Looking to the Forward, While Reflecting on the Past

As the end of another semester and year approaches, I find myself looking to the future, defining new goals, and exploring exciting possibilities, especially since this is the new normal at the UT Libraries today! However, I recently received an email that made me reflect on a past partnership that has blossomed into something greater than I ever anticipated.

The email came from Lisa Hernandez, currently the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo College, Career & Technology Academy Librarian and the Texas Library Association’s Librarian of the Year. In 2013, Lisa had been one of ten Texas high school librarians selected to attend the UT Libraries Information Literacy Summit, a day long summit about information literacy. Information Literacy (IL) is broadly defined by the ability to find and think critically about information and is not only a crucial skill for life-long learning, it is also one of the six requirements of UT’s School of Undergraduate Studies Signature Course program, a required interdisciplinary foundation course for all incoming UT freshman.

During the Summit, high school librarians from across Texas and librarians from the UT Libraries Teaching and Learning Services department shared expertise, identified overlapping skills, and created mutually-beneficial instructional content in order to better understand the types of issues and needs we have at both ends of the high-school to college transition.  UT librarians shared real syllabi used in freshman courses and we worked collaboratively to design activities and assignments that would help augment information literacy development at both levels, a need identified in national research conducted by Project Information Literacy.

One of the goals of the Summit was to continue sharing resources and exploring partnerships beyond the day long information exchange and a number of the participants did stay in touch, presenting a poster entitled, “Partnering with High School Librarians To Create Information Literate College Students” at the Texas Library Association conference in San Antonio in 2014.  Lisa Hernandez, who notes that her attendance at the Information Literacy Summit was the “highlight of her professional career”, used the concepts she learned at the summit to create an E-Research Plan Portfolio which helps scaffolds reading, writing, and research assignments over a period of time. It also integrates resources from her home library as well as from the UT Libraries and UT’s University Writing Center.

Lisa has shared her work with colleagues, most recently on November 16th at district librarian meeting and has been a steadfast leader in bridging the relationships between high school and college teachers and librarians. In our recent correspondence, Lisa gave me an update on her collaboration and the integration of the E-Research Plan Portfolio. She writes,

“Presently, our school library has a unique partnership with South Texas College Library.  Collaboratively, a STC librarian and I provide library services to college and/or HS students.  This semester, Criminal Justice dual-enrollment students were introduced to my e-Research Plan Portfolio as a resource to conducting research.  The success of the portfolio is professors and students are beginning to value it as a research tool; the challenge of the portfolio is constantly verifying electronic links are updated and working.  My future plan is that it will serve as an effective resource to better prepare Texas HS students for college academic success.”

Lisa’s work demonstrates how connecting with our colleagues outside of the University can have a real effect in local communities. When we accepted Lisa into the Information Literacy Summit, we had no idea that we would find such an invested advocate and collaborator. For that, we are truly thankful and grateful.

Two female librarian smiling.
Cindy Fisher and Lisa Hernandez prepare for their presentation to the Texas Association of School Library Administrators Conference on June 18th 2014.


The RIOT discussion on November 17, 2015 began with Elise’s excellent post about the ways academic libraries have tried to leverage their student workers as consultants for other undergraduate students.  This discussion broadened to include many topics related to student workers in the UT libraries.

We began the discussion by talking about the fears that surface when we consider letting undergraduate students provide research help as a part of our array of services.  Several concerns came up: the need for intensive training, the idea that this is librarian “turf,” and the question of what need we’d be meeting for our users.  We came up with a few possible solutions for the training piece of this discussion – first, as with the students who work in the media lab at PCL, training could be project-based.  For example, students could be given a research problem or question (maybe mined from actual queries on the desk) and be tasked with finding resources that meet the research need.  In this way, students would encounter problems and work through them organically, instead of sitting through long training sessions.  The second idea was to seek students with some kind of interest in library work or mentorship – this would lead to students who care about their job and would be more likely to work hard to get up-to-speed.  These students could be recommended by some of the centers on campus (the Multicultural Engagement Center – MEC is one possibility).  Finally, as a cohort of more experienced students is built, some of the training could be accomplished through student workers mentoring each other.

