Friday, September 28, 2007

So, I am doing outreach now

I have worked my first week at UT-Tyler (ok, I made it to Friday. The week is not quite over until I leave today, but you get the idea). I wrote a bit about making the transition here. There is still a lot to learn, but I am settling in well. My official title is Reference/Outreach Librarian. I work here. Here is a little of what I have been doing and learning this week:

  • Outreach. When it comes to promoting the library, I am the person.
    • This includes creating and implementing special programs. For example, we are doing a "read out" even next week of banned and challenged works. Yes, I know Banned Books Week was this week, but we are tying it to Homecoming, plus they wanted to wait a bit until the new guy got here so he could "emcee it." So, I will be doing that. Then there are a lot of other events, some already in place, others that I will be coming up with.
    • Editing the library's newsletter. In addition, I am going to work on implementing a library blog at some point. I have been reading some items on the Blog Herald about converting a newsletter to a blog. While I don't envision such a conversion, that material has given me some things to think about.
    • Display cases. Yep, I am in charge of those as well. For the most part, I will be putting stuff in them. I just finished putting one up for Hispanic Heritage Month as the case just opened up after taking down the display for Constitution Day.
    • I will be attending campus events. Overall, I get to be a very visible face on campus.
  • Reference. I will working the reference desk. I will also be the head of reference. This includes updating some of the policies and procedures, which I hope to do with the help of my colleagues. Hey, we are a team of five librarians and three library assistants for reference. I may get final say (ok, semifinal since I serve at the director's pleasure), but this is more like a co-op. I am learning the various local procedures now, including use of the PHAROS printing system.
  • Liaison work. I will have a liaison area, and duties for that will include teaching higher level classes for them as well as other ways to provide services for the area. My area is likely to be education, but it is still in flux since we are reworking the liaison areas a bit. We'll see. This will be one of the ways in which I will still work in instruction.
  • Web work. I will gradually move into the webmaster role, but not quite yet. Fortunately, I will have people to help me out with it.
And then, there are the little details. For example, I was used to Outlook for my work e-mail. They use IBM LotusNotes here. Some things there are pretty obvious; others I am still figuring out. I am resetting my alerts for journals, and so on. It's the little things.

Overall, this is a new experience for me. While I did some outreach work at UHD, I did not get to do as much. Here that is my primary role. I will still do instruction, which is something I would not give up; had I been told I would never teach a class, I would have chosen to work someplace else. Teaching is a big part of what I do. I will still be a reference librarian as well. Right now, I am at that stage where I am still exploring my boundaries as I learn my duties and see where the opportunities are at.

Finally, I am getting back to blogging. I am hoping to get back to my regular habits in that regard now. As for the student resource blog I made when I was back at UHD, I am trying to decide what to do with it. For now, I will leave it up for at least the semester. After that, I will either take it in a slightly different direction or take it down.

Well, that is it for now. Everyone out there have a nice weekend.

Best, and keep on blogging.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Article Note: On Cognitive Development and Instruction

Citation for the article:

Jackson, Rebecca. "Cognitive Development: The Missing Link in Teaching Information Literacy Skills." Reference and User Services Quarterly 46.4 (Summer 2007): 28-32.

Read via EBSCO.

This article presents an interesting idea: that in addition to considering teaching and learning styles, those of us in instruction should also be considering the students' cognitive development level. In other words, where are the students in their cognitive development and how it may explain certain actions and behaviors. More importantly, how can we make good use of such knowledge is considered in the article as well.

The article opens with four common comments/questions that librarians may have about their students, using them to introduce the argument. We have heard these questions at one point or another. Two examples Jackson uses:

  • "They'll do a database search, and they will invariably choose the first five articles in the list. Doesn't matter if they're good or bad, relevant or not" (28).
  • "Their professor suggests a particular journal and when they come into the library, that's the only journal they want. It has to be that very one" (28).
I know I have faced those situations quite often, and I will likely continue to do so. The observation is that students tend to be too literal when a professor gives instructions. Now, this article comes along to explain it may be that students are at a cognitive level where they do take things literally because they come from an authority figure (the professor). Let's look at this some more.

In the literature review, Jackson provides a summary of William Perry's research on cognitive development. This review also looks at others who have expanded and/or drawn on Perry's work. Perry basically argued that students go through a series of positions during their school years:

"In his writing, Perry posited nine 'positions' that students go through in their college years. They have been grouped into four categories: dualism (positions one and two), multiplicity (positions three and four), relativity (positions five and six) and commitment (positions seven through nine)" (29).

In essence, students usually come in at the first category, and they grow into the others over their time in college. I would suggest it is part of the educator's role to nurture this growth. Jackson does provide a brief description of each category. You probably need to read Perry's work to get more details, but the article will give you the basics.

