Category Archives: teaching

In want of the assessable objective

For a long while, assessment of our instruction program and workshops has taken a backseat to more pressing concerns, like the day-to-day running of the library and building of a coherent instruction program. This spring I decided to pilot some assessment in our English 101 courses. At PSC, ENG101 has two required instruction sessions, and I targeted one particular ENG101 for this pilot with the goal of embedding assessment into both sessions.

I’ve long been frustrated by the approaches to assessment for library instruction sessions. The general approach seems to lean heavily on pre-/post-testing, which I am loathe to do. I can hardly imagine a circumstance that would leave a worse impression on a student than pre-/post-tests for a guest lecture. I need my assessments to be as unobtrusive yet fruitful as possible.

For the first session, I collaborated with the professor to design a journal, to be assigned after the session, which asked students to find some articles for their forthcoming annotated bibliography and then ask them to unpack their process and thinking a little. This assignment was for a grade in class. For the second session, I brought out my trusty notecards and asked students to reflect on how class changed how they might use their sources and to explain their next steps in research. Something is better than nothing, I figured, so let’s just start there.

Well, I have to tell you I learned a lot, but not much about what students did or did not learn. I learned that my learning objectives leave a lot to be desired. It’s not that these workshops don’t have learning objectives. They do! It’s just that assessing the objectives as written doesn’t lead to an understanding of whether or not students learn something. I can assess whether we are doing what we said we would do in the workshop – yes, the students are making and revising a mindmap – but without rewriting the objectives, I can’t assess whether making a mindmap had any effect on the students’ final projects.

For the objects that are well-written, I focused on the wrong end of the statement:

  • Students will revise their mind map and research plan in order to understand that a paper or research project may be effected by the information that is found.

In this instance, I focused on whether or not they were revising, and not on their understanding. I looked at what they were doing and not what they were learning.

So, I have some work to do there. All in all, though, I’d call that a successful assessment. I learned something that will cause me to go about it a different way in the future.

What you get when you ask

In my last post, I suggested that one of the great things about teaching FYS is a captive freshmen audience. The thing is, when you ask questions of students, very often the answer is different than you thought. Their answers sometimes confirm what you suspect from observation but their reasoning may not align with your assumptions. Understanding why something is happening that way, not just that it is happening, is crucial to accurately meet a need. Here are three ways we’ve asked questions of our library community, with answers that both confirm our observations and open new avenues for services and effective learning.

EXHIBIT A: Extra hours poll. For various reasons, extended hours at the end of the semester have always been a bit fraught in our library. With Capstones due at varying times, Capstone presentations happening the weekend before finals, and “finals” themselves being less formal than the name suggests, answering the question “when would extended hours be most helpful?” has never been clear for us. We tried a number of approaches, but never felt that participation met our expectations. Last spring after midterm, I conducted a quick and dirty poll (slips of paper in a box at the front desk) to see if students had a preference for when extended hours would take place. They had three options: Week before Capstones, weekend before finals, week of finals. Results: Students would prefer that the library be open all the time, always. With a near three-way tie, the results weren’t as helpful as we wanted, but we did modify our usual extended hours to include extended weekend hours for the first time and were able to use the semi-magic words “in response to your feedback, we are now offering more extended hours than ever before” in our marketing. Outcome: Students felt heard, we confirmed that there was no objectively “best” time for extended hours, and student participation in extended hours increased.

noise level 1

 

noise level 2

EXHIBIT B: Where is it noisy? Our library is a beautiful space. Though small by most academic library standards, it is wonderfully useful, with different types of working spaces to accommodate all kinds of student learning from individual to group study. It is also one of the only spaces on campus where students can do work outside of their dorms. While the library is rarely noisy by our standards, noise can be difficult to contain due to the open design and lofted second floor. In addition, our efforts to reserve space within the library as “silent study” during midterms and finals had been ineffective for years owing to ongoing misunderstanding and miscommunication between the library, Conference Services, and parties interested in reserving library space. We received a few complaints about noise in the library this fall that lead us to believe that the students’ definition of “noisy” was different from our own. Our wonderful new Student Outreach Librarian, Amy Pajewski, created this brilliant pinboard to allow students to indicate their perceived noise levels throughout the library. Results: Indeed, student perception of noise is different from the library staff’s perception. In fact, students themselves differ in noise perception. (It cracks me up that they rated the noise levels in the bathrooms, and that the men’s room is perceived to be much louder than the women’s room.) Outcome: We’re working with Conference Services and our Provost to regain access to silent study space in the library (the Adirondack Room on the map) for midterms and finals. Amy is working developing a plan for communicating the results to students so they can more effectively choose spaces that match their noise preferences.

