Book Group Prep: What We’re All Reading

This next Monday, we’ll all participate in a variety of different reading discussions during our class time. Each pair (and one trio) of students picked out a particular short piece of literature to use as the basis for discussion. Some of my thoughts regarding those readings (and related reflections on specific challenges or issues in book groups) follow:

  • Esti & Laura A. chose a webcomic called “All the Books in the World… Except One.” Although it was a short comic, it made me think about a lot of things: How books-as-objects can be valuable beyond just text, how personalization and memory can make books more valuable, and how what we choose to collect (hoard!) and value provides clues as to our own emotional needs, memories and connections. This, of course means that I’m curious what personal stories SI students and practicing librarians have about books or information sharing!
  • Ashley & Mary chose something very different in tone and topic, a piece from the Federalist Papers. I have to admit that my own emotional baggage from High School social studies class made me hesitant to (re)read this. The largest point that I was really able to take from this is just that early on in our development as a country — when we were just forming our documents and ideas about just what this government/arrangement of power might be — there were many difficult tensions that Hamilton and others were attempting to balance. I look forward to discussion of this, just because I feel like it will help get me beyond my previous baggage and push me to think more about the meat of the text.
  • Meggan & Kelly chose a short story by one of my favorite authors, Amy Hempel, “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried.” I had read this story as part of a collection a few years ago, and I think it made me cry then, but it kind of destroyed me this time, as only Hempel and Lorrie Moore seem able to do to me. This was the first story other than our own group’s pick, that I read in the cluster of stories that had to do with death and loss and grief, and it made me realize very acutely that although it is a beautifully written story, with so much I could talk about in a group related to its structure and phrasing and writing, I feel too emotional to feel comfortable discussing this story in a public setting.I am thankful, though, to have a realization about how and why a story might simply strike too close to a book group member’s sensitive territory. It’s probably hard to anticipate all of the ways in which this could happen in a reading and discussion group, but it’s important to consider, particularly in relation to a few points that came up last week about a book discussion group not being a support group and vice versa! Writing is inevitably going to strike strong emotional chords with people, though — so how can we honor that while still keeping the focus on the book? Part of it probably has to do with group members being aware of their own boundaries and comfort zones.
  • Although Leigh & Rebecca’s choice, “The Blind Spot” dealt with death, and specifically murder, the characters and tone made it easy for me to detach and I also felt like I began to anticipate what happened at the end, as I got closer. After reading this story, I was actually most intrigued by how Leigh and Rebecca came across this story, and why in particular they decided upon it for discussion. I don’t know if that’s really important to discuss the work, though — I suppose we might have the opportunity to ask those sorts of questions if our discussion is less of a Socratic Seminar and more of a general book group/club.
  • Terence & Xin chose Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” (pp 20-25, UM login required for the link). Although it dealt with suicide, I had read the story multiple times before, and so it didn’t hit me as emotional, except for the actual mid-part of the story which actually feels somewhat joyful (the hunt for bananafish). I haven’t talked about any Salinger in a while, and so I look forward to the discussion of this story. The fact that I had previously read this story a few times also makes me think about how a facilitator or teacher might address having that happen with an assigned/class reading. It’s probably pretty common for one or two students to have read a particular title before a class reads it together, but how do teachers account for that and deal with it. Are those students still engaged in discussion, or does their prior familiarity mean that they sometimes lose interest or let their attention wander?
  • Our own group’s pick was “Murder and Suicide, Respectively” (pp 188-192) which, as you can tell from the title, also deals with death (what a morbid group we were!) but it’s mainly the death of lab animals, in a much more detached, scientific way. It uses the idea of death and its prediction as a way to get as some intriguing questions about predetermination, agency/free-will and time.

Although I know that each reading gets a separate discussion, the overarching themes of death and mortality make me reconsider the idea of “theme” book discussion groups that we talked about last week. I’m curious to see if we end up bringing up previous pieces of reading in discussion of other stories!


