At my institution, there’s a one-credit information literacy course taught through the library called UNL 205. Most everyone in my department has taught this course at one time or another but as the information literacy requirement here on campus moved into the majors, there has been less and less demand for it. I’m wrapping up a section of the course now, the only one being offered this semester, and this will likely be the last time I’ll be teaching UNL 205.
That’s not to say that I won’t be teaching a credit-bearing IL course at all or that UNL 205 won’t be taught anymore. Due to some shuffling of department responsibilities, I’ll be teaching a different information literacy course geared toward students in the humanities and particularly philosophy majors. UNL 205 may still get taught every now when then, but most likely it won’t be by me.
On a recent weekend, I was feeling relatively slothful and ended up binge-watching the first season of Making the Cut on Amazon Prime. My understanding is that Making the Cut is basically a show where Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn decided to take their toys and go home (or at least to another platform) after leaving Project Runway. I haven’t seen Project Runway since college, so my memories of that show are vague but I think the main differences here is that this show has more of an international focus because it’s seeking fashion designers/entrepreneurs who will become the Next Big Global Brand. Or something.
And obviously, it also has a lot of Amazon-related tie-ins. Product placement in a show is always a bit sketchy but here I’m really not sure if it does the designers any favors to have the more accessible looks they create made available on Amazon. Buying clothes on Amazon is a notoriously huge gamble. Some people I know have been able to find nice stuff on there. Meanwhile, every piece of clothing I’ve ever bought on that site has been crap. I’m sure the intended effect of having these designers’ clothes available on Amazon (other than to give the designers more exposure) is to elevate Amazon’s reputation as a seller of clothing. Instead, I feel like the designers kind of suffer by the association, at least in my mind.
Anyway, that’s not why we’re here. We’re here because I want to talk about Making the Cut as an example of creative research.
So a few weeks ago, I wrote a post on my feelings about returning to the office after nearly a year and half of working from home. At the time, I felt pretty good about it. Obviously, it was going to be a big change but I was tired of feeling so isolated. I wanted to be among people again and this felt like a good opportunity for a fresh start. Plus, I was grateful that, unlike many of my colleagues who have been working in-person this whole time, I got to wait to go back until things felt more safe again.
Which I kind of expected. I knew there were going to be variants and that things could get bad again, but like most people, I had no idea how bad they were going to get or how quickly. Now we’re at the start of a new semester and honestly I’m a lot more anxious and scared about what’s going to happen than I expected to be.
So I’ve been spending some time lately trying to write up the findings of my study on creative writing pedagogy. In making a case for why it’s important for creative writing students to learn about creative research, I started talking a lot about the mismatch between students expectations about what they will learn as part of a creative writing program and what the actual learning goals of creative writing programs are, at least at the undergraduate level. Evidence suggests that students come to these programs expecting to learn how to hone their talents and identities as writers. But according to the AWP’s guidelines, what these programs are actually meant to teach is critical reading. Basically, an undergraduate creative writing major is learning to “read like a writer” in order to better appreciate literature “from the inside.”
As a former creative writing student, when I first read this, it felt like a bit of a bait and switch to me. Like, what do you mean all that learning I did was about becoming a better reader instead of a better writer? What do you mean the AWP considers it basically a waste of time to teach undergraduates about actual writing because, statistically speaking, so few of them possess the talent or persistence necessary to actually become professional writers? I want my money back!
So I’ve been spending some time lately working on a new article idea intended to examine which research contexts tend to get the most attention in the library and information science literature on information-seeking. In the course of this study, I’ve stumbled upon some older articles in core journals that seem interesting and worth a deeper look. Some of these are related to information-seeking and some aren’t.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.