We also recognized that the domain of the specialized library consultation is for library staff.  Student workers are not mini-me librarians.  Instead, these students will provide guidance and help other undergraduates problem solve in their research (in the model of the student mentors at the UWC).  They may also be able to connect with students who would not have otherwise interacted with library staff.  Part of the idea behind this kind of peer mentoring is to facilitate student to student learning, which can be more powerful than staff to student learning.

When we discussed what need we’re addressing, many topics came to the surface, the most interesting of which was the idea that we’d be reaching a new crop of students.  Some students who would not feel comfortable asking a librarian for help may be able to consult with peers, plus as these student workers become recognizable across campus, they may be able to spread the fact that research help is available in the libraries.

Overall, we liked the idea of student mentors providing research help – it seems to have many potential benefits for undergraduates.  Plus these student mentors could also work at the checkout desk – with more responsibilities and training, maybe they would have additional investment in their jobs.  We also have two possible populations of students to draw from at UT – students already involved in the MEC and students who have served as mentors in UGS Signature Courses (these students already do some research help).  Finally, an idea that came out of this RIOT that we can act on in the coming semester is to have UWC consultants meet with librarians about their own projects so that they can: see the services we offer, assist students with basic research problems, and communicate about our services to students who visit the writing center.    

Good Company: How Peer Tutors in the Library Can Reach Students in Unique Ways

I’m glad I stumbled upon this blog post written by the Writing Center at University of Wisconsin-Madison about the collaboration following the Writing Center moving into the Ott Library there. A lot of the ideas that have come out of brainstorming sessions between our staff and the UWC’s have been put into practice successfully at Ott, including a deep collaboration on a Literature Review workshop, the co-authoring of online learning objects, and joint librarian-writing consultant consultations. I plan to approach the UWC with an idea I grabbed from this blog post – writing consultants have mandatory individual research consultations by their subject liaison for their own work. Experiencing a librarian’s expertise first-hand may make it more likely that the consultant will make referrals (because now they know what we do and how helpful we are) and it creates a deeper connection between consultants and librarians.

This blog post led me down another path I’ve been trying to focus more on since classes have winded down – peer-to-peer learning in libraries. Ott and the Writing Center there have collaborated on a Course-Embedded Tutors program that exists alongside their Embedded-Librarian program. They don’t go into much detail about it, but the same questions popped into my head that always does when I see these types of peer-tutoring programs: How do you recruit? How do you train? And lots of other questions, too, but those are the big ones. Luckily, this blog post makes reference to an article about this very type of initiative.

Grand Valley State Libraries implemented their peer-tutor consultations in 2012 and have gathered a great deal of data and reflections on their program. I like the way they describe the unique learning experience a consultation with a peer can offer, “untethered from the hierarchy inherent in formal instruction environments”. Sometimes we have apprehension about allowing an undergraduate to impart our deep wisdom unto students, fearing they will give bad information or let a precious teaching moment slip by. The authors of this article emphasize that the peer tutors are not teachers, they are learners immersed in the undergraduate experience who have been given specialized and focused training.

Like us, the GVSL was undergoing change: co-location of library, writing and presentation support services. As they were envisioning what their ‘Knowledge Market’ would look like, they fantasized about a space where “students are guided by their own inquiry, through in-depth conversations that help a student envision his or her own research plan, determine the success of that strategy, and develop critical thinking and analytical skills to determine the validity of the information found for his or her specific need.” To them, this model would be led by tutors who would be on hand for drop-in in-depth consultations, presumably outside of regular business hours, a service that would be difficult to staff with busy librarians. In fact, they were inspired by the peer-led models of the Writing Center and the Speech Lab.

Recruiting and orienting consultants happens once a year, reinforcing the team-based approach. They ask that students have comfort with library research as evidenced by two research-based writing samples, a faculty recommendation and scenario-based open-ended questions on the application. I wonder if we would be able to attract students with this skillset here. The article didn’t go into specifics about how they attracted applicants.

For training, they emphasized the ability to listen to students’ needs and the ability to deeply engage with peers. In addition to an initial orientation, consultants are offered professional development sessions and regular mentoring meetings facilitated by ‘lead consultants’, who are also students. These lead consultants assist with many aspects of the program and oversee student-authored LibGuides.

Learning how to conduct a consultation is three-tiered: Observe, practice under observation, and finally conduct a practice consultation by themselves, one that is done with a “student” volunteer (typically library staff with a real assignment in hand). Consultants are given a copy of Muriel Harris’s article on writing tutors which emphasizes how peers can help students be more independent and cope with academic anxiety and confidence issues. The regular professional development opportunities focus on topics chosen based on need or suggestion by consultants.

