Readings Week 12: Professional Development

And so begins my last blog post on the last readings for our class. This week, we read about professional development in the K-12 school setting. It was nice to get a picture of what my K-12 teachers did in the early mornings on “PD” days, where we got to sleep in and start school later! In Semadeni’s “When Teachers Drive Their Learning” (2010), the author describes a teacher-led model of professional development. Teachers in the rural school district of Lincoln County choose which areas of teaching they would like to develop some mastery in, and an “expert” teacher in that area leads group discussion on the strategy. Then, the teachers practice those skills in their classrooms and are evaluated by the master teacher. The school district sounded very supportive of this program: they allowed teachers to use normal school time for the programs, and teachers received a stipend for their time and efforts based on the difficulty of the new skill or strategy. One thing I really liked about that Fusion program is that even if a teacher is inexperienced overall, they might have a specific skill that they can teach to their peers–so anyone could be an expert. This is great because 1) it helps even new teachers feel empowered and 2) it broadens and deepens the pool for professional development: it can bring all kinds of new skills to the forefront.

The Blowers & Reed (2007) article outlined four core competencies for librarians at a public library system in North Carolina. The CCs covered technological skills; the library system’s tech director and specialists realized that technology is a major part of just about all of the library’s service offerings and set out to increase tech competency in the library’s overall staff. They implemented it through “Learning 2.0”: letting staff and librarians learn the new skills on their own time. Discovery, play, and fun were emphasized more than getting something right. The full program took nine weeks; each week introduced a new topic. Participants used blogs to share their thoughts on each week’s new skill (similar to what I’m doing right now!). The librarians/staff in Blowers & Reed also received rewards, but it was more of a fun summer reading program (as described by someone in the article) with prizes: an MP3 player and drawings for a laptop, etc. Fontichiaro (2008) implemented a program based off of Blowers and Reed’s in her school, using the same blogging method. She found that blogging helped create camaraderie for staff members–adding to the overall positive feelings that this kind of PD generates.

I think MLibrary does a great job in encouraging professional development equally for staff and for librarians. They offer many different workshops ranging from tech skills to management strategies to instruction skills. There are also more informal and ongoing group meetings, like reading groups, which range from popular fiction to scholarly publications. Combining some of the aspects of Fusion, where “experts” are identified within peer groups, with the more structured academic workshop system could make for an interesting PD method.

Readings Week 11: Twitter and Tweeting

This week’s assigned “reading” was to create a Twitter network for ourselves made up of librarians and other people from our career interests. I enjoyed finding new, interesting Twitter users from the fields of library science, iSchool faculty and students, academic and public librarians, and digital humanists (the latter being just as active as librarians, I’ve found). This assignment also helped me to organized my existing group of librarian-ish users whom I already follow–I created a Libraries and iSchool list and started by adding all the relevant users that I already follow. Then I checked their following and followers to find new users. Having a list makes Twitter much more manageable; I can

Some of my first impressions were that librarians are very, very funny. Reading through different conversations can be a bit like going down the rabbit hole; I went from reading up on the Day of DH 2013, to reading librarians’ takes on current events (like thoughts on the bestselling book Lean In), to Andy Woodworth’s (@wawoodworth) #reasonslibrarianscry, to a Flickr account of rad library-inspired tattoos. While this was entertaining, it certainly illustrated that Twitter is meant to be used, not just read. It’s an excellent tool for Interacting and maintaining a conversation with some of the more well-known folks in libraries, an opportunity that students may not get elsewhere.

I am an on-and-off Twitter user; my heaviest tweet traffic comes during conferences–and this is definitely something I noticed in others in the publishing and library fields while I was at those conferences (even my boyfriend commented on this as he sat beside me during the keynote of HASTAC last year–every time Siva Vaidhyanathan uttered some quotable soundbite, the sound of tapping in the room intensified). At conferences, I sometimes feel a bit superficial when I tweet, since I don’t regularly use Twitter at home, and also because “everyone’s doing it.” There’s also a feeling of sounding amateur when using the conference hashtag–all of the big names in the industry could see it! It can be scary to voice your opinion in such a public forum. It can be rewarding, though, too. A Twitter interaction with @ararebit at DLF Forum in Denver last fall led to a chance meeting on my ASB trip to the Folger. I had tweeted about wishing there were more library school students at the conference; a fellow grad student replied and we planned but ultimately failed to meet in person. It turned out she is the girlfriend of one of the Folger’s employees and happened to be there for tea one afternoon and recognized me. It was good to finally connect in person!

