All posts tagged “teaching

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Rambling On About Representation, Public Scholarship, Digital Pedagogy, and Self-Protection

Before I even begin I’m going to ask you to hang in there with me. I’m a ball of messy thoughts this morning made even mushier by the old school Houston weather we’ve been having these past few days (so. much. rain.). I want to draw some connections between Joyce Gabiola’s scholarship on Internalized Symbolic Annihilation (ISA), April Hathcock’s latest article on who we leave behind, and conversations that happened at Digital Pedagogy Lab this summer, all of which have been swimming around in my brain and inspiring all kinds of reflection. So I’ll start with this no-brainer:

Conversations about representation and inclusion are complicated.

At the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium, Joyce introduced and explained ISA as the means by which people from marginalized communities protect themselves, but in doing so, erase themselves from archives and public records. These individuals are less likely to contribute to oral histories or donate documents to archives, in large part because they have had a lifetime of negotiating their identity and sense of self in order to mitigate the harm that heteronormativity and white supremacy inflicts on this world. Oppression has a direct impact on preservation and the ability to preserve and share the stories of marginalized communities. But at the same time, doesn’t everyone have the right to be forgotten? Or rather, don’t people have the right to determine what they share and when/where they share it?

It’s a tough question in the face of so much scholarship that has privileged white, western, male knowledge and experience.  April asks who we leave behind in our race to make scholarship open and publicly accessible, an important question that intersects with issues of diversity and representation. I bring this up not to hold April’s article in contrast to Joyce’s work, but to highlight the different sides to the issue of representation that they are both trying to address. April encourages us to consider “Whose voices are being heard?” in scholarship and “Who is privileged with access?” The first question, is I think, where ISA comes into play. On the one hand we want to highlight voices from those on the margins, but we need to recognize that the epistemological framework of academia embraces the same oppressive forces as our society at large. This of course can trigger a self-protection response. An impulse to say this space (academia, scholarship, etc.) is not for me, or this space can actively cause me harm. (This is largely true for scholars from marginalized communities/identities,  whose experiences in public scholarship often include extreme harassment and threats.). We want to encourage diverse voices and representation of those on the margins but are our spaces safe for them/us? Have we created scholarship systems and practices that include the values of and protections for those on the margins?

This is where the conversations at Digital Pedagogy Lab (DPL)come into play. There is a strong push in critical digital pedagogical circles towards students engaging in open scholarship and open learning online. It’s a way to fully embrace students’ lived experiences and show that their learning and their production of knowledge matters. But when we take into account the work of Joyce and April, this open learning is also a risky situation for students on the margins. Jade Davis’ keynote at DPL acknowledges this risk and encourages instructors to mitigate harm in their assignments and learning environments. What can learners keep for themselves? Does it all really need to be public learning to be digital or critical learning? The emphasis on public learning wants to highlight the work of the learner, but we also need to acknowledge their agency and help them create their own boundaries. It’s essential for their safety (both creative and personal), and for the development of an inclusive space where learners feel welcome.

This is where everything sort of squishes together. We want representation and inclusion in open scholarship and education, but it can’t be on the dominant group’s terms. If it is then openness just equals oppression. Nicky Andrew’s excellent work on cultural humility and Roopika Risam’s scholarship on epistemic violence both highlight epistemic models built on the knowledge practices, values, and considerations of folks on the margins. In applying this thinking and, let’s call it what it is, work, to reimagining open education and scholarship, we can reduce the need for groups to self-protect, because we have taken their safety and protection seriously. We need to create a system of learning that encourages people to set their own limits and share what they feel comfortable sharing. In doing so we will help facilitate the kind of diversity and inclusion we want to see in our classrooms and scholarship.


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My Campaign to Get Political Science Students to Use Something Other Than JSTOR and GoogleScholar for their Research (like books or other stuff too)

The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Who Wanna Learn to do Other Stuff Good too

My inspiration in life for all things (but particularly for this title): Mr. Derek Zoolander

In the past two weeks I’ve taught iinformal research sessions for two different upper-level political science courses (same professor for both courses): African Politics and Comparative Politics. Given the nature of these courses and the kinds of research topics the students selected for themselves, the professor and I decided to use these research sessions to introduce students to sources of information that they might not ordinarily use or even know about. Although I am not usually a fan of info-dump style classes, in this case, I think a discussion of types of sources (and why/how students can use them) as well as different research resources is totally appropriate. More often than not I’m finding upper-level students in this discipline who are only searching for scholarly journal articles and only searching for them in one of two places: Google (Scholar if I’m lucky) or JSTOR. They’re turning to journal articles for

  • background information & overviews of countries and issues
  • comparisons of issues across countries
  • statistics
  • historical information & data
  • explanations of different countries’ governing structures.

In short, students are looking for all kinds of information that doesn’t appear in journal articles, IN JOURNAL ARTICLES.