Assessment of this program and how they used that data for scheduling, budgeting and marketing was impressive, but mostly because students had to give their student-identification number to book a consult. The authors could see this data being used to correlate library use with student retention.

I was impressed with the number of consultations they held in the library (not typically less than 20 a week), but the authors saw low attendance as a marketing issue. They also learned that although subject liaisons were referred to students during consultations, very few students followed up, indicating a perceived distinction between peer tutors and ‘authority figures’. Additionally, many students who came for research consultations reported that they did not know the library would offer such support, suggesting that the service was reaching new segments of the undergraduate population.

GVSL intends to more deeply explore the benefits of ‘collaborative tutoring’ in their space, i.e. a model that allows student tutors in the Writing Center, Speech Lab and Library work together in a more integrated manner. I see a lot of obvious parallels with our organization and theirs and hope to pursue elements of this collaboration further. First, may I ask:

  1. What do you think about this model of students leading research consultations? What fears do you have?
  2. How did this notion of students learning differently from their peers, or seeking out a peer for help more often than they would a professional resonate with you? What do you see in your classes?
  3. I find in my classes, students don’t know what they can ask me. On my guides, I often include sample questions so they know the breadth of inquiries I can field. This article talks about disappointment in the number of consultations sought. To what do you attribute that and does that jive with your experiences?
  4. I see potential to collaborate with a few places on campus. I plan to re-visit an initiative with Student Diversity Initiatives and now I’m brainstorming partnerships with the Office of Undergraduate Research and UGS. Whom would you approach?

Mary O’Kelly and Julie Garrison and Brian Merry and Jennifer Torreano et. al. “Building a Peer-Learning Service for Students in an Academic Library.”portal: Libraries and the Academy 15, no. 1 (2015): 163-182. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed November 16, 2015).

TLS Tips: Bubbles and Branches

As part of our assessment plan in our unit, TLS measures students’ ability to brainstorm an effective keyword strategy in pre and post tests administered to UGS students at the beginning and end of each semester. Our latest findings indicate that students are struggling with this skill, which has us experimenting with new ways of teaching this concept in our instruction. Additionally, one new ACRL framework for info lit is ‘Searching as Strategic Exploration‘, which focuses on the iterative process of searching, as well as emphasizing divergent (brainstorming) and convergent (selecting the best source) thinking. It also mentions ‘searching language’ and managing searching processes and results effectively.

The first attempt I made to reformulate my approach was thinking about concept (or mind) mapping, something that students may already be familiar with from their K-12 years. Do you remember these things? I don’t remember them being helpful, but then again, I typically treated school as a ‘run the clock out’ situation:


My brain will not let me look at those.

There are a few tools online to facilitate concept/mind mapping. Here are some brief reviews of the ones I played with this semester.

bubbl.us. Here’s what that looks like:


With the free account (which you have to sign up for), this tool allows you to create a concept map to save and share (up to three times, then you gotta $). There is not a ton of flexibility with this tool.

Padlet isn’t primarily for concept/mind mapping and at first, I was ready to dismiss it altogether because it doesn’t allow you to connect ‘bubbles’. But, if you treat it like refrigerator poetry, it’s actually a quick and easy way to organize thoughts. It also allows you attach files to a bubble and store notes.


Free Mind is an open source tool that requires download. I can see using this in an ‘everything but the paper’ assignment more so than in a one shot. There is a ton of flexibility and functionality and the maps are easy to reorganize. You can attach files and images and hide ‘branches’ of your map for organization.

Coggle was instantaneously simple to use, had a helpful side menu always visible, and had some customization options. It  has options for collaboration, so I can see using it in classes with group projects. It requires a google login, so that’s not great for one shots.

What is helpful about these tools is malleability. You can usually (but not always easily) drag bubbles and branches to reorganize your thoughts. You can also insert links and files into many of these tools, making the storage of article references easier. Besides the logistics of accessing (download or account sign up) these tools, the other thing that is unhelpful to instruction sessions is that the discovery aspect (mining databases and background info) exists outside the tool. The simple act of switching from window to window is annoying.

