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 received a pretty good response to my e-mail to the Social Science Department Chairs. Unfortunately, I communicated too late in the semester and was only able to sit in on one dept. meeting – Anthropology – but others responded nontheless.

In the ANTH meeting, professors seemed interested in the idea of teaching students to find required article readings (rather than spoonfeeding them) which would help professors avoid having to manage extranneous files in MyCourses. The new Department Chair, RoseMarie Chierici, later e-mailed me with hopes of getting her fall courses set up before she left for the summer, but unfortunately timing between her schedule and my trip to LOEX and later vacation to Florida didn’t work out. We will get together when she returns from her fieldwork. Barb Welker and Paul Pacheco, other professors at the meeting, also seemed interested and I know that Barb and I will be working together in the fall. I have worked extensively with Kristi Krumrine, and will be working even more closely with her during the summer camp, and I know she’ll be on board with this new method of getting required readings into the hands of her students. The demonstration of SCOPUS also peeked professors’ interest even if their own personal research focuses may not be met (i.e., lots more journal articles than books in SCOPUS). Barb left the meeting wanting to jump into SCOPUS and see what was available on her research topics. Furthermore, Ellen and I discussed an activity that would help familiarize her students this semester ( Spring 2008 ) with SCOPUS. The worksheet to be completed by students and looked over and signed by a librarian ended up counting 50% of ANTH 282 students’ final exam grade. Since I was away on vacation when students ultimately finished the worksheet and had it verified by a Reference Librarian, I’m not sure how the process went over.

For those departments who had already met for the last time of the semester before my e-mail, I heard back from Sociology, Foreign Languages, and Psychology. Each Dept. Chair said that they would pass on my e-mail to their faculty and hopefully as the fall semester gets closer, I can talk to interested professors one-on-one. I didn’t hear from Geography or Political Science, but will follow-up with them, as a whole or on an individual basis, as the fall semester approaches.

Okay, my e-mail to department chairs in the social sciences is out.  I am hoping to sit in on the last of their dept meetings before the semester is over to introduce Scopus and suggest teaching students (beginning in the fall) how to find course readings through the Library’s full-text databases rather than struggle with the copyright issues involved in e-reserves.  Now that E-Res is migrating to MyCourses, professors will be on their own for locating, printing/scanning and uploading articles and e-books to their course pages.  Why not teach students a lifelong skill (being able to find specific resources on their own through the Library’s databases and/or the free web) rather than just handing them the required texts?  We are in a digital age and our actions in the educational process should support this.  Once students access their first and second required readings, the further practice throughout the semester can only enhance and cement the necessary skills.  We may be seeing less questions at the Reference Desk concerning the location of particular resources available in our full-text databases.

I spent a beautiful spring day at a one-day workshop in Brockport, NY today. The focus: how libraries and librarians integrate themselves into campus culture using a LMS. Many good sessions although after spending three days at the Computers in Libraries (CIL) conference, today’s workshops just flew by. I could have actually sat through a few more presentations. But a little at a time is a good thing. I was happy that the venue was so close to home. The keynote speakers came from Penn State and I was immediately reminded of speakers from CIL, also from Penn State, and they presented on similar topics. The modules/tutorials/library course guides (however you want to call it) sound fantastic. And Penn State uses ANGEL, which is great since Geneseo is on the same system. For librarians not familiar with and/or adept at HTML, the PA librarians have figured out a way to get the necessary resources into the professors’ and students’ hands in the online environment. What sounded like the perfect system became very confusing as it was never explained, until later, that the templates Penn State uses have been customized in-house. Luckily, they are very willing to share the templates and have suggested this to ANGEL, but were rebuffed since “no one else was expressing a need for such resources.” If other librarians and IT depts were aware of these capabilities, there would be many of us clamoring to avoid reinventing the wheel. I will definitely have to contact the higher-ups to make my recommendation.

Other interesting sessions included the use and/or development of tutorials, using Captivate, Camtasia, and other software programs. This gives me the idea of creating an interactive tutorial/scavenger hunt for the DIG students this summer. Not only can I make the hunt come alive and make it interesting and fun for our middle school students, I can be teaching them basic research skills in the process – something that during the two week camp, I may not have time to do. I may need to enlist the help from a few librarians to create the tutorial that I envision. Student assistants may be out of the question at this point since they are so swamped with final projects and exams.

The last light bulb that popped up over my head today pertains to the situation of E-reserves. With the implementation of ANGEL, the library’s e-res system as we know it will fade away at the end of this semester. Currently, the LOR (learning object repository) for course reserves looks like a mess, and without library intervention, I’m not so sure that professors will be as diligent about cleaning out their reserves list at the end of each semester. I have already run into the problem of outdated material in an ANTH course I worked with this semester. The only syllabi I could find within the ANTH course, using ANGEL, were 2-3 years old. And the list of resources within the list were unweilding. So, my thought . . . I will see what dept meetings I can visit before the end of the semester and suggest to faculty that rather than hassle with adding articles and books to their course reserve list (time consuming to find the sources, create the PDFs, link them and then figure out whether the documentation falls within copyright parameters), I can check to see if the library has access to the materials and, if so, recommend a brief session and/or online tutorial (probably the better idea, which should be an attractive choice to busy professors worried about time constraints for delivering their course content) demonstrating to students how to access these chosen resources. Once they have the skill, it will be practiced many times over throughout the semester, cementing this process into their minds. With any luck, students in these courses will no longer come to the reference desk asking questions about how to know if the library owns such and such journal/article/book. Because course readings will be part of a student’s final grade for the semester, it will be to their benefit to perfect the skill of knowing how to access particular, pre-designated materials. Without accessing the required source, they cannot do the reading, which in turn prevents them from coming to class prepared to discuss their homework reading assignment. This may later affect their performance on course exams. I have already been utilizing such a strategy in Ellen’s courses (ANTH) and I haven’t heard of any problems from the students. As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”

The additional benefits of meeting with academic departments before the semester is up is to remind the professors of new and existing resources in the library that they may want to consider and experiment with over the summer. Scopus seemed to be hugely popular with the science faculty, but they were the only ones to attend the demonstration earlier this week. Scopus is a great tool for the Social Sciences as well. The alterior motive, of course, is to remind the departments with whom I work that I am at their service, during the summer and certainly in the fall semester.