Reading & Discussion: Inner and Outer Circles, Identity & Gender

Inner and Outer Circles: Engaging and Observing

Last week we discussed various ways to talk about reading. Heading in to the session, I couldn’t really imagine how Socratic Seminars might work outside of a classroom environment.  While I still think that they would likely do best/be most appropriate for that setting, our discussion made me think a lot more about how elements of Socratic discussion/seminars might help with book groups that exist beyond the classroom.

Although it seemed that the “inner circle” of discussion participants and the “outer circle” of discussion observers (who also provided feedback) was somewhat of a result of lots of students in one classroom, I kept trying to imagine that inner and outer circle applied to almost any discussion.

I like the idea that for a time, it’s one’s job to observe carefully and to contribute to the discussion by providing feedback on the dynamics of the discussion itself. Observation — a time to be less oriented towards jumping in “performing” in discussion, and engaging — that seems really valuable to balance against the actual discussion in the “inner circle.”

Of course, there is a switch between inner and outer circle, and then active and observer roles are flipped, but this gives people a chance to be in both roles and see where they might excel. It gives people a chance to explore different ways to add value to a larger discussion group.

Do you think that specific observer and “discussant” roles could be helpful in places other than in a Socratic Seminar? 

Are there other areas in your life where “inner circle” and “outer circle” (and flipping those circles) are relevant?

Gender, Identity, and Who Book Clubs are “For”

The other significant idea from discussion that I’m still mulling over is that of book clubs-and-gender. In talking about book clubs, we came up against the idea that often the term “book club” is perceived as something particularly for women. We tried to pick apart just why this might be.  Was it because way-back-when, book clubs were often ways for ladies-who-lunched and new moms to get out and about for some social interaction?  Was it all because of darn Oprah?  In class, men and women alike lamented that having an “Oprah’s Book Club” sticker on the front of their book made them feel like they had to defend the fact that they were reading the book because it was good, not just because Oprah said so! Do women just read more of the genres that are traditionally served by book clubs — things like fiction?

How can we (and should we) shift this perception?  Are there ways we can go about making book discussion and talking about reading more accessible and comfortable for more people? And to the people who argue that men just don’t talk passionately about what they read — I’d invite them to visit a comic shop on a Wednesday to see the heated discussion that both men and women get into about latest issues of new comics!

Do you see book clubs are somewhat gendered? Are there ways to change this?

If you’re not or have never been a member of a reading discussion group — why haven’t you found them a good fit? Do you have any desire to talk about things that you read — from articles to comics to professional development-related materials, to novels?

Beyond just gender, do you see book clubs are just something “not for people like me”?

Book Clubs, Socratic Seminars & Talking About Reading

Most of our readings this week focused on ideas of reading groups — various different ways of organizing people around the discussion of something that they had read. Although I like the How People Learn reading, I also have to admit that I found this week’s readings a welcome break.  Having multiple short takes on various ways that people connect to and through reading felt like a breath of fresh air.

Dempsey’s article, the most recent, focused on new forms that book clubs and reading groups are taking in libraries. She comments that

Like the format of the book, discussion groups are evolving and reaching new markets. What hasn’t changed is their inherent charisma—readers love to talk about what they’ve read.

Even as someone who really loves reading — someone who studied creative writing and literature as an undergraduate, I have to admit that I’ve been out of the book-group-loop for a few years, and so some of the ideas in this piece were new to me. I couldn’t help but think that an ill-fated book club that I’d been involved with could perhaps have lived on if we had actually adopted some of the approaches mentioned in Dempsey’s overview.  All of our book club members loved to read, and loved to connect with each other, but we were all also insanely busy between work, studies, wedding-planning, new babies and other big life-shifts.

The various book groups that Dempsey includes offer up ways to discuss asynchronously (via online forums and other mechanisms), a focus on “no pressure,” and also an openness to alternative venues — sometimes these groups meet in cafes or bars rather than at the library itself.

