Staying productive while working from home

Image by Pavlofox from Pixabay

So I’m officially on Day 8 of my telecommuting exile and it has been…a challenge. Like I said before, I miss my office. I miss my colleagues. I miss my routines. Generally, I just miss the way things used to be.

Still, like everyone I need to do what I can to stay productive even as it sometimes feels like the world is falling apart. I thought I’d share here some strategies that I’ve been using so far to do that that are working for me.

As always, I want to acknowledge that I’m speaking from a place of privilege as someone with a job that is allowing me the opportunity to continue to work through all of this and the flexibility to practice social distancing to keep myself and others safe. Not everyone has that right now. Also I’m privileged in the sense that my time and my space are my own—I don’t have to share them with anyone on a day-to-day basis except for an occasionally pushy cat. So the point of view I’m writing from is someone whose only responsibility at the moment is herself (and her pushy cat).

That said, here’s what I’ve got on how I’m staying productive:

Limiting exposure to the news: Like most people, when this thing first started, I was pretty much glued to my favorite news sites. As soon as I woke up in the morning, I’d check the headlines from the New York Times. Then when I got to work, I’d read through the various local and national newsletters I receive in my inbox every day. Then I’d check some headlines on some other news sites I like just in case. Then I’d go back to the New York Times in case anything had changed. Before I knew it, I had fallen into a black hole of anxiety and stress and hours had gone by with no work getting done. Pretty much the same thing would happen when I got home at night. Before I went to bed, I’d check the number of new infections in my area (in New York State, where the number of known infections is now said to be doubling every three days) and then not be able to sleep.

The thing is, compulsively checking and re-checking the news made me feel like I was doing something. As if by informing myself about what was going on, I was somehow taking action. I wasn’t. I was just freaking myself the f*ck out.

A certain amount of freaking out right now is probably healthy, given the sheer magnitude of everything that’s happening. And staying informed is definitely important. But not at the expense of living life.

So now I’ve limited my news intake. I put my phone in another room while I sleep so I won’t reach for it first thing in the morning. Instead, I wait until I open my work e-mail. I look at the newsletters I’m subscribed to, absorb this new information as best I can, and then I put it away. I don’t look at the news again until I’ve finished my work for the day. I definitely don’t look at it right before I go to bed. It’s not easy but if I want to do anything besides spend my day worrying, it’s necessary.

Creating a structure to my day: One of the things I’ve always liked best about my job is the near-complete autonomy I have over how I spend my time. Sure, there are meetings and reference shifts and instruction sessions. And of course I have to check in with my supervisor regularly to account for what projects I’ve been working on and what progress I’m making. But overall, the layout of any free time in my day has always been pretty much up to me.

Luckily, I’ve always been pretty good about managing time. Like, I have a color-coded spreadsheet that lays out what tasks I want to get done on which days for an entire week and I generally manage to stick to it. But what order I do things in and how long I spend on them has always been a bit loosey-goosey. Mostly I just drift from one item to the next based on what I feel like working on in a given moment or what I know I have to get done. This system has worked well for me the last five years or so that I’ve been using it. Which is to say, I managed to get tenure a year early by organizing my time this way.

Except it turns out a system like doesn’t work as well in a full-time WFH situation. I mean, I still have a color-coded spreadsheet but drifting from one task to another like I did before leaves too much room for that compulsive headline-checking I talked about above or getting distracted by non-work related things. So now I have a schedule for myself, which lays out the order in which I will work on my tasks throughout the day and between what hours. That order is the same every day and I’ve been forcing myself to follow it as much as possible—especially the part where I stop and put all of my work away before dinner in the evening.

To be clear, this structure is not one of nonstop work. Full disclosure: my color-coded work task list has never consisted entirely of actual work-related activities. I always have a few spaces for “personal” activities like the twenty minutes I would use to work on a personal creative writing project at lunchtime. Those personal activities are now things like a short walk in the morning and a 10-minute Headspace meditation in the afternoon. It may seem ridiculous to include stuff like that on a to-do list but I feel like these are things I really need to be doing right now to keep my sanity and I know myself well enough to know that if I didn’t put them on the list, I wouldn’t do them.