EXHIBIT C: Why didn’t you reference sources in your presentation? As I mentioned in my last post, my FYS students engaged in a problem-based learning unit with embedded library instruction. The idea was that they would find sources to support their problems or solutions. When it came to their presentations, however, the sources were largely absent from the work, present only on a works cited slide and mentioned nowhere else. I was curious to know why this was, since the rubric required the use of sources in the presentation, which we had gone over together in class. In the class following the presentations, I asked the students to do a minute paper addressing the following questions: 1. Why didn’t you make use of your sources in your presentation? and 2. What can I do to help you do this better next time? Results (summarized):

  • Why didn’t you make use of your sources in your presentation?
    • We thought the project was about our opinions and therefore didn’t understand the need for citations.
    • We didn’t know how to use the sources in our presentations.
    • The sources were too broad or didn’t provide any new information.
    • We thought that including the sources on a works cited slide was enough.
    • We asked peers for their opinions. They were our sources.
  • What can I do to help you do this better next time?
    • Give us more time to prepare.
    • Maybe we could practice in front of you for feedback before the presentation.
    • Be clearer.
    • Show us how.
    • Require citations on each slide.
    • (Plus many responses of “I don’t know.”)

There are many instructional opportunities here, mostly indicated in their response to the first question, and none of which point to the informal rhetoric “kids these days,” “they just don’t want to, that’s why,” and “plagiarism.” Outcome: In order to overcome student tendency to believe that their opinions are formulated in a vacuum, prior to the final presentation for class related to a different assignment we talked about the nature of ideas, standing on the shoulders of giants, showing your work, and otherwise acknowledging the ideation process. I also told them that I hadn’t created their final project assignment in a vacuum either, and publicly noted the faculty member whose work I had used as a springboard as an example of both practicing what I preach and showing them how someone might incorporate “citations” into speech. In their final presentation, citation and verbal recognition were much more present than in their previous presentation, if still clunky in execution. Had I not run out of time, two more lessons could have been constructed around finding useful information and citing informal conversations.

Asking for information is not without its pitfalls. Here are some important pieces to understand and think through before asking for information at all:

  • Be sure you want to know the outcome, because they will be honest, often brutally. Separate your own feelings about your work and your library from survey results. I have never administered a survey without feeling at least one sting. You have two choices in these circumstances: 1. Feel hurt and respond ad hominem 2. Feel hurt and find a more constructive way to voice the same response in order to understand the underlying issue. You’re human. Feel hurt. Acknowledge the hurt, then get to work.
  • Be prepared to make actual changes in response, because otherwise there is no point in asking in the first place. If you aren’t prepared to do anything with the information, or the information gathering isn’t structured in such a way as to point to an actionable solution, save your time and theirs for something else. For instance, rather than asking students how they felt about noise levels in the library in general, Amy asked students to populate a map, because one of the desired products of this information gathering is to construct a “noise map” of the library. Information that states “50% of students feel the library is too loud” would not have had an actionable outcome.
  • Understand the role of student expectations versus your library’s priorities and ability/desire to meet those expectations. We are not able to have the library open all the time, always. We are also not able to control noise levels with an iron fist to meet everyone’s needs all the time, always. We can, however, take steps to give the students information and more of what they want within our own constraints in such a way that they understand their own role in making the best decisions for themselves.
  • And finally, always acknowledge that opinions have been heard. We can increase credibility with our community by communicating the outcomes of the information they provided us. Feeling heard is often more important than being right. When we respond to our community’s needs, our community is more likely to communicate those needs to us.