One type of reading group mentioned in Hoffert’s article that was appealing to me was the “thematic” book group. In some cases, members read the same book at the same time… and all of the books they read over several months fit into a set theme. But, in other versions of a thematic group, member actually read different books that coalesced around a shared theme, and then discussed them.  Maybe it’s just the time-crunched grad student in me, but this idea really struck me as something I’d enjoy.

The possibilities of theme-oriented discussion leave extra space for people to bring their personal lenses/experiences into the exchange. Another unique bonus, however, seems to be how this sort of group could clue others in to particular titles or other books on a theme that they might also want to read. These potential readers would have the benefit of understanding a bit about the topic and hearing a little about the book from another member who’d read it in its entirety. Although recommender systems and reviews on Amazon sometimes jibe with my tastes, I’d much rather learn about a potential “to-read” book this way.

Although the reading by Metzger was very different in tone and approach, I also found it pretty intriguing. Metzger, a high school English teacher, was struggling with just how to really boost her students’ abilities to truly pick apart, analyze and comprehend various works of literature.

When students search for hidden meanings, they assume that there is one single answer that teachers or authors are withholding from them

In her article, Metzger describes a very specific, methodical way that she applied the idea of the Socratic Seminar as a technique for both discussion and for being able to get into/open up the thought processes that students were going through as they were reading and making meaning:

I needed to know what students were thinking as they read…Because reading is invisible, I was at a loss.

Metzger defines the Socratic Seminar process as “Noncompetitive discussion” that “moves toward a collective and deeper understanding of the reading rather than to one right answer. Students talk through possible interpretations.”

This idea seems simple enough, and indeed, I’ve had teachers who said that they were leading a Socratic Seminar.  However, I think that the focus on the discussion/meaning-making process that the (Adler and Gray approach to the) Socratic Seminar offers is what really can set a SS apart from a regular old class discussion.

The critical piece here seems to be an inner and outer circle and the important role of observation:

The teacher gives each student a short passage, preferably less than one page. Before class, students read and take notes on their reading. During class, the students divide into an inner and an outer circle. One group holds a discussion while the other group observes.

Metzger did have to be deliberate about modeling observation and note-taking on certain parts of the process itself, which makes sense. Although I often notice things like body language and tone, I so often jump to interpretations of those things that I don’t often consider just taking objective notes on such things.

The students in Metzger’s classes worked though some challenging material, relying primarily on each other. Metzger found refraining from jumping in and guiding the discussion too much difficult at first.

Reading through Metzger’s description, I immediately tried to put myself in her shoes. Although I think that I might also get a bit impatient and find it hard to simply listen and gently facilitate (I have this problem in class sometimes, and it’s mostly just because I get really excited about things), this way of thinking about learning is much more appealing to me when compared to some sort of top-down approach. In short, I see myself as a bigger fan of facilitation than straight-up instruction, though they both have their place in a learning environment (and may overlap).

The last reading that I completed was the Tredway piece. I found it helpful to read a slightly different angle on Socratic Seminar approaches, but it was a much more general/summary-type of writing. Ultimately. I found Metzger’s very honest step-by-step account more useful and relate-able.

Learning for Understanding, Alignment & Insight Into One’s Own Learning

Although there are a lot of interesting things to think about in this week’s readings, I found two specific points jumped out at me the most.

