Posts in continuing education

Library Instruction West 2014 Recap #liwest2014

tl;dr Library Instruction West is a Marvelous Conference.

My brain is still buzzing and feels pleasantly tingly from all of the good thoughts, emotions, and interactions I had at the Library Instruction West 2014 conference. I walked away energized by the people I met and by the content they shared. Portland State University was a fantastic host and the organizing committee, led by Joan Petit, did a lovely job bringing brilliant people with excellent content together in a well-run event. <tips cap>

Three things that made #liwest14 a special conference:

Beyond my general glowing endorsement, I want to highlight specific aspects that made Library Instruction West 2014 stand out from other library conferences. To start, this conference draws from a specific and well defined community of practice and these are my people. The conference also stands out because instruction librarians are skilled and engaging presenters; spending our careers speaking with groups of students pays off with impressive presentation skills. The rewards of attending are both practical and intellectual; I left with two ideas I’m already using in my instructional design and with big picture thoughts that I’ll be reflecting on for a while.

These are my people.

Library Instruction West is about library instruction and not really anything else. This means that sessions are targeted and participants have a lot of shared passions and interests. If you are an instruction librarian, this niche marketing makes Library Instruction West much more valuable in terms of content than larger national or regional conferences. I was taken aback by the emotional impact I experienced listening to lovely colleagues talk about inquiry-based-learning, nurturing curiosity in our students, using narrative methods in our instruction, teaching format-as-practice [1], teaching with digital badges, assessing game-based pedagogy, and clever teaching hacks for survey software.I’m a bit of a utility infielder in library work. I do systems stuff; I do some web stuff; I do some instruction stuff; I’m trying to learn how to do more metadata stuff. That said, I came into the field as an instruction librarian and no matter how far my curiosity takes me, my core values come from instruction. Of course, as with most good conferences, the best information is transferred informally between sessions, at meals, or socially. I got to meet a lot of folks in person I’ve come to respect and admire through Twitter. I was able to put faces to Twitter names and spend a couple of days with some truly lovely people. It’s nice to be surrounded by one’s people, to feel part of a tight-knit community of practice.

Instruction librarians are skilled and engaging presenters.

It is a real treat to watch experienced presenters who have a good body of practice work with an audience. In my two days at Library Instruction West I learned as much from watching how presenters interacted with their audiences as I did from the information being transferred. This is a rare treat. At other conferences, I’ve learned AMAZING THINGS from people whose job descriptions don’t include being interesting at the front of a room and I’ve also realized after a talk that the charming and engaging speaker really didn’t say anything profound or useful, but attending a conference full of engaging speakers who are intentional about their presentation style is WONDERFUL. It is also nice to have sessions where attention is paid to active learning, various learning preferences or styles, and non-traditional visual presentation techniques. I had the opportunity to observe small break-out sessions with group work, activities based on physical objects, self assessment exercises, and excellent question and answer sessions. I also got to learn from people giving very traditional talks using slide decks that were well designed and rich with information. Being able to see, hear, and interact with really talented colleagues practicing excellent pedagogy is a learning experience that I really can’t duplicate by reading about it. So if my effusive praise above hasn’t already convinced you to attend Library Instruction West 2016 in Salt Lake City, this may be the most appealing aspect: you’ll have the opportunity to experience experienced and skilled library instructors demonstrating what they do best first hand.

I left the conference with two ideas I’m already using in my instruction and with big picture thoughts that I’ll be reflecting on for a while.

Idea the first:

In Zoe Fisher’s session Live the Question, Love the Question: Inquiry-based learning in the one-shot she described a method of helping students craft rough topics into functional research questions. This is exactly what I need for a very large multi-section class I work with. Each semester the largest barrier I see to student success is the inability to see a topic, research question, and thesis as three separate things. Zoe used inquiry-based learning theory to design an exercise where the students explain what they know and then using that foundation to tease out interesting questions. My History faculty have already signed off on using the “what I know / what I want to know” table she described in their Fall classes. Hopefully, this will help us move from the first spark of student curiosity to potential research questions more smoothly and naturally.

sample table for what I know | what I want to know excercise
Sample “what I know | what I want to know” table. Click for larger view.

