I haven’t written anything in over a month, two months, because I haven’t had too much to say, just very busy with life and living. Oh, and there is the blackout walking home for lunch, and the breaking of the wrist in the resulting fall, and the lengthy recovery and the therapy to learn to use my wrist again. More detail here. Do y’all know how versatile a joint the wrist is?
But back to librarying. During my recovery, I have been maintaining a part-time schedule at the reference desk of a nearby university library. It’s been a distraction from pain, but it has also been an instructive period of the semester when students are cranking out research projects and leaning heavily on the librarian at the desk. And I have learned a thing or two, about research design theory, about ethnography and user experience (which necessarily includes librarian experience), and about using QuickTime, ScreenFlow and Youtube, all of which has informed my agile practices in the library. So it has carried me off in a different direction, in several different directions. For starters:
1. Digitization/electronification of information has liquidified the learning resources/assets that used to be part of our domain. We used to be “administrators” of learning assets. No more. Now information is being accessed everywhere and all the time. The definition of “the library” has changed.
2. As librarians, we were pretty much content with getting students started with developing their research question and initial search terms, then setting them free to conduct the iterative research process. No more. Now students have an expectation that we will provide them information support throughout the research process, and we have an obligation to do so. The identity crisis is over. The librarian, like information, is and has to be everywhere and all the time. The definition of “librarian” has changed.
3. User experience has necessarily become ethnographic. Correspondingly, ethnography emcompasses both the learner and the teacher/librarian, the interaction, the form and structure of the interface, and how both sets work together to accomplish the learning goal/objective.
4. The learners are not just the students, and faculty/staff/librarians are not exclusively the teachers. We are all learning entrepreneurs, putting together various combinations of factors of learning production, some that succeed, others that fail, but all that expand the boundaries of previous static thought. There are no traditional monopolies. And the sage on the stage is no more. Both the classroom and the library are “flipped” in unique and fascinating ways.
5. Learning is rhizomatic, decentralized, and resistant to regulation. It exists everywhere and all the time.
A student came to the reference desk with some questions about research design models. I told her that was not my area of expertise, but I would help her with her research if she would teach me the models. After about 20 minutes of conversation (it was a slow Saturday) she said, “Thank you, this has been very helpful.” I was floored, because I learned a lot more in that 20 minutes than she did.
This is the journey.
Again, in library instruction (since that is my container of experience), content is somewhat secondary. Tools and their uses (to acquire information) are primary, such as search techniques, procedures, the inner workings of databases, and even search algorithms and logic. Content is neither the end nor the means of research instruction. So what is it and what is its value?
In library instruction for freshman and sophomore English classes, I have sought to “mix up” content (the “stuff” to which research tools are applied for illustration) to make learning the tools easy, interesting, and even meaningful. Configuring content provides an opportunity for insertion of different ideas, diverse ideas, all elements, broadly speaking, of critical pedagogy, to make our students better thinkers, and, to a limited extent, better people. I have been successful in incorporating local and regional content, “stuff,” information about the the history and culture of the school and of the region, building in the students a stronger sense of self-confidence and the significance of their place and potential in the world. Similarly, content that is relevant to the student age group (18-25), like music, art in general, and student-led activism makes learning the tools more meaningful, perhaps easier to some extent.
In my business classes, I have found that local content, i.e., business success stories of local entrepreneurs (and especially University graduates) energizes and motivates the students, making the learning process a much more engaging and hence, successful encounter. Soliciting their concerns, from the work they are doing in groups, to their plans for post graduation, and finding ways to incorporate that into library instruction on a real-time basis has also made the learning more engaging.
So where are we? Back to the original propositions. Content is not the end of instruction, developing expertise with using the tools is the end. Content is not the means of instruction, as developing expertise only happens through exercise with the tools, using them repetitively to develop these “muscles.” But perhaps content is the motive force of learning, and maybe content is the element that engages the students and inspires them to stick with it and do the long, hard work required for mastery. Moreover, content can be the human element that enables students to see themselves in their learning and to imagine their own possibilities/potential in shaping and forging the outlines of their future.
p.s. The choice of content is not neutral. In fact, it is value-laden. To be fair to the students, a strong dose of critical thinking should accompany instruction at all levels and incorporate examination of bias in content selection.
The big event of March was my wife’s illness and my return home to support her recuperation. Everything else suddenly became secondary or tertiary. I learned that being a caregiver is hard work, it is easy to make mistakes, and you don’t necessarily get better at it by trying harder. After a couple of weeks she had made significant progress in her recuperation, and I was able to turn over the day-to-day operations of caregiving to a professional and return to work.