Since I’d just been thinking about last week’s class and ideas of alignment, I found the major idea behind Put Understanding First” by Wiggins & McTighe very relevant/timely. They stated that

 common methods of teaching and testing in high schools focus on acquisition at the expense of meaning and transfer

…which seems extraordinarily true. The article went on to talk about this fundamental mis-alignment between teaching and assessment methods (which focus more on acquisition) and just what the overall mission of high schools should be:

not to cover content, but rather to help learners become thoughtful about, and productive with, content. It’s not to help students get good at school, but rather to prepare them for the world beyond school—to enable them to apply what they have learned to issues and problems they will face in the future

…this is what they refer to as learning for understanding. They propose a specific framework by which teachers can design their lessons to better facilitate meaning and transfer as well as acquisition (curious? Head to the article, here.) This way to view a pretty fundamental misalignment seems helpful to me. Although they think about it in the context of high school, it feels to me like it’s likely relevant in all sorts of circumstances. Without the ability to make meaning of what one is learning, attach it to some sort of context or prior knowledge, and then to make use of that information through transfer, how the heck could we expect anyone — a formal student or otherwise, to really understand the value or learning something and be motivated to retain and use that knowledge?

The other point that jumped out at me was from a specific passage in Chapter 3 of How People Learn.

In order for learners to gain insight into their learning and their understanding, frequent feedback is critical: students need to monitor their learning and actively evaluate their strategies and their current levels of understanding.

This type of feedback and the ability it gives me (or anyone) to self-assess, correct, and better understand my own learning seems to be precisely one of the potential benefits that I was trying to get at in my recent post on what I see as “learning in public.”

Games, Web Workshops and Alignment

This last week, we spent some time watching this excellent TED talk by game designer Jane McGonigal:

TED: Gaming Can Make a Better World

Her stated goal is to make it “as easy to save the world in real life” as it is in games,” and her talk was super interesting. I’ve had her audiobook, Reality is Broken, sitting on my computer for about a month now, waiting for a good listen, and I did actually give SuperBetter a try when recovering from an illness over the last 6 months.

Aside from the actual content of her talk (and some interesting discussion it prompted related to the idea of transfer), we used her TED talk as a part of a larger experiment.  We looked at her talk as if it was a webinar or remotely-conducted workshop, and each filled out an evaluation form after viewing it.

We also got together in groups to sort out the questions that had been on the evaluation — this stimulated some good discussion as well as some thoughtfulness about which questions were even useful to ask vs. sort-of-superfluous.

One thing that really struck me was how these questions made me consider the previous week’s reading on alignment between what students are learning and what is actually being measured.  For example, does it matter if we measure how many people noticed the speaker’s footwear if we really care about the ideas in the presentation?  Although this may seem like somewhat of a no-brainer, being walked through an experience like this really made me wonder how many times even quick survey assessments of learning are off-kilter in what they are measuring.  I feel like that in itself will make me far more deliberate in how I design surveys, assignments (and how I complete them, too!) as I move forward into my career.

Learning in Public: Just Keep Going

So, you may have noticed the name of this blog: We Learn in Public. While that phrase could mean many different things, I chose it based on some really specific thinking I’ve been doing over the last year.

I’d returned to school at SI somewhat later in life —  ten years into my career. Although I’d completed a previous MA, I had been working full-time throughout that program, and so really had one foot in the student world, and one foot in the world of being a “professional.” The jump back into SI felt different. Partially, I think that was because SI is so much more high-tech than my previous program. Instead of textbooks, I was mostly reading PDFs. And turning in paper version of… papers seemed downright silly. The last time I had been in (grad) school, Facebook was only open to .edu email addresses. Yep. A lot had changed.

Whereas previously I would have printed off every PDF to read, in SI that seemed not only silly but impractical and wasteful.  So how would I transition from highlighted and physically marked-up documents with plenty of margin notes to Kindle or Preview marked-up PDFs? I quickly realized that I had to be far more deliberate in thinking about how I read, marked up and absorbed various media. In some ways, I was starting over in figuring out how I learned in a more formal academic environment.

The borderline perfectionism that had served me well in undergrad and my previous grad program now seemed cumbersome, and outmoded attitude, and something that I really needed to shed.  I needed to become more comfortable with satisficing, with the idea that I could continue to improve on my own imperfect processes and the imperfect work (and let’s face it, my previous work was never perfect anyway!) that those processes might produce.

