Friday, July 15, 2011

Booknote: The Compleat Boucher: 12 Books, 12 Months, Book 8

I am very slowly catching up on my reading. I still have until September to finish up, so I have faith I will get there. I just finished this (ok, finished it last night). It was, like the 7th book I read for the challenge, a big anthology, so it took me some time. However, this is very different than the previous book I read for the challenge. The Ultramarines Omnibus was pretty much a fun, light read for the most part. This book is a bit more serious. I mean that as in "this is a serious book" tone (not that light or serious are necessarily bad things. I enjoy both kinds of books, but I think using the labels may help some readers out there). But I will say that if you want to read good, classic science fiction, with some fantasy and even some sprinklings of other genres, then you want to pick up this volume. As I mentioned in my short review for GoodReads, I felt like I was reading science fiction as it was written when it was in the heyday of the mid-20th century. I really think readers who enjoy classic science fiction, yes, going back to the pulps, will definitely enjoy this. However, do not let the "pulp" label deceive you. There are some very good, well thought-out and substantial stories in this collection. I had no idea before reading this that Boucher could be as versatile as he was. Very cool book I will likely be revisiting.

The review, as I posted it on my GoodReads profile:

The Compleat Boucher: The Complete Short Science Fiction & Fantasy of Anthony BoucherThe Compleat Boucher: The Complete Short Science Fiction & Fantasy of Anthony Boucher by Anthony Boucher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another case of a big collection that took me a while to get through. I have been reading it on and off for a few months, which is something I often do with long anthologies like this. Having said that, this is a fine example of a science fiction classic. This volume collects the science fiction and fantasy short fiction of Anthony Boucher, who was not only a writer but also a prominent editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. The collection contains very short stories (two or three pages) and longer pieces that range from light humor fantasy to science fiction to even a little noir and pulp. This is a book to enjoy nice and slow (I rushed through it a bit at the end to catch up on the 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge I am doing. I do not recommend this. This book really deserves to be savored). One of the stories I liked was "The Compleat Werewolf," which is about a professor with a bit of a lycanthropy problem and a femme fatale more than willing to exploit that little problem. I think a strength of this book, as well as other books that NESFA has published, is that it will take you back to the golden days of science fiction. In a way, when folks say "they don't write them like this anymore," this is what they mean. And for me, I know there are some stories I will want to revisit at some point.

View all my reviews

On a final note,Latter Day Bohemian has posted an update of the challenge for Months 9 and 10. My, where has the time gone? I did not get featured in that post, since I ran behind, but I hope to make my last hurrah in the next update. In the meantime, go see what other participants have read.

Booknote: The Ultramarines Omnibus : 12 Books, 12 Months, Book 7

I am falling a bit behind on the challenge. It is not necessarily that I am not reading books. I have been reading a few things out of the list; I tend to read a lot by serendipity. In the case of this book,  The Ultramarines Omnibus, I spent a long time getting through it. Not because the book was bad. Far from it. It was very good, as my review will reflect. But it did take me some time to get through with it; this was basically my bedtime reading for some months. What can I say, I can be a bit of a slow reader when it comes to big volumes, but I do enjoy them. Also, this year is turning out to be a bit of a rough one, so I am getting the feeling that my end of year reading list may be a lot smaller than previous years. In the end, we persevere and move on.

On an update note, I am going to take the liberty and switch out one book out of the original list. The book in question I am switching out is Loung Ung's First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers. For one, as I said, the year is shaping to be a bit rough. Not as rough as 2008, but I feel a need to read something a bit more upbeat. I don't think Ung's book will do much for my mood at this point. Two, I recently received a copy of Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market America.Yes, I know, the topic is not as serious, but I need something light. Plus, since I won the book in a GoodReads giveaway, I do feel a bit of an obligation to read it sooner. Adding into the list will allow me to review it for sure since I am reviewing every book I read for the challenge. I will make an update note on the original post to reflect this.