Connecting with colleagues: I am a loner introvert who lives by myself and there are frankly ways in which this social distancing thing was made for people like me. I mean, before all of this happened a weekend in which I didn’t leave the house and didn’t talk to any other people was, like, a good weekend for me. That was something I looked forward to.(1) Now I’m a little worried that by the time all of this is over, I’ll have forgotten how to talk to other human beings and will instead start talking to my co-workers the same way I talk to my cat. And this is all assuming that I remain healthy while I’m doing the social distancing thing.

So I knew I would have to take steps to make sure this didn’t happen. I contacted some colleagues I was social with (in a work-related way) in the past and invited them to regular virtual coffee and chat sessions where we can talk about what we’re working on and check in with each other in a more general way. I did the same with my research/writing partners on a recent research project and some former library colleagues as well. This way, I can practice social distancing without becoming too isolated.

 

So, yeah. It may be that I need to change all of this up as things continue to develop, but this is what’s working for me right now. If you have any strategies for keeping yourself productive and sane right now, feel free to share in the comments below.

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(1) I told my therapist this once. She was not impressed.

Assessment and the contextual nature of research

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

So last month when I did a webinar for the GLA Carterette Series on some of my ideas for incorporating the contextual nature of research into information literacy instruction, there were a lot of great questions at the end about assessment. In answering them, I realized that this was something of a hole in my discussion of this topic and I wanted to see if I could address some of it here.

First, it might help to know why assessment is such a blind spot for me. Basically, the culture around assessment in my current institution is a lot different from what I think the norm is for most libraries. I experienced something closer to that norm at my previous institution, where we were asked to constantly assess student learning and some part of the library’s value (not to mention our value as a reference and instruction department within the library) was directly tied to our program-level learning outcomes and how well our students met those outcomes. All of this was, in turn, very closely tied to questions of student retention and the role the library played in the institution’s retention efforts.

Where I am now, there is certainly interest in making sure that what we teach contributes toward student learning and student retention. And there are conversations about finding a way to assess our teaching in order to speak to our value both in the library and on campus. But because instruction responsibilities here are so fragmented, any assessment effort on this level would require buy-in across several departments in the library. As you can imagine, there would be some difficulty there. For now, everyone just kind of does their own thing. That’s been a big part of what’s allowed me to take more creative approaches to my teaching, which is an aspect of my job that I’m very grateful for.

But these more creative approaches aren’t exactly useful if students don’t learn anything as a result. Hence: it’s time to talk about assessment.

I’ve mentioned before that part of the reason the ACRL Standards focused on basic research skills was because those are the things we can assess. It’s much easier to assess whether a student can successfully identify a scholarly source in a library database than it is to assess a change in their way of thinking. How do you measure something like that?

Of course, this is a question we’ve all been struggling with to one degree or another since the advent of the ACRL Framework, which uses threshold concepts instead of learning outcomes. Threshold concepts are literally all about changing someone’s way of thinking.

Teaching about the contextual nature of research is in a large sense about changing the way students think about research. It’s asking them to recognize that the conventions and methods of research are going to be different depending on the context in which research is taking place. Not just disciplinary contexts, but contexts outside of academia as well.

No matter what context of research you’re working with, there are going to be skills involved. So one idea for assessing the contextual nature of research is to determine what the skills associated with the context(s) you’re teaching are and assessing students’ ability to not only perform those skills but recognize the appropriate context for those skills. For example, if a student is searching for or citing a peer-reviewed source when you’ve asked them to perform the type of research associated with a non-scholarly or non-academic context, they’re showing that they have good research skills but that they’re not applying them to the correct context.

This is something that can be captured in a number of ways. You can observe a student’s information behavior to judge whether it’s appropriate to a given task. You can have the student create a research product and judge how well they show awareness of the conventions of a particular type of research. You can create a video that explains the conventions of a particular research context and then quiz students on their understanding of what they watched.

Of course, being able to judge whether students are using skills and following conventions appropriate to a particular context requires establishing what those appropriate skills and conventions even are. Not to mention establishing what the contexts of research might be.

