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:
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!