Readings Week 10: Webinars

I like reading from How People Learn (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking) every few weeks; because it is written for teachers and focuses very much on learning, I didn’t expect to get as much out of it as some of the other readings. But peppering it in throughout the term has been very helpful and has helped me really reflect on the learning process as well as why I, as a future librarian, should also be familiar with it. This week’s chapter was on the amount of knowledge in a discipline that is required to teach it effectively, as well as the depth of knowledge about learning activities. The biggest thing that struck me in the history section was the way the teachers made history come to life, like having students role play and reenact the debates between rebels and loyalists in the British American colonies. This gave students a personal understanding that the fact-based textbook could not. Other stories in the math and science sections had similar anecdotes, where teachers went (where I would consider) outside the box to get students to think differently about subject matter.

The two other readings this week were about webinars and embedded librarianship. I’ve watched a couple of webinars for work and have been simultaneously impressed and unimpressed: the technology is great, and it was great to see the presenter’s screen and also see the comment box on the side to feel in touch with the other viewers. However, I was unimpressed because it felt a bit dry–and this was probably because the subject mater wasn’t particularly interesting (I’ll keep it anonymous!). At first blush, webinars sound intimidating. Recording a screencast was a challenge itself for me, mostly because it was totally new; webinars are essentially a screencast except they are live, with interaction via polls or audible questions from the virtual audience.

I find embedded librarianship exciting. As I’ve written before, I am interested in academic and special collections libraries and hope to work with specific subject matter, either as a subject specialist or some other new, not-yet-determined position that will arise from users’ needs (like instruction and field librarians). The embedded librarian position is the latter. An embedded librarian can be part of online classes or in person classes, and can be available to a small group of students to utilize at any time during the course of the semester. Montgomery (2010) and Matos, Motley, and Mayer (2010) suggest embedded librarians use webinars to more effectively serve students. Webinars solve the issues of the lack of a physical space in the department in which you are embedded, being able to answer questions from home if there is a great need for a webinar at odd hours, and also for online distance-learning classes.

I can see webinars being especially helpful for online classes, for obvious reasons. At a large research university like Michigan, however, which doesn’t have online-only courses, webinars could also be used to help students feel more comfortable with using library resources. As Matos noted, a lot of students just feel more comfortable asking questions over email than coming into the library. I think that’s a great reason for making webinars, when there are also other factors for which a webinar makes sense.

Readings Week 8: One-shot Workshops

I enjoyed the reading this week from the Journal of Information Ethics; I would like to read more from that journal. When I first began the article I couldn’t imagine how one would begin to decide on a plan of action to have in place for those reference situations–how would you balance the issues with censorship and freedom to read vs. preventing potential harm to patrons? Thus I found the conversation on theoretical ethics to be useful, if a bit convoluted. Lenker argues that virtue ethics is the best ethics theory to apply in the case of dangerous questions at the reference desk: if a patron asks about growing marijuana, or directions for making explosives, etc. Employing virtue ethics means thinking about what character traits are present in any given decision. If a librarian decides not to comply with a patron’s request, they might be judgmental, paternalistic, and/or oppressive. On the other hand, assisting readily with dangerous questions might display recklessness.

After Lenker’s discussion of ethics and the various case studies, I felt kind of overwhelmed and in the process of concluding that I would make “game-time” decisions in these types of situations and essentially go with my gut feelings. Then came his warning on reductivism! Lenker basically cautioned against this and urges librarians to recognize this types of questions as quite complicated, and not to disregard all other issues as less important in favor of the one “real” issue. This was probably the most valueable take-away for me. It also made me realize that I’m human, and am subject to biases and that my choices are limited by my perspectives and life experiences–my gut feeling might overlook some aspects of these future hypothetical situations.

While I’m not, at the moment, terribly concerned with these issues as I don’t work at a reference desk (it will be interesting to hear my peers’ stories in class tomorrow who I know work at our schools’ reference desk), I felt a bit frustrated with all the details Lenker gave, only to say that these are issues that should be brought up in library school and only as a means to make LIS students aware that “the librarian’s path must be traveled with care.” However, Lenker also noted that LIS students such as myself will come away from the discussion with “sophisticated confusion,” which is an apt description for my experience while reading.