So, what’s been my answer so far? Paper! I’ve been experimenting with a worksheet that walks students through choosing a database and mining titles, abstracts and subject terms for keywords, then experimenting with searches and winnowing down approaches. Informal assessment makes me want to pursue this approach further. I’m tweaking the worksheet to encourage mental flexibility – realizing that the first search is not usually the best, that we need to reformulate keywords as our research progresses, and that a good search involves browsing and the serendipitous discovery of information. Tall order, huh? I have collected these sheets from two classes and can definitely see students working through the process, if only superficially. In one class, I incorporated a peer review piece and had students talk through their research strategy with another student. On paper, this isn’t easy to assess, but all of us have had the experience of talking through a topic with a student and seeing improvement.

Keyword brainstorming is not something students would do if we didn’t tell them to, so introducing an online tool to help them work through this process seems excessive. But, maybe I’m not thinking it through all the way. And, I wonder if my reticence toward these tools is that I’m sort of a messy thinker. I jot stuff down in a frenzy and then insist on my own organizational structure, which would never be bubbles and branches.

Can you see yourself using these tools in a class, whether in a one shot or in a flipped classroom approach? What strategies do you use when talking to students about keywords?


RIOT Recap – 10/20/15

Krystal’s RIOT enabled us to have a rich discussion regarding the role reading plays in developing student’s information literacy skills while in the library instruction classroom.  To be sure, it would be difficult to evaluate information without reading it, but, as Krystal notes in her blog post, this is often what happens within the classroom setting when we have limited time to integrate active learning and model the research process.
Time is a constant obstacle in the library instruction classroom in even the most concept-driven and pedagogically sound classes. Creating an inauthentic classroom environment, something Roxanne’s earlier blog post investigated, feels appropriately off. However, framing the short evaluation exercises as good habits rather than retain content could help instructors reinforce that the activity is to build skills. Then, after they have developed the skills to evaluate a source, they can deem that source worthy of follow-up and close reading.
So, instead of an active learning classroom scenario like this:
Librarian: “Okay, now take the next five minutes to read your source, in a group develop criteria you would use to evaluate it, and develop a sound argument as to why or why not you would list as a source for your paper, and don’t worry if you don’t finish the article because there isn’t enough time to do that anyway, this is just for a class discussion…” (slightly dramatized)
We could frame it as:
Librarian: “Okay, now take the next five minutes to skim over your source noting elements within and about this source that would help you decide if a closer reading of this source is useful for your paper. Your criteria should be broad enough that it could be used in any class regardless of the assignment or research you’re doing.”
The latter framing would hopefully reinforce that this is a conceptually exercise rather than a content-driven one.
We also discussed a few other strategies, such as:
  • Reaching out to the faculty member to ask if s/he has talked about reading with the students in an effort to compliment or augment that dialogue.
  • Using and promoting educational technology, such as Endnote Web and Noodletools. Roxanne mentioned that she uses Endnote Web to teach students how to keep track of the research they are finding as a way to organize and conceptualize the research process. Michele mentioned that NoodleTools also enables students to annotate their references and add tags which can be used for critical reading.
  • Designing scaffolded assignments, such as the annotated bibliography assignment, which allows students to build skills and draw connections between readings and assignments over the course of the semester.
  • Framing the research question in a way that elicits a more targeted answer. For example, “Does XYZ solve this question” rather than “how does XYZ effect …”?
Many of us already have great relationships with faculty and have collaborated deeply on their courses and using the successes from these partnerships, we discussed ways to reach out to other faculty and illustrate a collaborative approach as a proof of concept. Additionally, are there ways in which we currently support faculty, such as the Information Literacy Toolkit, that can be redesigned to meet faculty where they are or to reach faculty before they have begun to plan their course.
We also discussed that the way in which students reading patterns have changed, mostly online and in segments, could be challenging the way we teaching information literacy.  Students may write a paper first only to go back and find sources that support their points rather than build it from a body of evidence or they may cherry-pick quotes from an article without having read it in entirety.
Roxanne offered up using review articles as a strategy for helping students better understand the synthesis of research papers. You can start with a review article and point out that scholar’s a + b say one thing, scholar’s c + d say this other thing, and then ask students to go back to the original article to see it in full context and how the author of the review article summarized their research. Sarah recommended asking students to read the first paragraph of an article and ask the to pull out keywords from there.
We ended our RIOT with a discussion of the potential of adding an additional approach to our current Signature Course program as a way to reach all students to instill information literacy skills. Because this program already catches all incoming students, it is a captive audience and we already have buy in from the School of Undergraduate Studies. We discussed what such an approach could look like — something online, a tutorial, an interactive video – and perhaps it would be something online that all students are required to complete, that would complement any of the rich course-integration interactions we currently have. Finally, we ended with a reiteration that curriculum mapping could help us define faculty and areas for partnership.

