Ongoing project: white board questions

At the start of the fall semester, our library asked visitors to share their favorite book. Then, I dug through our catalog and pulled books that were mentioned to create a display. Alongside the display, we parked a couple of white boards, asking people, again, to share their favorite books. The response was wonderful, and I shared photos about the project in a previous post.

I have continued propping “white board questions” up in a high-traffic area of the library, trying to do one every 4-6 weeks. The response (for the most part) has been positive, with visitors and library faculty/staff enjoying the engagement. Here are a couple examples of the prompts we’ve used:

Progressive Story
Around Halloween, I began with a prompt, asking students to finish the story, one sentence at a time.


After a while, contributors started going back and embellishing what others had added, so that our first finished story looked like this:


It reads: It was a dark and stormy night, and the FedEx truck was just pulling up with my Ebay delivery. It was something I always wanted, Paulie Shore’s Filmography, to watch as I wrote my 100 page research essay on the applications of organic chemistry in computational neuroscience. When suddenly, a big spider came after me! In a state of panic, I defeated the foul creature with my larger than life research essay (student added the comment, “I laughed here”). Then I died after the grade I got, and my parents punished zombie me for flunking out.

We added an additional board after the first filled up, with another prompt:


The second story reads: It was 3 AM and I just got to the library to study for my test. “How much is parking?” I queried querulously. “Three square inches of epidermis,” said the attendant with a wink. I reached over and grabbed my wallet off the passenger seat, wondering why the price had suddenly spiked, and handed the attendant the requested amount that I’d harvested from a very spirited young man just a few hours prior. Turns out that “spirited young man” was actually my long-lost twin brother! Actually, your mom. Then I woke up and hit snooze. The End. (Student comment to the side: “Calm down Hannibal.”)

Word search
Our library debuted a new computer lab this semester, called the Dimensions Lab, that is outfitted with brand new Macs and PCs, virtual reality software and hardware, and a bunch of other fancy software for doing fancy things. Our development office approached me about doing something with the white boards in order to highlight the new space. Because simply asking a question like, “Have you tried the new Dimensions Lab?” wouldn’t generate much engagement, and other questions like, “What would you like to see in the new lab?” would likely cause confusion for those unaware of the space (not to mention those questions would not really fit the purpose of the white boards, which is fun, easy engagement), we had to come up with a way to draw students in. The solution? A word search, featuring the names of  software, hardware, and buzz words for the space:


The puzzles were completed really quickly, so I ended up refreshing the board at least twice a day, and scrambling the letters in different ways each time. If we pursued something else like this in the future, I would likely look into printing the word search as large posters, and mounting them behind plexiglass or our large windows that lead in to our reference area, or something similar, so that it could simply be erased and used again, rather than having to write letters in straight rows and columns 2-3 times a day.

I plan to continue asking “white board questions” this semester, as we have received comments at our service points about how much student enjoy them, and asking when they’ll be back. They’re a fun, easy way to engage students and other visitors, and show them that academic libraries can play, too.

Library attendance at Resource Fairs

One aspect of my job is to attend resource fairs for prospective students. As the liaison to New Student Programs, I set up a table, usually surrounded by tables of people from different departments, offices, services, and organizations on campus. These happen several times throughout the academic year as part of campus visit days: students are invited to campus for tours, fairs, meetings with faculty and others, to learn about the University and what it offers. The fairs most often take place concurrently with registration: guests register, and then have about an hour or so to wander through the fair and talk to the reps prior to the opening session. There is also usually breakfast involved. Free breakfast is always good.

I inherited the responsibility of attending these fairs from another librarian, and have been going to them for about 4 semesters now. I’ve struggled with how to make the library presence at these fairs meaningful. If we’re being honest, most people who come to these fairs don’t have a lot of questions about the Libraries on campus. They want to talk to Res Life and find out if they have to live on campus and for how long, they want to hear from people in the major they’re considering about the classes and faculty, they want to learn about on campus job opportunities or tutoring services or the fitness center. If they want to know about the libraries, it’s usually enough (at this point in their college selection process) to know that we exist. Occasionally I’ll get the person who wants to stop and talk about the hours we’re open, what kind of resources and spaces we have, if we loan out tech to students, and other things. Most often, the people that stop are the parents who 1. are librarians, 2. have a family member who is a librarian, or 3. are alums who want to ask what’s different about the Libraries now from when they were students (answer: a lot).