It seems that there are too many ambiguous factors to be able to have much of a framework in place between the rules of your particular institution, your own personal values, and the ALA code of conduct. The latter even says “these statements provide a framework; they cannot and do not dictate conduct to cover particular situations.”

Readings Week Seven: Readings for our Book Clubs

The coming week’s class is devoted to our book club meetings. I’m looking forward to it! As we’ve been saying in class, I think many of us are happy to be doing some fiction and/or non-academic reading and to flex some different parts of our brains. I certainly enjoyed reading the selections chosen by my book club cohort:

“The Story of Atalanta” by James Baldwin

This story is a retelling of a Greek myth about Atalanta, who was abandoned by her parents, a king and queen, in the woods and left to die. A bear finds her and takes her in, and she learns how to hunt and grows up to be very beautiful. There is another story embedded within Atalanta’s, of another kingdom with many sons and daughters (as opposed to Atalanta’s family). Many things happen; the kingdom forgets to worship the goddess Diana and she sics a wild boar on them; Atalanta is recognized as a great hunter and as desirable when she helps to slay the boar; the queen of the kingdom ends up causing her son’s death and then takes her own life. The story then goes back to Atalanta and of how she allows a man to win her as his wife.

There were many themes that struck me in this story, as often happens in myths. One of them is the importance of beauty in the story–Atalanta’s, her suitors, the three Fates who blessed/cursed Meleager as a baby (one of the three was not beautiful and was the impetus for his death).

A Tale of A Snake’s Tail” by Paul Flowers

This is a short story about a railroad telegraph operator who meets a There was a blurb at the beginning that noted the “delightful tongue-in-cheek” story was originally published at such-and-such a place. I may not have known immediately that this was mean to be a tongue-in-cheek story, although perhaps the line “…work for the road with which I am still employed, the Illinois Central, than which there is none finer” should have given it away. I’m not sure I entirely understand the sarcasm and the symbolism in the story. It seems that the narrator is not so fond of the station’s porter, since he names the snake after him, claiming it’s because they are both being long and svelte. This is a great choice for a book club pick–I have lots of questions about the story!

“This Was Our Pact” by Ryan Andrews

I really enjoyed this one. This was a comic, beautifully illustrated in black and white (and generously available for free!). It begins with a group of boys on bikes who set out to follow the village’s lanterns down the river, to see where they end up. The lanterns are dropped into the river to pay homage to an old local legend–which says the lanterns turn into fish who then jump into the sky and turn into stars. Another boy is following the group; they poke fun at him, yet he still follows on. The narrator doesn’t agree with what his friends say about the outcast, but he also doesn’t stick up for him. Eventually his friends break the pact they made–to keep going and not turn toward home–and it’s just him and the outcast. They experience some magical things and see the legend come to life. I’m looking forward to talking about a comic in the book club, and the way the illustrations and the panels without text influenced the narrative. I’m also wondering about the ending. The two boys kept going, kept the pact; they didn’t turn for home–what does that mean?

“Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston

This was a sad story about a washer woman in Florida who is abused by her husband, a really awful man who beats her, takes her money, and has affairs with other women. He knows that his wife hates snakes, and one day brings a rattlesnake home to the house to further intimidate her. Eventually the snake ends up attacking the husband, and while his wife pities him in his dying state, she leaves him to die. It will be interesting to talk about this story because of the tough subject matter: race, domestic violence, verbal abuse, poverty, even religious imagery.

Readings Week Six: Book Clubs!

I was happy to see Nancy Pearl quoted in the Beth Dempsey Library Journal article. Nancy Pearl is one of my heroes and was a big influence in my decision to go to library school. I feel very strongly about reading and the power and magic of stories and storytelling. Plus, she’s a Detroit native and an UMSI graduate (back when it was the School of Library Science)!

Reading about the success of the Not Your Ordinary Book Club at a public library in Maine gave me warm fuzzies, especially this: “Older members have taken classes to learn how to blog, because they wanted to be included…. It has been wonderful!” (from this article). The librarian used a hybrid form, where the club met monthly in the physical library, but also had an online blog component where members could interact online. She had nothing but positive reviews of the set-up, discussing the way it allowed both the traditional in-person book clubbers and new patrons who wanted to participate anonymously online to join the same group. This article went on to describe other new models of book clubs and book groups, ranging from taking the meetings outside of the library and after hours to accommodate young professionals to book groups in prisons. Everything Dempsey described sounded great to me. Book clubs are a fantastic way for users to experience and discover new material in the library; they are at the very least a fun experience, and at best a life-enriching and community-building one.