In my own work, I’ve suggested a few very broad categories or “genres” of research, including academic, scholarly, personal, professional, scientific, and creative research. I even outlined some of the characteristics of these genres in my article introducing these ideas. But this outline was meant to illustrate a point rather than act as a guide. Clearly, more work needs to be done here.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t teach the contextual nature of research until that work is done.

In my own classes, I have quizzes that students take after reading or listening to a lecture that I’ve written on a given topic (it’s an online class). These lectures address the contextual nature of research in mostly general terms and I test students’ understanding of this concept by including questions like the following on the associated quiz:

What type of research are scholarly, peer-reviewed articles most appropriate for?

  • Academic/scholarly research
  • Personal research
  • Professional research
  • Creative research
  • All research, no matter the context

 

It’s a simple question that tells me a lot about how much students understand about this concept even without a lot of specifics about the conventions of each type of research. Students who get it right have shown me what they’ve learned. Students who get it wrong—like the surprising number who try to argue that peer-reviewed sources should be considered appropriate for all types of research because their other professors have always told them that they are the “gold standard” of credibility even after I’ve told them all the reasons this isn’t actually the case—show me that there’s still a ways to go before they cross that threshold of understanding.

I also had an experience recently where I participated on a committee whose charge was to create and implement a library research award for undergraduate students. As part of that work, the committee had to come up with a way to evaluate the work we were seeing, which could come from any discipline being studied on campus. We wanted to make sure the award process was open not just to students who had completed standard research papers but also those who had done research in connection to more creative projects and we needed a rubric to reflect that.

We ended up adapting a rubric (with permission) from one that had been used by several other institutions. But where the original rubric mentioned skills appropriate to a particular discipline, we substituted the phrase “appropriate to the context.”  That might seem like a small change, but not all research takes place within an academic discipline. We also wanted to make sure that students who had conducted their research in more creative contexts knew that they were eligible for the award as well. Either way, the wording is a way to capture that an excellent research project is one in which the student applies skills and conventions appropriate to the context of the research.

So there’s not as much concrete information about assessment here as I would like. Like I said, assessment tends to be a little under my radar for a variety of reasons but this is something I’m going to continue to think about and share some thoughts on in the future. If anyone else has thoughts, I’d be interested in hearing those as well.

 

 

 

Ya got trouble: Library life in the time of coronavirus (so far)

The last few weeks have been a roller coaster and the world has become a strange place.

Things here in New York State are changing about every hour or so. Last week was complete chaos as my campus was among those unexpectedly ordered by the governor to move classes online for the remainder of the semester. Up to that point, we had been thinking they would be online for a couple of weeks at most. Then came the news that even though classes were moving online, the campus was still open and those of us in the library, along with a number of others, were being required to come into work with opportunities for telecommuting limited to just a few special cases which needed to be cleared with HR. There was a lot of back and forth about that but it’s since been resolved. I’m now officially telecommuting until further notice.

Meanwhile, almost all the local businesses are quiet or shuttered completely and there is no toilet paper or paper towel to be had in any grocery store in the entire town.

Not that long ago, I was looking forward to my sabbatical in the fall and excited about the idea of not having to come into the library every day. Now I’m finding myself grieving for my everyday worklife. I miss my office (especially my Buster Keaton poster). I miss my colleagues. I miss my routine. I miss my sweet used-to-be (as Willie Nelson might put it).

So the last week or so has been filled with a lot of negative feelings. Anger, sadness, anxiety. It’s hard not to dwell on the negative when every news headline gets worse and worse with no relief in sight. Instead of adding to that, I decided that I wanted to write a post about good things. Things that are making my happy despite the current misery, things that I’m grateful for, things that I’m looking forward to.

Before I get to my list, though, I feel like it’s a good idea to acknowledge my own privilege. I am lucky enough to be in a job where I am being given (after a bit of a fight) the flexibility I need to protect my health and the health of those around me. At this point, I don’t have to worry about missed paychecks (knock on wood). I have plenty of sick leave accrued if I need it. I have the means to access what I need to make myself feel safe and prepared. Not everyone has those things or even some of them. They should. But for right now I recognize that I am in a very privileged group.

With that said, here is a list of things that are making me happy, that I am grateful for, and/or that I am looking forward to, in no particular order. Some of this is work related, some of it’s not.