At my final fair of the year last spring, I experimented. Instead of only taking handouts of library stats, I also grabbed campus maps. I noticed at that fair that more people than ever stopped to say hi, grab a map, and move on their way. Did I have more meaningful conversations about Library services? No.

My first fair of this year, I continued with taking maps, and also added other things: campus maps, city maps, information about on-campus jobs and how to find them. I went to our circulation desk and asked our full-time staff there: “Of the handouts by the entryway, which ones to you have to refill most often? Which ones do you get asked for most often?” And I started taking those handouts. What did I notice? Even more people stopped to say hi, grab some campus information, and move on. I asked a couple people who were particularly talkative if things like campus maps or job information were included in their registration packets. They said no–that the ones on my table were the only ones they’d seen. No wonder they were so popular.

After these two experiences, I decided something. Most people may not know what questions to ask of an academic library. In the college-decision making process, I do not know how many students carefully consider the library as an important factor. Maybe they should, I’m not honestly sure. Am I having more in-depth conversations about the library when people stop for a map? Maybe once or twice each fair. But for the others, I’ve decided to hope that they’ll remember a friendly face and the helpful materials I had on my table. Hopefully, they’ll at least begin to associate the library–and the people that work there–as a place to find information and get help from a nice person. For now, I’ll call that a win.

Current outreach project: “What is your favorite book?” display

In honor of national “Read a Book Day” that happened on Sept 6, another librarian and I put together a display of books loved by our students and faculty/staff.

Favorite Books Display

Several weeks ago, during Week of Welcome, we put out some blank sheets of paper, a collection box, and a sign that asked, “What’s your favorite book?” In about 3 days, we collection 54 responses. Then, I went through our collections and pulled copies of a select number of the ones we owned for display. Finally, using a table in our Atrium, myself and another librarian set up the books along with the responses we received. I also included a take-away handout that listed all the books suggested and their library locations.

I was planning on leaving it at just that, until we realized that seeing the display might prompt others to want to share their favorite books with us, so we drug a movable white board out from one of the study areas, planted it next to the display, and wrote across the top, “What is your favorite book?” That was on Tuesday, late morning. Today, as of noon, that beautiful, inspiring white board looked like this:

White board books

And every time I walk past it, I stop to see what our students our reading. What books stick with them. Which ones people are commenting on–because now short conversations have cropped around around some titles. And I am just filled with happiness. I never want to take it down.

Strategic searching, the Framework, and concept maps: Annual 2015 presentation resources

I delivered a presentation during the RSS Discussion Forum at ALA that focused on teaching strategic searching practices in discovery systems, using concept maps as an example of a tool that could be employed. The slides for that presentation can be found on my Portfolio page under “Presentations”.

I consulted a number of different resources while designing the presentation and digging into the themes. Those are organized here for anyone who may wish to explore these concepts further:

On concept maps:

“Novak, J. D. & A. J. Cañas, The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them, Technical Report IHMC CmapTools 2006-01 Rev 01-2008, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, 2008, available at:

On discovery systems:

Cmor, D. and Li, X. (2012) “Beyond Boolean, Towards Thinking: Discovery Systems and Information Literacy.” Proceedings of the IATUL Conferences. Paper 7.

Hanrath, S. and Kottman, M. (2015) Use and Usability of a Discovery Tool in an Academic Library, Journal of Web Librarianship, 9(1), 1-21, doi: 10.1080/19322909.2014.983259

Kornblau, A.I., Strudwick, J. and Miller, W. (2012) “How Web-Scale Discovery Changes the Conversation: The Questions Librarian Should Ask Themselves.” College & Undergraduate Libraries 19(2–4):144–62.

Lundrigan, C., Manuel, K., and Yan, M. (2015) “‘Pretty Rad’: Explorations in User Satisfaction with a Discovery Layer at Ryerson University.” College and Research Libraries, 76(1), 43-62. doi:10.5860/crl.76.1.43

Novak, J. D. & A. J. Cañas. (2008) “The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them.” Technical Report IHMC CmapTools.