I needed to think about ideas of multiple versions and iterations. Although this concept wasn’t totally foreign to me (being a Creative Writing major meant I was comfortable with lots of drafts), it was still a little scary. Drafts of my writing in undergrad had previously been shared with a small, close-knit group — a bounded group. An embarrassing error could be corrected before I went through any sort of formal publishing or submission process and my work was open to a wider audience.

Sometimes, now, I was going to have to share my work-in-progress, my incomplete thoughts and my stumbles in my own learning with an audience whose boundaries I wasn’t sure of (online) or with other teachers and students who weren’t already in some close-circle-of-trust I had already established. I was kind of freaked out about this.

And then, late in the first semseter, I picked up a bass — a new instrument for me — plugged into an amp, and things started clicking into place. I hadn’t made music with other people in a few years, let alone performed in public. I’d forgotten how to embrace being totally, messily imperfect.

I grew up making and loving music. Mostly, I played violin, wrote and sang. As I hit college and the years after, I was drafted into being a singer in a few bands. Although the first few shows of my first-ever band made me feel physically ill, at show number three, something suddenly switched. The second I stepped up to the mic, I had no nervousness at all. What was going through my head was something close to “Ok. This is me. Are you (audience) up here? No. Ok. So, let’s go…” and with that, I was in the moment. It didn’t really matter if someone out there a few feet away was judging me.

The most important thing that I learned in interacting with various bandmates was just not to stop. Did someone break a string? Did I flip a lyric? Did my voice crack for a second? Just. Keep. Going. Chances always were that people in the audience would barely notice any of those things, as long as the band as a unit kept momentum. Each time we played a song or encountered a new hiccup like that, we’d learn better how not to break a sweat.

It’s pretty common for any specific musician to be a lot harder on themselves for an error than anyone else. How many times did a crowd think a show was totally dynamic and fun and great — not even noticing an error that an individual might bet themselves up over? Most of the time. Your bandmates would carry you, the energy from the audience would carry you. Something would carry you past the minor hiccup.

As long as the band keeps going I would learn how to better manage my mistakes. I can claim that space to not be perfect and still be good enough. People aren’t paying to see/experience perfect. They’re interested in a lot of things from their rock and roll shows, and one of them is that ability to claim the space, despite any flaws.

As Kim Gordon famously said,

People pay to see others believing in themselves.

The band doesn’t have to be perfect, I don’t have to be perfect. Sometimes quirk or imperfection is charming. The performance, assignment, argument or discussion can have flaws — I can have flaws, but it all can still have a lot of value. It can have more value by the sheer fact that the performance or discussion or reflection is taking place in public and can help others think through things, learn learns, experience things and share in something larger.

Learning in public can make you feel vulnerable sometimes, but it also opens you up to so many more possibilities than if you just perfected something alone in your sequestered little room and never shared it. Garage bands are appealing to people precisely because what they’re doing seems relatable, seems human and not-too-polished.

So, this is what I quickly realized was important in both learning a new musical instrument, and learning in general — Just. Keep. Going. — through the mess and the noise and the moments where everything seems like it might fall apart, keep moving forward. Keep figuring things out, even when it feels like a minor failure. You can learn from that failure. You might wind up better than you could ever be alone.

Designing Learning Environments & Considering Assessment

This week’s readings begin with a return to How People Learn. This time, the portion that we’re focusing on covers some of the complexity behind designing an effective learning environment. The text walked us through the characteristics of learner-centered, knowledge-centered and assessment-centered environments for learning, and how these approaches certainly aren’t mutually exclusive, and in fact might overlap.

Like many times in SI (and life), there’s a Venn diagram that helps make things a little more understandable:

FIGURE 6.1 Perspectives on learning environments. SOURCE: Bransford et al.