Another teaching session occurred in March, this time English sophomores working on argumentative essays. They had already chosen their topics, so the goal of the workshop was to familiarize them with databases as information sources and how the mechanics of the search for those sources could reveal certain information types that would assist them in making their arguments. So, no hocus-pocus, just straight up library instruction.
Taking a page from the playbook of one of my more experienced co-librarians, I prepared for each student a worksheet that, once filled in, would both outline for them the search and information source selection process, and allow them to prepare a customized path to proceed, from research proposal, to search term development, to source selection. The host instructor and I worked with each student individually to resolve any outstanding issues and, and this is an important step, provide examples of ideas outside their present train of thought for developing their arguments.
Research topics were varied and interesting, personalized and relevant. Sharing among themselves their topics and experiences with the resource selection process resulted in a type of cross-fertilization that will hopefully further inform the learning experience of each student.
As an aside, today begins National Poetry Writers Month (NaPoWriMo). For the past two years, I have managed a crank out a new poem each day in April. Sometimes it’s garbage, but there has been the occasional pearl in the monthly collection. This April will be different for me, however. This year I plan to work every day on unpacking and reshaping a poem that I have already written. Unpacking to remove all the dross and junk that got invariably packed in the first time. Reshaping to open up the format, freeing the poetic thoughts from the walls that previously constricted, restricted, and even conflicted open thought and discussion.
p.s. Started my garden plot at Cullowhee Community Garden last week. Haven’t gardened since my childhood, but it’s just like riding a bicycle, right? With any luck in a few months there will be a crop of beets, turnips, okra, cantaloupe, watermelon, jalapeno peppers, carrots, foxglove, sunflowers, and lavender to share.
I plowed through the Giroux chapter last night and it made my knees hurt, as they always do when I walk in an ever-tightening circle. Reading Maha Bali’s cliff notes this morning was refreshing, however, and my knees are feeling better already.
Thank you. I found the Freire and hooks readings a lot more revealing, a lot more enlightening, but that is surely attributable to my lusophone and African-American heritage. Maha Bali’s mention at the end of her notes on the “multiplicity of views” challenging the grand narrative brought to mind an essay I once read on multiple working hypotheses, which can be found here: http://www.accessexcellence.org/RC/AB/BC/chamberlin.php. Hope to blog more in the next couple of days.
more later (including an after-action report on my morning library instruction workshop)…
Workshop went well. Sophomores. 10 minutes of instruction and 45 minutes in the stacks carrying out assigned tasks. I didn’t force them to form groups as with the freshmen, but definitely firmly suggested it, empowering them to make the decision. Most saw the utility of working in groups but we did have one “lone wolf.” Further, each team was assigned the complete list of scenarios.
For most, the content of the exercises was as interesting as the process of conducting the search. Students were creative, in fact, innovative in their execution. I encouraged teams to exchange information with other teams when they found themselves “lost,” and to cross check their searches with Google searches to uncover additional search terms (pearl- growing method).
Moving from group to group, I stressed to students the several aspects of the scenarios, for example, that the A&T Four were all freshmen, or that North Carolina’s education system was ranked near the best of the nation following the Sanford reforms. It clicked with them at various levels, which was “self-actualizing” for them as well as for me.
It was also interesting the way the groups did or did not implement a division of labor to cover all six scenarios. The class required that each person post a summary to findings to Blackboard, and in retrospect, it may have worked better had we required each team to post summaries, as a group. At a minimum it would have avoided the mad rush of students copying notes from teammates at the end of class.
Back to Giroux. I underlined (in pencil) passages I wanted to recall, but I put check marks in the margins of passages I definitely wanted to remember. What follows are paraphrased summaries of the margin-checked ideas:
1. Critical pedagogy is only relevant if it addresses “real social needs,” is “imbued with a passion for democracy,” and “provides the conditions for expanding democratic forms of political and social agency.” p.74
2. Critical pedagogy requires “an ongoing indictment ‘of those forms of truth-seeking which imagined themselves to be and placelessly valid'” (Gilroy, 2000). p. 75
3. Critical educators should be aware of and “attentive to the ethical dimensions of their own practice,” especially regarding their encouragement of critical reflection and moral and civic agency. p. 76
4. “Rather than providing students with an opportunity to learn how to shape and govern public life, education is increasingly being vocationalized, reduced to a commodity that provides privileges for a few students and industrial training for the service sector for the rest, especially those who are marginalized by reason of their class or race.’ p. 78
5. Educators should 1) resist “attempts on the part of liberals or conservatives to reduce the role of teacher to that of either technicians or corporate pawns,” and 2) refuse “attempts to reduce classroom teaching exclusively to matters of technique and method.”
