Tag Archives: instruction

Librarianing Abroad: Two Weeks in South Africa

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I recently returned from South Africa, where I went as a faculty assistant for a short-term study abroad class. Ironically, right after I returned, I saw an article about librarian-led study abroad trips on In The Library With The Lead Pipe. So that’s my next adventure in the works 😉

The sociology course studied the legacy of Apartheid, looking at inequality and resistance from an international perspective. Lasting about two weeks, we split our time between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Our experiences ranged from touring Robben Island where anti-Apartheid political activists were imprisoned to attending lectures at the University of Johannesburg to penguin watching on the Western Cape to visiting Langa township in Cape Town (which I fell in love with and am currently plotting my moving plans) to observing the stark disparities in housing conditions and availability in urban Johannesburg and much, much more. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip and every bit as much of a learning experience for me as I’m sure it was for the students.

Perspective

I visited South Africa last summer, as a tourist, with friends. As such, my exposure was mainly to Cape Town proper and all the beautiful things. I was certainly aware of the troubled history of race relations in South Africa and suspected that there were ongoing challenges, especially given the country’s relatively new democracy and current leadership. Last summer, the driver who took us from the airport to our lodging happened to be black. He told us about how black and brown people largely still live in segregated communities, before dropping us off in what he termed as “rich, white” neighborhood. And it was. Very white, to the extent that we were pretty much the only brown faces aside from wait staff at restaurants. Because that’s what having American dollars does.

So when I returned to Cape Town this summer as part of a study abroad trip, it was to a familiar city, in more ways than one. In some respects, South Africa reminds me of home. There’s de facto segregation. There are white people in denial, complaining about affirmative action. There is white supremacy. There are misguided liberals who want to do and say the right thing, but still don’t ever really interact with the communities they’re speaking on behalf of. There are black and brown people passionately advocating for change, because their lives depend on it. There are apathetic folk. There’s abject poverty that follows the path of redlining in urban and suburban regions. And there was the ever-present clerk or “security guard” to follow me around the store and make sure I’m not stealing anything since, you know, my skin is brown. Therefore, I am a suspect.

But I guess it should remind me of home, since our histories are so intertwined. In fact, the U.S. was one of the countries South Africa studied before implementing Apartheid. Under Apartheid, American leading politicians largely turned a blind eye, while our CIA played a role in training the South African equivalent (as we learned at one museum) and imprisoning those who were against the system. It’s amazing to me how simply desiring to be treated as human can so easily become a crime. And how many people have died, in South Africa, the U.S., and other nations, to try to realize this dream.

Parallels

Race has played a huge role in the development of South African society. Starting with segregated communities following colonization by the Dutch and the British, the emphasis on white and non-white snowballed before culminating in what we know as Apartheid. I found it interesting that there was this alternative history being shared in conversation with South Africans involved in the cultural heritage and tourist industries about how pre-Apartheid everyone lived harmoniously and got along. Me being the skeptic that I am (and having some prior knowledge of South African history), I did some digging around and verified that, yes, segregation was a thing well before Apartheid was formally enacted in 1948. After all, Matahma Ghandi was involved in anti-segregation work in the 1920s…which made me wonder why this story was being told and did the tellers actually believe it? How does creating alternative histories impact the integrity of cultural heritage work? Might cultural heritage and information institutions not be neutral after all? *gasp*

Under Apartheid, race became white (self-explanatory) and black (everyone who wasn’t white. This included black Africans, coloreds, Indians/Asians, and those of Muslim faith). Persons of color residing in communities that were reclaimed or desired for white people were forcibly removed and resettled in segregated townships and homelands under the 1913 Native Land Act. Mind you, white people were the minority in South Africa, but they had political power. Control was maintained in part by limiting access to quality education. Education for non-whites was dismal by comparison, particularly for black Africans. Higher education was primarily conducted in Afrikaans, which very few black Africans were fluent in.

In addition to housing and education, discrimination was seen in criminal justice and employment practices. The racial hierarchy put those of European ancestry at the top. Coloreds (those descending from mixed race individuals) and Indian/Asians (often lumped together) were second tier, while black Africans were regarded as the bottom rung of the social ladder. In the criminal justice system, this hierarchy was enforced, with black prisoners being given worse treatment and facilities than colored and Indian inmates. Black South Africans essentially had their citizenship stripped under Apartheid and were required to carry passbooks at all times. White employers had to sign the books each week in order for them to be allowed in the city, where whites resided. Without  the passbook in hand (or without the signature), blacks could be arrested and beaten. One woman said they got in the habit of saying goodbye to their families each time they left the house, because no one knew if they would return home that evening. Prison was just as much of a likelihood. Sometimes, white employers would force black employees to forego wages in exchange for a signature. Resistance efforts included literate black South Africans forging signatures for themselves or others.

