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 (   Should provide lots of opportunities to hone #critped and #critlit tools.

November 5, 2013 – Library Student Day in the Life

Completed some reading over tea.  Filomena made a big breakfast of eggs, baked fish and toast.  Made the neighborhood rounds: the post office, the public Library, the optical store, the instruction manual factory and back home.  Made an appointment for my retirement physical at the instruction manual factory.  Returned home and dithered for several hours over my 644 project (Information Literacy).  Went to bed early after a long chat with Filomena about themes from The Iceman Cometh.

LSC 555 Blog #4b: Database tutorial dot@mac

Database tutorial. dot@mac

It may seem a bit strange to blog about an online tutorial, except that I am also taking LSC 644, Information Literacy and Instructional Design, and one of our term projects is to produce an online tutorial.  So blogging about this one gives me the opportunity to open up the hood and see the inside operation of the engine, so to speak. 

The first frame has a banner identifying the topic, an advanced organizer with learning goals, and the estimated time required to complete the tutorial.  The first frame also introduces the navigational system for moving back and forth, arrow at the bottom directing the user to the next or the previous page.  The multiple choice challenges are good, especially the “pick all that apply,” and the immediate feedback really helps to maintain the user’s attention and he/she proceeds through the tutorial. 

On the content side, the tutorial does an adequate job of decomposing databases into records and records into fields.  The explanations for database types stick in the mind, especially after being reinforced with graphics and short multiple choice sets.  The segment on keyword searching is instructive and entertaining, with the mouse-over effects and putting the correct key works in a book instead of in the garbage can.  The quiz at the end has just the right length to keep the user engaged and yet provide adequate reinforcement to drive home the learning concept.  Nice graphics!  Good ideas for techniques I can implement in my own tutorial.

LSC 555 Blog #4a: Preston and Lin – Database technology in digital libraries

Database technology in digital libraries

The Preston and Lin article is, at the very least, prescient – written in 2002, now 11 years later we are still  discussing database technologies in libraries that each day are becoming more and more digitized.  Eleven years is almost an eternity in the Network Age!  That the authors spent the time they did at the beginning of the article on definitions indicates that they were discussing new ideas at the time, ideas that today are common place if not ubiquitous.

The section on on-going digital library projects described nascent and newly born technologies and projects, at the time, that have now all reached quasi geriatric maturity.  Informedia’s website was put out to pasture in 2009 and has not been updated.  The Alexandria Digital Library Project went defunct in 2003.  All the European digital library projects coalesced into a single i2010 digital libraries initiative, Europeana (, with a fancy, Google-like homepage, a dropdown menu with 30 European languages, and connection buttons to all the leading US-based social media sites.

But the technology issues remain. We are still concerned about user-interface, query processing, interoperability, metadata, data quality, and intellectual property concerns.  Some things never cease.  And the managerial implications remain: reallocation of resources to procure, lease, and license digital products; balancing the growing number of digital holdings with maintaining the value of legacy non-digital holdings and collections; keeping pace with evolving user needs, ease of access, and avoidance of user confusion; the interdisciplinary work required to develop and maintain digital libraries; and the changing information literacy requirements of users and institutions.

October 31, 2013 – Library Student Day in the Life

October 31, 2013

Got 551 reading and posting to do tonight or I am screwed!

Good panel discussion at FSI this morning.  How to establish a consulting practice.  Five successful consulting practitioners, three of them former government employees/FSO’s. Chatted afterwards with two I knew.  Got a book recommendation, Government Contracts Made Easier, much cheaper on Kindle.  On my list.

Good chat with the folks from ADST (Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training), one of my favorite groups of folks.  Couldn’t resist telling them that what the oral history project needs is metadata and indexing.  The e-mail they asked me to send may turn into another project!

Introduced to Adobe Fireworks and Dreamweaver tonight at Information Literacy and Instructional Design class.  Part of the whole experience of going back to grad school at 50-something is dealing with the humility of having 20-somethings run circles around you because they are natives to the technology and you are an alien. Time heals all wounds.

Last day of Job Search Program tomorrow.  But not so soon.  Tomorrow morning I meet Lila Ibrahim, president of Coursera.  Hopefully we will have a ModPo crew there to hold high the ModPo banner (ModPo is Penn’s Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, Coursera’s second most popular MOOC course).  ModPo is the beloved community that accompanied me through a storm.  Speaking of which, while browsing the stacks looking for Panofsky’s Studies in Iconology (librarians and information scientists who got through Taylor&Joudrey will know what I am talking about), I stumbled upon “An Anthology of Concrete Poetry.”  Talking about a revolution.  ”If there is such a thing as a worldwide movement in the art of poetry, Concrete it is.” -Jonathan Wiliams

OK. Time for some 551.