What are some ways that you take your community’s opinions into account? Have you fallen into any information gathering pitfalls?

 

5 reasons you should teach FYS

first-year-seminar-310I have exactly two FYS classes left in the semester. It’s bittersweet to see the semester end. I have enjoyed this class so much this fall. They have been such a fun group of personalities and I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished and the community they have built. On the other hand, can the semester be over already? I’ve struggled to find a groove. 2015 has been a banner year for me, but it has been incredibly challenging, and I won’t be sad to see the turning of the calendar.

I have grown hugely as a teacher with the help of FYS, and I’ve grown as a librarian serving a community, too. My FYS experiences have been a valuable education, second only to grad school in understanding how to best do my job. I would recommend this experience to anyone who works in instruction or public services in academia. Here are 5 ways that teaching FYS can change how you do your job:

  1. Develop relationships with the students. As a teacher, their teacher, you have a different relationship with students than as a workshop coordinator. Asking students to do difficult things requires trust, and trust takes time. This is part of why we struggle in one-shots to reach teach “threshold concepts.” Presenting difficult, wiggly, profound instructional moments requires that students trust you enough to follow you. As you begin to know students, their daily concerns and difficulties, you begin to understand how to best be of use to them in the library. This is what we mean when we say “point of need.” Identifying needs is the first step, and getting to the heart of the need requires trust.
  2. Relate to faculty in a different way. The faculty respect you more when you’ve been in the trenches and are more willing meet you halfway when you have experience in classrooms like theirs. Teaching in the classroom changes your perspective on what’s hard from both a student and faculty perspective. This is the basis of building those ever-important liaison relationships. FYS at my institution, and at many others I’m guessing, is a bit of a scapegoat for “things the students should know.” When students have difficulty with everything from Excel to how to register for classes to (yes) research FYS is usually identified as the place this thing should exist. When you know and understand the role of FYS in the curriculum, you are better positioned to provide workable solutions to pedagogical problems.
  3. Try new pedagogies. Unless you’re in a team-teaching situation, there are certain pedagogies that just don’t fit into traditional library instruction. Problem-based learning, service learning, and inquiry take time. In a classroom of your own devising, you can try and test these pedagogies and consider how they might complement or enhance library instruction. With that experience, you can consider how you might support or suggest changes to assignments or how you might approach library instruction differently in the future.
  4. Ask the questions you always wanted answers to. You have a captive audience. When students don’t seem to be meeting your expectations you have two options: 1. Get frustrated and blame yourself or others. 2. Ask them about it. For example, my students completed a 6-week problem based learning unit. I embedded library instruction into the unit with the intention that they would find some resources to support either their problem statement or their solutions. In practice, the students listed the articles on a works cited page but did not use them in their presentations. I wanted to know why this was, so I asked them to do a minute paper to answer the following two questions: Why didn’t you make use of your sources in your presentations and what can I do to help you do this better next time? I got some very interesting responses, which I will talk about more specifically another time.
  5. Understand the space between libraries and classrooms. If you’ve never had to find space in your syllabus for library instruction, you will never know how difficult it is to do it right. As a librarian, even I had trouble inserting library instruction meaningfully into my FYS class given the learning objectives of the class. Attending conference presentations on library instruction, the underlying message seems to be that if teaching is happening, we should have some hand in it – helping design assignments, providing resources, educating faculty, inserting ourselves irrevocably into the fabric of teaching. There is a space between libraries and classrooms. We should not fool ourselves that it does not exist or that we will ever completely eliminate the gap. The gap isn’t bad. It’s a feature of the landscape. When we see the landscape for what it is, we can appreciate it’s unique features and start devising plans for building bridges and structures to complement it.

I certainly can’t say that my FYS class is perfect, but I believe I’ve learned 80% of what I set out to learn from FYS and I have new perspectives from which to approach my job as librarian. Would you teach FYS? What’s holding you back?

