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.

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.

From Julie Grob, Digital Projects and Instruction Librarian, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries.

Like most instruction librarians, I typically teach one-shot classes at faculty request, although my classes focus on the rare books that are held in Special Collections. In the fall of 2006, faculty member Dr. David Mazella, an eighteenth century scholar in the English Department, contacted me with a different kind of instruction request. He was interested in doing more to enhance undergraduate research skills, mirroring the goals of a new Quality Enhancement Plan for the campus called “Discovery-Based Learning: Transforming the Undergraduate Experience through Research.” Dr. Mazella was designing a pilot course that would coalesce around the ideas of inquiry-based learning, undergraduate research, primary source materials, and information literacy. The course would parallel research he was doing for a book project called 1771: A Geography of Feeling. Students would read books from the year 1771 that were related to four key cities – London, Edinburgh, Philadelphia, and Kingston, Jamaica – and then do independent research using rare books and journals to develop their own lines of inquiry related to those texts. Dr. Mazella believed that such a course would require the ongoing contributions of a librarian.

I was eager to take on the challenge of working with Dr. Mazella on the 1771 course, which he would be teaching for the first time in Spring 2008. What was particularly exciting was that I was not being asked just to suggest places where library instruction sessions might be slotted into an existing course, but to help build the information literacy component of the course from the ground up. We decided to schedule four visits to the library during the semester, one in which students would learn database searching skills and three in which they would work on assignments utilizing eighteenth century materials in Special Collections. During the planning period, I combed our existing collection to find relevant materials, and applied to my library for a Micro-Grant that allowed us to purchase $2000.00 worth of rare books and journals geared specifically to the course. I also worked with Dr. Mazella on developing Special Collections assignments, in some cases proposing the actual construction of the assignment. One suggestion I made was that we should create worksheets with questions to be answered that forced students to immediately become involved with the materials, thus reducing their anxiety over handling old and rare items.

Once the course got rolling, the advantages of the faculty/librarian semester-long collaboration model became apparent. For one thing, it offered me the opportunity to do assessment after the first Special Collections instruction session. I posted a link to a SurveyMonkey questionnaire on the courseblog, and received valuable input that I used in planning the next Special Collections visit. Dr. Mazella and I were also able to build on earlier library instruction sessions and plan a more complex assignment for the final visit. Previous Special Collections assignments had required that students examine one item in depth, and conduct research on that item using databases such as MLA, JSTOR, and Project Muse as their homework. But during the final visit, we asked students to identify a keyword in the rare book they were perusing that they could use as a stepping off point for their database searching. One student who was examining the slave autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, chose the keyword “agriculture” from the text, which led her to an exploration of how Jamaican slaves worked with sugar crops and livestock. By selecting keywords directly from eighteenth century texts, students were able to draw a direct connection between primary source materials, database research, and the development of new lines of inquiry. Both Dr. Mazella and I were pleased with the outcomes of the course, and “1771” will be offered again next spring.

Had lunch with my friend/colleague in Spanish today and we discussed plans to improve upon her SPAN 326: Latin American Civilizations course.  At the top of the list of student comments provided at the end of Fall 2007 . . . KEEP KIM! Both Cristina and I are pleased to see how valuable her students found the embedded library instruction and follow-up as they compiled their final portfolio projects.  A few possible tweaks:

