As I get my head back in the game in terms of looking toward the opening day of classes, I wrote to a professor earlier today to see about a planning meeting for two library sessions and a workshop we’ll be offering early in the fall semester.  I thought that I’d have until next week before we met, but circumstances pushed for a spur-of-the-moment meeting this afternoon.  Fine by me!

Instead of the typical meeting held in one of our offices, I was on my way “uptown” for a coffee and that provided the perfect location for discussing lesson plans and upcoming projects.

This Anthropology professor is working toward an interdisciplinary food project that he hopes will take root and spread across campus.  The librarians at SUNY Geneseo, among other invested classroom faculty, are very interested in helping nurture this endeavor.  While plans were expected to be simple (work with our closest classroom faculty partners to suggest infusing a food-related slant into lectures or assignments, where appropriate, or solicit contributions of food-based research and/or creative projects to form a gallery show), they may turn out to be much more elaborate than any of us ever imagined.  Current thoughts are to write a grant proposal to secure funding for a full-out gallery exhibit (even multiple exhibits across campus), complimented by a series of cultural and academic events and encouragement to classroom faculty to incorporate food issues into student projects.  The hope here is to offer a scaled-down version of Heavens Above, an interdisciplinary, college-wide exhibits and programming project that Milne Library hosted in Fall 2007.

Professors in the Anthropology Department are committed to working with food-related issues, if only as a segment of their course content.  I am fortunate enough to have already established a close working relationship with these professors, feeling confident and well-respected enough to provide my own advice and librarian expertise to a topic that I, myself, am passionate about.  Who doesn’t love to talk about food?

So, what will we be working on in the fall?  Two courses – ANTH 100: Intro to Cultural Anthropology and ANTH 235: Ancient Civilization in the Americas – where I’ll work with the students in one library session a piece, another – ANTH 229: Film and Ethnography – where students may seek my help informally and a GOLD workshop entitled Food, Glorious Food: Working Personal Interests into your Research Projects where we (professor, librarian and a student) hope to excite student researchers into adapting food-related topics into course writing assignments.  That is our own personal agenda, but overall, the workshop will advise students to incorporate any personal interest into their scholarly writing . . . if applicable.  Food seems to be a ubiquitous enough concept to lend itself to just about any subject area.

The focus of the library sessions and/or informal assistance – helping students identify and access scholarly, peer-reviewed materials on their given topic(s).  Based on previous classes arranged by this professor, he has seen the value in outside contact and source evaluation by the librarian with students and has asked that I take a quick glance over first wiki submissions of students’ article/book choices.  If we (the professor and I) can cut students off at the pass of bad (inappropriate is a better word) material selection at the beginning of the semester, we hope that the growing annotated bibliography from the 70+ students will serve as a “study guide” of sorts, instilling the key characteristics of scholarly and academically-appropriate sources.

And it’s all about food.  What fun!

It is very fortunate that my good friend Lisa just responded to an old blog post from last semester. It has been a full semester since I last contributed to this blog. Yikes! Coincidentally, as I am working from home this morning, I did have visions of jumping back into my blog to fill in all the gaps from last semester to this semester. Lisa’s comment was just a reminder that I better get writing.

So, where to begin?

ANTH 216: African Diaspora – This was a class where I worked very closely with the new Department Chair in Anthropology. We began our planning toward the end of the summer, examining her previous syllabus and adding mini research assignments and library sessions where appropriate. RM likes to structure her courses with lots of student discussion. A typical assignment is the student-led discussion. Students are arranged in groups at the beginning of the semester and then as the weeks pass, they are responsible on a certain date for creating an interactive conversation with their classmates on a designated topic.

Topics last semester included the comparison/contrast of Mardi Gras to Carnaval; the history of Haiti; problems facing contemporary Haiti; migration and adaptation from the African Diaspora to US and Canadian cities like Miami, NY, Boston, and Montreal; reaction to the film Lumumba; African/Carribean religions as they are practiced in the US; and nationalism promoted in music.