Stohn, Christine. Ex Libris Group. (2015) How Do Users Search and Discover?.

ACRL Framework:

Framework for Information Literacy

Framing Information Literacy: Searching as Strategic Exploration

In February of this year, ACRL filed the new Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (hereafter, the Framework). Consisting of six frames, the document discusses the core concepts of information literacy, and reformats them from the previously used, Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (hereafter, Standards). No longer a detailed, prescriptive list of outcomes, we now have more guiding theoretical principles, and a larger focus on life-long learning. It is less skill-based and more value-based.

I have struggled with wrapping my head around the Framework for a while, not because I dislike it, but rather because the concepts of frames, threshholds concepts, knowledge practices, and dispositions were all completely foreign to me prior to encountering the Framework. I have had formal and informal discussions with colleagues that seem to lead to breakthroughs in one moment, and then confuse again in the next. Perhaps one of the benefits and frustrations of ditching standards for frames is that there are not necessarily hard-and-fast rules for measuring information literacy, and the Framework recognizes how context-specific information searching, finding, analyzing, and sharing is.

The code is more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules.

-Captain Barbosa, explaining the Framework.

Next month, however, I will be doing a short lightning talk about teaching discovery systems within the context of the new Framework, so I figure I had better start digging in and getting my hands dirty. I am going to start with the frame I have chosen to structure my talk: Searching as Strategic Exploration. Within the Framework, it is explained as follows: “Searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding develops.”

What I like about this frame is the characterization of searching as “nonlinear” and “iterative.” When I teach, I often teach students to “develop a search strategy” and understand the research process, and I like this focus on research not being a process that looks like this:

Research Linear

And more of a process that looks like this:

Research Messy

And probably a lot messier than this.

Because the truth is, all parts of the research process influence each other, and all part of a person’s writing process influences that person’s research needs, so to think that we can teach one, linear, “correct” way of doing research is a bit arrogant. And I think the Framework, and this frame in particular, really responds to a more 21st century approach to teaching and research. For me, it has also opened my mind to reject the notion that one can master information literacy and become “information literate.” We’re not working toward the end of that linear process, right? Instead, we’re developing habits of mind, “knowledge practices,” if you will, that reflect increasing awareness of the complexity of what it means to search for information.

The other part of this frame that struck me is the use of the word strategic. Searching is strategic and a good strategist recognizes that the best way to get tripped up to do the exact same thing every time, regardless of the circumstances. To throw in a pop culture reference: in Catching Fire, the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss mistakenly thinks going into the games the second time that she and Peeta will follow the same strategy they used before: ignore the other competitors, trust no one else, and take no allies. But Haymitch realizes that strategy won’t work the second time around, because the circumstances have changed. In his words: “I want you guys to forget everything you think you know about the games. Last year was child’s play. This year, you’re dealing with all experienced killers.” If you’ve read the series, you know that Haymitch is the big thinker, the planner. He’s been around the games long enough, and knows how they work. And he knows that the fastest way to end up dead is to not adapt to the changes in their circumstances. So while Katniss and Peeta understand the kill-or-be-killed strategy of the arena, Haymitch understands the games as a larger, more complex system than simply what happens after the gong sounds. Throughout the books (and the movies….) he is constantly reminding Katniss that this is bigger than her, bigger than District 12, bigger than each individual part of the machine.

This is what we want students to begin to open their minds to. This system of information is bigger than they’ve ever considered. It is not as simple as teaching them how to click through the library website until they get to a database, plug in the “correct” key words, and find a scholarly article. It’s not about the individual steps in the process, it’s about grasping the bigger picture, and beginning to think like Haymitch: responding to the context with the tools you have at your disposal. Part of that may be skills-based, yes, because students have to be aware of the tools available. What this Framework puts into perspective, however, is that knowing how to get to a library database is useless if one does not how to think critically about their research context.

