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:

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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!

Ellen Kintz was in town between her travels to Mexico and California and we were able to meet this morning to discuss possibilities of presenting at a Lilly Conference. We’re convinced these days that we must present where the faculty are. Librarians are already on board with collaborative endeavors. Finding willing and enthusiastic faculty to partner with always seems to be the toughest challenge. But we’re gaining some steam . . .

Along with the wonderful compliment given by Michelle at SUNY Oswego, I heard from a librarian at Suffolk County Community College today who has been collaborating with an ESL professor and presenting the partnership at conferences (the most recent at LOEX 2008) and through publications (look for a chapter from Bealle & Cash-McConnell titled “A Construcivist Approach to Instructional Technology and Assessment in ESL Course Design” in the upcoming Neal-Schuman publication, Using Technology to Teach Information Literacy (2008). In Bealle’s own words, “the presentation with your anthro students (regarding Mayan research – SUNYLA Cortland, May 2004 – I believe) helped me realize the potential of librarian-faculty collaborations.” So, successful collaborations are being formed whether by librarian or faculty initiation. The more faculty we can engage in very powerful teaching partnerships, the more effective student learning can be, especially within the context of our ever-increasing digital world.

I have already discussed Ellen’s and my vision of a triangular model of collaboration (student-librarian-faculty) in this blog, but I’d like to add a fourth stakeholder to the mix – a technology expert. Without the inclusion of Milne Library‘s Technology Instructor, Steve Dresbach, students’ mastery of research skills and content would sit flat on its own. Steve has been involved in Ellen’s classes from day one, although separated from the librarian’s participation in the learning process. Much like I teach a number of research-based sessions in Ellen’s classes, Steve leads at least one technology session per course, which is then followed up by one-on-one or group consultations. The final product that students create is impressive.

Although the philosophy of learning content through research skills that is then delivered via technological projects (Powerpoint slide shows and InDesign posters thus far) has always been key to Ellen Kintz’ courses, there has never been much direct collaboration between the technology expert and the librarian . . . until now. This morning , Steve joined Ellen’s and my meeting to discuss a proposal to Lilly. The goal is to share with a faculty audience the model of content-to-research-to-content-to-final presentation (content appears twice since students must start with a little knowledge on a topic before effectively expanding upon that content through the research process) with the students actively engaged throughout the entire process. It is through the partnership of three faculty/staff members and the students that we are able to transform our students into scholars who are highly capable of presenting on a professional level.

Since we cannot be sure if this fall’s version of ANTH 229: Ethnography and Film will be Ellen’s last course taught (post-retirement), the plan is to film as much of the semester’s classes as possible and develop a documentary that clearly highlights each stakeholder’s role in the educational process. If our proposal is accepted by Lilly, we can use clips from the documentary and direct comments from student interviews regarding their impressions of the learning experience. Rather than bringing just one student to present with us (which is always a big plus, but expensive), the video can illustrate multiple student perspectives on all that they have learned through the ANTH experience.