RIOT: On reading

Recently, I was introducing an evaluation activity to a UGS class in which students worked in groups to come up with evaluation criteria and apply them to an assigned source. I had a lot to cover during the class, and found myself repeatedly telling the students not to actually read the information I had provided them, but to skim the beginning if necessary, and analyze its merits based on context. While the activity led to a great discussion about evaluation and how to use various kinds of sources, something about it felt inauthentic.
Upon further reflection, I came back to something that has bothered me in the past. By necessarily compressing parts of the research process to make room for a deep discussion in a 50 minute one-shot, one of the first things that goes out the window is reading and reflection. I’ve often thought of reading as a problem to overcome while teaching, and have designed most activities to require little or no reading. I ran into this problem again this semester in trying to rethink how I teach students to use background information to find keywords. I struggled to come up with a good way to demonstrate how to pull keywords out of an encyclopedia article without slowing down and giving students time to read and digest the article. I kept coming back to the same roadblock. How can I in one breath tell students that research is a slow, iterative process and in the next breath, tell them that it’s not necessary to actually read the information I’m asking them to evaluate?

While searching for something to RIOT, I came across an article co-written by a librarian and an English professor at Hunter College. The article outlines the reasoning behind a “Research Toolkit” they created that includes both student-facing online learning tools and a faculty guide for their use. While the resource itself doesn’t sound too dissimilar from our Information Literacy Toolkit, the portions of the article explaining their pedagogical reasoning for moving from mechanics of research to deeper, critical inquiry-based research spoke to my own cognitive dissonance around reading and research. Here’s one excerpt:

Reading is an area often neglected by both library and composition scholars. As Brent (1992) explained, “instruction on the research process…deals with the beginning and the end of the process (using the library and writing the drafts), but it has a gaping hole in the middle where much of the real work of knowledge construction is performed. The evaluation of sources is treated chiefly as a matter of measuring the writer’s overall authority as a witness to facts, as measured by factors such as his reputation and the recency of the source” (p. 105). Looking at a variety of writing textbooks and library instruction materials confirms Brent’s statement: most of them focus only on evaluating sources rather than reading them.

Furthermore, the way evaluation of sources is often taught forefronts ideas such as identifying the “bias” of a source. While sources are indeed biased, most students do not understand that all sources will have a bias; it’s how they choose to use the source that matters. Students reading only to evaluate the credibility or bias of a source are not going to do the deeper reading that truly understanding a source requires. Brent (1992) called for a “theory of rhetorical reading” (p. 103), something that has yet to be fully realized.Keller’s (2014) study analyzed student reading practices and noted that focusing on the evaluation of source may have resulted in a form of overcorrection (p. 65), which may lead students to dismiss valuable resources.

Am I doing my students a disservice by focusing on evaluation skills to the detriment of critical inquiry? How can I teach them to construct knowledge when I don’t even give them time to read? The longer I teach, the more I sometimes feel like by cramming the entire research process into a one-shot, I’m deceiving my students. Some things I’d like to discuss:

  • By focusing on evaluating information, are we leading students towards “overcorrection” and away from inquiry?
  • Is it our responsibility to teaching students how to read deeply, or does that fall outside of information literacy?
  • How can you truly model a process that involves reading and sometimes rereading when you have a limited amount of time? Can tutorials and other online learning objects help?
  • Can we come up with exercises that help students practice the “reading and thinking” parts of research?
  • Are there ways to collaborate with our colleagues at the Writing Center around this issue?

Referenced source:

Margolin, S., & Hayden, W. (2015). Beyond Mechanics: Reframing the Pedagogy and Development of Information Literacy Teaching Tools.The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 41(5), 602–612. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2015.07.001

TLS TIP: Taking a Teaching Leap

It seems that every second of the last month has been spent working through technical and logistical issues in the Learning Labs and as a result, I confess I often forgot why they seemed like a good idea in the first place.   This week Shiela and I worked with a UGS class where the professor gave us full license to “take the Learning Lab for a spin,” as he said. And we did. And then I remembered why we built them to begin with.