October 27, 2013 – Library Student Day in the Life

October 27, 2013.

Up early on a Sunday morning, playing catch up with readings from 551, Organization of Information.  This is not the class I should have fallen behind in, this is the stuff I really like because, as we all know, the devil is in the details.  Anyway, I am catching up, ploughing through the readings, intent on making the first of several Blackboard submissions before I have breakfast and dash off to meet the Poetry Group at the American Art Museum.  Later, volunteer duty at the Arabian Sights Film Festival, which should actually be fun, then back home to plow through some more 551 readings.

Sunday is a good day to ponder on all the upcomings of the week.  Job Fair at FSI Tuesday, Megabus to New York on Wednesday for Power, Privacy and the Internet conference, How to Establish a Consulting Practice panel Thursday morning, online tutorial project due in Information Literacy and Instructional Design (644) Thursday night (better have the bulk of it done Tuesday or no New York trip!), Tech@State Friday morning to meet the president of Coursera with ModPo buddies, wrap-up, photos and reception end the Job Search Program course Friday afternoon (better dress up for that).  Gotta check in on the research project I have neglected these three weeks (I think folks understand that this is and has been, like, hell three weeks in the education village, but still, it is good and right to talk).

Working (mentally, just an internal conversation right now) on a new poem about the future reaching back to determine the present.  Sankofa.  It’s an African philosophical and psychological construct.  Mother Africa.

Enough for day -1.

Constructivism, Accountable Talk, Conversation Theory, and Information Literacy Instruction


            This paper sets forth constructivism and a constructive approach as the best solution for information literacy instruction.  Many have already made that argument and made it convincingly.  What is different in this paper is my attempt to make the case that using deliberative discourse, also called accountable talk (pioneered at University of Pittsburg), is an excellent way to move forward the constructivist paradigm for learning.   Briefly, I will put a sharper point on the case I have made with a review of Pask’s conversation theory, and its latest disciple, David Lankes.  Finally, I will use two examples not related to information literacy instruction to illustrate the potential comprehensiveness of this approach.

A Constructivist Approach

Cooperstein and Kocevar-Weidinger (2003) convincingly explain the generally agreed upon elements of constructivist learning, i.e., learners “construct” meaning by making a deliberate attempt at sense-making of incoming information; learners “build” new information on top of old information, finding connections between the two; learners share and compare ideas and learn through the resolution of conflicting ideas; and learning happens through classroom activities that imitate and emulate activities in the real world (Cooperstein & Kocevar, p. 142).  The first two elements operate inside the learner and occur inside the mind.  Of the second two elements, the third is more socially oriented, i.e., accomplished through interactions with others, and thus, within our power to control, and the fourth is pretty much dependent on the strength and creativity of the teacher or instructor.  My focus, then, is on the third element.

Vygotsky (1966) describes how a child reaches his hand out to grasp an object that he sees but that is beyond his reach.  That reaching appears to surrounding people to be a pointing, though it may not be, it may just be a hand “hanging in the air.”  But the nature of the thing changes, from being an extended reach, to becoming a signal to surrounding people.  Vygotsky says the “child is the last to realize his own gesture” and concludes that “we become ourselves through others” (Vygotsky, p. 39).  This begins a very social way of interacting with and learning from others.  Expanded, Cooperstein and Kocevar-Weidinger claim that “an important aspect of constructivism is the need for social interaction” and that “group activity increases discussion, experimentation, enthusiasm, and participation (Cooperstein and Kocevar-Weidinger, p. 144).”

Constructivism works well in information literacy instruction settings for several reasons.  Grassian (2009) explains that the cognitive/constructivist model helps the learner “own” the material through active involvement, emphasizes collaborative learning, and allows for differing hypotheses that encourages development of a learning community (Grassian, p. 50-51).  Information literacy skills, like conducting searches or evaluating web documents, all lend themselves to learning that depends on cognitive activity, on thinking about discrete steps in a process, on brainstorming trial answers to a series of questions, and on sharing and comparing those trial answers to discover the best outcome or the most satisfactory information solution.