6. “Critical pedagogy must: 1) be interdisciplinary and radically contextual, 2) engage the complex relationships between power and knowledge, 3) critically address the institutional constraints under which teaching takes place, and 4) focus on how students can engage the imperatives of critical social citizenship.”
Well, as you can imagine, there are plenty opportunities for this level of critical pedagogy in information literacy and library instruction. Content hand in hand with process and method, variety and diversity in examples, cognitively and culturally, and providing students the option to make their own decisions, hew their own paths, and respond responsibly to the outcomes.
Part two, after action report. and preps for next week!
After the weekly reading for MOOC MOOC, it dawned on me that my series of scenarios only includes men, not women. I can fix that by merely adding a couple of scenarios involving women as subjects of study and discovery, not just men, and especially not just old white men, which I have already studiously avoided. But there is something in the bell hooks reading that gives me solace on the whole subject of conflicts across the racism-sexism divide. She writes,
“. . . I want to say that I felt myself included in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, one of the first Freire books I read, in a way that I never felt myself – in my experience as a rural black person – included in the first feminist books I read, works like The Feminine Mystique. In the United States we do not talk enough about the way in which class shapes our perspective on reality. Since so many of the early feminist books really reflected a certain type of white bourgeois sensibility, this did not touch many black women deeply; not because we did not recognize the common experiences women shared, but because those commonalities were mediated by profound differences in our realities created by the politics of race and class.” (hooks, 1994, pp51-52)
So, getting back to the subject of library instruction, this week’s reading of hooks combined with last week’s reading of Freire helps us to approximate what should be the true critical pedagogy for library, and hence, information literacy instruction at a regional comprehensive university, which I will continue to incorporate in plans for my classes this week. The workshop will continue to cover conducting basic searches from the library home page search box. It will continue to stress the importance of using appropriate search terms for both recall and precision of search outcomes. The workshop will show students how the library search box, with all it various functionalities, works nicely in coordination with searches on Google and Google Scholar.
Moving away from the technical aspects of the search, I think including a task that has students look up events involving students their own age, whether of political activism, or sports, or the arts, or whatever, helps students deal with the identity questions that they may be experiencing, contributing to self-actualization of both students and instructors. A couple of tasks incorporating local content, i.e., the great progress in the arts and in education that had its origin in local movements, develops in the student at a regional university a sense of place, of space, and a sense of her/his role in effecting change at the local level that can have national consequences. A task involving some aspect of library history, library science, information and communication usage helps to fix in the mind of the students the place and role of the library, in the university setting and in the greater community. Finally, a task with an international twist exposes the student to the bigger, outside world and their place in it as well.
But back to this week’s bell hooks reading, Teaching to Transgress, chapter 2. I took these notes, in no particular order, but as points to consider further:
1) The importance of self-actualization, and the significance to the students that just as they are growing and learning, so also is the instructor on a similar path of growth and learning. In fact, it is, and this is important, “acknowledged” mutual self-actualization. (hooks, throughout).
2) Students don’t need teachers to be therapists, they already have therapists in many cases. hooks points out that students want and need from their instructors and professors “…an education that is a healing to the uninformed, unknowing spirit. They want knowledge that is meaningful.” (hooks, p. 19).
3) Instructors/professors must embrace the challenge of self-actualization, not resting on their laurels, not content to be the “sage on the stage,” but aware of the learning that takes place for them as well as for students in the classroom. (hooks, p. 22).
4) Hooks makes a reference to an engaged pedagogy where students learn and where teachers grow and are empowered. (hooks, p. 21)
5) Finally, a conversation outside of class, especially in the library or at a university function, can serve as an exchange that reinforces engaged pedagogy. (hooks, p. 20).
OK. A lot to think about. This coming week I have workshops with two sections of sophomore English and two sections of social entrepreneurship. Hope to incorporate elements from this great libguide on online search and syntax (http://libraryschool.libguidescms.com/content.php?pid=645906&sid=5346173). Should provide lots of opportunities to hone #critped and #critlit tools.
After action report.
I was so excited about my first day of teaching that I woke up around 2am and was basically awake until daybreak. I got to work around 7am, made photocopies of the scenarios and cut them into individual strips. I decided to add a sixth scenario to allow for three to four person teams. By 7: 30 I was in the library instruction classroom, setting up laptops for each table, opening up and minimizing the sites I wanted to show, and writing my learning objectives on the whiteboard.