In the workplace, people of color were often relegated to labor positions, such as working the sewer or electric lines. Even in those positions, the racial hierarchy was enforced and they were reminded of their “place.” For example, at one museum, we learned that female, black prison wardresses were required to wear a separate uniform, could not advance in rank, and were required to remain on their feet for an entire shift (which would last twelve hours). White wardresses were afforded chairs to use during their shifts. I’m telling you, the detail put into this system would be impressive if it weren’t so depressing.

The legacy of Apartheid is obvious even today. Quality education for children of color in K-12 remains a struggle; student activism against colonialist higher education structures is present. Housing remains an issue, with Johannesburg and Cape Town being overcrowded and under-resourced. Stereotypes prevail that cast black South Africans as lazy and untrustworthy and colored South Africans as thieves. There aren’t enough jobs to go around; unemployment rates are highest among black young adults aged 18-35. Xenophobia towards immigrants creates tension, as Africans immigrating from other countries are seen as better workers (see stereotypes) and hired over native South Africans. It seems you can’t create an unequal system and expect it to go away in twenty years, when it took hundreds of years to create. The problems continue to exacerbate rather than subside. Sound familiar, America?

In Johannesburg, the city center is predominantly black and brown, because of white flight post-Apartheid. The suburbs encircling the city are white communities. One of the most striking things I encountered in Johannesburg was the way that middle and upper class white people (basically all white people, because Apartheid) lock themselves away. They reside in nice homes in white-only neighborhoods, but remain behind walls with barbed wire on top. They hire security guards to patrol the streets around their homes…I couldn’t help wondering what they are afraid of.

Librarianing

In terms of what I did as a librarian and assistant faculty person pre-trip, I engaged in research to compile a packet on the HIV/AIDS crisis for students who might be interested in exploring this as a final project. This packet was made available via Blackboard, along with a few other topics the leading faculty put together on criminal justice and housing reform.

While in South Africa, I accompanied my colleague, the onsite coordinator(s) and the students on excursions to various lectures, cultural heritage sites, and tourist locations. And I talked, a lot, with my colleague about parallels to the U.S. and other nations that attempted or succeeded in building social systems around race. We brainstormed about what to revisit during debriefing sessions with the students and provided “actually…consider….what about…are you sure?” statements to push them to think more critically about their initial reactions. The students were responsible for writing journals a few times a week, so occasionally we bounced ideas around to restructure journal assignments.

Oh, and I said, “Actually I’m a faculty member” about a hundred times when people mistook me for a student. Interesting bit of trivia: in South Africa, “faculty” are what they call colleges within a university. So instead of being liaison to the College of Education here, I might be liaison to the Faculty of Education there. Another trivia fact: I would be in gross violation of the borrowing privileges at the University of Johannesburg Library, because they have stricter limits. Can you imagine being allowed only six items at a time as an undergrad??

Upon returning to the States, I served as the primary contact for questions about the final assignment (my colleague remained abroad) and to provide any research assistance with developing topics. I also accompanied the students home from South Africa. And they all made it in one piece, although it was a little iffy there for a minute, with last-minute security checks. I learned that when you’re traveling internationally, probably don’t tell students to be at the gate ten to fifteen minutes before boarding, because A) They might show up five minutes before and B) There might be a surprise extra screening that will result in actually getting everyone on board ten minutes before the door closes and this will kinda stress you out.

That was my two weeks in brief. There was a whole lot more to the experience, so I could probably write five more blog posts…

Where I’m at.

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It’s officially been one month since I assumed my new role. Classes start again in about three weeks. And it’s my birthday month. Yay birthday!

Before birthday (and the start of classes), though, comes a lot of prep work. I’m in the process of emailing faculty from the liaison departments I inherited. Our library is also in the process of switching over to Libguides from an in-house system, so I’m creating course guides for my assigned TSEMs and creating shell course guides for classes I’ve confirmed instruction for, but haven’t nailed down the specifics yet.

