#ACRL2015 reflections – better late than never?

So, it’s May.  ACRL 2015 was in March.  I’m finally finding time to reflect on my conference experience (hey, they’re both M months, it’s practically the same thing), so here we go!

First things first:  Babies & Conferences

If there is one thing I take away from the ACRL 2015 experience it is this:  It is damn hard — for me — to meaningfully “do” conferences with a baby in tow (even if he *is* adorable).  

Baby in a Le Petit Prince onesie

Mon petit prince rocking the literary themed onesie for the library conference.

Things that made the trip possible:

  • a direct flight there & back
  • arriving the first evening – but going right to the hotel
  • departing the morning of the last day without attending any sessions that day
  • bringing a stroller (hello baby who doesn’t sleep in a stationary bed other than his crib at home!)
  • bringing my mother
  • verbalizing that it is okay not to milk every moment (or, said another way, redefining what ‘milk every moment’ means)

Speaking of milk, I was still nursing at the time so I appreciated that the conference offered a lactation room – though I never ended up using it.  I had all my pump and equipment and the whole kit and caboodle, but thanks to my mom I was able to nurse my baby before and after various sessions.  Seriously though, if I am ever nursing/pumping again and have the option to go to a conference that is overnight in any way, I will be saying no.  So. Not. Worth. It.

Picture of me & baby

We look pretty good for 4:30am local time, I’d say.

Because my partner had a schedule during this time in which he really wouldn’t have been able to be around for our son, I had to bring the baby.  The only way I felt comfortable doing that would be to also bring my mother to watch him while I was, at a minimum, leading the workshop my colleague and I were signed up to do, and if possible to watch him during other times as well.  She graciously acquiesced to be flown to Portland and watch her only grandchild (not a hard sell, I suppose); but I don’t know if I can ever ever ever do something like this again.  It was just too much stress!


Still, it was worth it this time

Despite juggling hurdles involving a baby, a mother, and a conference, I deem ACRL 2015 a success!  The workshop I co-lead was awesome (more on that below); and I emerged from the conference energized and with a few implementable ideas.

Some highlights

I got a ton out of a session called “leaving the one shot behind.”  In this session I learned about Library DIY which is one cool library interface.  Not that we necessarily can or should implement this at my institution; but it’s some delicious food for thought.

The presenters talked about several things including train the trainer and peer mentoring models.  But one small nugget I really liked in the presentation was around working with faculty as a way to scale up information literacy instruction.  They asked faculty “what skills do your students need to successfully complete the assignment?”  And then followed that up with “which do you explicitly teach them?” as a way to just acknowledge any disconnects.  I am choosing to interpret skills in a new-information-literacy-framework kind of way.  So, I think these are valuable questions as we here at Wellesley College go about working with faculty in our own scaling up of IL discussions.  Librarians do not need to be the only ones ‘teaching’ information literacy.  Faculty do it too!  And on that note, the presenter followed that point up with a point about offering workshops to faculty to help them create thoughtful / better assignments (which resulted in more information literate students).  Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, turnout was light.  But where implemented – it was effective.  I do wish we could have heard more about this assignment redesign workshop and saw some examples coming out of this, but ah well.

Then I was a huge fan of a session on teaching lifelong information literacy.  Learned about the BEAM model, created by Bizup in 2008, to help students understand that sources can be used for different means:  as background, evidence, to build an argument, and to provide a methodological frame. This model has been extended too – but these are the major ways sources are used in scholarly work.  In teaching with this model in mind, you can get students thinking about authority and relevance: one source may be great as E but not A.  Some ideas they provided around teaching this in the classroom included:

  • having students list the sorts of evidence they think would be useful for their research using at least two or three of the categories in BEAM
  • having students who have sources consider what type of BEAM source each is
  • reading an article and see how the authors use sources based on the BEAM framework
  • having students evaluate sources for authority based on how they intended to use the sources (as B, E, A, or M)

I quite enjoyed a very short session on reading strategies for undergraduates.  The presenters claimed that 49% students cannot read at the college level.  They acknowledged that scholarly articles are not written for students, and that reading these articles feels often like translation work.  So, some work we can do as librarians is to teach them some reading strategies.  I’ve been thinking a lot about this evaluation piece for some of my psychology classes and I do think it is the hardest to teach… because it takes real time and effort.  However, they outline several great strategies for starting the conversation with students.

