lurked #critlib tonight ISO (in search of) #radlibchat

Gotta get these live chats on the calendar so I plan for them, instead of stumbling upon and lurking after the fact, so to speak.

Tuesday’s #critlib chat led me to #CLAPS2016 and David Hudson’s keynote, just as the last #radlibchat led me to Spencer Lilley’s keynote address from Vancouver, which in turn led me to a wide range of background reading at my library, as I suspect the Hudson talk will as I pour through tonight’s tweets.

There is a lot to be said about either, or both. The “critical” path takes me back to critical theory itself, its limitations, and discussions about the need to push original critical theory beyond its “native” boundaries to address current and present concepts and manifestations of power and domination, up to and including LIS discussions of diversity and inclusion.

Before things get too serious, let me share with you all a photograph of my garden plot:

garden week 0

It’s tiny compared to the plots I had last spring in Cullowhee, and I only get the front half of the box. But I have grandiose plans to fill my half box with compost and rock dust, and after the final frost (a lesson I learned from last year’s experience of planting too soon), to plant a row of beets, a row of turnips, a row of okra, and a dandelion perimeter.

Back to the subject.

Again, the chat from two weeks ago drew me to a careful reading of Reiland Rabaka and his coverage of Amilcar Cabral (and of Franz Fanon, but that will be the subject of a subsequent post), one of my favorite thinkers. Cabral’s development of Africana critical theory (as described by Rabaka, particularly in Concepts of Cabralism) is itself a critique of and an evolutionary advance of critical theory, raising it (critical theory) from a Eurocentric philosophical construct with Marxian roots to a trans-disciplinary human science level that we, as librarians, can deeply appreciate and even relate to (at its foundation, library science is a social and hence, a human science, isn’t it?).

That was more than a mouthful.

Tonight’s #critlib live chat, similarly, along with the diversity and inclusion aspects of Hudson’s keynote, drew me back to Amilcar Cabral, especially his speech, National Liberation And Culture, delivered at Syracuse University on February 20, 1970, where he addressed issues of colonial cultural domination and power.  He wrote,

“Culture, the fruit of history, reflects at every moment the material and spiritual reality of society, of man-the-individual and of man-the-social-being, faced with conflicts which set him against nature and the exigencies of common life.  From this we see that all culture is composed of essential and secondary elements , of strengths and weaknesses, of virtues and failings, of positive and negative aspects, of factors of progress and factors of stagnation or regression.  From this we can also see that culture – the creation of society and the synthesis of the balances and the solutions which society engenders to resolve the conflicts which characterize each phase of its history – is a social reality, independent of the will of men, the color of their skin, or the shape of their eyes.”

Hudson alluded in his keynote remarks to the tendency of diversity and inclusion work to result in increases to neither diversity nor inclusion in the library profession.  Perhaps it is sufficient that awareness is raised and transmitted.  The presence or absence of non-white librarians, to paraphrase Cabral above, is a culturally derived social reality.  Having members of the profession flail themselves at conferences may or may not change the numbers. Raising awareness may be a temporary phenomenon, or may have a lasting effect.  Chatting about it on twitter and/or posting about it in blogs, similarly, may make a short-term or a longer-term  difference.

For critical social theory (including #critped and #critlib) to be effective in the 21st century, it has to become trans-disciplinary.  It has to cut across previously siloed disciplines of history, philosophy, sociology, political science, economic, post-colonial studies, gender studies, queer or LGBT studies, racial and ethnic studies, and cultural studies.  It has to reflect the material and spiritual reality of society, in both a descriptive and a normative way (I was so thrilled to hear Hudson mention his participation in a poetry slam!). Finally, and maybe most importantly, critical social theory that underpins both #critped and #critlib must marry theory to practice and to praxis in a harmonious, mutually reinforcing way.

The agile librarian recuperates after a fall

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.

#Rhizo15 week three: thoughts on “content”

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.

#Rhizo15 week one: Learning subjectives (vs. objectives)

#rhizo15 Learning subjectives (vs. objectives)

So, it may not be so bad to not know where you are headed, i.e., what one’s objectives are, as long as you know how you got here in the first place. That is where we are.

As a reference and instruction librarian, I am concerned about how we help students develop tools for finding, analyzing, evaluating information and how they use those tools to further develop their awareness of the world around them. One of the tools we use are libguides, and right now I am in the middle of rebuilding my share of our libguide collection to migrate to V2 (and frankly I haven’t caught the enthusiasm bug to do it, but a deadline looms…)

But I am also the liaison to the business school, with a research focus on evidence-based management, where my business school colleagues and I are focused on the role of systematic reviews (in management education and in management practice) in providing evidence for practice.