Research is nonlinear. It is iterative. To be successful, students have to be flexible and responsive. It is not enough to jot down some key words and, if unsuccessful, give up and assume there’s nothing out there on their topic. They have to begin to ask themselves: So that one way I approached this problem failed. How can I respond to this to be more successful next time?

Let us all wish each other luck. 🙂

ACRL 2015, Part 2: The Framework

It was impossible to avoid the new Framework for Information Literacy (hereafter, the Framework) at the recent ACRL conference. For those of us that teach, it was a great chance to see how other are engaging with, using, and teaching the Framework. I attended several sessions that focused on teaching or assessment, so naturally the Framework was part of those discussions. I noticed some trends in the ways people were using the Framework to inform their practice.

1. The frame, “Research as inquiry” was one of the most commonly mentioned frames, along with “Scholarship as conversation” and “Searching as strategic exploration.” I didn’t do any type of real analysis of how many times each frame was mentioned, but I remember those three coming up fairly often. I found this interesting, because I think those three really get at the things we, as teachers, already want to do with our classes: show students that research comes early in the writing/thinking process and that different depths of research are appropriate for different tasks/goals, that information sources go through different processes and how those sources can be seen as in “conversation” with each other, and that searching involves more than the first thing you type in a search box. The other frames also came up, but I didn’t notice them to be as prominent as these three, with the exception of…

2. The frame, “Information has value” almost never got a mention. Why? Because I think we’re still stuck in the mindset that this involves simply teaching the importance of citing one’s sources. And truthfully, when librarians are given 50 minutes to teach a whole lot of things, I think we feel that the lesson for “how to cite” and “why to cite” can be passed back to the regular instructor. Moving forward with the Framework, I think it will be important for librarians to reconsider our traditional approach to this, and think about how much more complex the idea that “information has value” is than simply knowing how to create a citation.

3. There are still a lot of mixed feelings about the Framework. Most of the sessions where it was being explicitly discussed were standing-room-only full. In discussions with my own colleagues, I get the sense that many of us are still trying to make sense of what exactly we are supposed to do with this new format. Broadly speaking, though, I think it holds a lot of promise for one reason: It represents a critical shift in focus from teaching a hard set of specific skills, to trying to foster a greater understanding of what information is, how it is created and for what purpose, and how it can be used, among so many other things. I hope to spend some time, both in my work and hopefully on this blog, further unpacking each of the frames and spending some quality time just mulling over what they might mean for our always-changing practice.

This was my first ACRL conference, and it was a great experience. I reconnected with friends from graduate school, made some new acquaintances, and was challenged professionally to always be looking for new ideas and practices. I am looking forward to ACRL 2017, and all the conferences and gathering in between.

See Part 1 of my ACRL experiences: ACRL 2015, Part 1: Reading in Information Literacy Instruction.

Teaching, Research, and Higher Education

There is a bill in consideration in North Carolina right now which would require all professors at state universities to teach a 4-4 course load. The purpose, according to the senator who proposed the bill, is to improve teaching in higher education, and put more professors in the classrooms instead of TAs. Recently, I wrote a post discussing my feelings about librarians and tenure, where I came down on the side of “maybe tenure-track isn’t for me.” The driving reason behind my feelings toward traditional tenure models and my preference for a non-tenure track position is what I believe is a too-narrow focus on research and publication in order for tenure to be granted. That this narrow-minded focus on only research and publication as a measure of a teacher’s effectiveness is damaging to higher education and the students we serve. However, seeing this proposed bill has me wanting to further clarify my thoughts on this contentious issue.

First, I do not think that research and publication should not be considered at all in granting promotion and tenure. It should be. My problem with some current tenure model is that I feel too much emphasis is placed on only those areas when, in the case of my current position, the actual job is structured differently. It is easy to focus on these two criteria because they are much more quantifiable than teaching. You can count how many articles I have published. You can see what the impact factor of the journal(s) is/are. You can track how many times any given article is cited. But measuring teaching? That’s a much more complicated, messy process that usually relies on more subjective measures, such as observation and evaluation. So it stands to reason that it is easier to count things like the number of articles and grants.