Please feel free to share your own happy things in the comments.

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People are asking each other how they’re doing and they actually mean it: Earlier this week, when I was still going into the office, I would pass colleagues in the hall and they would ask, “How are things going?” or “How are you doing?” This was nothing new—we all ask each other this all the time—but suddenly it was a real question. We actually wanted to know how the people we worked with were doing and how they were coping with the situation at hand. It’s been the same in other places, too. I had a whole conversation with a grocery store clerk the other day (with the proper amount of space between us), someone I had never met before, about how we were each holding up with everything that was going on. This never would have happened before everything changed.

It’s okay to admit that you’re not okay: This goes hand-in-hand with the one above. Before, if someone asked how you were doing, you’d say “fine” and move on, no matter if that was the truth or not. To do otherwise was a serious breach of social etiquette or possibly a sign of mental illness. Or both. Now it’s okay to admit (in a blog post, for example) that you’re anxious or scared or angry or sad or all of those things. True, this can sometimes result in a conversation where everyone feeds into each other’s anxiety by talking about their own. But it’s nice that for once we can all just be open about the fact that we’re not okay, if that’s the case (and that’s okay).

Renewed motivation to get a social life: I mentioned that in the fall, I’m going on my first sabbatical. My goal leading up to that sabbatical (and something I had planned to post about) was to get more of a social life than I have now by going out more and participating in more social gatherings so I wouldn’t become too socially isolated during those six months. I started working on this goal in November and I actually had some good momentum going. I’d started going to some yoga classes, I had a couple of meetup groups whose meetings I was keeping track of and occasionally attending, I had taken the first few steps to starting a writing group at my local library. Then around mid-February that momentum left me and I more or less went right back to where I’d started. I’d set a goal for this month to start things up again but obviously that went out the window when social distancing became a thing. I don’t know if I would have met my goal if the world had stayed the same, but I know now that once this social distancing thing ends, I’m going to take the idea of going out and doing things and meeting people a lot less for granted because of it.

If social distancing had to happen, at least it’s 2020 and not 1918: The Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 has come up a lot lately in the news and in my conversations with other people. I admit that I haven’t done a lot of reading about it because I don’t want to scare myself so I don’t know what measures were taken at the time to curtail its spread (if any) but imagine if you lived back then and you were told to practice social distancing. You can’t go out. You can’t see anyone. The internet does not exist. Cell phones do not exist. Telework for those who normally work outside the home doesn’t exist. Video games definitely aren’t a thing. You may or may not have electricity or running water in your home. At least if we have to practice social distancing now, we still have the means to keep busy, entertain ourselves, stay in close contact with people we can’t see in person and practice good hygiene (knock on wood).

Staying physically and mentally healthy: I wrote not that long ago about how this time of year is when I  usually restart my running habit because I get tired of working out indoors. Unfortunately, it’s not warm enough yet for outdoor runs where I am (at least not for me) and I have no access to a treadmill at the moment, so running isn’t an option. But the fitness platforms I always use (DailyBurn, Fitness Blender, Yoga with Adriene, and Popsugar) are still available to me right now, so I can still stay active which helps me maintain not just my physical health but also my mental health. And in between therapy appointments, I’ve been using Headspace to help me deal with my various emotions. I restarted my paid subscription but right now they’re offering a set of meditations and videos for “Weathering the Storm” for free to anyone who uses the app. I’ve also liked Calm in the past and they’re currently offering free resources as well.

An excuse to indulge in things that are comforting: I tend to read a lot of entertainment news sites like Vulture and AV Club. Those sites have been coming out with a lot of lists lately about comforting television or movies to watch or music to listen to or books to read while you’re trying not to go crazy from everything that’s happening. For me, I’m spending a lot of time rewatching Stargate Atlantis for the first time in maybe about ten years and so far it is working wonders for me in that department. I also started rewatching The New Girl, which I didn’t love the first time I saw it but seemed like a fun, mindless piece of entertainment to return to right now. And because I heard Nick from The New Girl is now on a show called Stumptown, I started watching that too and I’m enjoying it so far. What I’m saying is there’s a lot of TV-watching going on for me right now. But where before I might have felt bad for watching six episodes of a dumb sitcom I happened to enjoy in a row, I feel like now it’s okay to indulge a little. Which is to say, I’m still doing what I can to maintain a normal, productive routine but it’s nice to be able to give myself permission to lose myself in some guilty pleasures when I need to.