I’d already done a little bit of reading/talking about each of these ideas, but one additional thing that I thought the chapter did a good job with was guiding me to think about the community context within which all of this would be taking place. Since my background has entailed work with/in various different communities, I’ve been aware of how various cultural norms, etc. might impact learning, but might not have seen those factors as a sort of valence over all of these intersecting approaches, had the reading not been specific in spelling that out.

I appreciated a chance to think about formative assessment again, and realized that formative assessment is pretty much exactly what’s happening in this class as we write these blogs and work through our ideas. It might seem no-duh to the outsider, but the fact that we are not only blogging our reflections, but giving each other feedback on our ideas & writing (and in the process, learning how to better evaluate and give feedback to others) is no doubt a type of formative assessment that’ll take place throughout the semester. It’s another type of learning-in-public.

As Sadler mentions in our other reading, “Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems,” in order for “students to be able to improve, they must develop the capacity to monitor the quality of their own work during actual production.” The feedback that I have gotten (even in just a few weeks of this blog’s existence) from friends and classmates has already helped me to understand where I can improve and to correct my course as I’m writing and editing. I think that it may even help me tweak the note-taking I do in preparation for writing.

The How People Learn chapter specifically says that it’s not going to address the issue of standardized summative assessment beyond the classroom level, but I found that a little frustrating.  If we agree with the authors — that the actual goals/expectations related to education have changed drastically and that factory-like-schools don’t align with current goals/desired outcomes… and if we recognize that the community or culture impacts student learning, then there is a HUGE potential disconnect between what results we want and what is actually incentivized by standardized tests.  This is its own issue of a failure in alignment (a term the authors are fond of using) which seems to be a glaring, large issue that needs to be addressed.

The Big Messy World of Information Literacy

Last semester in SI641 (aka: Information Literacy for Teaching and Learning), we walked through multiple different ideas about information literacy, digital literacy, media literacy, and all sorts of related ideas. We had most of the semester to read, research and debate definitions and work through ideas about what the heck the role of information professionals should be in teaching & facilitating information skills and competencies with/to the people we serve.

Since I felt like at least a handful of us now in SI643 (this class) had spent quite a bit of time wrestling through these ideas recently, I wasn’t sure how much I’d be drawn into the discussion of the topic in class. Our pre-class assignment — to look for articles about IL that related somehow to our future career interests — was a fun exercise. Although I ended up following a sort of game-centric route in what I fully read and reported on, the searching process exposed me to all sorts of articles to put aside for later. In my search, I found I was drawn to articles written by people who were often outside or on the edge of library-land.

Once we launched into our small-group conversation in this last week’s class, I was pleased that my group-mates had uncovered interesting articles that I hadn’t. Some of the articles related to the ideas of information flows within networks, and some were written by people who weren’t within the traditional library world. I realized that some of the work I found most compelling came from people more focused on Communication Studies or some aspect of the Digital Humanities.

As each group reported to the rest of the class, I jotted down whose blogs to check out, what additional articles to find, skim or read. As much as I was wary that I might be all IL-ed out, I found the ensuing discussion really interesting. Before I knew it, I was drawn in and taking lots of notes for follow-up.

Although there were many sub-topics that struck a chord with me, there was a bundle of related questions that stuck with me most. They weren’t brand new — we’d talked them a bit last semester — but they are questions that still don’t have a simple answer, so I’ll likely keep asking and thinking about them:

Why is information literacy invisible?

  • Is a part of that because IL is more than a list of specific skills? (Even though we often think of it as only a list of skills)
  • Do people’s individual levels of overconfidence — “everyone knows how to Google! I certainly do!” — have a lot to do with that invisibility, and lack of being open to what one might be helped by learning? (This seems like it might have an analog in the ways people feel about learning in relation to health and nutrition)
  • Is IL mostly invisible because of an overall cultural focus on end-point-facts over the process of working through how to find stuff? If you know how to find stuff in general, that’s a skill that’s transferable to all sorts of contexts and situations.