While it was required that every group meet with me a week prior to their student-led discussion, not only for help with research but also in preparation of making the discussion interactive and lively, I didn’t see every group. I had great conversations with many of the students about how to plan the presentation, but in the end, my ideas for interaction may have intimidated them. Time and time again, no matter what we had discussed as a group, the students ended up talking from a powerpoint presentation with a few discussion questions thrown in. The unfortunate part of this is that the technology in the room we were assigned was not very strong or reliable. Students consistently struggled with the seamless flow of ppt to video and sound. Frustrating for everyone involved.

The ONLY group that took me up on my advice was a set of 4 ladies who were assigned a discussion on the film, Lumumba. They had no idea how to design their presentation. I was thinking “critic’s corner” as they came to see me with two variations. 1) half of the class would discuss all the positive attributes of the film while the other half would pan it and 2) the class would be split into 4 groups, each discussing the film from a certain perspective – Patrice Lumumba (the main character/freedom fighter), the film’s director, the Conglese (for whom Lumumba was fighting), and the Belgians (against whom Lumumba was fighting). Each group would have to examine whether or not they thought the film portrayed them satisfactorily. This second option is the one that the group chose. It worked beautifully! The designated date occurred right after Fall Break, so the students had the great idea to first show a video clip that would recapture the essence of the film and reacquaint classmates with what they had seen a week prior. They then divided students into groups, with each of the 4 ladies leading a group. They had definitely done their homework, looking into the background of the film, the history and critiques of the movie. They were able to share this new information with the newly formed “critic” groups. Many times, the added facts and opinions influenced the students’ understanding of the film. The plan was simple, the pressure of “performing” was taken off of the 4 ladies in question, and the class, as a whole, had the most animated conversation that I had been witness to. Further comments on the class’ LMS page proved how effective the strategy and lesson plan was. Everyone remarked on the simplicity of the plan and the overall positive outcome.

YET . . . all groups to follow this presentation reverted back to ppt. *sigh* One group literally questioned my suggestions for incorporating hands-on activities/discussion, claiming that they “weren’t in 3rd grade.” To that, I said that while the method of interaction seemed juvenile, the topic of discussion was not. Unfortunately, that group’s discussion happened the day before Thanksgiving break so I never was able to see what they ended up doing.

Other than the student-led discussion, I involved students in mini-research assignments, mainly to equip everyone for the content of discussion in class throughout the semester. It became obvious to me that to help the leaders of the student discussions/presentations get their classmates talking, everyone in class needed to come prepared with some information on the topic. For instance, one assigned presentation focused on the migration and adaptation of Haitians to US and Canadian cities. The homework that I assigned to students after a brief presentation on researching news stories in LexisNexis, was to find a related article. I divided the students up by US/Canadian city, making sure that there would be a variety of perspectives and experiences represented during the student-led discussion. Students turned their annotated citations into me via LMS (Angel on our campus), with a deadline set just before that student-led discussion took place.

Other research assignments (all in the form of annotated citations) included making comparisons/contrasts between a scholarly and a popular film review; finding a scholarly/educational video or sound clip on African-based religion; finding a CD or a single song that highlighted nationalism; and the study of a particular cultural group through eHRAF.

While the collaboration between RM and myself seemed successful, we have yet to make plans for this semester. It very well could be that we’re both slightly burned out from the fall session or that our preparations this semester will be more impromptu in the coming months. I’m sure that it’s a combination of both. We have discussed putting a limit on the use of powerpoint during student-led discussions (some use is okay but students cannot rely solely on ppt) and brainstorming with the students interactive assignments in which they have been engaged in other classes. Once we come up with a good list of options, students will be able to choose from these in an effort to liven their presentations. But, I’m still waiting to hear from RM . . .

