Archive for the ‘education’ Category

I love it when my varied interests collide, as they just did when I found these great For the Gardener papers in the University of California’s institutional repository, eScholarship.

These papers were created by the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz, my alma mater. They produce a ton of great research around sustainability, agriculture, and eating, a topic that has been of near all-consuming interest to me lately. And this research is available for free through the UC’s institutional repository.

eScholarship is one of the most developed IRs I’ve seen yet, and I often look to it as a model when I’m thinking about IR development. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should. Not only is it a great example of something that I believe is going to be a major part of the future of libraries, but you’re almost guaranteed to find something of interest to read, no matter what you’re interests are.

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Innovative Education

When funding for education is being cut mercilessly and learning seems to be more about testing than anything else, it’s great to read about a school that’s doing something unique, and achieving real results. High Tech High is a charter school system in San Diego, and a recent article in Voice of San Diego highlights just a few of their innovative practices.

Charter schools offer a lot of potential for reforming education locally, though the history of Charter schools in America isn’t without its share of corruption and failure. Reading about schools that are trying to make real improvements, to be inventive in engaging students, and who base their goals for learning on real knowledge acquisition rather than compulsory adherence to “standards” are so inspiring. It almost makes me want to teach high school.

Find out more about High Tech High.

(Disclaimer: My cousin is a student at High Tech High. I’m not sure I need a disclaimer for that, but I thought I’d point it out anyway.)

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There are a lot of sessions at ASIS&T (and probably most conferences) with fairly impregnable titles. I’ve found myself sitting in sessions which were about something very different than I thought. But this session title is pretty straightforward: It was all about evaluating virtual reference services.

Marie Radford (Rutgers University) and Lynn Connaway (OCLC) spoke about a long-term research project currently underway in which they’re evaluating users, non-users, and librarians about their positive and negative e-reference (and non-e-reference, in the case of non-users) experiences. Some key points:

  • Librarians considered relational and attitudinal aspects of the reference transaction as much more important than users did; for users, answers (content) were key.
  • Librarians want to teach and users don’t always want to be taught. It seems, though, that users are more open to instruction face-to-face than virtually.
  • A great suggestion to work through the “don’t teach me” barrier: Provide the requested information, and then ask, “Would you like to know how I found it?” I think this is a GREAT idea, because it sounds almost like you’re offering a secret or something.
  • Oh, earlier, when I noted that relational aspects of the transaction matter less to patrons: That’s not entirely true. They just THINK they matter less, but customer services is still important. It’s just that good customer service can be invisible to users, because they’re able to focus on the answer part.
  • People are willing to wait longer for a subject-specialist.

And of course, all I could think of was my Reference course, in which we pretty much entirely focused on customer service and the theoretical implications of the reference transaction, but in which I didn’t really learn to do what users actually want: provide information. Sigh.

Jeffrey Pomerantz (UNC Chapel Hill—These UNC folks are everywhere!) talked about librarians participating in online answer boards like Yahoo! Answers. He was specifically talking about this Slam the Boards project, which involves, on the 10th of every month, librarians going onto these sites and answering questions. I’m not entirely sure why we’re only supposed to do this one day each month, but it’s an interesting idea. Jeffrey tried to evaluate whether librarians’ answers were better, or more specifically, whether they were rated more highly by question askers.

His conclusion was essentially that it’s really hard to evaluate librarian participation in online answer boards. There are approximately 100,000 questions posted to Yahoo! Answers everyday, their API for culling data doesn’t allow you to pull information for more than 5,000 questions, and as a researcher, one has to rely on users self-identifying as librarians. But his research raised some great questions and thoughts:

  • Are these boards places where libraries should be? Most of the questions are kind of silly, and it doesn’t really seem librarians are making a huge impact
  • In the midst of all these silly questions, there are some serious questions: How do we get the askers of these serious questions to remember their local library (or its online services) as a resource?

Lorri Mon of Florida State University and the Internet Public Library talked about blogging as a reference service, and about users’ needs and use in her area. She mentioned an article I’m going to try to read on the plane tonight: Pomerantz and Stutzman’s “Collaborative reference work in the blogosphere” (2006), and she primarily talked about how students in an online course used blogs and their comment sections to post questions, answer each other, and provide a sense of community.