Here’s my own follow-up question that relates to those above:

In a way, does IL’s invisibility have to do with the idea of the “broken tool”?
I mean this in the sense that often a tool or piece of infrastructure is “invisible” until it breaks or simply doesn’t work. That can make recognizing a tool or a system that works “well enough” hard to do. If information seekers are satisficing for info. that they think is “good enough” but may not be…(and then, who sets that standard?!), they may not see the tool, the system or the search skills that are getting them there. They might not even realize that there is a tool or a system. The tool in the case, works well enough, and so it remains invisible.

Does this thought make sense to others who are thinking about IL, search skills, and other related topics?

Information Literacy, Learning and Fun

Last semester I took SI 641: Information Literacy in Teaching and Learning. It was an excellent class which wrestled with what can be a pretty difficult subject. The term “Information Literacy” can mean different things to different people, and it’s a term that’s not even necessarily understood outside (or for that matter, within) library-land, so there’s definitely some question about its usefulness as a term.

In many ways, the conversations that we had  throughout the term about trying to wrap our heads, words and practices around just what could be considered information literacy echoed the parallel conversations we were having in my Information Architecture course about the round-and-round process of “DTDT” aka “Defining the D*mn Thing.”

Still, we have to work through the difficulties with exact definitions in order to make sure we are talking about and teaching skills that are critical to helping students and citizens engage effectively with information. I was pleased that the article “Is an online learning module an effective way to  develop information literacy skills?” delineated the specific info-lit skills that were the focus of an online-module based intervention for students at James Cook University in Australia. In the case of this particular initiative and study, the focus was on helping students better understand effective ways to develop a search strategy, access information using various databases and the open web, assess the quality of the information that they found, and also use a specific citation style.  The intervention used an online module to walk students through tasks such as database searching and then surveyed the students to get their take on just how helpful they felt this module was for them.

What was interesting for me was that although most students found the self-paced research skills tutorial helpful, there were some students who also felt that some type of face-to-face lesson would have been helpful, too. The author of the paper suggests that “the option of face-to-face” may need to be available “to those students who ask for it.”  This could be helpful, but having to ask for such instruction might also not be that helpful, since students who need such assistance might feel awkward requesting it, or might feel cultural barriers to asking for additional help or training.

Still, the potential of online modules or new and interesting formats for teaching and learning about skills related to information literacy seem valuable.

This week, we uncovered journal articles and case studies on various approaches to teaching/sharing information literacy in a library environment. Although I’m not positive what exact library environment I will eventually be working in, I’m most interested in ways that libraries can reach and empower people who might not necessarily already be library-lovers or folks who think of something called “information literacy” as super-useful and relevant to their academic or personal day-to-day lives.

The articles that I found most intriguing involved some element of fantasy or gaming. I like some games, but I’m not a big-time gamer and also a little wary of “gamification” as a trend. I think that it has value, but also needs to be used carefully, thoughtfully and not in an exploitive way. “Learning Through Quests and Contests: Games in Information Literacy Instruction,” an article from The Journal of Library Innovation was a solid read, particularly because it addressed some of the main criticisms of using games in an educational fashion early on. I was pleased to see the paper directly address the fact that the “work” of research or learning wasn’t some opposite of “play” or fun. The paper traces attributes of games that actually make them fairly well-suited as educational tools (for Information Lit. or other topics): scaffolding of learning/experience, the encouragement of taking risks, the ability of games to let players “try on” different identities, and the ability to “learn by doing.”

After walking us through some scholarship on gaming-and-learning that sets up a foundation, “Learning through Quests and Contests” gets down to talking about specific games used on various college campuses. The games themselves had students doing everything from playing completing paper-based activities like word jumbles to working on a real-life scavenger hunt to playing an Alternate Reality Game.