And aside from the above, I have a personal research interest in design and communication of scholarly information, primarily the design of libguides and posters, which led me to sign up for a MOOC presently underway, Design Thinking.

All these parts were tip-toeing around each other, until I took #MOOCMOOC and rediscovered critical pedagogy after a long period of dormancy. But the parts all collided when I saw the HybridPedagogy post, Libguides: Pedagogy to Oppress (a play on the title of the Freire classic, Pedagogy of the Oppressed).

So, I have two small plots in the #CullowheeCommunityGarden, and I have been ordering seeds through the mail. When I don’t use all the seeds in a package, I pour what’s left into a brown bag because I like to use the original package as a marker on the row. Those seeds mix at the bottom of the bag, unidentified for the most part, but being the efficient guy that I want to be, I plan to plant all those leftover seeds as soon as the last frost comes and goes. Except I won’t know what they are, so I will have to plant them and wait to see what they grow into. That is how I see learning subjectives. I have these ideas, these research proposals, and I suspect they are related. Well, sort of. But I don’t know really, and won’t know until they all grow together and bear fruit, just like the seeds at the bottom of the bag.

That’s what’s up, as the young folks say.

Blog post for April 1, 2015

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.

So, if you care to join me, I’ll be posting here every day in April, with links to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

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.

Week four of #MOOCMOOC – A librarian reads anarchist pedagogies

Listen.  Week four of #moocmooc is a real doozy!  Let me confess that I had to look up Hakim Bey, Max Stirner, Francisco Ferrer, Paul Goodman, and the Free Space/Free Skool.  But I knew exactly what heterotopia was as I had created several of them over the past several decades – it was the only way I was able to survive in a hostile world. In fact, I am in a heterotopia as we speak, my refuge in the North Carolina mountains…

I had read Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience as a somewhat precocious teenager and it inspired me to write a piece for the high school newspaper on student rights, entitled “The Student is the New Nigger,” which did not make many of my teachers happy though my father found it quite entertaining.  It was, after all, the Watergate years.  Needless to say, the re-reading of Thoreau’s masterful essay brought back warm memories of those years of my youth…(who knew that was all it took?)…

But let’s get down to brass tacks. I had never really thought of Thoreau (and, by extension, his intellectual lineage, Gandhi and King) as an anarchist, but in close proximity to the Shantz article, it all becomes somewhat clear.  “Anarchists seek freedom from internalized authority and ideological domination,” sounds very similar, to me, to “The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right.”  The sentence “This American government – what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity” resonates as truthfully today as it did in 1849.  And the classic, oft-quoted lines, “Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?” have launched many a protest movement since being prophetically penned on the eve of the American Civil War and brings to mind the haunting Herman Melville poem about, perhaps, America’s greatest anarchist:

The Portent

Hanging from the beam,
Slowly swaying (such the law),
Gaunt the shadow on your green,
Shenandoah!
The cut is on the crown
(Lo, John Brown)
And the stabs shall heal no more.

Hidden in the cap
Is the anguish none can draw;
So your future veils its face,
Shenandoah!
But the streaming beard is shown
(Weird John Brown),
The meteor of the war.

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175173

But back to critical pedagogy (oh must we?).  There are surely shades of Freire and hooks in the sentiments that “learning should contribute to independence of thought and action and contribute to capacities for self-determination” and that traditional teacher/student relationships “can inhibit students and reinforce authority structures of command and obedience.” But we also see where The Free Skool’s adherence to anarchist principles, simply stated, resulted in the loss of administrative power to accomplish political or even cultural goals.  At one point in the reading I scribbled in the margin, “are anarchist pedagogies only for spoiled rich kids?” Conclusion:  I have a lot of reading to do.  Good thing I’m retired.  Except I do have this new day job that I love.  So I guess I’ll be phoning my local independent bookseller in the morning.

…and this one ain’t too shabby (I say in my native vernacular for effect)….

….’cause poets are the original critical pedagogs…

http://www.lanaturnerjournal.com/print-issue-7-contents/delusions-of-whiteness-in-the-avant-garde

More to come: a librarian reads Giroux…#MOOCMOOC

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.

http://blog.mahabali.me/blog/pedagogy/critical-pedagogy/cliffs-notes-of-girouxs-chapter-moocmooc/

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.

MOOC MOOC reading from bell hooks, some more after-action thoughts, and preps for the coming week

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.

First teaching experience – Library Instruction

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…