I have to admit, I still feel weird emailing professors and saying, “Hi! I’m your new liaison librarian.” But the more I get “Oh, that’s awesome. Can you come teach a session?” the more it sinks in. Part of my role involves supporting student retention and success, so I’ve been reaching out to faculty members teaching classes that either haven’t had a library component before or haven’t had a library component in a long time. Which is cool, because I’m basically building from the ground up.

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It seems there were a lot of problems

We’re also in the process of weeding the general collection. I’m working with the American History section (E in LCSH), which includes gems like the ones on the left. Also, can I add “a distinct negro strain” to my list of phrases? “Flavor of blackness” is also on the list. I found most of them in the archives 🙂 I’ll have to find them and share them at some point. Good stuff.

Also, I decided to take advantage of a few MOOCs*, because I like learning and I wanted to brush up on my education background knowledge, for a few reasons. A.) I work with the teacher education program on campus and it’s been a little while since I’ve actually studied education, besides leisure reading of articles and blogs. B.) I came across the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute a few weeks ago and was fascinated by the concept of a program that encompasses applied research, a school, and a teacher training academy. C.) I found an online course taught by
the director of the UC Urban Education Institute. and D.) I’m planning to apply for a Ph.D. program that will in part be focused on education and literacy. So I’m taking two MOOCs. One is Critical Issues in Urban Education  (offered by The University of Chicago, as mentioned) and the other one is Literacy Teaching and Learning: Aims, Approaches and Pedagogies (offered by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with a focus on multiliteracies. Yes please.) 

So that’s what I’m up to. Oh, and I’m presenting at a conference next week, so I’m mentally preparing for that. Also, I can’t wait!

 

 

 

*MOOC = Massive Open Online Course. Interestingly, I’ve seen a few articles recently that describe MOOCs either designed in part (or whole) by students or that feature student contributions. I wonder what possibilities exist in that with information literacy and developing instruction modules for distance learners or larger classes where possibilities for F2F instruction are limited. Hmmm….

 

How Much Is Too Much?

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In considering instruction, one of the things I’ve been thinking over is managing student engagement and achievement. In terms of balancing expectations with reality, what does being a good teacher look like/sound like?

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Image via flickr

When it comes to reaching students who may not be responding to traditional lecture-style presentation, sometimes it’s tempting to go the “70 x 7” route: how far do I have to reach to say I did my part, attempted due diligence? I think it’s important to go beyond that question and instead ask, Who are my students? How do they learn? What do they need to succeed? How can I at least try to provide that?

The quiet student, the disengaged student, the struggling student. I’ve been all of these, so I can relate.

Now that I’m on the other side of the table, I think back on my experiences as a student and also my experiences teaching younger grades. While there’s a vast difference in terms of learning ability and emotional development between elementary students and college students, some of the pedagogical values and strategies remain the same. For example, the Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (ZPD) is the difference between what a student can do alone versus with help. Through the scaffolding process, students receive the support and assistance they need to master a concept and move on to autonomy. It’s kind of related to the bottleneck concept, in which large numbers of students get stuck at certain areas. One could posture that with scaffolding, students would be able to grasp threshold concepts and move from the bottleneck into a position of achievement or mastery. Because students both learn differently and come from diverse academic and personal backgrounds, the ZPD will be different from person to person. But the threshold concepts are those areas of learning that will enable students to get past the “stuck” point. For students who are not information literate, a threshold concept that may lead to bottle-necking (is that a word?) could be using certain types of information technology. So the ZPD could be the difference between being able to browse the internet and maybe search Google alone, but then being unable to employ specific search strategies in a database without assistance. Through scaffolding, modeling, and reinforcement, students’ skills are strengthened and they become better equipped to locate scholarly articles for an academic paper (end goal).

Thinking of strategies…in the classroom, if you wait for volunteers, typically you’ll end up with the same students always doing all of the talking. Mixing it up by either calling on students randomly (if they’ve had time to prepare) or promoting buddy or group discussion before doing a share-out increases the likelihood of quieter students’ voices being heard. (Personally, I myself don’t like surprise calling, because if I haven’t had time to formulate my thoughts, I have nothing to say to you.) I tend to lean heavily on buddy and group work in my own instruction. Some of the strategies for younger students, such as manipulatives or use of personal white boards can be adapted for use with college students. There are technological tools that allow for a more active role. And then there’s always good ol’ fashioned pen and paper.