She pointed out that most libraries are still not using social networking sites, and that of those they are, most of them are using MySpace (ugh). Her research shows that blogs are the most widely used technology tool in libraries, followed by wikis (which are mostly used as behind-the-scenes staff tools, as they are in my library). She talked a bit about the blurring of boundaries between different types of tools (chat embedded in blogs and facebook, chat reference in Second Life). Finally, she raised an interesting question: How is eReference being taught in library schools? Well, I can answer that from my own experience: barely. Sure, I read an article or two on it. But as she noted, there was no hands on experience, or even role playing, and that probably would have been easy to set up and helpful. But I think I already mentioned that I didn’t learn a ton in my reference course.

To close up the session, Joseph Janes responded to all three presenters and brought up some really excellent points. He largely talked about the differences between Yahoo and Google: Yahoo is about community, and Google is about answers. And in that way, Google Reference services makes more sense than Yahoo reference services. He argued that we need some hook into the mass of people with information needs, whether that’s a local hook, a subject-oriented hook, a site-based hook, or something else entirely (though I lean toward a subject-oriented hook and already have started thinking about how that might work. And I think it’s all about search engine optimization.).

Lorri Mon made the comment that “people are looking for their personal librarian,” and I jumped on this one. I’ve talked before about embedded librarianship in the academic community, and I think we need to set each student up from day one of their college careers with a personal librarian. What if we assigned a librarian to students the way we assign them advisors? Subject-specialist librarians could be personal librarians for people in specific departments (for example, when you declare your major, you’re assigned a reference librarian affiliated with that department). I think just the personalization of that, the introduction to a librarian, would make it less intimidating, and would make people think about going to the library for their information needs more readily than they otherwise might.

This was one of the most inspiring sessions I attended, in that I came out of it with ideas, papers to read, things I wanted to experiment with and research. So, thanks to all these great presenters! As though they will ever see my lonely little bloggity blog. :-)

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I was up bright and early this morning for the first session, and am so, so grateful I’m staying in the conference hotel. It just makes life so much easier.

This morning’s session (well, one of the several) was on information literacy and how students judge credibility when they’re researching, whether it’s for school or recreation. Teaching students to evaluate information is one of my pet subjects, and the researchers presented some interesting research and brought up great ideas.

The first speaker, Heidi Julien of the University of Alberta, talked about research among upper-level high school science students. Some of her findings:

  • Students do use Wikipedia and Google primarily (interesting research in related to questions I raised last week)
  • They use these sources for both personal and academic information needs.
  • They tend to judge accuracy based on whether they see the same information across multiple sources
  • They privilege information sources their teachers suggest (so yes, teachers still have some authority!).

Julien’s research also revealed that students say they learn from previous experience, rather than from explicit IL instruction. Though part of me wonders if students always know when they’re receiving IL instruction, and I kind of think that teaching would benefit if IL instruction was embedded in subject matter instruction seamlessly.

She suggested that future research should look into what information searching and evaluation skills teachers have, and how we can change teacher education to include these skills. And she points out that teachers often neglect teaching these skills because they aren’t examinable, which to my mind just means we need to find better ways to assess students’ learning. But they, hasn’t NCLB taught us that already? (Oops, sorry for the politics. I won’t do it again.)

Louise Limberg of the University College of Boras in Sweden spoke next, about cognitive authority, how well students judge it, and how those judgments are related to learning outcomes. She uses Wilson’s theory of cognitive authority (which I want to read more about now), which highlights the relationship between the user and the source as a foundation for how authority of the source is determined (um, I’m probably not getting that entirely right, but I did my best).

Her research showed that students were very aware of the credibility issues that arise around a lot of information seeking on the web, and she discovered that (shocker!) surface assessments of the authority of a source, assessments that are based on superficial qualities rather than content-based qualities, lead students to show lower performance on various learning outcomes. Limberg quoted one of her student’s statement that (paraphrased) there is no objective information because everyone is biased. I balked a little because it seemed that Limberg was showing that this critical perspective resulted in higher learning achievements, and, well, I just don’t think it’s any better to believe that there are NO objective information sources than to be completely gullible about everything you read. It reminded me of my first year in my undergraduate when I started learning about subjectivity and knowledge production, and I was suddenly so convinced that everything was relative and no one was objective and even science was produced from bias, which, eh, has elements of truth, sure. But as I’ve matured (I like to think) I’ve come to realize that there are levels, so to speak, of objectivity, and that some information sources are more credible, and are worth looking at as objective sources. So applauding students who learn to be super-critical of information sources can, perhaps, go too far.

