On July 20, I’ll be giving a short talk on the basics of creative research, based on the findings of some of the studies I’ve talked about here, to a creative writing Meetup group I started a few weeks ago. I decided to post it here too in case there is any interest. The event will take place on Zoom at 7 p.m. Eastern. The information in this talk will be of interest to both creative writers and librarians looking to learn more about creative research.
If you’re interested, click the link to register below and I’ll send you the Zoom link the day of the event. The talk is free and you do not need to join the Meetup group to participate.
Location: Zoom (link will be sent the day of the event)
Description: A talk about some research basics based on a study of popular and academic writing books as well as published author interviews. What types of research do published authors talk about most? What recommendations do they give for going about the research process? What advice do they have for using research as part of a creative work? The talk will last about 30 minutes with time afterward for Q&A.
A few weeks back, a survey went out to all the librarians in my state university system asking us about “protected time.” Did we have adequate time to produce the research and publications that, for many of us, are a required part of our job? Also: did we want such time written into the librarian-specific portion of our revised union contract?
I don’t know how other librarians in my state felt about this survey but my reaction was basically: ugh.
Like a lot of people, I’ve spent the last year or so working from home but now, starting next week, that time is coming to an end. Everyone on my campus (or, well, the people who are actually there during the summer) is being called back as of July 6 and, as you can, imagine some people are happier about it than others.
Personally, I’m a lot less unhappy about it than I expected to be.
Some bite-sized thoughts and reflections on the items I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching this month.
Also: Did you read, watch, listen to, play something this month that you particularly enjoyed? Feel free to share in the comments! I’m always looking for recommendations.
Note: The following post contains mostly vague/light spoilers for Shadow and Bone (the Netflix series), Six of Crows (the book), Days Gone (the PS4 game), The Nanny, The Magicians, and Superman & Lois.
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.
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.
A while back, I mentioned in a post reflecting on my research sabbatical that in addition to celebrating the things I was able to accomplish during that time, I was also going to talk about some of the challenges and how I dealt with them.
The very first challenge I encountered had to do with being realistic about what I could accomplish in the time that I had.