Finally, I went to a fairly interesting session on ‘high / low / no tech’ instruction strategies.  I think the high and even low tech examples they talked about were too much work for things I would be trying to accomplish in the near term.  These are things like creating fairly impressive videos; moocs; stop motion videos; etc.  But the no tech section raised something that I’ve since had a lot of success with on an individual basis that I hope to bring into a classroom setting and develop further.  It’s simple really – physically place bound journal volumes in students hands and have them look through them.  In their example, the presenter said they used this strategy to teach citation (here’s their handout), but I think one could really do a lot more with this.

Since ACRL, when I’ve worked with students individually and shown them these bound volumes we have to back up first and talk about what the heck those weird dividers are in the middle of the “book.”  Oh!  Those are “issues” – and then we talk about the process of scholarly communications in this discipline, and how physically when the library receives some number of issues that fill up some amount of space we bind them in a little set (sometimes a full volume, sometimes a partial volume, sometimes 2 or more volumes at a time).  So there’s a lot of opportunity there – and this session made me realize that I should really find opportunities to bring these physical print journals into the classroom when I’m thinking about these elements of information literacy.

Some lowlights

Life is just too short to waste time in really terrible conference presentations.  I left two sessions for this reason.  Sounded great on paper (and thus, perhaps, the rooms were full for both); but totally not worth my time.  In lieu of the first, I practiced my workshop talk; and in lieu of the second, I went to my second choice session – which was a winner in that case.  I wonder if there is an etiquette around this that I am not paying attention to?  I was in the back or side for both near an exit so I did not cause too much disruption I don’t think.  But what do others think?

Also… I never made it to any social functions!  Thanks baby!  #sarcasm

Process Mapping Workshop Reflections (slides // handout)

Um, okay – this was the most fun thing ever.  Yes, I mean it.  A Process Mapping Workshop.  Most fun thing.  One attendee said it was “super interesting” and “high-energy.”  Hurray!  Okay but enough about that – here’s what we did and how it went.

A process map is a tool that lets you quickly and fairly easily (if done well) visualize the steps, tasks, decisions and actors involved in some process.  It’s also a great tool that enables organizational assessment (as my co-presenter Megan Hartline and I argue here).  But, it’s not the final map itself that creates a culture of assessment but rather the process of process mapping.  Bear with me here.

Creating a process map is hard work and can be fraught with tension.  Oh, I’m sure there are processes that are a breeze to map and everyone is clear, on the same page, and all can easily identify where breakdowns are occurring and how to solve them without anyone’s feelings getting hurt – but those are processes that don’t really need some extra TLC to improve.  The work of process mapping involves getting the right stakeholders together at critical moments to think about the work that is done when/how/by whom and to have conversations about what that looks like right now.  Once those conversations begin to happen, everyone starts to see the work they’re doing with an assessment hat on.  It’s neat.  But these conversations are tricky to lead and take some practice.  So Megan and I submitted this workshop proposal* wherein we would tell our attendees about process mapping and what it’s good for and then give them lots and lots of guided practice in actually doing it.

Ah it was so great.  People really got into it – and they realized many of the lessons we were trying to impart:  that this is difficult but worthwhile, that it can take quite a while, that a facilitator is useful, that the act of generating the map is more important than the final map, and that managing scope is critical to success.  We got some great feedback afterwards – and I’m hoping people will be writing us with magical success stories of their own mapping endeavors soon.  (I can hope, right?)

Whew.  The end.


* As an aside, we finished the proposal the very evening I went into labor.  I’ll kind of always associate process mapping with the birth of my first child.  Weird, right?