Second, to further clarify the point above, I believe that individual faculty should be allowed more flexibility in how their positions are structured. Research is vitally important to every discipline, for various reasons. Much of the research done at universities in certain sciences is solving real-world, really important problems in medicine, environmental science, and engineering. And the people doing that research were hired specifically to do that research. That is the purpose of their job. An article in Slate magazine discussing the North Carolina bill points out specific examples of how important and impactful the research at universities is. In the humanities, research is being done that is constantly improving our understanding of ourselves and our communities, and often has far-reaching implications. So when I argued previously that more emphasis should be placed on teaching and less on research, what I really should have been arguing was that tenure-track positions should allow for faculty to perform and be measured in the ways that are determined most beneficial for the faculty member, students, department, and university. If a professor is most passionate about teaching and mentoring students, and excels in the classroom, instead of teaching a 2-2 or even a 1-1 load and being required to publish in multiple peer-reviewed, high-impact-factor journals every year, maybe that person should be allowed to choose a higher teaching load and a less rigorous publication track. And the opposite should be true as well: if a professor is doing valuable research, excels at research, is passionate about research, and was hired to do research, then that person should be teaching a smaller load (if any at all), and be researching and publishing.

I do not think that tenure-track research models should be abandoned. And I think bills like this one being considered in North Carolina, while proposed with good intentions, demonstrate a lack of understanding of the purpose of research in higher education, and the value that research contributes to our communities, our country, and the world. It also fails to recognize the time commitment that teaching requires. A 4-4 course load is not just additional hours in a classroom. It is also additional prep and grading hours, and it would leave professors without the time, funding, or support to continue researching. Finally, it ignores that for TAs, the opportunity to teach classes to undergraduates is often part of their education and training. This bill, if passed, would also deprive North Carolina of premier scholars who will pack their bags and move to a university that will fund them.

Instead of legally requiring professors to teach more at the expense of research, what higher education really needs is additional ways to support and fund graduate students and adjuncts, providing higher pay, benefits, and more stable working conditions to the people shoulder much of the weight of educating our college students.* This way, important, life-changing research is being done, students are being educated, and some of the most vulnerable among higher education teachers are being supported and paid for the incredibly vital work that they do everyday. What higher education needs is a balance of these two sides, not one or the other.

*This is another extremely important topic in higher education, and one that I am personally very passionate about. I hope to have time to write more on this topic in the future.

ACRL 2015, Part 1: Reading in Information Literacy Instruction

I have recently returned from my first ACRL conference, and after spending yesterday and this morning catching up on emails, projects, etc., I have finally settled down to spend some time thinking about the sessions I attended, people I met, and new ideas that have been simmering as a result. So, I present:

Part 1: Reading in Information Literacy Instruction

I attended a contributed papers session by Margy MacMillan and Stephenie Rosenblatt titled, “They’ve Found It. Can They Read It?” that focused on the librarian’s role in teaching students to read and engage with scholarly sources. The topic of freshmen students and scholarly articles has been on my mind a lot lately. A colleague and I are working on a project to investigate why faculty often require first-years students to use scholarly articles to the exclusion of other types of sources. On the surface, the answers seems apparent: They’re in college. They need to use these types of sources. But in many classes, students are told to find scholarly articles and incorporate them into their own writing or presentation (or in the case of many introductory science courses, into their lab assignments), and they are not really taught to how to use them or even, more elementary, what their purpose is. What is the value of a scholarly article over a trade publication? What is the difference between a scholarly article and a blog post by the same author on the same topic? What is the difference between a scholarly article, a trade article, and a newspaper article, written by the same author and on the same topic?

Naturally, I can answer those questions. But I deal with information sources every single day. And I have been working in higher education for 6 years. I should be able to explain this. If pressed, first-year students would probably be able to come up with some basic differences: some are written for a general audience, some for a specialized audience; some are longer; this one has a bibliography. But what can they really assess about the difference between the two when they’re asked to support an argument in a paper? If conversations I have had with faculty or other librarians are any indication, the main difference for students is this: they can actually read and understand the popular articles, some of the trade publications, and almost nothing of the scholarly articles.