Some highlights from the article:

  • In dualism, students see authority (with a capital "A") as having all the answers. They seek right and wrong, black and white. There is not much wiggle room here. This may then explain why you get the many students just wanting the one answer or the single article. I know this not only from my experience as a librarian, but as a teacher. Trying to move students past this stage takes some work. For them, there is either an answer, or there isn't any. "'A characteristic phrase used by students in the Dualistic stage is: 'What is the right answer?' Students move from dualism to multiplicity as a result of all the diversity they encounter in their lives at the college level, especially among their peers" (29).
  • In multiplicity, they are moving to consider there may be more than one answer. Problematic is the fact that this stage embodies the "everyone has a right to his or her own opinion." So, on the one hand, they are moving towards independent thinking, but they still need to move on to supporting their ideas with evidence.
  • In the relativistic stage, the students understand differences in views, but they are learning there are areas that will have a right answer. This is where knowledge is seen as based on context; it is relative. Authorities may disagree and often do. "It is at this position, too, that students recognize the need for evidence to support their own opinions. It is important to weigh the evidence, both pro and con, to come to a reasonable opinion or answer that is 'right' for the student in his or her context" (29).
  • The final stage is commitment. This is a more ethical area where choices are more carefully considered based on evidence and alternatives. "In most cases, these commitments are constantly reaffirmed or altered based on new evidence. It is only these positions of commitment that truly allow for fulfillment and lifelong learning" (29).
  • "Therefore, based on these studies, it appears that upon entering higher education institutions, students are dualistic or early multiplistic, relying on Authority, believing in right/wrong, good/bad, and having difficulty recognizing differing points of view. By the time they graduate, most of them are able to deal with differing points of view, but still rely on Authority and have difficulty relating evidence to argument" (30). I think the implications of this are important. Think of what this means for the ideal of an educated and well-informed citizenry if most college graduates do not progress in their cognitive development. I am willing to venture this could even explain certain dynamics in the current political discourse.
  • "The information literacy standards may include many competencies that are beyond the cognitive level of the students librarians encounter, especially from classes like freshman composition or basic communication classes" (30). Jackson discusses some examples from the standards to illustrate some of the student difficulties and how to deal with them.
  • This is something that pretty much represents my philosophy of service and library instruction. You have to get to know your students, and it takes significant effort for the librarian. This is fine by me; I enjoy talking to students, but I worry not all librarians in a similar position are so well disposed. In fact, if you were to ask me for one thing I don't think my colleagues appreciate about my duties, this would definitely be it. Anyhow, the article author writes, "to help ascertain a students' stages, librarians need to spend some time talking to them, getting to know how they perceive their assignments. It is possible to get some idea of their position or stage by the way they explain their assignments, by their confusion over the various resources they are being asked to use, by their interest in finding different opinions on an issue [or their lack of such interest, I would add], or by their inability to judge resources they retrieve in a search" (31). The closer you get to the students, the better sense you can get. I think I have known this for a while, sort of have done it by instinct or intuition (yes, a good teacher uses instinct quite a bit). It is good to get it expressed here.
  • This also goes with my philosophy that an instruction librarian (or any librarian) should not be afraid to show some vulnerability. Sure, it is a risky move, but it establishes you as someone who is learning as well. I like the idea that it makes you a fellow traveler in the learning experience. Jackson writes that "librarians should take students with them in the search for information to answer their questions. They can also show students that they do not always have all the answers--that they, too, are learning" (31).
  • And this may explain why often students refuse to do anything other than what the professor said word for word. This may also be another good argument for better outreach efforts. "It is also important to keep in mind that students in the early stages of development may not recognize librarians as authorities; thus, it is extremely important for librarians to reach out to teaching faculty to ensure that they confirm for their students the authority of the librarians with whom they may interact" (31). I will add that I am willing and free to guide students as needed. If it is a matter of a professor giving out incomplete information (i.e. we don't have that journal in print, and yes, I know he said no internet sources) or a bad assignment, I will be ready to provide the student other options and reassure them they will be ok. Dr. Clueless may also be getting an e-mail from me to explain any situation (i.e. we don't carry that list of journals in print and have not done so for five years now. It's online now). After all, I believe in asserting my own authority as well. Cognitive development aside for a moment, some professors simply do give bad assignments or incomplete information. It is my job as a librarian to act accordingly.
  • Remember that scaffolding--"giving prompts or asking questions that help students build from what they already know" (31)-- is a good thing.
  • And something to do if you ever get the time. "It might be a useful exercise to map all of the standards, indicators, and outcomes to the various cognitive levels of students, keeping in mind, of course, the need to keep students comfortable while at the same time offering challenges" (32).
This was a pretty good article. I may review Perry and others a bit further to gain new insights. I thinking this area of research would be a good opportunity as well to get some data from students and do a more formalized study at some point. But I am just speculating now.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Looking at the Latinos Online Report

As I looked at the report, Latinos Online, published by the Pew Hispanic Center, I thought that some of the findings explained or validated some of the behaviors I observe in our computer lab. It also made me think about a few things:

  • The gap between the English fluent and those lacking that fluency. "78% of Latinos who are English-dominant and 76% of bilingual Latinos use the internet, compared with 32% of Spanish-dominant Hispanic adults" (i). I was reminded of this in a class I taught recently where the professor was telling his students, most of whom where Hispanic, that not all Hispanics speak Spanish. It was in the context of some of the students conversing amongst themselves in Spanish before class started, and someone made some remark I can't recall. the point is the gap is there.
  • However, many Latinos may not use the Internet, but they certainly know how to make use of their cell phones. "Fully 59% of Latino adults have a cell phone and 49% of Latino cell phone users send and receive text messages on their phone" (ii). This is very evident in our library and school. Our students make extensive use of cell phones, to the point it has caused some complaints in the lab leading to us asking them to take their conversations to the lobby (texting is fine). But the point is that they use this technology more than things like IM. The other big thing for them is social software, things like MySpace. Actually here, MySpace is popular followed by some of the Latino sites (like MiGente). A good number of the international students use Hi5, but I am disgressing now a bit. The numbers help confirm the observation.
  • "However, race differences in education and English abilities stand out as factors essential to explaining the gap in internet use between Hispanics and non-Hispanics" (3).
  • "Ten percent of Latinos have a college degree, and of that small group, 89% go online" (4).
  • "Mexicans are the largest national-origin group by far in the U.S. Latino population and are among the least likely to go online. 52% of Latinos of Mexican descent use the internet" (10). Do note the report makes some remarks on other Latino groups in the U.S. In the interest of disclosure, I am Puerto Rican, which means that, according to the study, I have a high likelihood of being an Internet user. Then again, I also have a college degree.
  • "The Pew Internet Project has found that a home broadband connection deepens an internet user's relationship with the online world. Broadband users are more like than dial-up users to shape their online environment, not just surf through it" (12). This could possibly help explain our population's extensive use of the web for what may seem "superficial" things like MySpace. It is simply a matter that they lack the access at home. So, instead of doing it at home they do it here. Personally, I have broadband (cable) at home. While there are days I feel like the cable company is a bunch of pirates, overall, I could never be without a fast connection. I do shape a lot of what I do online.
Sarah Houghton-Jan, the Librarian in Black, pointed to this report, and she asked how could libraries use its information. It was a question I pondered about as well. Personally, every time one of these reports looking at the Hispanic population comes out, I always wonder if there is something I can learn from it. Here at UHD, where we are defined as a Hispanic serving institution, this is the type of report we definitely should be looking at. We should be considering its significance and then looking at how we can improve some of our services.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Transitions and changes

I looked at the last date I posted (before posting for Blog Day, that is), and I realized it has been almost a month since my last post here. A few things have been going on in life and work that have kept me away. I figured it would also be a good time to take some time off from the blogging here. However, a little time away turned into a little more time away. Then it turned to "I'll get to it later." Then it became "well, that idea is not that good." Then it became "man, I've been gone for a while now, maybe I should get back into things, but I haven't posted." You get the idea. A little time off is a good thing. Too much time off, and you start losing your edge and drive. For a moment, I had thoughts along the lines of "do I go on? Do I drop it? Maybe try something new?" In a way it all connected to what was going on outside the blogosphere for me.

So, what has been going on? Well, the main thing is that I am taking a new job. I can say it now because I have accepted an offer, and I have turned in my notice at my current workplace. To get the new job, I had to interview. When you are in the market, it takes a good amount of effort to get that new job. From traveling to preparations, it is work. So, with that on my mind, blogging was not a high priority, if at all. Life happened. All I will say is that I got to the finalist stage in a few places, and that when it came to it, I had a couple of offers to choose from.

My two readers may wonder why am I leaving? Well, there are a number of reasons. Some are personal such as wanting to eliminate a hideous 1.5-2 hours commute to work practically every day (and that is one way, and it has only gotten worse in the three years I have lived here in Houston). Eliminating that commute also means things can be a bit easier in terms of picking up the little one. A big reason (ok, the main reason) that we had to get cellphones was so the missus and I could get a hold of each other in terms of picking up our daughter. Those who know Houston know that all it takes is a small wrench in the traffic system to leave you stranded for hours (and if you are stranded on the HOV lane, may the deity of your choice have mercy on you). Yes, hard to believe, but we lived happily without cellphones. A part of me will always resent Houston for making us get one.

Other reasons for leaving are professional; in that regard, seeking some professional growth is one reason. For me, it's time to move on and try out new things. My new position will involve outreach work. I will still participate in instruction and reference, but I have a new focus now. It's a new opportunity to try out new things and gain new experiences. There are some other reasons, but as the line goes, "that's my story, and I am sticking to it."

However, just because I gave notice, it does not follow that work stops. It does not stop until I actually walk out on the last day. Therefore, I am still active at the reference desk. I am still coordinating instruction, and I already taught my first class for this fall semester. I will be teaching a few more sessions before I leave. I have been involved in some campus activities to welcome students to the campus for the fall. And I am still preparing some materials orders as part of my collection development duties. Plus there are a couple of details I have to take care of to provide a transition. It keeps me busy as I move in my transition. Posting here may get sporadic, and I will likely be offline for a week or so (moving, setting up the new utilities, etc.), but when I get back, it will be for the better.