Constructivism and active learning – we talk about these things quite a bit.  We try to employ a combination of learning by discovery and guided learning into our classes, and to recognize what knowledge our students already bring into the classroom and build upon that.   We try not to lecture or talk for too long at any stretch.  We try to assess along the way with Q&A and do quick assessments at the end with a 3-2-1 or muddiest point.   I’ve always felt that I was doing a pretty decent job of teaching students what I wanted them to learn in our old classrooms.

But in the class this week in a Learning Lab, I learned so much about how our students are (or are not) learning what we are trying to teach them.  We were able to address the learning gaps right there in the class. It was messy, sometimes uncomfortable but also really fun and energizing – just like learning is supposed to be!

If anyone wants to see our whole class outline, I’m happy to share it but I want to focus on one part.   Students needed to know how to find scholarly articles, which means they needed to be able to use our databases, including some tricky Classics ones.  One of the exercises we did that took up the bulk of class time was to give each group a database, have them figure it out and teach it to the rest of the class.  We handed out this exercise (below) and had each group collaborate around a different flat panel.  Then as each group was teaching their database to the rest of the class, we sent that group’s flat panel around to all of them.

We saw them struggling with all of the databases, not just the  Classics databases.  Even JSTOR which seems like an easy one, was difficult.  As they taught the rest of the class, Shiela, the professor and I were able to ask them clarifying questions and clear up misconceptions.  They presented what they were confident they knew but they were often a little (or a lot) off the mark and we were able to address that right there.  It made me wonder what misconceptions every other student I’ve taught still carries around with them.

The down side – we covered a lot less ground.  The up side – they seemed to learn it better.  I’ll be getting copies of their assignments for further assessment but I left that session feeling inspired!

Before sharing my thoughts with the professor, I asked him what he thought, and here is what he had to say.

“I thought it was fantastically successful, although of course the real proof will be in their preliminary bibliographies for the research paper… I really liked the group component, and I thought that having them explain the databases to each other was a great strategy. And having seen those screens work in practice, I’m completely convinced.

… my general impression was that this format was far more effective than our previous versions — not that those weren’t great too, but there’s something about working through a particular problem and sharing the results that makes the databases and the process more concrete to everyone.”

So there you have it.  If anyone else has already tried something new in the Learning Labs, please let me know or share in the comments.


Use your assigned database to find a source that you would use for this assignment.  Be prepared to teach this database to your fellow-students by demonstrating a search and telling them the answers to the following questions.

  1. What database are you using? What is it good for/what would you find in it?
  1. Show a search. If possible, show or explain how you’d find the full text of the article.
  1. What tips or suggestions do you have for using this database?


RIOT Recap – 9/22/2015

Roxanne’s RIOT post for 9/22/15, found here, centered on a few articles that advocate “modeling stupidity” for students, meaning that instructors make transparent difficult processes like research, as well as their own gaps in knowledge (along with how to fill them).

One of the best strategies that came out of this discussion is canning the canned search – as Roxanne put it, “we show a perfect search, then students feel badly when their searches aren’t perfect.”  The group generally agreed that this was an excellent strategy that gives students a better view of the research process, and the challenges researchers can sometimes encounter.  Though we liked this strategy, there were some issues with “modeling stupidity” (or curiosity, as some would rather term it) in a single instruction session:

Time constraints

The RIOT group didn’t come up with a good solution for this one.  It is true that showing a real, unpracticed search takes longer than one guaranteed to return results, but in a session with focused learning goals, it can work.  Michele suggested letting the students guide you – ask what would you do next, how can we get more/less results, what would you change here?  This way the time, though still significant, is active for the students and more realistic to what they’ll face when they actually search themselves.

Janelle also advocated for this approach with graduate students.  If you ask for a topic they’re interested in, the time spent in the session will be that much more useful for students, illustrates the iterative nature of search, and keeps students engaged as issues are encountered and worked through together.