Idea the second:

In Kevin Seeber’s session Teaching “Format as Process” in an Era of Web-Scale Discovery he delivered a well-founded argument for a turn towards teaching process and away from teaching formats. Process being the critical thinking steps that make up scholarship and formats being the packages information is delivered in. He sums up his reasoning as: “the way we search is changing, we need to teach things that are constant” and “don’t teach the interface, teach the results.” His entire line of reasoning is a treat, so please don’t miss reading the whole presentation. Using what I learned from Kevin’s talk, I’m going to embrace the statement “Information literacy is not about knowing “how.” It’s about knowing “why.”” and do as much as I can to re-write the instructions for an assignment in the course mentioned above to explicitly refer to process instead of to formats. For example, there won’t be a “Finding Newspapers” section, but there will be a section that uses newspapers to “Find current information on your topic.” The reason for this shift is to reinforce the scaffolding in a semester-long assignment. Students are too often jumping through hoops to complete the assignment, I want to reinforce that the hoops are part of a method and not just arbitrary busy-work.

Big picture thoughts:

As I listened and interacted with the presenters and brilliant librarians around the event, I found my mind returning to a couple of big-picture concepts that I’m going to need some time to chew on. The first was the subject of Anne-Marie Deitering and Hannah Gascho Rempel’s talk, methods to engage student curiosity in research. Allie Flanary also had good things to say about curiosity in conversation between the sessions. She’s working on a sabbatical project on student curiosity, which I’m anticipating with great interest. Engaging curiosity is a big reason I’m a teacher and it’s the most rewarding aspect of the work. Seeing librarians identify curiosity as the keystone of our instruction work is inspiring and I want to explore where this line of thinking leads people.

A second big-picture thought that I came back to at several points during the conference is the impact of web-scale discovery tools on library instruction. This is a topic that I’ve been fixated on for a few years now. Search interfaces for web-scale discovery tools closely resemble search interfaces for single databases or catalogs even though the underlying architectures are very different. At what point should we teach students that this is a different kind of search? It’s not obvious, but it’s significant. The search we do now is increasingly different from searching a single index and the gap widens every day. For a great reading on this, see Aaron Tay’s excellent post Why Nested Boolean Search Statements May Not Work As Well As They Did. Even though search interfaces look the same, the underlying math is very different. Web search and discovery layers look more simple than a database search, but underneath they are MUCH more complicated. I realize not every student needs to be an expert in big data, but “How much does a competent searcher need to know about how these new tools work?” is a live and relevant question that we don’t have an answer to.

Wrapping up

Library Instruction West is a small, intimate conference focused on issues of library instruction, the librarians who do this work, and the students we work with. It is full of excellent content and is attended by fascinating librarians who are there to share the best work being done in the field today. If this sounds like your cup of tea, the 2016 edition will be hosted in Salt Lake City. I hope to see you all there.


Notes

[*] For what it’s worth, I thought the shiniest spark in a brilliant couple of days was Kevin’s presentation. (back)

eBook Review – Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines

Orignially posted at ACRL TechConnect 2012/11/01.

Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines

This is a review of the ebook Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines and also of the larger project that collected the stories that became the content of the ebook. The project collects discussions about how technology can be used to improve student success. Fifty practical examples of successful projects are the result. Academic librarians will find the book to be a highly useful addition to our reference or professional development collections. The stories collected in the ebook are valuable examples of innovative pedagogy and administration and are useful resources to librarians and faculty looking for technological innovations in the classroom. Even more valuable than the collected examples may be the model used to collect and publish them. Cultivating Change, especially in its introduction and epilogue, offers a model for getting like minds together on our campuses and sharing experiences from a diversity of campus perspectives. The results of interdisciplinary cooperation around technology and success make for interesting reading, but we can also follow their model to create our own interdisciplinary collaborations at home on our campuses. More details about the ongoing project are available on their community site. The ebook is available as a blog with comments and also as an .epub, .mobi, or .pdf file from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy.

The Review

Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines [1. Hill Duin, A. et al (eds) (2012) Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines at the University of Minnesota in 2012, An Open-Source eBook. University of Minnesota. Creative Commons BY NC SA. http://digital-rights.net/wp-content/uploads/books/CC50_UMN_ebook.pdf]

The stories that make up the ebook have been peer reviewed and organized into chapters on the following topics: Changing Pedagogies (teaching using the affordances of today’s technology), Creating Solutions (technology applied to specific problems), Providing Direction (technology applied to leadership and administration), and Extending Reach (technology employed to reach expanded audiences.) The stories follow a semi-standard format that clearly lays out each project, including the problem addressed, methodology, results, and conclusions.