Musings on Library Instruction

As a member of several professional organizations (i.e. SAA, ALA, ACRL), I have the distinct pleasure of receiving various publications regularly in my mailbox (the physical one outside my apartment… not my email mailbox!).  When I first signed up for these memberships when I was still a student, I did not really understand the value of belonging to such organizations.  Even now, I wish I could take fuller advantage of the benefits – I long to attend a conference or participate in a mentorship program, but the former has been a bit financially out of reach and the latter I hope to set up in the near future.

But, as I was saying, every month or few weeks I am sent some archival or library publication.  Recently, I flipped through recent editions of both College & Research Libraries News and College & Research Libraries.  Not every issue has something that catches my eye, but in both of these I saw at least one article that interested me.

The article in College & Research Library News that caught my attention was Glen Ellen Starr Stilling’s “Learning to ‘light out after it with a club’:  The story of a faculty learning community for scholarly writing” (July/August 2012, 390-393, cont’d on p. 398).  Here Stilling discusses the development of a week-long faculty writing workshop followed by a year-long Faculty Learning Community program at Appalachian State University.*

This look into a faculty development program is intriguing – it certainly appears to have been quite successful, though not without the typical suite of “lessons learned.”  I like how, ultimately, by organizing a faculty development course with their needs placed squarely at the forefront of the program, Stilling and the other organizers were also able to infuse the meetings with ways in which the library could be of service to the faculty.  Very inspiring!

The other article that I want to mention was on page 366 of the July 2012 College & Research Libraries (73:4, 366-377).  There, Mery, Newby, and Peng pen an article titled “Why One-shot Information Literacy Sessions Are Not the Future of Instruction:  A Case for Online Credit Courses.”  Well, right away, I agree with the sentiment of the title!  After teaching Introduction to Global Change for 4 years, I designed a one-off information literacy session for our 100+ students last fall, many of whom were first year students who had very little understanding of primary sources, quality online searching, and critical evaluation of resources.  This was an interesting experience from my perspective, and I do think students were grateful for the session.  Indeed, their final projects were better, in my opinion, than they had been the previous four years.

Still, I think the session was more of a band-aid than one which created lasting information literacy gains for our students.  Mery et al.’s article examines how online courses to build information literacy among students for particular courses compare to the typical one-off library instruction session.  Figure 1 in their paper says it all:  students who took an online information literacy course whilst taking an introductory English class achieved a statistically significant higher level of information literacy by the end of the course relative to a control group, a group given some instruction by their English instructor, and a group given a one-off 50 minute instruction session by a librarian.  Their assessment of information literacy involved a multiple-choice exam testing seven different skills:

  1. Developing a research strategy
  2. Selecting finding tools
  3. Searching
  4. Using finding tool features
  5. Retrieving sources
  6. Evaluating sources
  7. Documenting sources
  8. Understanding economic, legal and social issues

Sure, there are issues with the study and subsequent analysis.  Fine.  But, I have a hunch they are on to something – clearly the one-off instruction session (though it WAS shown to increase information literacy achievement in this study) is not the only way to go, nor is it necessarily the most effective.

I’ve been kicking around an idea in my head for a while now:  at some point, I’d like to design a more robust information literacy suite of resources for the Global Change course, perhaps in small video segments with little quizzes or hands-on practice exercises.  Separate short video clips could cover a few relevant databases and search and retrieval strategies for each, evaluation of the resources retrieved (Is this peer reviewed?  Scholarly?  Primary literature?  Do I trust their results?), and finally how to cite their sources properly.  They could be assigned one short video each week to watch and their lab assignment for the week could incorporate a question that might relate to what they learned.  For example, fairly early on in the course they pick their project topics for their final group project.  We ask them to submit an annotated bibliography as an assignment around the end of the first third of the course.  In addition to noting whether they cited their sources properly, we could ask them what databases they used and what their search strategy was.  Later in the course, we could ask each group member to take an important resource for their projects and analyze it:  explain whether it is peer-reviewed and scholarly and how they know this, talk about whether they agree with the results and why, etc.

I will keep you all posted, dear readers, as to whether any of this comes to fruition.

*Note:  The very first (and one of the only!) football games I have attended at the University of Michigan was against Appalachian State in 2007, a game that seemed to mark the beginning of an end which seems to only be ending now!