As a general overview of the state of games-for-learning in college libraries “Learning through Quests,” is really helpful. As well as bringing together information on a variety of different approaches and programs, the article also situated these current initiatives within a larger context of gaming-in-education. I found this really valuable. A few of the other articles that I found early on, such as  “The Library is Undead: Information Seeking During the Zombie Apocalypse” and “Muckrakers: Engaging students in the re-search process through an online game” were more helpful in explaining individual games, but as somewhat of a newb to the world of libraries and games, I found that the overview from “Learning through Quests” was a great starting point — because it both gathered individual stories together as well as providing a larger history and context for this current approach to teaching all sorts of technical and information-related skills in libraries.

Experts & Novices, Frustrations with Academia, and SO MANY Screencasts

We began last week’s class by continuing our conversation about the ways people learn — and revisiting the ideas of ways experts learn vs. the ways that novices do. Experts are able to chunk information in a way that novices usually cannot. Because of their familiarity with a specific topic, experts are able to “notice more” — both possibly taking more in but also possibly being more attuned to the nuances of what is deserving of their attention and what might fade into the background.

We also talked a little about a point that I think we all murmur (gripe?) about but don’t always talk about enough openly — the fact that expert thinkers and researchers are not necessarily the same folks who are expert teachers. There are some people for whom both of these descriptors fit. When this happens, it can be pretty exciting for their students. I’m always geeked when I can tell that within the first session of a class. However, one of my biggest beefs with academia (yep, I just wrote that phrase and I’m going with it!) is exactly this problem. Sometimes professors are obviously brilliant, also have the skill sets that make them excellent researchers, but just don’t have the knack for teaching.

Kristin mentioned that there was some chatter now and then about perhaps separating teaching roles from research roles a bit more within universities. This idea is interesting to me for several reasons. My immediate thought about this was that it could potentially provide a more comprehensive/full way to address alternative academic (#altac) careers and fairly value/compensate those who excel in teaching and projects other than the old-school metric of getting research published in high-impact-factor journals.

This lecture material and discussion led nicely into the next segment of class, which focused on developing screencasts. Although we did go through some ideas behind creating a strong screencast, Kristin also touched on “issues bigger than screencasts” which included some broader questions that I think are important to consider. Honestly, I could probably write a whole blog entry on each of these questions at some point, but I’ll spare you that for now. I think they are worth re-stating here just as questions to keep in the back of one’s mind when thinking about screencasts:

  • Does online learning work?
  • Are online modules effective enough to replace face-to-face?
  • Online learning is being adopted at an unprecedented rate. Is it really effective?
  • Does that matter? Or do we just go where the students go? (Political jockeying.)
  • At what point are screencasts PR as much as they are about learning?

Before being sent off into the internet wilderness to create our own screencast, we did an exercise in class where we paired up and examined several screencasts that were how-tos for Google Reader. The first thought I had while doing this was “Oh god. Why are there so many TERRIBLE screencasts? Why do people bother to make and post things that don’t seem at all thought-out are, frankly, confusing?”

After momentarily getting down on myself for being so dang judgmental of these other (after all, learning in public ain’t easy, and we all need space to make mistakes and grow), I realized that the primary motive of a lot of these screencasts was actually not really to teach the reader about Google Reader. Yes, the sceencasts were sort of about Google Reader. However, the main objectives seemed to actually be about just “creating content” to either bump up one’s YouTube/search stats, promote oneself, or to do some not-so-subtle “Oh! By the way!” promotion of businesses or organizations. In one case, a gentleman seemed to be using this tutorial mainly as a way to mention blogs/websites associated with his church!

It was interesting to see which screencasts multiple groups identified as the best. It was clear, too, that simply showing someone screenshots and having them follow along was not always enough or even the best way of relaying the information. In fact, simple animation and storytelling (so… why would I use Google Reader?) seemed key.

This was a critical realization, but it also left me feeling a little bit of extra trepidation about trying to produce my own screencast. Let’s hope I don’t just add to the clutter of frustrating screencasts clogging the tubes of the interwebs… I guess you readers will be able to weigh in on that soon enough!

Photo credit: Hockeyholic,