My head hurt a bit thinking this through and I scrapped my first plan to number the weeks. Who needs it when we already have a lovely, lovely calendar where Wednesday is always in the middle of the week and never rearranged?

Obviously, this wall-based approach wouldn’t work for planning multiple classes, but it’s working for me now. I have a rough sketch of crucial assignments, outings, and special lectures in place. Now it’s a matter of filling in the blanks with the slightly more mundane, day-to-day class stuff – readings and discussions, building and scaffolding.

I found that library instruction was one of the last pieces to fall into place for me. This class needs intentional structuring for library instruction to be really useful. If I had trouble envisioning where library instruction fits, I’m sure others do too. I’m wondering how I might help FYS instructors create meaningful assignments that address the required library instruction component. We typically do a lecture about evaluating information for FYS, although we change it up on request. Some instructors choose to include a debate for their final project, which is a natural fit for discussions about quality of information. Others do a “Global Journeys” project to help connect students to the world at large. Still others choose to go a completely different path. I will be contacting other FYS professors to see how we might work together to make the library instruction really useful.

The texts I’ve chosen are A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, a classic for FYS here in the ADKs and an excellent text for helping students connect to a very forested place, and An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield, which, besides being just fascinating, will provide some concrete examples of life skills in action. I’m also planning to use some exercises from Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo to help open the class and bring everything together at the end.

In the mean time, I’m also considering tweaks to our current FYS library instruction. What do you do for instruction in first year classes?

Travel tips: Conference and otherwise

I like to think I’ve got a few things figured out, travel-wise. I also like to think I’ve got a few things figured out, conference-wise, which, coincidentally, often involves travel. Maybe we’ve all got our own travel and conference preferences worked out, but here are my top tips:

General travel tips:

  1. I’ve learned this one the hard way on many occasions: Don’t travel hangry. You won’t be able to find food when you need food. Bring enough snacks for one or two times a day for at least a few days. I find it best to choose things that don’t need special care and taste just as good if they get a bit battered around or slightly melted. For me this means apples, nuts, Clif Builder’s Bars, trail mix, and/or homemade energy bites. I function best if there’s a substantial protein component to my snacks. These can be combined for emergency meal replacement (apple/Builder’s Bar/trail mix) or can simply fill in the gap after an inadequate meal or time zone change.
  2. Scarves and/or shawls take up almost no space in your luggage or bag but can be used in a million ways. Keep warm in cold spaces, block sun when you’re trying to sleep or avoid sunburn, cover your head and shoulders if you want privacy or you’re visiting religious spaces where modesty is required, wipe up spills, etc.
  3. Powdered laundry detergent means that you don’t have to pack a separate change of clothes for every day you’ll be gone (and you don’t have to worry about the 3oz. liquids rule). A few basics with some interesting jewelry and the aforementioned scarf will be plenty if you take a few minutes in the evening to wash what’s dirty in the bathroom sink. Word to the wise, cotton dries slowly so plan accordingly.
  4. You need less clothes than you think, especially if you’re traveling carry-on only. I like to look nice and put together every day. Looking nice and put together does not mean that you need a separate outfit for every day. I prefer dresses to separates for summer travel because I feel they take up less room in my suitcase and I just like them. Maxi dresses can be quite nice for travel days as they keep you covered but are as comfortable as pjs and look much better. A few relatively plain dresses (2-3 for 4-7 days of travel) with a couple of sweaters or cardis and some interesting jewelry will allow you plenty of mix-and-match options. And, ok, you might not want to see those two dresses for a few weeks when you get home, but so what?
  5. Honestly, I’m not much of a shoe fiend, and I get by just fine on one pair and a back-up. Both worn for years and broken in very well with a history of long walks and minimal irritation. Usually, I bring two and only wear one. It’s worth it to have the insurance in case of sore feet, since I am very prone to blisters. In the summer, I default to my Birkenstocks.
  6. The air blower on the plane might as well be called The Plague Distributor. Don’t use it unless you’re really desperate, and even then avoid directing it at your face. I tend towards motion sickness that is amplified by being too hot, and I still recommend avoiding the air blower on planes. If you manage to get blasted in the face, or you’re feeling especially vulnerable to illness (super stressed and exhausted, must be at peak performance while traveling, etc) I highly recommend Airborne before and after a flight to help ward off any possible ick. Maybe it’s just personal superstition at this point, but I’ve never gotten sick after traveling when using it, even when I was flying every weekend for super stressful auditions.
  7. You’ve probably seen those horseshoe shaped pillows they sell at the airport. Man, they’re helpful, and I say this as a person who is basically incapable of sleeping sitting up. Here’s a secret: You can get inflatable versions that do the same job and take up basically no room in your bag when not in use. You’re welcome.
  8. If you are not traveling exclusively carry-on, make sure you have anything you can’t live without for a day or two in a carry-on bag. This includes somewhat obvious things like travel documents, prescriptions, toothbrush, and a change of underwear/socks, but also anything that you might need immediately at your destination like presentation materials (or, as I learned the hard way once, reeds and music). Even if it weighs down your carry-on bag, you will be super grateful for this precaution in the event that your luggage is delayed, especially if you’re traveling to an unfamiliar place.