Students from the first of four classes arrived at 8am. For the first section, I likely over taught the material, in retrospect, when I should have provided the required material and allowed the embedded tasks in each scenario drive the learning process. For successive sections, having learned that lesson and having seen demonstrated in the stacks the strength of the embedded pedagogy, I turned the dial back, and limited the classroom phase to 10-15 minutes. The teams were randomly arranged and I assigned the scenarios to each team.
On the way to the stacks, we passed a stairwell that had portraits of each university chancellor. To break the ice, theirs and mine, I told a couple of stories about the chancellor for whom the library was named, Hyram Tyram Hunter. Once we reached the stacks, with 45 minutes left in the class period, I turned them loose to accomplish their assigned tasks. Then, along with their instructor, I roamed from team to team, answering their questions and steering them in their search. It was clear that the students were engaged, even animated, and eager to get their task accomplished. I heard some very interesting comments from the team members, which I hope will be included in their postings to Blackboard. Each team was required to post their reflections/findings/conclusions on the exercise on Blackboard.
It appeared that each successive class section achieved the assigned task quicker than the previous section, and by the fourth class, the teams had accomplished the task and made their submission to Blackboard with time to spare in the hour. I wonder if my over-anxiousness at the beginning slowed the first class down a bit, and if the resolution of my anxiety over the course of the morning was reflected in the performance of each section and each team within the sections.
As an aside, I think the students were very excited about the scenarios that had North Carolina content, though they were equally animated by the Paulo Freire and the Ranganathan questions, and in both cases, exceeded the task requirements.
More to follow…
Some thoughts on my first teaching experience this week.
1. I don’t want to bore them with silly platitudes about libraries. They’ll just say, “so what?”
2. I do want them to get first-hand experience of searching and finding information, to feel the thrill of the hunt.
3. So I am thinking about coming up with a series of “hunt” scenarios.
4. No more than 15 minutes of work in the classroom, then I will camp out in the stacks and let them go to work.
5. I will stay around as a resource, then give them my contact info for later.
6. Each group will be required to share its info with every other group.
7. Each team will appoint one person to scour the libguide.
8. Each team will appoint one person to serve as reporter.
9. Looking for a way to have students post their results and conclusions
Additional thoughts (with help from twitter buddies)
1. May share with them that they are first year learners and I am a first year librarian – we are discovering learning strategies together.
2. Will post hints/tips for each scenario to the libguide page I am going to build Sunday and encourage them to flip through all the tabs during the classroom phase.
3. Might alternate the “terms of the hunt” across the four sections and compare results.
So, the scenarios:
1. Tell me the name of a poetry movement that arose in western North Carolina in the 1940’s. Name 3 or 4 poets from that school and find 2 examples of their poetry. Search terms: poetry movement; North Carolina; 1940’s (Hint: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/brief-guide-black-mountain-school)
2. In the early 1960’s a college in North Carolina became famous when four of its students staged a non-violent protest against then-legal racial discrimination practices. What was the name of that college? List the four students’ names. How many of the four students are still alive? Find two books and two articles covering the event and subsequent movement. Search terms: Sit-ins; North Carolina; 1960. (Hint: http://www.northcarolinahistory.org/commentary/299/entry)
3. What Indian mathematician and librarian became famous throughout the world of librarianship with his 1929 book, The Five Laws of Library Science? Find three articles or two books that look at modern interpretations of his ideas. Search term: “The five laws of library science” (Hint: http://eprints.rclis.org/7252/1/Application_of_Ranganathan%27s_Laws_to_the_Web.pdf)
4. A Brazilian educator and writer wrote a seminal book on pedagogy in 1970 that has become a classic around the world. What was the name of that book and what tiny country in West Africa did he choose for a case study? Search terms: Paulo Freire; pedagogy (Hint: https://libcom.org/files/FreirePedagogyoftheOppressed.pdf
5. There are several websites that focus on how to evaluate websites for accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency and coverage. Define these terms for your classmates and find at least four different systems for evaluating websites and blogs. Search terms: website evaluation; blog evaluation
6. What North Carolina governor, alarmed at the technological progress Russia made with the launching of the Sputnik, decided that his state had to move beyond textile and tobacco and proceeded to establish the North Carolina Governor’s School, the North Carolina School of the Arts, the North Carolina Community College System, and to consolidate the UNC system? Find two biographical items on his life (books or articles). Search terms: North Carolina, governor, education champion.
OK. Just what is meant by Jasperian-split? (p. 79) What is this consciousness as consciousness of consciousness other than a poetic play on prepositions?
Earlier in the paragraph, Freire makes reference to “intentionality” as the essence of consciousness and how “problem-posing” education “epitomizes the special characteristic of consciousness: being conscious of, not only as intent on objects but as turned in upon itself…”
My knowledge of Portuguese makes me suspect something is lost in the translation. So I have ordered a copy of the Portuguese edition from UNC through the ILL system so I can check directly. But never mind, we can still work with it as it is.