Let’s be blunt: first-year students are unprepared to deal with scholarly articles. That’s just a fact. At the presentation, they cited a very important statistic: About 49% of incoming college students cannot read at a college level. Forty-nine percent. Half. Half of our incoming students are unprepared to read their textbooks. (Suppose that explains the continual refrain from professors that students don’t do the reading. They don’t know how.)

I taught a credit-bearing IL course for the first time this past fall semester. Looking back on their major assignment–an annotated bibliography which required at least 2 of the 7 or 8 sources be scholarly–I made a critical mistake in judgement. Eighty percent of my students were first-year students. About half of that 80% had not yet declared a major. Many of them had been put in my class by their advisors who recognized they may need additional support in adapting to reading, writing, and researching for college. And I required those students–the ones who hadn’t even decided on a major–to engage with texts that are incredibly discipline-specific and jargon heavy. Did I spend any time teaching them how to identify, read, and use those articles? Yes. But certainly not enough of it, because there were still bibliographies that were lacking at least one scholarly source, and many annotations that reflected a lack of understanding of the article as a whole.

This presentation was a real eye-opener for me, for the work that I do with my liaison groups, such as Freshmen Composition and First-Year Focus, for the one-shots that I teach, and for the credit course I helped design. I need to do better. We need to do better. And the women from this presentation have offered some great ideas to get started, meet challenges, and find further research. See their website: Adding Reading Strategies to Your IL Toolkit

Stay tuned for more reflections and reactions to a really great, thoughtful, engaging conference that has challenged me to continue to push my own boundaries of what libraries and librarians “can” and “should” do.

To tenure or not to tenure?

I ran across an article some weeks ago online in the Chronicle of Higher Education regarding research and publication requirements in higher education. It has come across my path again in response to several conversations with colleagues and teaching faculty. It is titled, “Teach or Perish” and it addresses a question I have always had with higher education: why are so many college teachers measured on their ability to publish–and therefore not be in the classroom, more than they are on their teaching? And why, as a librarian, are people more critical of a lack of publication than a lack of performance in teaching, reference, and other public services?

I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that keeping abreast of current trends and contributing to the larger field is not important. It is vitally important, especially for librarianship as a rapidly changing field, to continue to grow and adapt. It helps the field progress, creates wider conversations and contexts, and informs other educators about the important work being done in libraries. But I also believe there is room, ample room, in the higher education landscape for professionals who want to dedicate their time to their practice, and not to theoretical research. I am one of those people, and I know I am not alone.

On paper, many positions (like mine) do prioritize the responsibilities of daily work over a publication record. But, being short on the expected scholarly activities is much more criticized that failing to meet other requirements. I hold a tenure-track position, which comes with it an expectation of scholarly activity. In contrast to my teaching colleagues, who often have something like a 50-40-10 split (meaning 50% teaching, 40% research and publishing, and 10% service), my position is 70-20-10. That means only 20% of my job responsibilities are to be doing research and publishing. Twenty percent. But what constitutes 20%? How much final product meets that 20% threshold? I can’t seem to find agreement on this among friends and colleagues. I could spend 20% of my time every week (approximately 8 hours assuming a 40 hour week, or one working day). But how much am I expected to produce at the end of the year? If I publish one peer-reviewed article in a year, does that reflect 20% of my effort? Should I produce more? Less? Who gets to decide?

This tension is hard for me to grapple with, because I would much rather be in a classroom or at a reference desk, working and engaging with students, than in my office writing a literature review or designing a survey. When things get busy, the first projects placed on the back burner are research and publishing. I became a teacher and public services librarian so I could spend my time helping students to learn how to do research, analyze information sources, use information responsibly, and a host of other non-publishing activities. One argument I have heard is to then write about my daily practice–talk about teaching successes and failures, pilot new programs and gather data on them. This is all sound advice, but also requires that when I am designing curriculum or programs, I think not just about how best to teach it and assess it, but whether or not the data I gather is publishable or interesting for the larger profession. Call me stubborn or naive, but I simply don’t want to have to bend my practice to make sure it can be written and published about.