And now, on with the review for this post, which I posted previously on my GoodReads page:

The Ultramarines Omnibus (Warhammer 40,000) (Ultramarines, #1-3)The Ultramarines Omnibus (Warhammer 40,000) by Graham McNeill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finally finished this big omnibus. This volume collects the first three novels chronicling the adventures and battles of Space Marine Captain Uriel Ventris and his 4th Company of the Ultramarines. This is all out escapist military science fiction but do not let that label fool you. There is some very good writing in these novels, and at least once I found myself really sympathizing with Captain Ventris. That particular instance for me came in the novel where the inquisitor lied about the fate of a certain planet that Uriel and his Space Marines struggled to save from the tyrannid invasion. There is an excellent passage where Uriel and a Space Marines admiral meditate on idealism and pragmatism that I found excellent. So the novels do have their noble moments, so to speak. And in the good tradition of Black Library WH40K novels, these novels have plenty of action and a fast pace to keep you moving along. Of the three novels in the book, I will note that the third one takes a much darker tone. I will not spoil the ending other than to say that it does set up for the next novel in the series. I liked all the novels, but I think my personal favorite for this volume was the first novel in the series. The connecting short story where Uriel inherits command of the 4th Company is a nice piece as well, and it sets the novels nicely. This is definitely good entertainment, and I will certainly continue seeking out the rest of this series.

The only reason I did not give it the 5th star is that, while I enjoyed it, I still like the Ciaphas Cain and Eisenhorn series better. Also, while I did like the darkness in the third novel (I do like some dark tones now and then), it did not seem as strong as the previous two. Still, do not let that deter you from reading this. If you are a Warhammer 40K fan, you should be reading this. If you are not a WH40K fan, but you enjoy military science fiction, I think you will enjoy this collection as well.

Finally, the only reason it took me as long to read as it did is that I had various interruptions and a very busy schedule in this time period. However, in that time, this was my go to book for my bedtime reading.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 01, 2011

Article Note: On Using Blogs to Teach Students About Scholarly Work

A brief note (if you just want my article note, skip ahead). I noticed that I went on a bit of an unintentional hiatus for the blog.  I am still reading the literature, and I am still keeping up with the profession. Work for one has been a bit rough in terms of keeping me busy (among other things, and I will speak no further on MPOW). Also, I have been writing, but I have been doing a bit more of it in my personal journal (and some random things plus some things that are a bit of fun over in the scratch pad. If you are really curious, the link to Alchemical Thoughts is on the sidebar). In terms of this blog, let me just say I am being very selective about what I may blog about here for various reasons (that I may or not blog about as part of my reflective practice. Some things are better left unsaid). At any rate, if any of my three readers missed me, I am humbled that you did and let this be my small explanation for my absence. I will warn you three that given how things are going lately, the blogging here may get a bit sporadic for a while. If you bear with me, thank you.

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Citation for the article: 

Deitering, Anne-Marie and Kate Gronemyer, "Beyond Peer-Reviewed Articles: Using Blogs to Enrich Students' Understanding of Scholarly Work." portal: Libraries and the Academy 11.1 (2011): 489-503. 

Read via Project Muse.

I am keeping a copy of this article for my files. Deitering and Gronemyer offer some good ideas, and their article lists some things I would like to try out in instruction. After reading it, I was asking myself how to apply some of the ideas presented. Maybe the answer to that will be material for another post.

The authors report on work at Oregon State University. They discuss their library instruction work with the university's 200-level composition class (WR 222 is their designation). They are teaching students "new ways to use the participatory Web, browsing through scholarly blogs to find conversations about their topics" (489). The idea of using scholarly blogs caught my eye. It was not surprising as I've had to answer a question or two about blogs and how to evaluate them as information resources. The authors clearly go further, and they have collaboration with their writing faculty.

The usual, typical research paper involves students looking ant citing some magical number of peer-reviewed journal articles. The requirements is almost exclusively peer-reviewed journal articles; "scholarly articles" is another commonly used term, but the typical goal is pretty much the same for the students: go into a database (print indexes are pretty much seen as fossils at this point, even though in some subject areas, most if not all indexed data is in print. But that is another comment for another day), find the magical number of peer-reviewed articles the professor asked for, and make them fit somehow in order to complete the assignment. I've taught composition, so I can say that many low-level students have that mentality. So, how can you deal with that?