Section One: Changing Pedagogies

The opening chapter focuses on applications of academic technology in the classroom that specifically address issues of moving instruction from memorization to problem solving and interactive coaching. These efforts are often described by the term “digital pedagogy” (For an explanation of digital pedagogy, see Brian Croxall’s elegant definition.[2. http://www.briancroxall.net/digitalpedagogy/what-is-digital-pedagogy/]) I’m often critical of digital pedagogy efforts because they can confuse priorities and focus on the digital at the expense of the pedagogy. The stories in this section do not make this mistake and correctly focus on harnessing the affordances of technology (the things we can do now that were not previously possible) to achieve student-success and foster learning.

One particularly impressive story, Web-Based Problem-Solving Coaches for Physics Studentsexplained how a physics course used digital tools to enable more detailed feedback to student work using the cognitive apprenticeship model. This solution encouraged the development of problem-solving skills and has to potential to scale better than classical lecture/lab course structures.

Section Two: Creating Solutions

This section focuses on using digital technology to present content to students outside of the classroom. Technology is extending the reach of the University beyond the limits of our campus spaces, this section address how innovations can make distance education more effective. A common theme here is the concept of the flipped classroom. (See Salmam Khan’s TED talk for a good description of flipping the classroom. [2. http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_reinvent_education.html]) In a flipped classroom the traditional structure of content being presented to students in lectures during class time and creative work being assigned as homework is flipped.  Content is presented outside the classroom and instructors lead students in creative projects during class time. Solutions listed in this section include podcasts, video podcasts, and screencasts. They also address synchronous and asynchronous methods of distance education and some theoretical approaches for instructors to employ as they transition from primarily face to face instruction to more blended instruction environments.

Of special note is the story Creating Productive Presence: A Narrative in which the instructor assesses the steps taken to provide a distance cohort with the appropriate levels of instructor intervention and student freedom. In face-to-face instruction, students have body-language and other non-verbal cues to read on the instructor. Distance students, without these familiar cues, experienced anxiety in a text-only communication environment. Using delegates from student group projects and focus groups, the instructor was able to find an appropriate classroom presence balanced between cold distance and micro-management of the group projects.

Section Three: Providing Direction

The focus of this section is on innovative new tools for administration and leadership and how administration can provide leadership and support for the embrace of disruptive technologies on campus. The stories here tie the overall effort to use technology to advance student success to accreditation, often a necessary step to motivate any campus to make uncomfortable changes. Data archives, the institutional repository, clickers (class polling systems), and project management tools fall under this general category.

The University Digital Conservancy: A Platform to Publish, Share, and Preserve the University’s Scholarship is of particular interest to librarians. Written by three UM librarians, it makes a case for institutional repositories, explains their implementation, discusses tracking article-level impacts, and most importantly includes some highly useful models for assessing institutional repository impact and use.

Section Four: Extending Reach

The final section discusses ways technology can enable the university to reach wider audiences. Examples include moving courseware content to mobile platforms, using SMS messaging to gather research data, and using mobile devices to scale the collection of oral histories. Digital objects scale in ways that physical objects cannot and these projects take advantage of this scale to expand the reach of the university.

Not to be missed in this section is R U Up 4 it? Collecting Data via Texting: Developing and Testing of the Youth Ecological Momentary Assessment System (YEMAS). R U Up 4 it? is the story of using SMS (texting) to gather real-time survey data from teen populations.

Propagating the Meme

The stories and practical experiences recorded in Cultivating Change in the Academy are valuable in their own right. It is a great resource for ideas and shared experience for anyone looking for creative ways to leverage technology to achieve educational goals. For this reader though, the real value of this project is the format used to create it. The book is full of valuable and interesting content. However, in the digital world, content isn’t king. As Corey Doctorow tells us:

Content isn’t king. If I sent you to a desert island and gave you the choice of taking your friends or your movies, you’d choose your friends — if you chose the movies, we’d call you a sociopath. Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.[2. http://boingboing.net/2006/10/10/disney-exec-piracy-i.html]

The process the University of Minnesota followed to generate conversation around technology and student success is detailed in a white paper. [3. http://bit.ly/Rj5AIR] After reading some of the stories in Cultivating Change, if you find yourself wishing similar conversations could take place on your campus, this is the road-map the University of Minnesota followed. Before they were able to publish their stories, the University of Minnesota had to bring together their faculty, staff, and administration to talk about employing innovative technological solutions to the project of increasing student success. In a time when conversation trumps content, a successful model for creating these kinds of conversations on our own campuses will also trump the written record of other’s conversations.