It appears that I had much more to write than I originally thought, so other updates from the Fall semester will have to wait until my next post. Things I will write about include:

I wrote a post last week about a class that didn’t go as well as I would have hoped. Well, thank God for “high-end” faculty-librarian collaborations! I had access to the students via ANGEL so I was able to send an e-mail to the entire class and reiterate the goals and instructions of their web searching/evaluating assignment. I was able to assure them that the assignment would be for practice purposes only and that I would follow up on their “best efforts” with positive feedback and constructive criticism. I stressed that the main goal of the assignment was to find additional content on their designated cultural group so that they would be prepared for group discussion during the next class session.

Some students e-mailed me with questions and a few came to see me at the Reference Desk for further help.  Overall, the websites they turned in were pretty good.  The annotations written included thorough summaries of the information provided within the chosen websites and, for the most part, very good reasons explaining why the webpages could be deemed “scholarly.”  In one particular case, the reasoning was so complete and on target that the student convinced me that the author was knowledgable and credible enough, thus affecting my first-glimpse evaluation of the site as more “newsy” and popular.

Not being available to sit in on the class discussion, I asked the professor how it went.  Here is her response:

It was awesome! We had what I think was a great discussion, made several comparisons, defined terms and processes, and identified patterns. I enjoyed it.

It would be great if you could drop by and explain the citation process. I too need a refresher on how to cite on-line sources!  15 min toward the end of class would be great.

Thanks, I am enjoying the class already!

Although we had not originally planned for a mini library session this past Tuesday, RM had me come to class to go over American Anthropologist citation style (of anything within the completed assignment, this was the students’ weakest part).  I also took the extra opportunity to cover some web search strategies that I was unable to teach the previous week.  Students were extremely attentive, contributed to the discussion of scholarly vs popular and even took notes.

In the end, as disappointed as I was last week, the relationship that is forming between me and RM and me and the ANTH 216 class has helped fill in whatever gaps were left in the classroom due to time constraints.  Additionally, despite an unexpected fire drill during the mini session and my concern that I would take up too much time from RM’s anticipated class discussion, she gave me all the time I needed to give students a complete run down of web searching and citations.

I am looking forward to meeting with seperate groups of ANTH 216 students to discuss the topic of their student-led discussion (each group is assigned one during the semester) and even brainstorm activities that will help engage the rest of the class in the conversation.

I just returned from my first visit with the ANTH 216 class. It did not go as well as I had hoped. First, the laptop that I brought to the classroom (not a library classroom as I’m used to) would not log on. Luckily RM had brought her laptop and I was able to connect, with screen and projection, in this “smart” classroom. This was not without its problems, however. I am not used to toggling between screen and laptop (the system is much easier in the library) and am not familiar with the F keys. I definitely need a tutorial in this. The plug, although tightly installed into the back of the laptop (or so I thought), came out as I attempted to hook up an audio cable. Nothing was working right as I tried to play a youtube video that I had hoped would set the stage for a discussion on culture and would lead us into some searching for different cultures. In the end, once we finally got everything back on track, we replayed the video, chewing up valuable time that I had counted on to set students up for their homework assignment. I didn’t get to fully explain and/or demonstrate what I had hoped and most likely left students with more questions than answers as they prepare their assignment for Thursday. Not a good way to start out a semester of teaching . . .

Once again, I am woefully behind on my blog posts.  There is a very good reason for that.  Classes started today!  😮  As many tasks as I planned to get accomplished last week, not one of them got done due to a number of unexpected, but highly productive, meetings with faculty.

Since last Wednesday, I have been booked in one meeting after another; not all with faculty mind you, but the time has definitely not been my own.  Meetings began last Monday with RM, the new Anthropology Deptartment Chair.  We met up in Rochester, over a bagel and coffee, which was a nice change of pace.  It also allowed the two of us to avoid the early morning commute down to Geneseo.  We are planning for two courses this semester – ANTH 216: The African Diaspora and ANTH 313: Seminar in Global Health Issues.  Most of our focus has been on the lower level course, with the expectation that the majority of students will be sophomores.  RM has been extremely gracious, especially considering that this is our first intensive (or high end, as I will refer to in a later post, based on a very helpful article) course collaboration, in allowing me to provide input and ideas into the course schedule, lessons, and assignments.  In addition to Monday’s meeting, we met Thursday, Friday (of last week) and then today, to finish up.