Other libraries are shaking up the old book club model by switching out a single book for a theme, meaning that participants can choose from a variety of books and discuss them in a single meeting. Another Library Journal article detailed this, and other new changes and trends in library book clubs. One issue that they just barely touched on was the gender divide: most book club participants are women. The author mentioned the fact that some library book clubs are trying to cast off the image of a book club only reading Oprah’s picks, and instead choosing some non-fiction titles to read–however, non-fiction is apparently a hard sell. I’m curious to see what, if anything, librarians are doing to create more gender diversity in book clubs.

This article also mentioned the growing number of teens who are participating in online book clubs via a blog or something similar. Again–I think that’s so great. While some may lament that the newer generations are hiding behind the computer screen and becoming less social, creating the opportunity for an online book club will still 1) accomplish the goal of fostering a sense of community (no matter that it’s from a keyboard), and 2) perhaps spark someone’s curiosity about an author or genre and entice them to read even more.

A social discussion forum similar to book clubs is the Socratic seminar. The premise is that the class/group forms an inner and outer circle; the inner circle discusses the text while the outer observes and then gives feedback. Then the two groups switch. Before this class, I was unfamiliar with this concept–but it seems to be a great tool for teaching reading comprehensions, as well as scholarly discussion. I enjoyed reading Margaret Metzger’s account of her high school freshman class and their experience with the Socratic seminar. She emphasized the increase not only in her students’ enthusiasm for discussion, but also an increase in their reading comprehension skills. The Tredway article took a slightly different tact and stressed what I liked most about this format: as a result, the school prepares thoughtful citizens capable of intelligent discussion, and are able to participate in a democratic society (Tredway). Socratic seminars are an intriguing concept and seem, anecdotally, to be highly effective with K-12 students. Because of the skills the seminars teach, they are a perfect tool for middle and high-school students to prepare for college. Perhaps they would transition well into discussion groups for teens, but as of right now I feel wary of them in an academic library setting. Don’t students “get enough” of that in class? How would academic librarians use a Socratic seminar effectively?

Readings Week Five: Acquisition, Meaning, and especially Transfer

A central theme from the readings this week was on teaching for transfer over simple recall and acquisition; developing general skills and “mental muscle.” My partner is different from me in that he is in the sciences–engineering–rather than the humanities, which is my undergraduate background, and he is pursuing a PhD rather than a Master’s. However, he is more interested in teaching than I am; though we’re far from retirement, his dream to is be a high school math teacher when he’s done with research. Thus I talk to him quite a bit about this class and about the readings, especially. We had a conversation recently about the idea of learning for transfer and developing that “mental muscle.” While many would disagree, he argued that even a doctoral degree is more an exercise in learning for transfer than it is in doing meaningful research: oftentimes the research PhD students do while in pursuit of their degree ends up being less significant than the work they do later in their career, which wouldn’t be possible without the skills they acquired in grad school (apologies if that came out convoluted!).

The Wiggins and McTighe article, “Putting Understanding First” (2008), discussed reforming high school curricula to address the problem of acquisition of content for its own sake and neglecting meaning and transfer. They assert that, instead, “we must recognize that the purposeful and effective use of content is the ever-present goal, and we must design all instruction with that goal in mind” (Wiggins and McTighe). I appreciated their succinct distillation in the first half of that sentence. I don’t know very much about the public school system or state requirements for curriculum, despite being a product of that system, but it seems that to achieve the latter goal, instructors would have to massively overhaul the system and take away the emphasis on test results and required coverage of certain material.

Another concept discussed in the readings, in How People Learn, is metacognition. Before this class I would have had a murkier understanding of it; now, as I mentioned in my previous post, I see that we’re assessing ourselves as learners and and monitoring and regulating our own understanding. I can see the connection between formative assessment and metacognition, and the ways that both help the learner develop “general skill” and the “mental muscle” to apply knowledge in any environment.

I’m looking forward to connecting all of these interesting concepts to libraries in class tomorrow evening. We’ve talked from the beginning of the semester about the importance of transfer; an example was attempting to make connections in our screencasts for viewers to transfer the skill somewhere else. I will continue to contemplate the other areas where we should be thinking about transfer!