An Ode to Post-its

Please allow me the space to discuss my favorite instructional tools: index cards, post-its, and whiteboards. What would we do without these endlessly versatile receptacles for written thought? More public than social media, more shareable than a listicle, more mobile than Padlet, their only downside is one that our sustainability students don’t hesitate to point out. They’re disposable. (Ok, the index cards and post-its are technically recyclable and the whiteboard is reusable. Let’s not let perfect be the enemy of the good in this circumstance, agreed?) Here’s what you can do with them:

IMG_0005

Index cards

  • Super quick in-class assessments. An index card has two sides, so have the students write the answers to two questions, one on each side. Examples: What are your expectations of this class/What are your concerns? What’s one thing that’s going well in this class/What’s one thing that isn’t going well? What one technique you learned in class today do you plan to use again/What are you still confused about?
  • “Trading Card” warm-up activity. Have each student make a little trading card about themselves as they come into the class and before class is underway. It should include a caricature/doodle, and the answer to at least one funny question.
  • Post-It note substitute. I’ve found that post-its don’t always stick well to whiteboard surfaces. Some tape and index cards works, too, and some students prefer to lay cards on the ground or table for sorting purposes rather than putting them on a wall.

Post-Its

  • Affinity Wall! I did this again in my FYS class and it worked well. Veronica has also tried out an adaptation of this in an instruction session.
  • A few favorite games from Gamestorming use them. The 4-C’s is one I tried in orientation workshops with moderate success. I also did Brainwriting with my students as they worked on solutions to problem statements in their problem based learning unit.
  • Whiteboard Substitute. Giant post-its can stand in for whiteboards if you don’t have enough whiteboard space. I developed a thesis peer-review activity for English 101 using giant post-its that was very well received. Significant inspiration for the activity came from Anne Barnhart’s presentation at LibTech. (Thanks, Anne!)

Whiteboards

  • Like a giant post-it! (Kidding. Kind of.)
  • Post-it note repository. Important secondary component to the affinity wall exercise and generally a great place to stick post-its, organize them, and write things about them.
  • PowerPoint substitute. We totally revamped our FYS library instruction on evaluating information to ditch the PowerPoint. Instead, we deliver the same material by accessing what students already do when making decisions about information, asking uncomfortable questions, and giving them framing principles for what they’re already doing. This requires lots of writing down what they say.

IMG_0013And on the technological side of things, I’m loving my new iPad for instruction. My tendency towards Evernote really makes sense when I can access my teaching notes right then and there. I’d love to know more about your favorite instructional tools. What am I missing out on?

FYS at Midterm

This year’s First Year Seminar is a substantially different ball game in the best possible way. It really is easier the second time around. It’s the power of editing rather than creating from scratch. Filling a blank page is way more difficult than editing something that’s already there, even if what’s there is total crap. I’m much more comfortable as a teacher in this class, and I’m more willing to take some calculated risks. I like to think that I have something to do with how well the class seems to be going so far, but I know that there’s only one of me and 19 of them. They have as much to do with the success of the class as I do. Still, I did a few things at the beginning that I think made a difference.

Early on, I committed to “debunking” my students expectations and fears. I handed out 3×5 cards and asked them to write their expectations of class on one side and their concerns about class on the other. I addressed every comment in class. Two things came up that I thought were especially important to address and then I was very up front about them. Firstly, one student mentioned that he expected class to be very hands-on. There is a constant tension in our FYS classes between the students, who expect class to be about going canoeing and hiking, and their professors, who know that there are learning objectives we’re meant to address. I was clear that class would be very hands-on, but that hands-on doesn’t always look like playing in the woods. Sometimes hands-on means discussion and other times it means group work and still other times it does mean playing in the woods. Second, one student admitted that he feared this class would be a waste of his time. I looked my collective class in the face and told them that if they came in to class thinking that it was a waste of time and there was nothing of value, they undoubtedly would learn nothing and find class to be a waste of their time. If, however, they chose to come to class and to participate and find something of value, well, it might never be their favorite class but it definitely wouldn’t be a waste of their time. I really think this primed them early on to approach class with an open mind. I have had no attendance issues and every student is passing the class. (So far, anyway.)

