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!

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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 meant to write this yesterday but it was one busy day. Meeting after meeting after meeting. I truly value my bi-weekly meetings with my Anthropology partner, Ellen. We have been meeting every Tuesday and Thursday morning for a number of semesters now. We meet to discuss plans for her ANTH courses, to share news about special projects we’re working on, and to strategize how best to share the strengths of our partnership with other faculty members. The number one question we get from workshop participants (librarians, for the most part) is “how do we find faculty members who are as willing and enthusiastic to collaborate in the classroom?” The typical answer . . . “one professor at a time.” I don’t know that there is any easy answer to this question. I was fortunate that Ellen came to me (via my library director and instruction coordinator) since we had worked on a library session once in the past – a 75-minute session, jam-packed with every possible source that the ANTH students should be aware of. Needless to say, I only got through half the list, at best, and in very little detail. As wise and experienced in her career, Ellen could see that her students needed better research skills so that they would be capable of discovering more in the field of Anthropology. As I tell students, they can only learn so much within a 50 or 75-minute session from their professor(s). There is so much more information out there for them to learn, especially if the topics in class engage and excite them. But Ellen is a unique case (in many ways 🙂 ), but I know she is not alone in her level of enthusiasm for students’ scholarly research skills. As librarians work with professors, inside or outside of the classroom, professional and friendly relationships begin to build, and through more informal conversations, we can get to the bottom of professors’ hesitation for a more systematic partnership where content and research skills come together – an E-ducational Merging, so to speak. Time is almost always the issue. Professors have so much content to cover within a 16-week semester (or however different colleges and schools structure their academic year), but Ellen and I argue that through a mastery of research skills, students can learn some of the content independently and through class collaboration – via discussion, group projects, wiki homework assignments, etc. Ellen and I have been able to achieve this learning of the content through 3-4 library sessions infused throughout the semester, followed up with homework assignments and scholarly research portions to exams. Our model includes the librarian as co-teacher, meaning that I am also responsible for part of the course grading, that which pertains to research findings and citations.

Wow, this post is already getting really long, despite my intention of keeping this short and sweet and focusing on the unexpected benefits of my partnership with Ellen. I guess I must have a lot to say. 🙂 In any case, our Tues/Thurs meetings have developed into sharing each other’s work (Ellen travels a lot, for presentations, professional development, and fieldwork, much of which includes service leaning for her students) and sharing in each other’s lives. So what started out as purely a professional collaboration has turned into so much more. We learn from each other, we inspire each other, and in the end, we have both become better teachers for it.

I just attended a database demonstration for one of our newest purchases. Lots of science faculty there, which was wonderful to see. Apparently, our teaching faculty can be lured in with free food. 🙂 I was able to talk summer camp stuff with our Chemistry partner. Eric has fantastic ideas when it comes to teaching the middle school students in the sciences. They loved him last year and were even asking for him this past weekend. He and our resident Archaeologist will make a tremendous teaching team. It’s interesting to work with professors beyond the typical one-shot library sessions. I think in a more collaborative and teaching-intensive environment, professors can truly see what librarians are capable of in the classroom. Research skills become merely the means for students to learn the content. Once students are empowered with research abilities, their world of knowledge opens up. I have definitely seen this in cooperative classes with Dr. Kintz, Anthropology. But it’s essential that librarians and faculty teach together beyond that one-shot session.

The database demo becomes a perfect opportunity to connect with faculty who we typically don’t work with. It’s important to see where their needs and interests lie. It’s essential to get a conversation started, whether it’s over a shameless “carrot” of free food and technology or before/after a campus-centered meeting. Librarians must become increasingly involved in campus activities so that they can get their face out there and become a recognizable member of the college community. Even to this day, I find it difficult to leave the library when there is so much work to be done at my desk. But without “outside” visits, friendly lunches, cooperative volunteer/service work, no one on campus will be aware of all that the library has to offer. Professors and students know to a certain extent, but they are always amazed when you can keep wowing them with new discoveries. I heard that very level of excitement from Eric who was just discovering the power of Scopus.