This debate is happening among librarians at my own institution, and among librarians at others. There are a number of schools in recent years who have decided to change librarian status to non-tenured faculty. An article in the Chronicle Vitae in 2013 profiled several institutions that had either recently changed or had this model in place for years (Do Librarians Need Tenure? Depends on Which Ones You Ask). One person quoted makes a great point about the higher education landscape in general: “I don’t look at it as any sort of singling out . . . . Tenure as an institution is whittling all the time. We’re [librarians] just the low-hanging fruit.” I think as the higher education landscape continues to change due to things like budgets, shifting priorities, and changes in core demographics of college students, tenure models are going to have to adapt. And it’s true that many faculty and administrators may look at librarians and not see as aggressive research and publication going on than what happens in say, engineering or veterinary medicine departments. Our jobs are simply organized differently. Our research is just as valuable (but of course, I’m biased) to our profession. Additionally, compared to many fields, we’re a fairly new discipline. We may have growing pains.

The fact is, I didn’t take my current job because it was tenure-track. I was actually looking for a position that wasn’t tenure-track because I knew it would be more service-focused, and that was what I wanted. More than that, though, I was looking for a job based on what I wanted to do (teach information literacy) and who I wanted to do it for (Composition programs). The job I secured just also happens to come with research and publishing requirements. I am also lucky to work with a great set of colleagues who support my service-oriented priorities, and who are wonderful guides and mentors on publishing so that I can still meet those requirements.

But, as I said to one colleague several weeks ago when we were discussing tenure vs. non-tenure jobs: If tomorrow my “tenure-track” status went away and I was classified non-tenure track faculty or something similar and offered a three- or five-year contract to keep doing what I’m doing minus the pressure to publish all the time, I would take it and probably do a happy dance. It wouldn’t stop me from want to publish or do presentations or travel to conferences. I would still continue to do those things, just on my terms, and not someone else’s definition of “20%”.

Reflecting on the purpose of reflection

We had a great discussion in our Library Instruction Team this morning about how valuable reflection is to the process of learning. Our starting point for this discussion was an article written by some Harvard Business School researchers, titled Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Aids Performance. It’s a big lengthy, but it provides excellent details about the research the group did in investigating if having people reflect on the process of completing a task improves their performance. And, of course, it did.

In the course of our conversation, we talked about how to bring reflection into a one-shot library instruction session. A lot of good ideas were thrown around, including doing a 3-2-1 paper, or a one-minute paper. We discussed ways to add reflective questions to the online assessment activities we already use in our classes. We talked about our preferences for trying to bring actual, pen-to-paper writing into classroom activities. (There have been a number of studies that look into the effect of handwriting versus typing on learning.)

We also talked about using reflection in our own practices. How important it can be to reflect on your teaching after you have done it. To think about what worked well, what didn’t work, how it felt, how students or faculty reacted. We also talked about putting reflection to use after attending conferences or other types of professional development in order to aid our retention of ideas, feelings, and actions.

So this is my blog, reflecting on our discussion about reflection, hoping that it will reinforce these ideas and that I will commit to trying more reflective practices in my teaching. So I’ll try my own 3-2-1 reflection:

3 things ideas or issues that were presented:

  1. Reflection after doing a task aids in the ability to perform that task in the future.
  2. This type of reflection is valuable not just for students, but for teachers to learn and grow in their own practice.
  3. There are simple, quick, easy ways to build reflection into one-shot sessions, by asking to students answer questions like: Describe the process you went through to find this article; or, List the criteria you used to determine if the article you chose was scholarly or not.

2 examples or uses of the information covered:

  1. Using part of our regular meetings times as a reflective discussion about our teaching experiences, highs, lows, lessons learned, etc.
  2. Incorporating a short reflective exercise into a one-shot library session.

1 remaining question or unresolved idea:

  1. How can we measure students’ performance or retention of the information or ideas after the one-shot session is over?

So what am I going to do now that I have reflected on the value of reflection?

I am going to try to bring some reflection strategies into courses that I teach over the rest of the semester, paying attention to not only the students’ responses, but also to gauge how they react to being asked to reflect on the class. I am also going to write more often about my teaching, and definitely will write up a post-conference reflection after ACRL in March. I have always used writing as a way to sort through my experiences and feelings, but now I will try to be more intentional about my reflective process.