  • Shorten history lessons (in powerpoint format) given during class time with homework assignments (or work time in class) leading students to scholarly articles, books and/or websites that provide answers to a given set of questions.  This approach puts more of the learning in the students’ hands (never teach what students can learn on their own) and would generate more class discussion.  A particular thought is to give students a key article to provide a little context.  Next, students research articles on their own that supplement the original article where specific examples and different points of view can be explored and discussed in class.  Content can be learned independently and through group discussion with the research skills as the vehicle for finding the content.
  • Forewarn students of topics that will be harder than most to locate solid, scholarly materials on.  For instance, Precolumbian to 20th Century history in Latin America involves changing geographic borders, especially if you consider the main civilizations of the Maya and the Aztecs.  It will be difficult for students to locate with 100% certainty where a particular tribe (that perhaps became part of the greater Maya or Aztec) lived when Mexico and Guatemala, for instance, were not their own separate countries with distinct borders.
  • Include required readings that students have to find through their newly acquired research skills, rather than simply linking them in MyCourses (ANGEL).
  • Adjust the timing of when students need to see me (or e-mail me) to have sources verified in conjunction with the timeline for Ellen’s ANTH 229 class.  Last fall, I got bombarded with SPAN and ANTH students needing to meet with me, each on an individual basis, within the same week.  STRESS! Although face-to-face is better, I managed to instruct students with their choice of scholarly materials and citation style almost as easily though e-mail communication.
  • Require verification of sources by attaching a grade to the consultations (whether in person or via e-mail).
  • Include criteria in the portfolio assignment to ensure students are finding a variety of sources on their chosen country, rather than consistently using the same book for the different historical eras.
  • Provide an instruction session at the beginning of the 20th Century section to show students how to access current news stories and websites of grassroot and non-profit organizations, in the Spanish language.

During the course of our conversation, Cristina mentioned to me the growing interest in the Foreign Languages Department for including library instruction in the curriculum, especially where Spanish is concerned.  Within the past year, I have seen an increase in the number of Spanish library sessions I’ve been requested for.

Proof that if you start small and get just one professor interested, word will spread.

My dear friend from the Foreign Languages Department stopped in to see me this morning.  We’ve been friends for a few years now, even before she was working on a tenure-track line, but we began working on a new teaching partnership last summer.  Cristina attended the first conference presentation that Ellen Kintz (ANTH), Tom Cardot (student), and I offered to an audience of teaching faculty (as opposed to preaching to the choir of librarians).  Cristina and I had already taught together in her Spanish classes, for one-shot instruction only.  She was inspired by the triangular model of collaboration, especially as she was gearing up to teach a Latin American Civilization course for the first time in Fall 2007.

We met multiple times last summer to discuss a strategy.  We knew that we wanted to cover maps, books, journals, and the web and plan for a few work sessions throughout the semester as students gathered scholarly materials (primarily in Spanish) on a particular country for a cumulative final portfolio.  Background research would span from pre-colonial times to the present.  The goal was to have students present their country on Culture Day (an idea taken from another dear friend and colleague who is visiting Rochester next week . . . yay!!!!) and students would have the opportunity to bring in food, music, visuals and costume from their studied country.  The plan sounded great – ambitious, but both Cristina and I were very enthusiastic about what we could accomplish.

Since this was a newly developed course, we ran into a few roadblocks.  Despite the aim of having a librarian come into the classroom and teach sessions on each of the areas mentioned above (maps, books, journals, web), time got short and Cristina needed to cover her anticipated content.  After our introductory map/web lesson, my time in the classroom got shortened to about 15 minutes, rather than the expected 45, per session.  Knowing that students were “required” to see me with their chosen sources before adding them to the final portfolio, I wasn’t too worried.  I could always reteach, one-on-one, especially as it related to the specific choices students were making with their research materials.  We now know that the “requirement” needs to better enforced (with extra credit or a participation requirement for the course?) and we need to think smarter about how students will schedule time with me.  I ended up getting somewhat bombarded between the Spanish and Anthropology student needs.

Some of the students’ web choices were appalling, and disheartening, considering the web was actually one of the lessons that was taught in detail.  But practice makes perfect, and from what Cristina tells me, the students ended up doing very well in the course, with their final portfolio, and she has qualitative data to share with me as we forge ahead with modifications for Fall 2008.  I’m looking forward to seeing the students’ comments and brainstorming with Cristina on how we can improve our collaborative teaching.

This process makes me think of Michelle in Oswego who will start working with a theater professor in a similar collaborative manner.  There is no guarantee that a first stab at infusing scholarly research skills into an established course will be a huge success.  Quite the contrary.  Plan ahead as much as you can, but expect the unexpected, work with students as closely as possible, assess, and then tweak.  Ellen Kintz and I tweak ALL THE TIME.  That is really the reason for our Tues/Thurs morning meetings.  Practice makes perfect!  An important tip for anyone starting out in a teaching partnership.