Wording (scholarly research instead of library instruction), assignment requirements, and practice with the scholarly research skills were added to the syllabus.  For both courses, we will require all student groups (who will be responsible for leading one class discussion throughout the semester) to schedule a research consultation with me (one week in advance) so that we can target the research skills to the content of the anticipated discussion.  Additionally, student groups are required to create interactive exercises to get the rest of the class involved in the conversation and I hope students will call on me to help with the brainstorming.  RM has told me that her interest in this course has been renewed through our collaborative planning.  We’ll cross our fingers that all of the new additions go smoothly.  Always a work in progress.

Beyond the blossoming relationship with RM, I have met with Cristina (Spanish), Ellen, Jim and Kristi (Anthropology), Dave (Chemistry), and the RYSAG faculty team – all within the past 2-3 days.  Now it’s time to focus on the potential product after all this planning.  I am scheduled to be in 4 classes in this first week of school!

It is amazing how my mind bounces around to so many different ideas, all somewhat related however.  I will try and make some kind of sense and congruence to my thoughts . . .

Thanks to my director, I am able to stay home today and catch up on the professional literature and spend some time writing on my blog.  My major goals for today have been somewhat shifted but I try to remain as focused as possible.  The first article I have read comes as a nice surprise.  “Faculty-Librarian Collaboration,” written by Hollander, Herbert, and Stieglitz DePalma (APS Observer, March 2004, 17(3)), comes from the perspective of a Psychology professor; not a librarian.  What a refreshing change!  The article was written in first person by Sharon Hollander (last documented as working at Georgian Court University), who states being initially weary of what the Library could provide her and her students.  From the very first library instruction session, she was reacquainted with all that librarians have to offer and she was sold from that moment on.  As she mentions, I think it’s important that professors see, with their own eyes, the real lack of information/research skills that today’s college students possess.  In many cases, like anything else that comes easy to us, professors rely on the idea that since they know how to conduct sound research (and that it’s relatively easy to do), their students must already know this too.  But as we know, the Library of today is much different than the Library of just 10-15 years ago.  As Hollander puts it, the Library has “morphed into a more comprehensive institution, the ‘teaching library’.”  With so many choices for where to find information these days, and having to sift out the reliable from the unreliable, it’s no wonder students get lost in the sea of information.  It’s always gratifying when professors tell us that even they learned something new in a library instruction session geared to their students.

Sharon Hollander asks a few beginning questions in the article, ending most importantly with the question, “why is faculty-librarian collaboration worthwhile?”  I’d be interested in posing this question to our library blog to see if any professors answer, providing a bit of free PR for what we do at our library.

I would further like to pose the question that Hollander highlights about the obstacles faculty see facing them when using the library and/or collaborating with a librarian.  The reasons she cites sound way too familiar.

What follows in the article are some really key pieces of advice to professors on how to begin working closely and collaboratively with an instruction librarian.  Start small by incorporating a library-based assignment into the syllabus or requiring students to ask the reference librarian for something specific.  Think of librarians as teachers and realize that the BI sessions of yesterday (one-shot, general and unrelated to the actual work students are being asked to do) have become much more tailored to the discipline and specific subject(s) of a particular course.  Use librarians for independent research projects, for assistance with topic selection for research papers, in term paper clinics, for education on specialized databases and other information resources, for help with grant writing assignments and computer-based projects, and for their subject expertise, where applicable.

This last point reminds me (not that I’m a subject expert by any means in Anthropology) that I have been able to offer more of a multidisciplinary approach to the anthropology students I see in class.  When disciplines such as Anthropology and Sociology cover so many different subject areas, it comes natural to me to research topics within the discipline through many varying subject-specific databases.  Many research topics within either field can be found under the perspectives of psychology, medicine, geography, history, business, etc. keeping the theoretical basis, however, grounded in the original discipline (i.e., anthropology, sociology).