The next speaker was Soo Young Rieh of the University of Michigan, and I was very intrigued by her research methodology. She did a kind of ethnographic research project in which she had students from higher education institutions keep track of one information seeking moment in their day everyday for 10 days, and to relate how they found information and how they judged its accuracy. She argued that for most of us, judging credibility is something we do unconsciously (which kind of relates to my earlier thought about students perhaps not realizing they were receiving IL instruction). Rieh’s research showed that judging sources is something that is embedded into the information seeking process, and that we do it in different ways depending on the type of information we’re looking for. Rieh pointed out that credibility judgment always happens in a social context, and in some situations (er, in the classroom, for instance) people will substitute someone else’s standards for credibility (the professor’s) for their own. Her research was great and I’m looking forward to reading more about it when I get home, because I think it really could inform some of the ideas I have about embedded IL instruction.

The last speaker, Olof Sundin of Lund University, talked about information literacy practices as socio-cultural practices. He brought up some great points based on three research questions:

  1. What do pedagogues think about expertise in Web 2.0 tools?
  2. What do students think about expertise in Web 2.0 tools?
  3. What do producers think about expertise in Web 2.0 tools?

And of course, he points out that these roles sometimes overlap. His research used student-produced blogs, questionnaires, and, um, some other things (doh, I’m bad at taking notes) to assess students’ information seeking behaviors as they worked on long term projects. Some interesting points:

  • Wikipedia is used even by students as background for research, but they don’t cite it, even if the teacher doesn’t specifically disallow it.
  • Most students express a digital/print dichotomy. They don’t critical evaluate print resource anymore, because the focus of our IL teaching has shifted so completely. This one I find really interesting, and definitely worth looking into more. And I can see exactly why this happens, and can even see myself privileging print resources as I learn to provide reference and instruction services. So, good thing to keep in mind when I eventually have an instruction-related job.
  • The boundaries between teachers and librarians are becoming less fixed. This is also super interesting to me in relation to my ideas about embedded IL instruction. Librarians are being seen as teachers and teachers as information providers. I think this is great, and I’m really interested in potential future roles where these things are more merged, but those are thoughts for another day.

One of the last things Sundin mentioned was a project in which students from a variety of language backgrounds compared Wikipedia articles on the same subjects to see how they differ in the various language versions. Awesome, and I would love to see these students’ final project.

So, essentially, a lot of this information isn’t entirely new. Information evaluation is very contextually based, students’ ability to judge information varies a lot depending on the subject, how familiar they are with it, and what they’re seeking the information for. Students don’t always have the skills necessary to judge information, no matter the medium. Their knowledge of information sources is often superficial. Teachers have neither the time nor the resources to teach them IL practices, and with fewer and fewer librarians in schools, well…

One final point that piqued my interest: Someone during the discussion session asked about students as information providers. The panel talked about how students can begin to see their role as authorities on a subject, and I am really interested in this in relation to college students seeing themselves as part of a discipline. I think it’s important for undergraduates to do research, and to see themselves as people who can contribute to a field (that was the best aspect of my undergraduate experience). So I wonder how we can begin to inculcate this idea of students as information providers through IL instruction. Encouraging students to create research guides or edit Wikipedia pages might be really beneficial for them to begin to see themselves as part of a bigger project, which is the growth of a discipline.

It would have been nice to hear more next steps and solutions from the researchers, rather than just to hear their research pointing out how students do and do not know how to evaluate sources. But considering that I just asked last week whether students know how to take next steps in their research, it was timely and worth hearing.

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I just finished reading an article in the MIT Technology Review, Wikipedia and the Meaning of Truth, by Simon L. Garfinkel, which brought up what I still consider a pretty touchy subject: What about Wikipedia? Is it an ok jumping off point for research, or should students (and librarians) avoid it at all costs?

