Gone fishing: Summer edition

I’m on vacation this week so I won’t be posting any new content, but below is a list of some favorite posts from this year so far in case you’d like to check out any you might have missed. Enjoy and see you in a few weeks!

Guest post: Jesi Buell on how to use research in creative writing

Dear students: Citing your sources incorrectly is not plagiarism

Research in fiction writing: What problem is this investigation trying to solve (for librarians)?

Reference desk interactions: Helping “library users” versus helping “information creators”

Research in fiction writing: What problems is this investigation trying to solve (for writers)?

Reflecting on Being a (Former) First Generation Student

My Online Teaching Persona is a Major Introvert

Why I Start My Freshman Seminar with a Game Called “Category Die”

Dear AWP: Research is Not Just for Nonfiction

In Search of Borders Between Research Contexts

The True Bummer of Teaching

That Time I Tried Using a Tom Lehrer Song to Teach Plagiarism

 

 

That time I tried to use a Tom Lehrer song to teach students about plagiarism

Like most instructors, I’m forever searching for fun and engaging ways to teach students about my area of expertise. I feel like this is a hard thing for any instructor to do in part because you can’t force students to be as passionate about the topics you’re teaching them as you are. But it’s especially hard with information literacy because the limitations of the contexts in which IL is often taught mean that as instructors we generally have to boil IL, which is actually a complex and nuanced subject, down to its most basic and boring parts.

Like plagiarism.

It’s hard to make plagiarism fun. Conversations about plagiarism are generally meant to scare students. It’s a SERIOUS ACADEMIC OFFENSE. It can GET YOU KICKED OUT OF SCHOOL. It can RUIN YOUR ACADEMIC REPUTATION. As a result, students understand the consequences of plagiarism without necessarily actually understanding what plagiarism is or how it applies to them. They can tell you that plagiarism is wrong but they probably can’t identify it in their own work when it happens. And it does. A lot.

Unfortunately, this post isn’t about how I solved that problem by introducing students to the wonders of academic integrity through some magical, fun activity. Mostly I’ve solved this problem by avoiding it: I barely talk to students about plagiarism or citation unless I have to and I throw up in my mouth a little every time I hear a course instructor try to scare students by telling them that citing their sources incorrectly will ruin their intellectual lives. Instead, I talk to students about the ethical use of information and what it looks like in various contexts, including but not limited to academic and scholarly ones.

I did try something once that I think qualifies as an interesting experiment though I also think it failed badly. That is, I tried to teach students about plagiarism by using Tom Lehrer’s song “Lobachevsky.” I found myself thinking about it recently after livestreaming a local concert celebrating Lehrer’s 93rd birthday in April.

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The true bummer of teaching

A few weeks back, I wrote a post reflecting on the course I taught this spring, including how a few of the newer activities and strategies I tried ended up working out. Overall, I was pretty pleased and the experience was enough to convince me that treating the annotated bibliography as an artifact/establishing shot and teaching information literacy through a contextual lens are good choices, though there are definitely still some kinks to be worked out.

The truth is, my course this semester did go pretty well but for some reason at the end of it I was feeling pretty bummed. This isn’t unusual. Toward the end of the course, students tend to burn out a bit and are noticeably less engaged. Frankly, I can’t blame them since I start to feel a bit burned out as well. And there also some of the usual annoyances that tend to leave a sour taste in my mouth: students treating the final project like an afterthought, students repeating back to me what they think I want to hear instead of showing me what they’ve actually learned, students writing to me pleading to change their grade from an A- to an A in order to preserve their perfect GPA, etc. I also had a student who had seemed reasonably engaged and enthusiastic at the beginning of the course share in an evaluation(1) that even though they enjoyed my teaching they had found nothing interesting or useful in the course itself, which hurt more than it probably should have.

But I think my bummed-out feeling also came from a deeper place that has more to do with the nature of teaching than it does with this specific class or these specific students. I wonder if this is something all teachers might have in common, at least those who, like me, are lucky enough to teach about something they’re passionate about.

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In search of borders between research contexts

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

So this was my first semester teaching my information literacy course through the lens of the contextual nature of research. In the past, I’ve managed to work some of these themes into existing original-flavor information literacy lessons but after spending some time writing a book on the topic, I wanted to do a bigger shift, within the constraints of my instructional context. So I taught a lot of the usual IL lessons on finding and evaluating information, I just did it explicitly through the lens of teaching students about the importance of context to the research process.

It went surprisingly well. I thought students expecting a more library-oriented course would feel ripped off by one that talked about research more generally but since many of my students were graduating seniors, they seemed to appreciate learning about information literacy and research in ways that were going to be useful to them beyond the academic environment. They also liked learning that many of the more “casual” information searches they do in their everyday lives count as research, at least by the definition we were using in class.

There were a couple of sticking points, of course. I expected there to be, since this was my first time testing these ideas in an instructional situation. One of the sticking points had to do with different research contexts that we talked about: academic, creative, personal, professional, scholarly, and scientific.

In my ideal universe, a course on the contextual nature of research would take the time to look at each context in-depth and give students space to really explore the ins-and-outs of each type of research. In the real world, I have only eight weeks to teach students this stuff as part of a one-credit course that can’t stray too far from traditional information literacy themes, so when discussing the different research contexts, I could only give students a broad overview. They wanted more than that. They wanted to know what the exact characteristics were of each type of research, what the exact borders were between them, and what the “rules” were for each one.