Some more questions. This is one I have pondered once or twice when I've actually had some time to reflect. From the ACRL standards and documents to the testimonials and actions of instruction and information literacy librarians in the field, a common point of agreement is that information literacy knowledge and skills form the basis of lifelong learning. However, if a lot of what our library instruction sessions teach is based around how to find what you need in an expensive online proprietary database, what happens when the students graduate, and they no longer have access to those expensive databases if they come to need them? Do we teach alternatives? Do we teach them to think critically? Do we illustrate connections, say promoting the possibility of visiting your public library for access? More importantly, to me at least, do we answer what one of my professors called the "so what?" question? These are some questions I have attempted to address in my practice, and yet there are more challenges. This article discusses these questions and offers some answers.One way they do so is by going back to the idea of the academic conversation.

We need to teach our students not only about the concept of academic conversations. We also need to teach them how the process works and how to located it, research it, and join in. On this, the authors write,

"The conversations scholars have always had about their scholarly work still happen at conferences and along faculty hallways, but today they are also happening online in publicly available forums. In these public spaces, the dialogs become searchable, browsable resources that students can use to see the debates, the arguments, and the intellectual energy beneath the surface of polished, published, scholarly work" (490). 

The authors seek to illustrate how to help students learn about and take advantage of these academic conversations. Learning this skill can help students not only write better papers, but it will help them in creating and exploring their own questions as well. The article then goes on to discuss application with tools such as blogs, academic portals, and other public conversations.

Some notes from the article with some brief thoughts:

  • Reflective thinking goes along with information literacy. In fact, when we teach information literacy effectively, we are exemplifying reflective thinking. "An essential characteristic of reflective thinking is the ability to manage uncertainty, to evaluate potentially contradictory claims, and to evaluate the evidence one uses to construct meaning out of new information" (491). 
  • Students need to be taught about the concept of shared standards used in building knowledge and meaning. This is the process that scholars use, and yet many professors fail to teach this; they take for granted that students either know it already when they get to a specific class or that they'll pick it up along the way. "When we require students to read and analyze these sources without explicitly addressing the intellectual assumptions that govern what and how material comes to be published in this literature, we are asking them to grapple with multiple and often implied intellectual standards that they do not understand and may not know exist" (491). 
  • "A student can find and use peer-reviewed sources without learning that those sources represent a different way of thinking about knowledge. That student can still write a passable research paper and receive a perfectly satisfactory grade, but he or she will not learn as much from the experience as a student who is pushed to question his or her held beliefs about knowledge and learning" (491-492). That passable paper may have working in some other class. When I taught composition, I had student hate me precisely because I forced them to push themselves and raise questions. We need more of that, and we need to illustrate it at all levels of the educational experience. This is another way in which librarians do teach, even if it is just at the reference desk. 
  • Furthermore, "it is important that librarians and faculty both recognize that they need to make some of those unstated assumptions visible to their students if students are to understand what academics really mean when they decide an article is worthy of publication" (493). 
  • "The overarching point to remember is this: informal channels of scholarly communication can enhance information literacy instruction, whether it is delivered by a librarian or a classroom instructor. Instruction librarians should be aware of the ways that scholars in the disciplines they work with are using the Web to communicate. Helping disciplinary faculty to see that there are new ways to connect to students with scholarly research other than the peer-reviewed journal is an important role for librarians to play" (494).
  • Why librarians, as generalists, may have an advantage in teaching information literacy and reflective thinking to students: "Librarians usually teach in disciplines in which they do not do research and can potentially understand where the practice of discipline is confusing to students more easily than their partners among the disciplinary faculty can. It is important that librarians advocate for their students' needs, pointing out gaps that might prevent the students from being successful" (499). One of the most important roles and duties of an instruction librarian is to be an advocate for his or her students. Personally, advocating for my students is part of my teaching and librarianship philosophy, and I am proud to say our current instruction librarian here shares and practices that as well. It can be a challenging path at times, but our students deserve our best effort. 
  • The article makes the point that students need to learn more than just how to use proprietary databases. My colleague and I were just talking about this recently: what happens when students graduate, have information needs, and no longer have access to EBSCO products, so on? This could lead to another post, but for now the point is that we have to teach good information literacy skills and include exposure as well as practice with publicly available tools and resources. For faculty, telling your students that they can't use the Web does not pass muster. For librarians, this also means keeping up with those diverse resources and tools.