Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Maintaining Integrity in Higher Education

I was recently appointed as co-chair of my institution's Periodic Review Report (PRR) committee for Middle States accreditation, which is a unique opportunity as a librarian. As such, I've become more interested in issues related to accreditation, and in particular librarians' roles in this process.

This article in the New York Times highlights for me the importance of maintaining peer-reviewed accreditation processes in our non-profit colleges and universities. While these for-profit institutions may be well-meaning (I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt) running a high-quality institution of higher education involves a complex network of processes of which most people not working in higher education (and probably many who ARE working in higher ed) are unaware.  Nevertheless, state accrediting agencies are being criticized for not "more aggressively monitoring substandard institutions."  The sad thing is, the victims of the financial fraud of which these "for-profit colleges" are being accused, are often the most vulnerable -- low-income and minority students.

What can we as librarians contribute to maintaining integrity and quality assurance in higher education? A few things that come to mind are providing research-based evidence for curriculum quality, helping students assess their marketability based on career trends and data, and, in general, teaching people to be critical users of information -- including financial aid information -- that can help them make good choices regarding the institutions in which they enroll. The expression, "If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is," could apply here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Standards and Frames: Can They Get Along?

A group of academic librarians in New Jersey have put out this Open Letter Regarding the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. The letter essentially states that, while the Framework is good, we should not completely discard the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards. (The letter also points out some problems with the parallel structure of the "Frames," which is a separate thing.)

I'll admit, even though I'm an Instructional Services Librarian, and I am passionate about information literacy, and I have read through at least two iterations of the Framework for Information Literacy, and I think the Framework is a great effort that gets at the more conceptual, overarching meaning of information literacy, I haven't felt overly compelled to express strong opinions about the Framework either way. Partly this is because I am extremely busy as a community college librarian who wears many hats; but I also tend to be a "let-the-cards-fall-as-they-may" kind of person. Sometimes. When the stakes aren't extremely high.

And I guess I feel like I've got a firm enough grasp of info lit and learning outcomes and assessment and all that jazz that I don't believe that any particular document or iteration of that document is going to truly change what we are about as librarians, or what information literacy is. Because information literacy is something that exists in and of itself, and that evolves along with society and culture -- we librarians are just attempting to lasso this set of skills and concepts, give them neat categories and labels, and figure out how to teach and assess those skills and concepts. The Framework gives librarians an opportunity to think more broadly about these concepts and how they extend across a student's lifetime, and to use those ideas to help our practices to evolve -- just as all things, including information literacy itself, evolve. But perhaps I am getting too existential...

Bottom line: we needed this Framework, this heady and theoretical but imperfect document that takes information literacy to a new level of intellectualism and, I think, elevates it as an academic field. At the same time, I think these New Jersey librarians make some valid points; I signed their open letter in agreement. There are good reasons to keep, but update, the Standards -- not least of which is, they are still true (with perhaps some updating needed). Just because we now have the Framework doesn't mean that students don't still need to learn to recognize their information needs and access, evaluate, and use information ethically and legally. They very much do! And, as mentioned in the Open Letter, these Standards have now been infused in many colleges' and universities' general education goals, and other assessment guidelines.

So, "getting rid" of the Standards not only doesn't really make much sense -- it's kind of impossible. Sure, you could physically take down those pages on ACRL's website, and consider any old evidence of the preexisting Standards to be null and void -- but that doesn't mean they won't rise again, like the Phoenix from the ashes, as we attempt to develop concrete student learning outcomes for each "Frame"... At the same time, when writing SLOs, it's important to think about the broader, overarching understandings that we are trying to get at in our instruction, for those are the things that students will take with them when they leave us. The Framework gives us "labels" for those understandings, while also keeping us from falling into our old, compartmentalized, overly-detailed librarian ways when it comes to instruction.

The Framework and Standards: they can go hand-in-hand. Let's figure out how to make them talk together.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Limitations of Teaching Sources as Objects

Reading Holliday and Rogers' article, "Talking About InformationLiteracy: the Mediating Role of Discourse in a College Writing Classroom," has turned my brain upside down in the way I think about our information literacy instruction, and has even informed the way I work with students at the reference desk and in one-on-one research consultations.  It had never occurred to me that the very language we use in instruction actually serves to propagate students' perceptions of sources as "containers" to be "located" and "incorporated." The idea of using sources of information for the purpose of "inquiry" -- something that the new ACRL Framework is leading us to do -- gets lost as information has become a commodity to be "retrieved."