Additionally, to combat student disengagement, crafting lessons that incorporate active learning through problem solving and inquiry is invaluable. David Cutler mentions allowing for student choice decreases the likelihood of disengagement. I’m experimenting this semester with allowing students to choose their final project, with some perimeters. The research topic is entirely up to them, with the caveat that it has to be related to their major on at least an interdisciplinary level. They can opt to use a traditional research paper or a blog (featuring critical article reviews) as their deliverable.

Cutler also noted that it’s important for teachers to remember that struggling students can recover and still succeed, if they receive the support(s) they need. It’s also important to realize that student struggles can be overlooked by focusing on behavioral aspects as an indication of understanding. Just because they show up to class doesn’t mean they’re doing well.

As an instructor, the solution may not always be apparent, but remaining cognizant of students who seem to be struggling and being mindful of both their personal situations and learning styles goes a long way. Because students are also not likely to say, I’m struggling with this, being preemptive about asking students what supports they may need, should you notice a student struggling, inviting them to ask questions, as well as being approachable and available, goes a long way.  Also, crafting assignments in such a way that students have the flexibility and time they need to do their best.

I’m dissatisfied with the assessment model I used this semester, but didn’t have time to do something different. In the future, I would like to play around with different ways for students to demonstrate learning. I’m also interested in incorporating more of the Universal Design for Learning practices into my approach to teaching. Like many other pedagogical approaches, UDL came from K-12 education. Because K-12 is where it’s at. 🙂

Those are all the thoughts I have on student engagement and achievement right now, but I’m sure I’ll think of more in the future.

TL;DR – Know your students. Know yourself. Do the best you can. Never give up.

 

 

 

The Collective: from improv to instruction (and everything in between)

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Last month, I attended The Collective 2016, an innovative library conference centered on library practice. (It only took me over thirty days to write a summary!) The conference was highly interactive and aimed at fostering collaborative idea development and networking through hands-on, workshop-style sessions. It was great!

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Table games, anyone? Me, upper left. (Image courtesy of @Anitalifedotcom)

The conference started with an icebreaker session. You know, one of those activities that starts with “get up and move to a table of people you don’t know.” (I didn’t, by the way…) But instead of just making small talk or even having to talk about anything specific at all, we played board games. Who doesn’t like board games? My table played jumbo Jenga. Our tower was very tall and it never fell! Yay us!

Improv as professional practice

The first session I attended was about using improv as a tool for professional practice, both in the classroom and out. My wonderful colleague, Christina, introduced me to improv a few years ago, at an in-house library event, so I was familiar with the concept. I’d also taken an improv workshop, due to the influence of said wonderful colleague. I was interested, though, in seeing how it could be used as a professional tool.

We started by doing an exercise on “Yes, and” in which the main speaker provided a statement and the participants replied enthusiastically with, “Yes, and?!” Jill Markgraf, the session presenter, made the correlation to providing front-facing library services and being mindful of approaches to the research facilitation process. Recognizing students’ place in the research process, rather than looking down on or criticizing them for either getting a false start or not knowing where to start is important. Even seeking help is worth affirming, because we’re all learners and have to start somewhere. So the “yes” is affirming and the “and” builds on that by offering suggestions, guidance, or redirection.

The other activity that stood out to me was Good, Bad, and Ugly. It is a role-play scenario in which three individuals take on the parts of experts in field and provide feedback on, well, the good, the bad, and the ugly. A statement or situation is provided by the facilitator. The “good” persona talks about all the positive elements; the “bad” persona talks about negatives; and the “ugly” persona gives extreme worst case examples of everything. This being a library conference, somehow everything kept coming back to alcohol. I felt kinda sorry for the good persona when someone in the room asked about diversity in librarianship and she couldn’t think of anything to say off the top of her head. Being that I’ve always got my nose in some article or book on the topic, I was mentally squirming in my seat, thinking, “Oooh! Pick me! Pick me!”

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Librarians improvising. (Image from Library Improv)

Jill suggested using this activity as an ice breaker for departmental meetings. Librarians, in my experience, can be people of strong opinions. Get a bunch of people in one room to discuss changing things and it could take a while, so I could see how it could be a useful way to acknowledge feelings and worst case scenarios while keeping things light.

After the session, I went to Jill’s Library Improv website and found the Keyword Taboo activity, which I used later in a class. It went swimmingly, so I will keep her site in mind for future instruction brainstorming.

