It’s interesting (and sad) how I seem to post entries on this blog about once a year.  I can hardly call myself a blogger.  😦  But once again, I will try to spur myself on to remain committed to posting.

The writers group meeting that I just attended will hopefully help toward keeping myself disciplined.  A small group of like-minded and equally busy librarians will try to build in some accountability among us so that we can all achieve our goals of slowly but surely producing good pieces of writing – for professional purposes mainly, but perhaps some creative writing will seep into our efforts.  That would be a big plus for me!

So, one of my three goals before next week’s meeting is to publish a blog post (after almost a year’s hiatus).  Here I am!

I can’t explain why I don’t add to this blog more frequently.  The original goal was to write short pieces that track my daily/weekly activities working collaboratively with classroom faculty, mostly in terms of teaching.  That should be an easy and enjoyable task.  And I certainly have lots that I can add.  But as usual, I think I build these tasks up in my mind so that they soon become so insurmountable, that I give up entirely rather than contributing just a little.  Such is the story of my life!

As I have done in the past, here are a few topics on my mind that I hope to write about in the near future.

  • The disappointment over an Anthropology course that E.K. and I had big plans for that was recently cancelled due to low enrollment
  • A growing working relationship with the new chair of our ANTH Dept, including course and assignment development, teaching and the purchase of new books
  • Helping the ANTH Dept with assessment endeavors related to information literacy which has lead to new faculty interest in greater teaching collaborations
  • Working with J.A. toward his plans for an interdisciplinary food project
  • A recent conference presentation that highlighted the teaching collaboration between C.R. and me
  • With C.R. moving to a new institution, plans to continue our collaboration for future presentations and publications
  • Forging new relationships and collaborative projects with faculty in the Foreign Languages
  • Working with E.K. to finally write articles on our work over the past few years
  • The newest RYSAG camp – preparations for and implementation during the last two weeks of July
  • Plans toward a COCID/SUNY CPD sponsored conference that will encourage collaborative presentations between classroom faculty and librarians
  • Participation on and activities toward our library’s new Scholarly Communications Team

And the list goes on . . . Wow, I guess I better start writing!  🙂

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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 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.

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.