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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So, this collaborative effort isn’t so much librarian to teaching faculty, but since we librarians in the SUNY system are considered faculty, I’m going to count this as librarian-faculty collaboration.

Yesterday, I returned from SUNY Potsdam where friends and colleagues within SUNY gather annually for drinks, dancing lessons, drumming circles, kayaking, lots of food, and . . . oh yeah . . . professional development. Despite resistance to attending the conference this year, I am so happy I did. I have forgotten how much I enjoy the SUNYLA conference, but even more, how much I enjoy my friends within SUNY. It’s interesting to me how close colleagues can get when we’re all pretty much doing the same thing (librarianship), but our relationships become so much closer than that. Hello’s and goodbye’s are met with hugs rather than handshakes or waves and conversation over good meals are focused on what’s happening in our personal lives more than what we’re doing professionally. That talk can happen during the presentations. Despite attending the conference without my closest compadres, I had an amazing time and was given the opportunity to get better acquainted with co-workers within my own library and new librarians joining SUNY all over the state. Nothing brings people together like a heated game of foosball. 🙂

The best experience, however, came before the conference. Against all odds, a group of four worked cross state on a 90-minute presentation to be given on Friday the 13th, not once meeting in person. The Membership Enthusiasm Outreach Workgroup (MEOW) did meet once in person last September, but I would say the bulk of the work completed by this group happened online between 4 dedicated librarians that I am fortunate to call friends (excluding myself as the 4th librarian, of course). How did we get the work accomplished? Via phone, e-mail, IM, and the miracle of 2.0. MEOW’s wiki, but more importantly Google Docs, helped us work “as if” we were in the same room. My favorite experience was probably when Nancy and I were simultaneously looking at a google doc, IMing each other as we examined our work, and making instant changes to the document. Nancy told me yesterday that she is now about 1.75 (not quite at the 2.0 level but close!) as a result of this collaborative work, and has even been using some of the tools for personal business.

The other helpful hint is that Gmail can send files of infinite size (or at least bigger than my campus e-mail account can send). That tidbit of info could have helped ease the process of loading my ppts to the LOEX 2008 conference page.

Other google docs allowed the MEOW 4 to maintain a running conversation of thoughts, questions, and suggestions helpful to finalizing our conference presentation. We plan to share these documents with the greater MEOW group, along with suggestions from our audience made during the brainstorming activity of yesterday’s session, before a second in-person meeting. In an effort to get as many of the MEOW members as possible “attending” this meeting, we’ll incorporate a conference call and IM so that those who cannot physically travel can still participate. If we could get Internet2 up and running (demonstrated fantastically during the keynote session of the SUNYLA conference . . . and Geneseo has access to Internet2!), that would be even better, but I’m not so sure we can move that quickly.

The other web 2.0 tool that I’m hooked on is Twitter, thanks to my run-in with Rudibrarian at Computers in Libraries. Being able to take conference notes and write them up later has been a great exercise in reflecting on what I learned at various conference sessions. I love being able to listen to a presentation, takes notes, discuss with Rudibrarian (if she happens to be attending the same session), ask questions of clarification, and even hear Rudy ask those questions aloud. Full circle. 🙂

My final thought on 2.0 for the day is that blogs, wikis, Google docs, etc. have been so instrumental in my work on the RYSAG summer camp. I have been so pleased to serve as the faculty member to lead the planning group in technological collaboration. We are all learning and growing together.

As I drove into work this morning, I listened to an NPR story about the uranium mining that has been happening in the Navajo Nation, and how it has negatively effected the Nation’s people, for years now. What’s funny is that the name of the Chief/President interviewed instantly rang a bell, before I ever discovered that the report was related to the Navajo. The intro to the story was purely about uranium, in general, or perhaps I just wasn’t listening closely enough yet. Why was that name so familiar? Because I have gone through student-chosen website upon website as a regular assignment in Ellen Kintz’ ANTH 229: Film and Ethnography where his name has come up. The course schedule is divided by different cultural groups that students study by way of documentaries. The Navajo, of course, are one of these groups to be explored. It is a fascinating course (not that I have had much, if any, time to sit in on it when I’m not actually teaching in it) and one in which Ellen and I have been very successful at infusing scholarly research skills. Students are introduced to the Navajo during a time where we are simultaneously focusing on scholarly web skills – searching, evaluating, citing, and annotating. On the first or second day of class, I come in to provide a 75-minute session on web skills that move beyond the typical use of simple Google. After lots of hands-on time in class, students are given periodic assignments (as stated in the course syllabus) to produce short annotated bibliographies (3 sources) on the cultural group being studied, in the scholarly research format that we are practicing (in addition to the web, I teach students scholarly skills for finding books, journal articles, and sometimes multimedia platforms). The goal of these assignments is to have students practice and retain these lifelong search skills while learning more about the culture, beyond what can be taught with limited time in the classroom. The formula and balance of content to skills works extremely well! In a sense, students are learning the course content by using advanced research techniques as the vehicle. As I recently titled a faculty workshop at the University of Buffalo, “Broccoli, Headhunting and the Mayan Universe: Is There a Connection?” I make the analogy of sliding scholarly research skills into the course curriculum and learning goals to make “library stuff” seem more palatable much like parents hide broccoli and other greens under gooey, melty cheese or into sweets like brownies so that kids will eat the vegetables that we know are so good for them yet do not have the appeal of . . . let’s say . . . a hot fudge sundae. 🙂

Anyway, back to the Navajo stuff . . . In the past, I have compiled students’ web “picks” onto a website, but more recently, Ellen and I have developed a wiki where students can progressively post their chosen research sources and I can go in and make comments and suggestions on their annotated bibliographies (not done so well in Fall 2007 due to complete work overload, but a new wiki will begin when ANTH 229 is offered in Fall 2008). An additional benefit to the students’ wiki work is that they continue to learn, from each other in this case, as they tend to catch glimpses of what their classmates have written, with the annotated bibliographies but more so with the class readings and online discussion.

In brief and returning to the NPR story from this morning (boy, I do like to go on tangents!), I think it is amazing how much of the Anthropology taught by Dr. Ellen Kintz I’ve been able to absorb, merely by working with her and her students. I barely ever attend class sessions if I’m not teaching scholarly skills to the students (no time to do so. I wish there was more time for this.). So, all of my education in Anthropology has been gleaned from what work the students provide to me that I then assess and comment upon. Ellen and I have talked about plans for my graduate work in ANTH. I would LOVE to get a Master’s in Anthropology. It’s so funny how this discipline never came onto my radar screen in my undergraduate days (despite my studies in the French language, culture, linguistics, sociology, and international relations, all of which surround Cultural Anthropology). I do need to get serious about putting in an application for a Master’s program at Empire State College. Must look into this today since I know the most recent deadline is coming up.

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.