 

So that’s my list for now. I hope that wherever you are, that are you are staying safe and well and that you have your own list of happy things. I know this blog doesn’t get many comments, but if you feel like sharing any of your happy things, I hope you will.

As for this blog, my plan right now is to continue to post regularly. I already have enough posts written to last me through about mid-May. Of course, these were all written pre-coronavirus, so they all seem like a bit of a time capsule now. I’ll also write some new posts about current events as needed/inspired in case that information might be of interest.

Until then, stay safe and well and feel free to keep in touch through the comments or the contact form.

 

 

 

 

 

The Annotated Bibliography as an Establishing Shot: Part 2

So I realize there’s a lot of chaos and confusion going on for a lot of people right now. I’m hoping to write a post later this week about how the coronavirus is affecting things for me and my library but before we get to that, I did promise that I would talk about how things went with the reflection piece of the “establishing shot” annotated bibliography project I wrote about last week went. So this is that.

Like I said before, the purpose of the “establishing shot” annotated bibliography was twofold. First, it helped me understand where the students were at with their research skills before they’d received much or any instruction from me. Second, completing the annotated bibliography at the start meant that it could then be used as a tool for reflection at the end. Students could look back on it and comment on how they had grown as researchers since the beginning of the course.

Just like with the annotated bibliography, I was super apprehensive about the reflection piece, mostly because a big chunk of the students’ grades would be riding on it and I didn’t want to receive the same kinds of rote responses I had so often seen in the past when I asked students to reflect on their work. I really had no idea what I was going to get.

Friends, I was amazed.

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The annotated bibliography as an establishing shot: Part 1

A while back, I wrote a post about the article “Documenting and Discovering Learning: Reimagining the Work of the Literacy Narrative” by Julie Lindquist and Bump Halbritter. In this article, Lindquist and Halbritter discuss their use of the narrative essay as an “establishing shot” at the beginning of their composition course and how this helped them get a sense of students’ writing skills before they’re received much writing instruction. They then used the narrative essay as an artifact for students to reflect on at the end of the course.

This article inspired me to wonder what would happen if I used a similar strategy with the annotated bibliography assignment in my information literacy course. What if I put the annotated bibliography at the beginning of the course instead of at the end?

Well, I tried it out for the first time this quarter in my fully online, asynchronous course. This is the first in a two-part post on how things went. Today, I’m going to focus on the annotated bibliography piece. Next time, I’ll talk about the reflection.

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Research is a process, writing is a craft (except when it’s a process)

Image by athree23 from Pixabay

I have a note scribbled on a piece of scrap paper hanging on a bulletin board in my office. It says: “Research is a process, writing is a craft.”

When I wrote this note, I felt like I was having one of those exciting “a-ha!” moments. The trouble is, it’s been there since December and I still haven’t quite figured out yet where that “a-ha!” is supposed to take me. What does this mean for the work I’ve been doing trying to understand the role of research in creative writing?

Let’s see if we can come up with some ideas.

 

Writing as a process versus writing as a craft

If I had to say, the spark of this idea probably came from something I read in The English Department: A Personal and Institutional History by W. Ross Winterowd about the history of how English developed as an academic subject. In that book, Winterowd says, “In creative writing classes, students express their genius; in composition classes, they learn to manage the limited abilities they bring with them” (p. 67).  In other words: in composition classes, writing is a process. In creative writing classes, writing is a craft.

Processes have steps. The traditional steps of the writing process are prewriting, writing, revising, and editing. Students in composition classes learn to take their writing through these four steps while working in various genres and using various techniques which they’ve studied in the work of others. Though some students are more successful at this than others, you don’t necessarily need any special talent to do it.