Accountable Talk/Deliberative Discourse

Accountable Talk, a conversation methodology pioneered at the University of Pittsburg, focuses on establishing group norms that simultaneously support rigorous inquiry and promote equity and access (Michaels, O’Connor & Resnick, 2007).  Most experiments in Accountable Talk have occurred with children, but information literacy instruction groups at high school or college age would make a good experimentation model.  The authors at Pitt developed Accountable Talk from a Vygotskian theoretical framework emphasizing the importance of social interaction in developing thought processes that raise the level of discourse (Michaels, O’Connor & Resnick, p. 285).  By asking for clarification, through polite challenges, and by encouraging participation by all participants, the conversation itself spurs students to think more deeply, more carefully and more critically.

The “accountable” of Accountable Talk refers to levels or areas of accountability to which students (participants) are held.  While involved in conversations, students are held accountable to the learning community of which each is a part.  They must listen to each other, both to show respect, and to carefully assess what is being said so they can use and build on it.  Students are held accountable to accurate knowledge, i.e., they are responsible for their claims’ accuracy and truth.  Finally, students are held responsible to standards of rigorous and critical thinking.   These levels of accountability, along with the other group norms, would combine together to create a rich and creative environment for students in an interdisciplinary information literacy course.

Conversation Theory

Conversation Theory is in large part an extension and an amplification of Accountable Talk, although it predates Accountable Talk.  At the least, both derive from similar roots in the Vygotskian approach mentioned earlier in this paper.  Gordon Pask first developed it.  I will present below David Lankes’ moderated interpretation.

Lankes (2011) says a conversation has four parts: conversants, either people, or political parties, or even countries; a language, a set of meanings going back and forth; agreements, shared understandings between the conversants, arrived at through the language; and an entailment mesh, a collection and relation of the agreements (Lankes, p. 221).  Conversation may begin in a basic way, as a series of directions or instructions, simple exchanges.  One conversant may be a lot less knowledgeable than the other, but the exchange of these basic instructional directions builds a shared framework of common understanding.  Gordon Pask identified this stage as the initial stage of conversation (Lankes, p. 221).  After numerous exchanges at this level, if one of the conversants makes assertions that the other must agree to, over several iterations several agreements (or agreements not to agree) will be established, which may spawn different conversations.  This would be the second level (Lankes, p. 221).  Both conversants are now involved in learning, about each other, about their respective tastes and preferences and interests. Third level (Lankes, p. 222).  Once a collection of these agreements is established and stored in a memory file or a book, it will achieve what Pask and Lankes would call the fourth level, or entailment mesh (Lankes, p. 222).   At each level, new knowledge and new information are being formed and developed, in a constructivist way.


Last year I took a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, also called ModPo.  There were over 40,000 students in the course.  It was hosted by University of Pennsylvania, and live webcasts were broadcasted once a week, to which all participants were invited.  The professor used a team-teaching approach, and several videos each week featured close reads of poems with the professor at a table conversing with six teaching assistants.  The conversation was led by various team members at various times.  Each lecture was a conversation between the seven of them, piped out to over 40,000 students around the world.  The course was a grand success.  We learned the material, and a large percentage actually got certificates of completion.  In Washington, a dozen or so of us formed a weekly study group that met on Sundays at Politics and Prose Bookstore.  This year the course is being taught with the addition of some twenty community teaching assistants, embedded throughout the population of online students.  Perhaps such a model of conversation- and team-led instruction might be conceivable for information literacy instruction on a smaller level.

The final example is an information interview I conducted with Max McClellan, one of the producers of the highly regarded, award-winning news program, 60 Minutes.  One thing that the producer said made a very strong impression on me.  He said all interviews on 60 Minutes are conversations, the kind of conversation that anyone could imagine having in his/her own living room.  He said it was through conversations, going back and forth, that new information was developed, and it was through conversation that new knowledge was best imparted (M. McClellan, personal communication, August 16, 2013).

Both examples highlight the use of conversation as an instructional vehicle/mechanism.  Information literacy instruction might be ripe for the inclusion of more talk in the various methodologies already in use to convey and impart knowledge.


Cooperstein, S. E., & Kocevar-Weidinger, E. (2004). Beyond active learning: A constructivist approach to learning. Reference Services Review, 32(2), 141-148.

Grassian, E. S., & Kaplowitz, J. R. (2009). Information literacy instruction. Theory and Practice, Neal-Schuman Publishers, New York. 

Lankes, R. D. (2011). The atlas of new librarianship MIT Press Cambridge, MA.

Michaels, S., O’Connor, C., & Resnick, L. B. (2008). Deliberative discourse idealized and realized: Accountable talk in the classroom and in civic life. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 27(4), 283-297.

Vygotsky, L. (1991). 3 genesis of the higher mental functions. Learning to Think, 2, 32.