You can see that I have committed to being very honest and open with my students in challenging them to take charge of their own educational experiences. While we ask our students to do deep reflection in class, it can be very uncomfortable to dig deep in the presence of someone you feel you don’t know very well, so I committed to being personally open with my students, too. On the first day of class, I let them ask me anything they wanted to know about me. I did, of course, keep some appropriate boundaries, but I tried to be a good interviewee and answer the question they asked as well as including any relevant surrounding information. I have also used our out of class experiences such as hikes to have real conversations with students so we get to know each other a bit better. It’s been very personally rewarding, and I think it’s made a difference in class.

I have read a few books in the last year that really helped me to grow into FYS. First up is Discussion as a Way of Teaching by Stephen D. Brookfield and Stephen Preskill. Last year in the final evaluation of the class, my students thought that the discussions were really great. I didn’t agree. I resorted to a lot of think-pair-share with handouts so I could evaluate their contributions for participation and preparedness later and it was basically the same all the time and I was bored with it. This book gives a lot of different suggestions for ways to facilitate real discussions. The book is geared more towards classes which are mostly discussion, which my FYS is not, but there are tons of tips that are applicable to any course with discussion as a component. As a class we created a discussion charter early on to establish norms. While I still use some form of paper record for evaluation, I often change up what happens on the paper. Sometimes small groups are the only discussion. Sometimes I have the small groups come up with discussion questions for the whole class (sometimes on themes pre-determined by me and sometimes not.) Sometimes we just talk as a group. I’ve used their method of having a big framing question on the board for class, as a sort of answer to “why are we doing this?” I’ve also adapted their method of gaining feedback on the previous day’s discussion, called a CIQ  or Critical Incident Questionnaire, for gaining feedback in general.

discussion as a way

I also love and use Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo. In particular, their approach to affinity walls is something that I love to use for my FYS. I have also used Brainwriting, an approach to brainstorming that is a sort of mash-up between an affinity wall and one-sentence stories, Trading Cards, for getting-to-know-you, and Memory Wall, for wrapping up the semester. The games are divided into categories like Games for Opening, Games for Exploring, and Games for Closing, which is helpful if you’re looking for an activity to fill a niche. The term “game” is kind of a misnomer, though. Really, these are just active learning activities that require that the participants put in at least as much work as the facilitator. In other words, exactly my kind of teaching.

gamestorming

While I haven’t actually read Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning by James Davis and Bridget Arend, I saw Bridget Arend’s keynote at LOEX and promptly put the book on my Amazon wishlist. We all intuitively know that different modes of instruction have different strengths and weaknesses, but rarely do many of us think strategically and critically about the modes we fall into. Lecture is good! For certain things! Service learning is also good! But not for the same things as lecture! I credit her keynote for breaking open a piece of FYS that I knew wasn’t working. I revised by starting with a mode – Problem Based Learning. Add in a community based problem for connecting to the campus community, assign groups for a bit of diversity, slot library instruction neatly in the gaps, and, you guys, I hesitate to say this too loudly but it’s working!

seven ways of learning

I don’t want to celebrate too ecstatically without proverbially knocking on wood, but I’m really happy with my decision to teach FYS again this year. It’s not something I thought I would ever do, but I’ve learned a ton, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. Would you teach FYS at your college?

News from the trenches

via survivingtheworld.net

via survivingtheworld.net

Grading is hard. Among the steep learning curves I’ve had to hike in my stint as a First Year Seminar professor is accounting. Setting up a gradebook is the least of it. Next comes the day to day accounting of grading the assignments, making the judgments, and confronting your own rubric shortcomings. For instance, what do you do when you have required that powerpoint and outline are turned in, in addition to actually giving the presentation, but the rubric only covers the presentation itself? I’m asking for a friend.

It’s hard to reconcile black-and-white policies with the gray of everyday life. What do you do when a student who does good work while attending class and no work when not attending class runs into a rough patch and doesn’t show up for two weeks, jeopardizing his ability to pass based on attendance deductions alone. This student needs this class to graduate, and the work is there. But he isn’t. How do you give this student a fair chance to make amends and do the work you know they can do? Do you even give them a chance? Have they earned it? Who earns it? What is “earning?” What is fair to the other students in comparison? What is fair to you? How much more time should I spend worrying about this one student?