Garfinkel argues that Wikipedia is fundamentally changing the nature of truth from an objective reality to something that is reliant on references and third-party sources of information, what the Wikipedia community calls verifiability. He writes, “Unlike the laws of mathematics or science, wikitruth isn’t based on principles such as consistency or observa¬≠bility. It’s not even based on common sense or firsthand experience. Wikipedia has evolved a radically different set of epistemological standards…”

I would argue, though, that as a reference source, Wikipedia’s epistemological standards are the same as any other reference source. Writers of encyclopedias don’t conduct original research, observing phenomena over time to make sure their articles are correct. They rely on vetted research which they can then quote and reference in footnotes and bibliographies. And that policy is Wikipedia’s policy.

Of course, it might be difficult to ensure that every article (how many are there now? 2.5 million?) is cited properly and based on appropriate scholarly sources. But from what I understand, their volunteers do a pretty darn good job of getting inaccurate and improperly cited articles branded awfully quickly.

As a librarian-in-training, I know there are hundreds of other perhaps-more-reliable reference sources out there, and I would encourage any one doing serious research to include those sources. But I have to admit that when I’m looking something up, I often start with Wikipedia. For example, last week I decided that I really wanted to find out more about this Bill Ayres character. The Wikipedia article on Bill Ayres is well-cited (and yes, I checked out a good handful of the citations as well), neutral in tone and information provided (even with all this craziness going on right now), and informative. Sure, if I was writing a paper on Bill Ayres, I wouldn’t stop there, but I sure as heck might start there, and I wouldn’t feel bad about suggesting that jumping off point to a student. But should I?

In all the articles I’ve read about The Big Bad Wikipedia, what I keep reading are lines like Garfinkel’s: “These standards affect students, whose research on many topics starts (and often ends) with Wikipedia.” It’s in the way the starting and ending moments of research are conflated in writers’ minds, if not in students’ actual research processes, where I think the issue of Wikipedia gets muddled.

And maybe I should do some research? Do students’ research processes often end with Wikipedia? Or are we teaching them enough about information and research so they know what they’re doing?

As for Garfinkel’s article, I think his claims are overblown. This is Wikipedia fear-mongering. In my years of research, both as a student and now, as a soon-to-be-librarian, citation was the be all and end all. Good citations are what make your research true. So how is Wikipedia any different?

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Two weekends ago I attended PodCamp Boston 3, with some general sense that I might learn something useful, but an increasing uncertainty about what that might be. The first few sessions I attended had a pretty strong focus on using social media for marketing purposes (blech), increasing your “followers,” and, well, podcasting. Which I don’t really do. I sat through each session trying to find the places where I could connect what these social media peoples were talking about to the place of social media in a library, and an academic library, at that.

Overall, librarians are pretty excited about social media, but we don’t yet seem to have any solid ideas about how to use it. What purpose would a library Facebook page serve? What can a podcast really do for the library community, and would anyone listen to it? Do people even use all the cool rating and tagging and discussion features that are being built into new social OPACs? I suspect librarians jump in without having a clear sense of the needs that they might be trying to meet with all of these technologies.

I finally started to get some sense of how academic librarians can start to answer these questions when I sat in on Kabren Levinson’s discussion of how he implemented a Technology Program in his high school as a senior project. I mean, I’m not even going to get into how impressive this kid is, all just out of high school and completely self-possessed and talented. I will talk instead about how it felt like a smack on the head to suddenly realize that if we want to know how our students want to use technology in the library, we should ask them.

We talk and talk about how current students are the leaders of the future, and about how they know so much more about technology, especially social technology, than we ever will. And yet, when we sit down to build the systems we want them to use in our schools, libraries, and communities, we never think to ask them how they want to use them.

It’s worth considering: Why not set up a group in your university or college library, to get input from students about how you can serve them better online? What tools do they want? Where do they think you might be able to serve them in Facebook or MySpace, if at all? What can you build that they will actually use?

It seems so obvious. Why try to guess where our patrons want us to be on the interwebs when we can just ask them?

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I just came across this nifty website that offers a simple slider to determine copyright status of a work. I wouldn’t necessarily claim the information provided is food proof, but it sure does offer a good starting point for navigating the ever more complicated realms of copyright and permissions. This would have been super handy when I was working as an editorial assistant, trying to determine copyright information for something like 500 literary works. And I think it would certainly be a useful resource for librarians teaching information literacy workshops. I’ll be adding it to my resource arsenal, fo sho.

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