I mentioned earlier that I teach my first library instruction class next week. Wednesday. Four sections of Freshman English, back-to-back. One hour each, one hour per semester. I have no intention of boring them to tears with a stack of powerpoint slides. We are going to chat for ten minutes, then turn them loose for 50 minutes to “hunt for stuff” in the stacks and on the library website under supervision. My goal for today is to plan those “hunting” tasks in a way that includes achieving the learning goals already established. It brings us back to “intentionality” and “consciousness of consciousness,” or meta-consciousness.
I don’t want to trick the students into learning, because a “trick” makes it a one-way process that might backfire once they learn the truth. I don’t want to be the guy behind the curtain pulling levers. And ultimately, I don’t want to cut off the opportunity to learn something new from the students, an opportunity that requires, no demands two way free exchange.
Now, back to Jasperian-split. Ok, I admit, I had to look it up. Siri didn’t know, so I went to the Oracle. The Oracle pointed me again to Fanon (see part one) (http://www.crvp.org/book/series02/ii-7/chapter_i.htm) and through him, to these Bob Marley lyrics (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tg97JiBn1kE):
We’re sick and tired of your ism and skism game
Die and go to heaven in Jesus’ name, Lord
We know when we understand
Almighty God is a living man
You can fool some people sometimes
But you can’t fool all the people all the time
So now we see the light
We gonna stand up for our right
And this Rilke sonnet (http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/archaic-torso-apollo):
Archaic Torso of Apollo
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
In short, the Oracle told me, the Jasperian split is the gap between form/format and content/context in learning, and the awareness that to close that gap one must be willing to create, to re-create, to change the normally acceptable structure and order and to be conscious of that closing and that change as an evolving process, i.e., we know when we understand, and you must change your life.
Now, to Emily Dickinson. ModPo (Modern and Contemporary American Poetry) folks know of my total adoration for Emily Dickinson and have heard me quote that the only way to approach understanding an Emily Dickinson poem is “on your knees,” implying the academic/intellectual humility required. Here are the lines:
From all the jails the boys and girls
Beloved, only afternoon
That prison doesn’t keep.
They storm the earth and stun the air, 5
A mob of solid bliss.
Alas! that frowns could lie in wait
For such a foe as this!
“Jails” as a metaphor for banking approach to education? Freedom from constraints (storm the earth and stun the air) the needful to generate in young minds “their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as static reality, but as reality in process, in transformation.” (p. 83)
I first discovered Paulo Freire on the dusty street corners of Bissau, where dog-eared, well-used copies of his books could be found in plenitude. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t read any of them, but I remembered the name! For the purposes of this blog post, I want to reflect on two ideas mentioned/alluded to in chapter two of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the teacher-student contradiction, and meta-consciousness. Then close with thoughts on the Emily Dickinson poem, “From all the jails the Boys and Girls.” .
But first a digression. Is it just me, or am I seeing shades and shadows of Fanon throughout the reading. Does anyone know if Freire and Fanon ever met? I am sensing a very strong connection…
I begin teaching next week. I am very excited about it. And worried just a bit. Will I emulate my previous instructors and aim to be “the sage on the stage?” Or will I exert effort to break away from the old mold and earnestly seek to resolve the teacher-student contradiction that Freire talks about? I am a librarian, and so much of library instruction is “one shot” teaching, definitely the “banking method,“ where one tries to pour as much information into the students’ heads as possible in that one hour per semester. But how about a new method? How about we turn the students loose, in the stacks and in the databases, and set them on a path of true, memorable, and transformative discovery, discovery in the stacks? Some preparation will be necessary. We will need to “flip the classroom” and encourage a certain amount of “programmed” self-learning prior to the encounter.
But that brings up another issue, one which will repeat itself as we proceed. Is there a foundational need for critical information literacy that underlies the critical pedagogy push? Or is that just an effort to dichotomize, to postpone, to obfuscate students’ engagement. Freire says the teacher-student “…is not ‘cognitive’ at one point and ‘narrative’ at another. She is always ‘cognitive,’ whether preparing a project or engaging in dialogue with the students…In this way, the problem-posing educator constantly re-forms his reflections in the reflections of the students…the role of the problem-posing educator is to create; together with the students, the conditions under which knowledge at the level of the doxa (common belief/popular opinion) is superseded by true knowledge, at the level of the logos (knowledge of a higher system of thinking and of the world).” (p. 81)
to be continued…