I am very sensitive to solving these kind of accounting problems in a way that is fair not only to the particular case but to the other students. I’ve been the student who showed up to every single awful class because missing class meant missing points only to find out that the prof couldn’t be bothered to take attendance and every person got full attendance points, even the ones who never showed. I know how terrible that feels. (Obviously the ones who never showed didn’t pass for other reasons, but that’s not the point.) I don’t want to be that prof. I also don’t want to be the prof who stands between a good but flawed student and graduation when a little bit of gray and some serious work on the part of the student could mean the two points that make a difference.

Black and white is about the big picture, the generalizations. Individuals are gray. Even though you are supposed to be teaching a classroom, you are also teaching 21 unique students. Sometimes the answer to “how does this class measure up to standards” isn’t as important as the answer to “how can I best teach this student.”

I turned in my final grades. All in all, I am pleased with how class went. I have a long list of things I would do differently next time, including being more precise on rubrics when I choose to use them. I’ve learned a ton from this experience in little and big ways. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about it in the future. For right now, I’m deep in reflective mode, as it relates to FYS, my job, and my life. One of the confounding pieces I will continue to turn over in my head is the way that classroom experience, observation, student reflection in different contexts, and rubrics can tell very different stories about student learning and experience. Together they might give a big picture and that picture might be nuanced, but they rarely agree in a way that is easy to assimilate. What is the truth of this experience, for them and for me? What might we all say about it in a year’s time?

Wishing you a fruitful reflective season. See you in the new year!

Just do your thing

Hang_Glider_1920s

I’m now in my third year as a librarian, and I feel like I’m in a solid place with my teaching. I’m consistently expanding our reach into required and non-required classes. I’m designing classes that make sense in the curriculum and that scaffold the college’s expectations of information literacy from freshman through senior years. I’m also discovering that things I really thought worked well aren’t working for me any more. It’s not that I think they’re bad classes, they just aren’t jiving with my particular approach to teaching. And speaking of approach, I’ve discovered that I have one, and I believe strongly in it.

In many ways, the day-to-day of planning classes hasn’t changed for me since the beginning. I still use Evernote to plan classes. I still procrastinate a lot. I still spend too much time googling around for ideas before doing the thing my gut said I should do in the first place. The difference is, I now have some idea of what works, both for me and for the classes I’m teaching, and that’s why I’m so surprised at my currently instructional dilemma.

I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon this fall: A marked increase in the number of library instruction requests which amount to “oh, just do your library thing, and, no, I don’t care when you come it to do it.” This has been happening in both required and non-required library instructions. No amount of conversation between the professor and me illuminates the need for library instruction or when it could happen most effectively in the course schedule. My working theory goes like this. Everyone knows me now. My outreach efforts have been very successful, and they like me as a person. They know me to be intelligent and passionate and comfortable with public speaking. They feel they should have library instruction so they invite me to class, largely because they like me and not because they believe in the importance of library instruction.

What’s a librarian to do? I piloted one class this week that seemed to go well and could be adapted to different subjects. I had some idea of what the students were working on (a research paper and a debate) but no good idea about when these things were happening, so I divided the students into 6 groups and had them explore 6 different resources (a mix of databases, book catalog, and Google Scholar). I used a handout with specific questions to explore and asked them to evaluate the resources as it related to research on people, historic events, and current events. Each group gave a three minute presentation to summarize what they found and gave recommendations to their classmates for how the resource could best be used for class. It took about 30 minutes, and seemed to go over well. I was able to dispel some myths that came up in the presentations which probably wouldn’t have come up otherwise, such as “Google Scholar is the only place to get research when off campus” and “article databases contain books.”

I also love the idea from Iris Jastram of “subversive handouts” for situations like this. I rediscovered this idea serendipitiously the day after I might have used in the class, but I plan to use it the next time I get a request to “just do your library thing.”

I’m sure we all have our approaches to this kind of request. How do you handle it?

Affinity love

IMAG1037

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.