Conference specific (Maybe you’re going to ALA?):

  1. Everything I said above still applies to conference travel, including the shoe and clothes recommendations. Unless you’re presenting at a conference or are looking for a new job, make sure that all clothes and shoes you bring can do double duty for conferences and sightseeing. Interesting jewelry and scarves can liven up plain clothes, and no one will be the wiser that you wore that dress the day before yesterday. Carefully consider shoes, as you will no doubt be walking miles in them. I wear my Birks, but they’re classy ones, I swear! In my experience, these recommendations will put you firmly high-middle-of-the-road for conference dress, but you do you.
  2. I tend to travel tech-light. These days that means smartphone, Kindle, and iPod. I will not be bringing back-up batteries to support a phone, laptop, and iPad to ALA, no matter how many friends it might win me. There are lots of great tips out there if you lean that direction.
  3. For conferences, I infinitely prefer notebooks to other tech for note-taking. I find notebooks much easier to wrangle in conference halls that may or may not have tables, and they encourage organic note-taking for me. Since I’m no longer a student, my notes have changed significantly. I no longer care about recapping a presentation but about the ideas or quotes I can use or engage with in my work. I write down threads to follow later, and I write down lots of questions and insights as they spill from my brain. Capturing the questions and ideas that come up is one of the most valuable parts of the conference experience for me, and I do that best on paper. Example: 
  4. If you’re going to ALA or other similar conference where you might pick up far more freebies than will fit in your bag, you might want to consider taking some packing tape for boxes to ship home. ALA has an on-site pop-up post office, which is super convenient.
  5. A note on tote bags: You don’t really need to bring a special bag to a conference, trust me on this. They’ll be throwing the things at you, and it’s often nearly impossible to say no. If you have special considerations for your bags or you’ll be doing lots of job hunting, you may prefer your own, but I tend to just stick with whatever my Midwest sensibilities won’t allow me to refuse.
  6. Do take the time to do some non-conference related stuff in the area, even if it’s just one museum or tour.
  7. You will reach saturation point. Don’t feel bad if you need to skip out on a session to either go back to your hotel and rest or simply find a quiet corner to decompress.
  8. As soon as you can after the conference, like maybe even in the trip home, write down all the thoughts that are swirling around in your head, insights, confusions, frustrations, possibilities, etc. Capture everything, because you will forget in an astonishingly short period of time. Did you take notes? Go back through and highlight everything that is a thread for you to follow. Even if you found the conference to be largely an echo chamber (it happens), you probably came away with at least one new way of seeing. Don’t lose it.

You can see more travel trips for foreign lands here.


New challenges

Red is dead by Éole, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Ã‰ole 

Big challenges are in the works for me in the fall. After two years of working to build an effective library instruction program (an ongoing process, of course) I’m stepping up and slightly sideways to the next level in teaching activities – a full semester course. I will be teaching a section of First Year Seminar, which is required of all incoming students. FYS is an interdisciplinary, discussion-based course designed to explore questions of meaning, value, and responsibility. It is meant to help incoming students make connections to the campus, the Adirondacks, and each other. I’m thrilled to be teaching alongside a number of more experienced faculty, all of whom have different approaches toward the same goals. Each section has a different theme. I have titled mine “Cultivating Resilience.”

Course description: How do we handle change? How can we overcome setbacks? How do we recognize and cultivate resilience in our lives and the lives of others? In this section of FYS, we will be analyzing and understanding strategies for resilience by examining different environmental and societal responses to challenge and change. Assignments will take place in and outside of the classroom as we question the nature of resilience in the Adirondacks, in ourselves, and in others. Through critical thinking, classroom discussion, reflection, reading, writing, and videos, students will develop strategies for cultivating resilience in their own lives to help them succeed in the college classroom and beyond.

I hope that this theme will allow the class to be flexible enough to meet the inevitable challenges inherent in FYS as well as to follow the interests of the students and directions we might want to explore along the way. I’m nervous about the planning necessary for a full semester course. I plan workshops and large scale curriculum, but I haven’t yet had to fill 2-3 days a week with unique material for 14 weeks. Any tips and tricks out there that you more experienced teachers can share?

And in other news, I’m going to ALA! Anyone interested in meeting up? I’m excited to be exposed to new ideas and catch up with friends I haven’t seen in way too long. Most importantly for me, I’m excited to meet new people and get the chance to talk through ideas and approaches to instruction and assessment. My colleagues are fantastic, but I’m a one woman department, and I crave interaction with others that do the same kind of work. Interested in effective teaching, assessment of instruction and reference, and/or outreach activities? Hit me up at meggan[dot]frost[at]gmail[dot]com or @doubleG2718.

** it’s worth clicking through on the image above **