My informal poll of students in each of the classes I taught recently told me that of the 20 or so students in each class only 2-3of them were using anything other than Google, Google Scholar or JSTOR for their research assignments. I’ve had senior thesis writers tell me they don’t consult books for their research at all, which is a total shame in a discipline where books are still a huge avenue for scholarly output (as my thick stack of Political Science CHOICE cards can demonstrate). I’ve had students admit to only using one or two databases for their literature review (which is common across disciplines). I’ve met with other students who didn’t know that independent research organizations and policy institutes could be really great sources of interesting research. So I saw my opportunity to teach these two classes as the beginning of a campaign:

My Campaign to Get Political Science Students to Use Something Other Than JSTOR or Google Scholar for their Research
(Like Books and Other Stuff Too)

There is a world of survey data, working papers, policy briefs, open publications, statistics and backgrounders available online. Fascinating statistics, data and summary information about current political issues, governing structures and countries lives in our reference collection. Our books upstairs contain a wealth of research on every political science topic imaginable. But if there’s not a point in each political science major’s academic career when they learn about variations in information type–and when they might want to use some of these different sources of information–how can I expect senior thesis writers to know and use these information sources? So my campaign has begun in earnest and I’m plotting out ways to further its spread this fall. Initial feedback from students and the professor in the courses I taught recently has been positive. Some students are even (GASP) using some of the new info sources I showed them in class. In each class I brought an example of a book that a student might find useful for their research paper and in both classes I had at least one student ask to see that book after class because they were writing about that topic. These are small victories, but they are victories all the same.

I’m curious as to how other librarians are faring introducing different information sources to students in their respective fields of study:

Are your students as stuck on the scholarly research articles as my students are? When in their instructional sequence do you start to introduce different source types that are unique to their area of study? How can you do so without classes turning into an information dump?

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Push Back: Creating a Teachable Moment

Pushing car

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I finally got around to reading an article that has been in my reading queue since the spring:

Meulemans, Yvonne Nalani, and Allison Carr. 2013. “Not at Your Service: Building Genuine Faculty-librarian Partnerships.” Reference Services Review 41 (1) (February 15): 80–90. doi:10.1108/00907321311300893.

It’s an interesting write-up of a series of workshops CSU-San Marcos librarians hosted for new faculty at their institution. In these sessions, librarians focused on common misconceptions held by faculty about students’ ability to do research, the kinds of instruction librarians can offer, and the types of assignments that give students the opportunity to learn valuable research skills in a meaningful way. The impetus for the workshops were situations that instruction librarians face on a daily basis: Vague (sometimes bordering on insulting) requests from professors to visit a class to “talk about the library” or “do a library thing while I’m away at a conference” or “show my students the journals.” The approach taken by the CSU-San Marcos librarians to remedy this situation was one I think we can all replicate:

“If you do not like what is being said, change the conversation” (Meulemans and Carr 84).

That’s been my mantra for the fall semester, and I’ve tried to implement it as much as possible when I’ve responded to research instruction requests by departmental faculty. Often librarians are afraid to push back at faculty who make vague instructional requests. We’re afraid we’ll miss an opportunity to reach students or we just want to get our foot in the door with a particular department, so we agree to the “teach them about the library” session, likely to mediocre results. We’ve convinced ourselves that somehow we’re a part of this all-or-nothing game where we have to take what departmental faculty will offer us or else suffer by not getting the opportunity to teach students. This is, of course, problematic. When we acquiesce to these kinds of requests we’re not building collaborative partnerships and we’re missing an opportunity to educate our colleagues that 1) we are indeed colleagues and 2) there is a wealth of research-related knowledge we have the ability to share with students. As Meulemans and Carr note in their article, “When a problematic request is fulfilled, it only ensures that librarians will receive more requests like it” (83). We’re setting ourselves up for more generic library tours and song-and-dance sessions every time we say yes to one.

Pushing Back

In the spring I received an instruction request from a colleague who is a fantastic teacher and scholar. It was a very standard come talk to my class kind of request. My reply was a yes, but it was highly qualified yes. Instead of just accepting the request as issue, I specifically asked my colleague if she would like me to cover particular topics. I offered up a menu of sorts. The students were working on a literature review so I offered to talk about any one of the following topics:

  • how to develop a good research question
  • how to turn a research question into search terms and develop a good search strategy
  • what a literature review is (and is not)
  • how to evaluate different sources
  • how to search for books and articles using the library’s resources.

In the end, the professor was most concerned with teaching her students how to evaluate different sources, how to use non-scholarly sources without necessarily citing them in their lit review, and how do determine which sources were the best ones to use in a lit review. It was a fun class, and I got some great feedback from the professor. Months later this faculty member mentioned expressed appreciation for the instructions topics I offered to cover in the class. Without them, this faculty member believed the class would have been very generic and not as helpful to the students as the class I ultimately taught. This professor now wants to encourage colleagues in that department to take advantage of me as an instructor because of this new awareness of the research-related topics I can cover.

Will This Always Work?

I realize that the example I offer is just that: one example. In my defense I will say that I’ve been following this tactic throughout all of my fall instruction planning and it seems to be going well. It’s a nice approach to altering the approach we have to research/information literacy instruction. Rather than departmental faculty making a request and us either approving or denying it, we can turn the interaction into a meaningful conversation where we in part educate our colleagues about the type of instruction we can offer. In the end it will make for a much better session for the students and ourselves.