 

Instructional design and teaching strategies

I went to a lot of sessions that dealt with designing and improving instruction. Because I am currently teaching a three-credit, semester length course, I felt I could use some help with brainstorming for effective teaching, particularly because, at the time, I was still working on shaping the final project. Sessions I attended covered problem-based learning, creative planning and problem solving, instructional design, and designing one-shot instruction with an eye towards the framework. Like I said, it was a lot of instruction stuff.

The instruction process in academic librarianship involves a lot of complicated pieces. Being faculty, there is that expectation of instruction and research, but most librarians don’t teach semester length courses. Instructional support often happens in conjunction with teaching faculty in various departments, most often the ones affiliated with liaison areas. One of the sessions I attended involved planning one-shot instruction sessions under different circumstances. Such as, you talked to the teaching faculty, made all your plans, and then arrived at the classroom to find you only have twenty minutes to talk. Or, a professor asks you to come speak to their class, but the instruction isn’t tied to any project or assignment. There were also optimal scenarios, such as, you have a three session series in which to cover basic IL concepts related to X discipline and your students are freshmen.

One of the things I appreciated most about the conference was the opportunity to gain hands-on practice in instructional and curricular design. Too, the reason it was valuable was because of the opportunity for collaborative planning and feedback from the session facilitators. Chatting with one of the facilitators during the  “Make it Beautiful, Make it Usable: Improving Instructional Materials for Today’s Learners” session gave me ideas for developing the final project(s) for my adjunct course. Also, seeing how different libraries in different academic communities have developed and used lessons to address student learning outcomes.

Most of the assessment programming I attended was focused on a programmic level. I’m also interested in assessing student learning in single-shot, series, and semester length courses. What does assessment look like on an informal vs. formal basis? How are these measures used to improve student learning, instruction, and match (curriculum mapping)?

As a side note, one of the sessions I attended was facilitated by a librarian and a professor from my alma mater. I couldn’t resist going up to them later and saying, Hey! I used to be a student here, but now I’m a librarian too! I think I was more tickled about that than they were.

More Info

If you’re interested in learning more about the programming, you can view community notes, handouts, and PPT slides via Sched. You can also find archived live tweeting of the conference here or via #libcol16.

A week of instruction

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The Class #1

On Monday, I assisted my colleague (who is the librarian for Early Childhood, Elementary,

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Image via pixabay.com

Middle, and Secondary Education) with instructing a library session for a social studies methods class for middle and secondary education majors. This was the same class I taught the previous week, as a solo instruction session. Previously, I taught on finding and using primary source materials for inquiry based learning. This week’s session was on teaching social studies with trade books. We’d collaboratively planned a lesson and activities ahead of time, but when we got to the class Read the rest of this entry

Reflecting on Instruction

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This past Thursday, I had the opportunity to teach my first library session. I attended one of the history courses (African American History, 1877-present) to present on locating primary sources, with a particular focus on 20th century African American history and culture. The class consisted of twenty-two undergraduate students and the session was about twenty minutes long. One of the history faculty members had asked me to come and share with her class, as a result of one of the LibGuides I created last year. Of course, I was excited to be able to do so, both because it directly correlates to my research interests and because teaching is a big part of academic librarianship. It allowed me to add a check mark to one of my professional goals for the year.

I am a perfectionist. As such, I tend to overanalyze everything and upon reflection, gleaned the following takeaways:

  • Having experienced colleagues to give advice and provide mentoring during the planning process is great! Take advantage of it (which I did). Also, the encouragement from library staff before and after is invaluable. Supportive environment = greater growth
  • Pacing the session appropriately ensures better explanation of the research process and allows for better opportunity to engage students
  • Everyone doesn’t know what you know, therefore, take the time to lay foundations and build on what they do know
  • Ask questions. Involve students. Ask what they know and try to find out what they want to know (KWL doesn’t have to end with Elem. Educ.)
  • Ask about technology needs ahead of time (projector, computer, etc.)
  • Get immediate feedback from students (i.e. Was this helpful? Do you have any questions that I did not answer?)

Obviously, since it was my first time, I was somewhat nervous. Otherwise, I think I did okay and hopefully I will get the chance to do it again soon, so that I can work on perfecting my instruction techniques. It’s been awhile since I’ve been in the classroom. On a side note, a couple of students did stop by while I was on the reference desk to follow-up/ask for suggestions in locating a specific collection, which we were able to do. Yay libraries!