Craft is more mysterious. In an essay called “Figuring the Future: Lore and/in Creative Writing,” Tim Mayers says that craft is “the faint gray area of overlap between genius and rhetoric” (p. 3) In what I’ve read about creative writing pedagogy, there seems to be some disagreement about whether craft can really be taught or whether it requires some kind of innate talent on the part of the writer. If it’s all innate talent, the purpose of a creative writing program isn’t so much to teach students how to write but instead identify the students who have that talent and help them hone their craft. This premise gets critically examined in the book that Mayers’s essay comes from, which is called Can It Really Be Taught?: Resisting Lore in Creative Writing Pedagogy.

So it seems like craft is the more artistic side of writing while process is the more functional side. Anyone can participate in the process of writing but only a privileged few can truly engage with the craft of writing.

 

Where research fits: process versus craft

Research is also a process. The traditional steps of research are outlined in the ACRL Standards. Basically, it starts with identifying a gap in knowledge, involves finding and evaluating information to fill that gap, and then ends with the ethical use of that information. While the Standards themselves are much more applicable to the academic research process, this general outline is flexible enough to fit here, though it does leave out some research contexts, like scientific research.

Anyway. Questions about the role of research in writing are usually about where research fits into the writing process. Most of the time, it’s treated as part of the prewriting stage. You’re gathering information to then write about. But really, it could come at any time.

Research is taught in composition classes because research is part of the writing process rather than part of the writing craft. Since creative writing classes focus on craft rather than process, they don’t discuss research.

 

The role of research in the craft of writing

This would all be well and good if all research processes looked the same. Unfortunately, they don’t. The research process that students learn in composition course probably shares some things in common with the process they would use for more creative purposes, but there are likely to be important differences, particularly in how creative writers use the information they find.

I would argue that the use of information, which is considered part of the research process, plays an important role in the craft of writing, whether you’re talking about creative writing or composition. How do you make decisions about what information to use and what information to ignore? How do you then incorporate that information into your writing, weaving it together with your own thinking?

We know how writers synthesize the information they find into a coherent argument as part of an academic paper or scholarly article because there are entire textbooks that explain what this looks like and how it’s done. But what about in a novel? If I want to, I can probably point to all kinds of details in the novels I read that are probably the result of research, like what Stephen King says about the taste of root beer in the 1960s in 11/22/63 (though to be fair, that might be based on his own memories) and what Diana Gabaldon says about the Native American culture her characters encounter in The Drums of Autumn. How do fiction writers weave this information into their work so that it can serve the plot in ways that seamlessly fit into the story they’re trying to tell?

This question seems especially important because so many of the creative writing how-to books I’ve read have been especially critical of writers who aren’t able to do this well, like Browne & King and their story of an aspiring writer who included an entire chapter in his novel about how different alarms function. Clearly, that author in question has been successful with the process of research but has not translated that success in such a way that is also successful in terms of craft.

 

The moral of the story

So I think what I’m getting at here is that research is generally viewed as part of the writing process, but not part of its craft. Yet there are aspects of research that are important if someone wants to be successful with the craft of writing. When it comes to creative writing, both of those ideas need to be talked about more because how the research process is carried out in creative contexts is likely to be much different from how it’s carried out in the academic contexts students generally learn about in composition courses.

I’m also tempted here to explore whether research could also be considered a craft. While anyone can perform the research process, it takes certain innate talent to be able to synthesize the information you find in a meaningful way.

 

Maybe a new idea to tack to my bulletin board.

 

Thoughts on Learner-Centered Pedagogy: Principles and Practice by Klipfel & Cook

Image by Evgeni Tcherkasski from Pixabay

I recently had the opportunity to read through Learner-Pedagogy: Principles and Practice by Kevin Michael Klipfel and Dani Brecher Cook. The book came to me as I was thinking about what a book project related to some of the ideas I’ve been sharing in this blog might look like and, in reading it, I was delighted to find that a) scholarly, well-researched books do not have to be dry and boring and b) there were some surprising connections between the authors’ work and mine. Because of that, I decided it might be worth sharing some thoughts on the book overall.

What it’s about

Klipfel and Cook’s central thesis is that information literacy instruction can benefit greatly from a pedagogical approach in which we take seriously the idea that who learners are as people matters in the context of learning. They lay out the theory behind learner-centered pedagogy and some related ideas from fields like psychology. They also offer some practical examples of what learner-centered pedagogy looks like in the instructional environments in which librarians are most likely to find themselves, including one-shot sessions and reference desk interactions.

