Saturday, September 22, 2012

Disparate Expectations

Sometimes (oftentimes) I pose questions for which I do not have "the answer." This blog post is just a whole cluster of that, so if you came here for answers, you might want to mozy on. (Plus, as you can see, it gets a bit long.)

How do librarians, instruction librarians specifically, navigate situations in which their expectations for student achievement, classroom behavior, success, etc. are higher than the expectations of the course instructor? I have encountered a wide range of instructors during my time as a librarian (also from my time as an educator in the public schools and as I sat the other side of the desk as a library science student).  Many have high expectations for their students, but there are always a few each semester that make me scratch my head--I can only imagine how students in their classroom feel.

While I understand that oftentimes librarians are guests in the classroom, I also know that we are most definitely there for a reason (whether it is that the faculty member has asked for us to work with their students or whether it is required of them to have IL sessions with their classes to fulfill a core requirement).  We are incorporated into their class to help their students be successful in their assignments and further research/information endeavors, and help the teachers who are looking for a better end product with both the assignments students submit and with the education students receive.  With that said, there are instructors who may say one thing, but their educational actions show me something different.

Below are three main areas that come to mind.

Contact time:

My philosophy as an educator (no matter what I teach--whether it be library & information literacy skills or music, as was the case in my previous profession) is that every moment of contact time with the students is so very valuable. I respect students' time and do my best to release them on time; I also expect them to be attentive and engaged the entire duration of the class (and I know it's my job to engage them that whole time).

Lately I have found other instructors releasing their students early from class, though there is much left to be taught, reviewed, reinforced, evaluated, and reevaluated.  As a student I was occasionally pleasantly surprised with an extra 5 or 10 minutes to travel between classes (which, as an educator now, I prefer to keep as dedicated class/work time).  The occasional 5-10 minutes I could possibly see (i.e. if you know your students have "hit the wall," or when you are conferencing with students and they are to use the non-conference time for research, but have already completed much of their work), but in the instances I've seen lately involve professors releasing students an extra 20-30 minutes early from class.  I assisted with a class earlier this week wherein the instructor and I were visiting before we began (as I was there in a support capacity, rather than leading the class myself) and was told that the professor planned on releasing the students 30 minutes early because the content wouldn't take the whole time. I suggested that, instead of dismissing class early, the professor could have them work on the first draft of their homework (due for the next class) and post that to Blackboard. Now, not only are the students going to receive input on their assignment earlier, they also have a head-start on their final draft.  Simply put, if you have that time, use it--Break up the time, diversify your class activities, but use it.

Classroom behavior:

The instructor cultivates the classroom environment--Part of that is to establish clear expectations for student behavior in the classroom.  I understand that different professors have different expectations for the way they prefer to be addressed (Dr., Ms., first name, last name, etc.), lecture vs. discussion, and how long students are allowed to veer off topic before being brought back on task.  With one-shot sessions we, as librarians, come in and work with the established culture--but when classroom policies are so lax where it reaches a point of distraction, how are we (as classroom guests) expected to improve the situation so all students can reach the session's learning objectives?

I do what I can to convey my expectations from the start by demonstrating, by catching distracting or off-task behavior from the start and casually addressing it (without making students feel targeted or on display for their actions).  I try to give students the benefit of the doubt--If I am leading a demonstration and one person is not on task, I first try to make a class announcement to either 1) turn off monitors and just follow on the projector, or 2) remind them of where we are working.  I will walk around the room to monitor how on-task the group is, ask questions of different students or groups to measure their comprehension, etc.

I expect students to put away their cell phones unless they are using them for class-related activities, be on task, remove ear buds from their ears during class, and not chew tobacco & spit out the juices into empty bottles in class (this has happened multiple times and I have addressed it with each student.  I inform them that tobacco of any kind has no place in my classroom--I don't care what their professor's policy is; whenever they are in a class where I am present, they are not to be chewing).

I understand students' attachments to technology, but I also expect them to be focused during library sessions.  Other teachers allow texting and Facebooking during class--Having recently graduated from library school, though we were supposed to be more mature and focused than undergraduate students, I know the Facebooking and texting that happened in class (and almost all cell phone use in class) was not for educational purposes. I don't have students put their phones away until I see it is a distraction; then I will ask the whole class to put away their devices.  If I want students to use their cell phones can always ask them to take them out later, but I prefer to not have them sitting out, distracting not only the owners of the cell phones, but also those around them.

Better yet, what do we do when the instructors are disengaged from the class, checking email, not paying attention to 1) what we are sharing with their students (which will better help them know what to expect from their students' research) and, 2) what their students are doing? (Occasionally checking email is fine, but but not knowing when I ask them a direct question about their assignments because they are so unattached from the class doesn't convey respect for the information they felt was so important for their students to learn--and, of course, loud keyboard clicks are distracting for all.)

Whenever I am in the back of the computer classroom (which is where we encourage instructors to sit while we instruct), waiting to deliver my part of the lesson, I scan the computer monitors to see if students are on task or lost and listen to the instructor to see if there are additional pieces I should include in my lesson plan for that day (or for future sessions).  I also try to assist lost students or encourage students to pay better attention (asking a student to stop texting, put away their headphones, etc.).

Where I work, we have a policy where instructors must be present in the classroom when librarians are teaching because, if professors use our sessions as a "baby sitter" during conference or sick days, what message does that convey to students? On the same note, what message does it convey to students when professors mentally check out for the day?   