The best strategy we identified for reducing the time crunch we feel in sessions, especially when trying a strategy like this one, is to ask the faculty member to help you “flip” your lesson.  If he or she can assign a topic exploration or keyword searching activity before the session, you may be able to create more of a “lab” in the classroom.  This would give you time to show real searches and to allow students to practice.

If you just don’t have the time or (potential) tolerance for chaos it takes for this strategy, Robyn suggested an excellent workaround – be explicit about the fact that you’re using a canned search and that’s why you know which results you’re going to see.  This can remind students that their searches might not be as lovely as yours right away – you already did the messy part in your office!  Pretend you’re on Food Network pulling the perfect cake you made earlier out of the oven!

Potential Cost to Authority or Expertise

Most professionals don’t like to feel or look like they don’t know what they’re doing.  “Modeling stupidity,” even if it is pedagogically useful, has the potential to make us appear less competent than we are.  Many of the RIOTers mentioned that they didn’t mind appearing approachable to students, who can be intimidated by expertise, but that they did want faculty to view them as experts.  This is a difficult line to walk.  

A few RIOTers mentioned that faculty with whom they have a relationship often legitimize their expertise by priming students before class (about why they’re coming to the library) and by introducing librarians as experts.  When working with faculty with whom there is no existing relationship though, a few of the participants again expressed using transparency around teaching methods to solve a problem.  Give the faculty member a “cheat sheet” of things to expect in the session, or talk to them about the ways that you’ll experiment in their class and why.  Revealing the method to your madness can have the dual benefit of making you more approachable to students and preserving your status as an expert with faculty members.  

Also, being able to work through a problem can actually reinforce your expertise with students and faculty – it just depends on the kind of expertise or authority you want to project.   

Here are some other strategies for “modeling stupidity” that came up during the course of our talk:

  • Show your database search history (or one of the student groups’ history – this is possible in the Learning Labs) to students after you’ve tried a few search strings – this can really illustrate how iterative research often is.  
  • Talk to faculty about reiterating what you’ve covered in the session, and about reinforcing that students won’t be experts after just one go at research.
  • If you have to say “I don’t know” to a question – model how you find out the answer!  After all, it helps for students to know that we’re all lifelong learners here.

Have you ever tried to model productive stupidity/creativity in one of your classes?  Let us know in the comments!

“…how we teach in the classroom can be as important as what we teach…”

In July 2015, David Gooblar wrote a pithy Chronicle Vitae column, the crux of which is that we should sometimes “model stupidity” for our students. Gooblar cites a couple of other short pieces, notably “The Importance of Stupidity in Scientific Research,” that support the idea that students need instructors to pull back the curtain on their learning process.

“Modeling stupidity,” as Matthew Fleenor writes in a 2010 article for Faculty Focus, “is one of the best ways we can provide an example to our students. It’s important for them to understand that learning involves seeking out the gaps in our knowledge.”

One commenter on Gooblar’s column prefers to call this “modeling curiosity,” but points out the particular pitfalls of exposing ignorance in the classroom for female instructors. That’s almost certainly an issue for instructors of color as well. And it may well pose concerns for instruction librarians, who are already regarded by students as “guest speakers” instead of as experts. Yet clearly, students need to know how instructors recognize and deal with their own ignorance.

Probably we’ve all had an “I don’t know” experience in one-on-one reference encounters, and have pursued answers/solutions with some measure of poise. But “I don’t know” in front of a classroom full of students is a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

How do instructors get comfortable with saying “I don’t know,” and what action plan follows?

Can instruction librarians model stupidity in the often limited time we have with students?

Is there a cost to authority if an instructor models stupidity?

Possible to provide faculty with examples of opportunities to model stupidity with respect to literature searching/information resources?

Fleenor, Matthew. (2010). “Responding to student questions when you don’t know the answer.” Faculty Focus. http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/responding-to-student-questions-when-you-dont-know-the-answer/

Gooblar, David. (2015). “Modeling the behavior we expect in class.” Chronicle Vitae, Pedagogy Unbound. https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1067-modeling-the-behavior-we-expect-in-class

Moore, Katherine. (2015). Comment on “Modeling the behavior we expect in class.” Chronicle Vitae, Pedagogy Unbound. https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1067-modeling-the-behavior-we-expect-in-class

Schwartz, Martin. (2008). “The importance of stupidity in scientific research.” Journal of Cell Science (121)11:1771. http://jcs.biologists.org/content/121/11/1771.full