What I especially liked about this book was how Klipfel and Cook drew from their own personal experiences and life stories to make their case. A story that particularly stood out was one in which Klipfel, as a student, told his librarian that he wanted to research Johnny Rotten for a project on important historical figures only to be told that this was not a scholarly enough topic and he had to pick something else. According to Klipfel’s librarian, writing about Johnny Rotten was not “real research” even though it was a topic that mattered to him personally.

This artificial line between what counts as an “acceptable” or “scholarly” research topic and what students might actually be interested in is, in my opinion, really key to understanding why students hate research so much. To address this issue, Klipfel and Cook turn to the subject of curiosity.

 

Putting curiosity back in IL learning

In Klipfel and Cook’s view, a learner-centered approach to information literacy is one in which students learn to think well about what matters to them, which involves engaging with learners’ curiosity and teaching them to think critically about what they find.

I happened to be reading this book around the same time I was implementing (yet another) new approach to the annotated bibliography project that I use in my credit-bearing information literacy course. I’ll be sharing more details about this soon, but for now the important thing to know is that I used to start things off by asking students to think about and comment on their role as information creators and then pursue a research topic that was in some way related to what they shared. This was less than successful in no small part because I had trouble convincing the students that they were, in fact, information creators. Anyway, this semester I decided instead to open the course with some information on the role of curiosity in research and then ask them what they were curious about.

The answers I got were everything from questions about what actually happened in the Civil War to the kind of creatures that live in the deep sea to how the Marvel Cinematic Universe came to be to Chinese internment camps in the United States during World War II to how the Kardashians became so famous. Some of these were topics students had become curious about in other classes and genuinely seemed to want to learn more about. Others were ones that they just enjoyed or were enthusiastic about.

And that enthusiasm was obvious. Even before they started researching, some of the students were sharing discussion posts that were practically essays in and of themselves. In reading Klipfel and Cook’s book, I think part of this might have come from the fact that in sharing their curiosity, they were sharing part of themselves as people in a way that went beyond rote icebreakers.

I hadn’t thought of it that way before. While I can’t say that the rest of the course adhered to the ideas Klipfel and Cook discuss (for reasons outlined in a minute), even just that accidental step was enough to show me that this is something worth pursuing further.

 

The instruction environments of the wild librarian

Throughout the book, Klipfel and Cook offer a number of examples of learner-centered pedagogy in action, most of which are focused on teaching in the context of the one-shot session. But they also take the time to consider instructional opportunities as they are represented at the reference desk and in doing so make a good case that big ideas like these can be applied even in relatively small teaching moments.

Toward the end of the book, the authors include an entire chapter on technology where they weigh in on whether gizmos and gadgets like clickers and chat reference enhance or hinder opportunities for learner-centered pedagogy. Their verdict in most cases is “it depends” but their thoughtful critiques of each tool that they describe are well worth a read whether you find yourself generally in favor of incorporating fancy technology into your teaching or not.

Despite this, one thing Klipfel and Cook don’t really touch on is what learner-centered pedagogy looks like in the context of online teaching. I’m curious about this mostly for selfish reasons: the credit-bearing course I teach is fully online and asynchronous. I’ve been teaching this way for about six years now and from the start it was a challenge to get the students to think of me and their fellow classmates as actual people rather than just names on a screen. Like, I had to implement very specific policies around civility and etiquette in reaction to some of the ugly behavior students have directed toward me and toward each other simply because they’re in an online environment instead of an in-person one. This behavior was always the exception rather than the rule but it never would have happened in a traditional classroom.

In a situation like that, how do you connect with students as people when they barely think of you as a person? I realize this isn’t likely to be as common of a question among librarians as the ones Klipfel and Cook do address since having a credit-bearing course at all is relatively rare, much less one that’s fully online. Still. It was something that came up for me when reading this book that I would personally like to learn more about.

 

All in all, I really enjoyed Learner-Centered Pedagogy. It gave me a lot to think about. If you have any interest at all, it’s definitely worth checking out in more detail.