Quality work:

My goal is to give students the tools to be successful in the long run.  I want students to learn something and learn it well, to the point where they are automatically able to incorporate IL skills into their schoolwork, future employment, and personal life.  First, students need clear expectations from the start.  This not only sets students up for success, but also professors when they go to assess learning artifacts.  This means being organized with your materials, with your syllabus, having a plan before you assign something, and knowing your structure before you build your online course material (we use Blackboard--if you plan to use a resource or technology, you must first instruct students on how to use it--do not assume they have experience with the technology). This also means, as a professor, you need to pull out the time machine and transport yourself back to your years as a college student when you are designing your syllabus, assignments, group activities, and other course materials. Have others read through your materials to see if there is language you could clarify.  Are you being specific enough or too specific with your guidelines? Have you tried researching those topics--In doing so, were you able to find the types and numbers of resources you are restricting your students to? If you can't fulfill those requirements, how can you expect students to? (This is something we see a lot.)  Sometimes what sounds like a good idea or a completely doable topic is very unreasonable once you place your restrictions or try to track down the information.  On the flip side, sometimes an assignment is unreasonable because there aren't enough restrictions.

I have also found some professors who have fallen victim to a "good enough" mentality. While I agree that there is little a professor can do once an assignment has been submitted, I think by building skills as you go, students will submit higher-quality learning artifacts and perform better on summative assessments.  But I have seen professors touch on topics which their students are obviously not grasping.  Instead of deviating from their scripted lesson plans to clarify materials, they stick to their plan and the students lose out and remain confused.  I think it is important for students to learn some things on their own, but it is also important for professors to clarify (and modify), as necessary. 

Making sure students produce quality work also means instructors lead by example.  By modeling good research habits and distributing quality resources to your students you show them the importance of quality information and a quality product.  If you are going to have students read articles, please be sure they are reliable & well-respected--not something you found on, Wikipedia, or WebMD (all real-life examples...). Also, be sure you are not accepting those types of resources from students.  Essentially, when you accept those materials for their assignments, you are reinforcing that "good enough" is acceptable and even preferred.

Additional comments & conclusions: 

Are these lax professor expectations a result of inexperience or lack of teacher training? Perhaps. Many terminal degrees don't require much (if any) training for their students to prepare them to be educators.  The emphasis is on research and publishing rather than effective education practices at the higher level. This leaves students without true leaders in the classroom.  Instead of teachers, they are given subject specialists who know amazing things within their discipline, but cannot convey those ideas in such a manner that students are able to understand and apply the concepts.

But what about those veteran professors who have many years of experience in the classroom? Are those cases of "this is how I've always done it" or "I already know this stuff" or other situations where the classroom culture doesn't just permit off-task, disrespectful, or distracting behaviors, it even goes so far as encouraging these things?  I know there are many excellent educators teaching at the college level.  I have had them as professors and mentors, and have worked with them as colleagues.  But, as is human nature, I sometimes get stuck on (and frustrated by) those who aren't teaching to the level I would expect of myself.  The question comes back to this:

How do we, as librarians, resolve within ourselves (first) and within the classroom the difference between (lower) professor expectations and the (higher) expectations we hold?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lib & Learn - September 2012

Here's the September edition of the Grand View University library newsletter. Enjoy!
Student Newsletter - September2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

GV YA Book Club & Leisure Collection

Since I began as Faculty Development & Instruction Librarian here at GV, I've been wanting to have more fun library-related activities & resources for students.  We're just getting started in the right direction by beginning a Young Adult Book Club and starting a leisure reading collection for students to utilize. The leisure collection will be displayed on top of the low shelves where our paperback collection is currently housed (on the main floor).  Right now the paperback collection isn't cataloged and students can just take them & return them whenever.  It is mostly comprised of donated fiction (lots of suspense & romance here, folks!), or discards that were brought down during a major weeding project several years ago.  The leisure collection will be cataloged and checked out through our system, like the rest of our (non-paperback) collection.  Many of the items I selected for purchase have film or TV adaptations that are already popular or that will be released this fall.  Additionally, we are filling out series that were incomplete.  For example, we only had the first of The Hunger Games trilogy in our Juv/YA collection.  When the first movie came out, our copy was hardly on the shelf, and we had students asking for the rest of the series.  The best we could do was direct them to a nearby library or offer to ILL the books for them, neither of which was an immediate solution. We also had gaps in our Harry Potter collection and hadn't even started collecting George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series--so I added those to our "to buy" list.  Our collection isn't going to be perfect, but we're starting small and growing from there.  Many of the leisure titles we are purchasing function as crossover works between YA fiction and just plain fiction, which will serve our newly-developed YA Book Club nicely! We are just getting started, but I'm hopeful we'll get a good core of book club members.  I sent out an email announcement (below) and plan to include it in our library newsletter (geared toward students) as well as putting information on our library blog.

Meet the Book Open House!

Click the picture to play:

Need a great escape from heavy course readings?
Like homemade cookies?
Want a chance to win a free book?

If so, then the GV YA (Young Adult) Book Club is for you!
Stop by the library to check out the Meet the Book Open House!
Grab a cookie, learn more about our first selection, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and sign up for our email if you are interested in attending our first group meeting.

Monday, Sept. 17, 4-7 p.m.
First floor of the GV Library
You don’t have to stay the whole time! Come & go as your schedule allows!

Want to learn more about the first book?
Check out a video from the author:

Contact Cara Stone or Dan Chibnall with questions.