Hollander completes her words of wisdom by discussing the use of librarians on a grander scale – campus-wide collaborative teaching – and by recommending continuous assessment of how the faculty-librarian collaboration is working.  As she writes, and as I have illustrated in this blog, “not everything works the first time, and some things never work.”  “This is not an easy process” but certainly the benefits of faculty-librarian collaboration outweigh the fear of risk-taking, the continuous process of evaluating and tweaking, and the release of control or the idea that a professor must teach independently to be seen as fully competent and/or successful (especially for new or non-tenured teachers).

Although I gained no new information from this first article within a series of future summaries, I am pleased to have begun this project on such a high note.  Unless we are already working collaboratively with a professor/teacher, rarely would we hear the glowing comments and outright recommendation for collaboration to other teachers from a professor.  One thing that Ellen and I have realized is that we can no longer “preach to the choir” of instruction librarians of the tremendous benefits gained from a close working relationship.  It’s the faculty who need to begin to see the advantages and propel themselves into similar collaborations.  Without their motivation, buy-in and commitment, a collaborative initiative can fall flat.

Classes for the fall semester begin in just over a week! When did the summer pass me by???? Meeting with Ellen Kintz (ANTH) yesterday has helped me to start thinking towards library instruction sessions. I’ll also meet with RM (taking over as ANTH Dept. chair) on Monday to discuss the continuation of the ANTH-Library collaboration. To prepare myself for the meeting, Ellen and I talked about what we feel are the benefits of the work that has been accomplished between us over the past 5 (!!!) years.

  • Pre-tests show that students are grossly unaware and unprepared to evaluate and use scholarly resources
  • With embedded library instruction, students dramatically increase their scholarly skills – research and information literacy must be directly related to course requirements and projects, introduced very early in the targeted semester, and practiced throughout the semester in short modules (used as a vehicle for course content and student research)
  • Practice makes perfect and students need to be graded on their library literacy and scholarly work
  • Instruction from one course crosses over into other courses and dramatically improves students’ scholarly work (transferable skills)
  • The strongest and most enthusiastic ANTH students ended up with jobs in the library (student reference assistants and CTAs), further improving their skills, as well as their friends’ through mentoring and informal training
  • Students become more skilled and quicker at their research, improving critical thinking skills – students have reported completing their research projects at an advanced level and faster
  • Students become empowered as critical thinkers about information on the web, as well as in articles and books – they become more aware of the scholars in their field and begin to identify themselves as active scholars rather than passive students
  • Faculty-librarian collaboration and brainstorming improves the process and the product
  • Collaboration between faculty, librarian, and students creates a dynamic learning community with contributions from all ( i.e. FAMSI identified by a student; the Khipu Database Project, Tuskegee Syphilis Project via NPR and PBS and HIV/AIDS in Brazil video identified by faculty and/or librarian)

I’ll need to gather up some data to bring with me to our Monday meeting. Not that RM needs any convincing of the positive results a collaboration can bring (otherwise she wouldn’t be meeting with me), but Ellen has been such a force in pushing this working relationship along, gaining steam with every new year, so the new relationship with Ellen out of the equation will need to grow on its own.

My colleague, Bonnie, just gave me a bit of good professional news (as opposed to her good personal news!).  A biology professor has apparently picked up on the good work that has been happening between teaching faculty and librarians at SUNY Geneseo and she would like to work toward a similar approach for one of her classes.  Furthermore, a chemistry professor who has been present many times when the librarians share information on the faculty-librarian collaborations is asking Bonnie for more library instruction sessions this semester.  I’ve been recently wondering if I should continue to push for the Faculty Learning Community focused on F-L collaborations, but it does seem like the more conversation, sharing and modeling that happens, the more professors are listening and suggesting partnerships.  This is fantastic news!

So, my next step in the short run . . . I have printed out a number of recent articles about faculty-librarian collaborations and I would like to report in on the data, with possible thoughts of my own.  This is a goal I have had since starting this blog, but finding the time has been a challenge.  Just trying to write something every once in a while has been a challenge.  And there’s so much to say!  I will continue to invite guest writers to share their collaborations as well.