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Follow-up to “annotated bibliography as artifact” and reflection on spring teaching

So the information literacy course I teach is an eight-week course which means that, since there’s only one section per semester, I usually have a choice between teaching in the first half of the semester or teaching in the second half of the semester. I generally choose the first half for a couple of reasons. First, it’s easier for students to remember that they signed up for an eight-week course if it starts at the same time as all of their other courses. Second, students who take the course in the first half of the semester tend to be more engaged than those who take it in the second half. This is particularly true when it comes to the second half of the spring semester when students are basically burned out on the whole school year and just want to get to summer and/or graduation. Students are usually so checked out in the second half of spring that I tend to avoid teaching at that time at all costs.

This year, I didn’t have a choice. I was still on sabbatical for the first half of the spring so I had to teach the second half. I wasn’t looking forward to it, especially with everything I was hearing about the extra difficulties students were (understandably) experiencing related to the pandemic and remote instruction. I was open to being pleasantly surprised but I was not expecting great things.

So I’m pleased to report that this was probably one of the better classes of students I’ve had. They definitely did lose steam toward the end (honestly, same) but overall the students in this class were much more engaged than I was expecting. I think this can be attributed to a couple of factors: the first is that students are now more used to taking online courses than they were before and so I didn’t have to do as much work to get them to treat the course as “real” course even though it didn’t meet in person and second I think the new material I created based on my ideas about the contextual nature of research helped to spark some of the students’ curiosity.

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Why I start my freshman seminar with a game called “Category Die”

Image by anncapictures from Pixabay

A few years ago, I took a series of classes at MopCo, a local improv theater company, intended to help educators learn how to use improv as part of their teaching, particularly its focus on thinking on your feet and using mistakes rather than fearing them. I’ve written here and elsewhere about how valuable I found the course and the ways that I’ve applied it in my own classroom, especially in the in-person freshman seminar I teach each fall, which I always begin with an improv game called Category Die.

If you’re not familiar, Category Die is a relatively simple game that’s often used as a warm-up in improv settings. The way it works is this: a line of volunteers (usually 5-7) stands on stage. Someone from the audience suggests a category—for example “things found in a library.” The person running the game then points at random to each of the people on the stage. When he points at you, you name something in that category. If you name something that doesn’t belong in the stated category, the audience shouts “Die!” at you, you take a bow, walk off stage, and then suggest the category for the next round. Same thing if you name something that’s already been named or if you take too long to answer. Or if the audience just feels like shouting “Die!” at you.

Personally, I am TERRIBLE at Category Die. It’s rare for me to survive longer than the first two rounds. This has been just as true when the category was something where I have relatively limited knowledge (like “state capitals”) as it is when the category is something relatively easy (like “letters of the alphabet”). That’s because I have a habit of trying to plan my answer ahead of time rather than being spontaneous so when someone inevitably takes my answer before it’s my turn, I flail and either repeat what they’ve already said or take too long to come up with something new and so must “die.”

The thing is, I don’t mind being bad at Category Die. Being bad at Category Die is almost as fun as being good at it. And I’m not just saying that to make myself feel better. When you “die” as part of this game, you get to take an elaborate, silly bow while everyone laughs with you and applauds. It’s great.

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ACRL 2021

Hey everyone—this is just a quick note to let you know that my presentation for the virtual ACRL Conference is now available on-demand on the conference website. The presentation is on “The Annotated Bibliography as Artifact” and touches on a lot of the same themes I often talk about here on the blog. If you’re registered for the conference, the presentation will be available on-demand for the next 30 days.

If you’re presenting at the conference live or on demand, let me know! I’d love to check out your presentation.

 

My online teaching persona is a major introvert

Even in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t anticipate having to do much work to reimagine or restructure my credit-bearing information literacy course this spring. That’s because I’ve been teaching that course in a fully online, asynchronous environment for probably about five years. It seemed like there was nothing to adjust. If anything, I almost looked forward to the fact that students would be more used to taking online courses now,(1) which meant less of a learning curve by the time they got to me.

But then I started seeing conversations about how other instructors were incorporating Zoom and other tools into their online teaching, mostly to facilitate the delivery of lectures or other “live” learning activities. Again, I didn’t see the relevance to my own teaching right away because my course is entirely asynchronous. But by the time I started reviewing the materials in anticipation of the start of my own course, I began to think about how many of these instructors had used Zoom and other tools not only as a way to deliver course content but also to foster a sense of community in class. To make students feel like even though necessity has kept us largely separate during the last year or so, interacting through our screens rather than in person, there are still people here and those people can be more than words on a screen.

My class, I noticed, had no such opportunity for students to feel a sense of community. My lectures are all written. The activities are all writing-based. Though I try to interact directly with students as much as possible by responding to their discussion posts and giving them feedback on their assignments, it is entirely possible to go through my course without interacting with a single other human being.

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Reflecting on being a (former) first generation student

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Recently, there’s been a conversation going on at my university about first generation students. Much of this conversation reflects what I’ve seen in articles on sites like The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed in the sense that it tends to frame first generation students in a particular way. According to this conversation, first generation have overcome a great deal of adversity, economic and otherwise, to get to where they are but that they are academically less prepared than their non-first gen peers and because of that they need some extra help. So efforts are being put into place to support these students, mostly focused on assisting them academically.

Now, I trust that the people who write about this population are basing their assumptions on research and statistics. And I fully endorse any effort to support students who have struggled or who are struggling, first generation or otherwise.

Yet there’s something about all of this that bothers me.

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