Even when faculty, with good intentions, try to guide students to "better" sources by restricting certain kinds of sources (for example, certain websites,) this only serves to emphasize to students the idea of sources as something for them to obtain, as a consequence eliminating the understanding of sources being more or less valuable because of the information they impart. This is something that I think librarians and faculty have always known and try to convey, but we are coming at it the wrong way. The use of "evaluation criteria" checklists as the predominant tools used to teach how to evaluate sources (which I personally have come to despise and refuse to use in my instruction) tops off everything else to create a complete package of denigration of the use of information.

Friday, June 15, 2012

I love the ideas espoused in this article from George Mason University, The Learning Library in Context: Community, Integration, and Influence. While the college or university library is often described as the "heart of campus," the article describes how the arteries and veins of this heart can intertwine themselves with the entire campus and the academic curriculum.  The library "pumps blood" into the efforts to instill in students the critical thinking and lifelong learning skills that colleges and universities aim to help students develop.

Some pertinent quotes (emphases mine):

"Rather than an external "add on" to the educational experience, the library, as information resource and gateway, is a primary catalyst for cognitive, behavioral, and affective changes in students -- as they interact with information resources as directed by faculty, as they complete assignments and study with peers, [...] seeking connections and making meaning in more self-directed ways.  The learning library, rather than a repository of materials or a study hall, is therefore an agency of change in students' lives" (124).

"In the Vygotskian sense, the learning library is the constructivist laboratory for students to make their own meanings, but only by moving through a series of 'zones of proximal development' with research strategies and information sources and with the coaching and guidance of more knowledgeable others"(124).

"Because of the continually changing nature of information access[...] students need a conceptual foundation for research. This approach fosters the underlying processes, mainly critical thinking and problem solving, that allow them to adapt to new situations" (129).

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Why You're Wrong About Community Colleges

Great article!  I especially agree with the part about the collegiality of the faculty and staff at the community college where I work, and our shared dedication to student learning. Also, I am equally as in love with my job as this blogger.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Day in the Life of an Instructional Services Librarian

I have not been feeling inspired by the literature I've been coming across lately, so I thought this would be a good time to do a "Day in the Life" post.

What exactly does an Instructional Services Librarian (often going by different names) do?

Today was not one of my busiest days, especially considering the semester has now ended and there have been very few people in the library, but my day went kind of like this:

8:00-10:00 a.m.: Reference Desk duty. Reference work was very slow since the library was virtually empty. 

While serving on the desk, I completed a document on the learning objectives we use in our library instruction sessions, which I am going to present at a meeting on Monday with Humanities faculty.  Also entered my reference desk schedule duties for June into my calendar.

10:00 a.m.:  Helped a patron from Harford County, who was transferred to us by phone from a Baltimore County public library branch, find specific articles from the Baltimore Sun, from 1910 and 1925.  Patron asked if our microfilm went back that far.  No, but we now have the Historical Baltimore Sun online back to 1837! The patron had the exact date of the articles, so that along with a specific topic (one was an obituary) allowed me to easily find these articles for him, download the PDFs, and email them to him. 

11:00-11:30: Email correspondence with faculty regarding their summer library instruction sessions.

11:30-12:30: Lunch. Hobnobbed with colleagues. Went for a walk.

12:30-1:00: Not sure what happened during this half hour...

1:00 p.m.: Answered a faculty member's email requesting dates for a library instruction session this fall. Sent more email correspondence to other faculty members regarding their courses' library instruction sessions this summer.

2:00-2:45 p.m.:  Met with faculty member from the Tutoring Center to discuss plans for a joint workshop with nursing students this summer, as well as a professional development workshop for tutors.

2:45-3:30 p.m.:  Can't remember exactly, but I know I put away some papers in folders, did a little outlining of what I would show tutors during workshop this summer, and gathered handouts for meeting on Monday.  Oh, and I made a couple of edits to the English 101 library instruction handouts.

3:30 p.m.:  Read some professional development articles, with hopes of finding something to blog about.  One article I read was this one on First Principles of Instruction (first article in this journal issues) as well as the Wikipedia article on the same thing, but decided not to blog about it.

4:00 p.m.:  Decided to blog about my day instead!

I'll have to remember to blog about my day *while* I'm in the middle of my day next time. And maybe on a busier day.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Kindles of the 1930s...

Fascinating to see someone's iteration of an e-reader of the future:

I always find it interesting to see these old images of "the future" as imagined at an earlier time.  Often, there are uncanny similarities between what was imagined and what does end up happening -- yet obvious gaps in knowledge of what would be possible in the future.  In this case, the artist/engineer could foresee the use of "miniaturized text," because it was already being used in microfilm.  So basically, existing technology was just re-packaged in an armchair to invent a "reader." So really, the contraption shown was not all that innovative.  What people could not have imagined (or did not imagine... until, of course, it was imagined) was invention of the computer chip and, subsequently, the Internet.

Looking at these old designs, aside from eliciting a chuckle, can remind us that we should not let what we know limit what we can imagine.