Friday, April 25, 2008

Constructing a Bio

Okay, so my professional bio is a lot more sparse than my creative writing bio. I'm supposed to send one in to book chapter people, and after reading everyone else's (which is all 'director of this' and 'president of that' and 'been presenting on this topic around the globe for 15 years', I'm feeling kind of bummed. I can't list my publications & presentations yet because everything's still in the works.

*sigh* I feel like sort of a loser. I was going to say I could never use teh follwing bio, but all of my TwitPeeps liked it:

"Colleen is a chunky library sort who stays at home and writes with her bossy dog on her feet when she's not teaching ungrateful ghetto kids how not to plagiarize their shit or use Wikipedia & Google as scholarly sources. When in doubt of her prowess, she distracts onlookers with her fierce bosoms."

Thanks to tinfoilraccoon for reminding me about my fierce bosoms! And to everyone else for admiring them *grin*

Since that bio has its own brand of awesomeness, I guess. In fact, I'm totally keeping that. Just in case I have a need. Like if I ever become a Librarian Rock Star and can get away with being that irreverent outside of my own small circle of peeps.

Anyway, am considering sending in the one below, which is formatted sort of like the others who have submitted theirs. Whatcha think? Do I sound boring? Does it need more bosom? Or cowbell?

"Colleen S. Harris is an Assistant Professor in reference and instruction at the Lupton Library of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She holds an MLS (2006) from the University of Kentucky and bachelor's degrees in International Relations and Economics from Centre College, Danville, Kentucky (2001). Her professional interests include information literacy and research training for undergraduate and graduate students, library involvement in student retention, and human resources issues related to academic librarianship. In her free time, Colleen pursues additional graduate degrees, and expects her MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University in 2009."

Should we take a vote on which one I send in? And should I add mention of the massive tattooage to the first one, or let that be a surprise?

Pondering the Digital Divide and e-Learning

Writing this book chapter on the digital divide made me consider my university’s current push for offering increased online learning opportunities. Because we serve students who generally come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, I’m wondering if administration isn’t going about this the wrong way.

Is it really about offering more online classes and more online-only degrees and gen-eds? Or would it be more useful to decrease the digital divide that exists within our student body, between the higher-income kids who grew up with computers and gadgetry and those who may have had to make-do with less access? Many of our students still don’t own computers and make constant use of those available in our student labs and library. Many of our students – at least, the ones I see in our library – are not terribly comfortable navigating technologies used in learning environments, including BlackBoard and the library databases they are expected to use to conduct their research. These are the students you are encouraging to sign up for newly developed online classes, often taught by professors with no prior online teaching experience?

The cynic in me wonders if this isn’t simply a ploy to look ‘up-to-date’ and simply schlep folks into online courses so we can open up our cramped classrooms a bit. We already have severe retention problems. Throwing students into an online learning environment, or giving them the impression that they already have the skills and understanding they need to operate successfully in such an environment when that is not true is worse than foolishness. My other concern is that students already have a difficult time asking for help. (Do you remember how much pride you had at 18?) We already know from various studies (and from librarian observation) that students tend to overestimate their tech-savvy when it comes to deal with judging and finding information. Knowing this, how can you in good conscience encourage these kids to jump into online learning when they may well not have the requisite skills? In an online classroom, there are few ways for a professor to see the “Hunh?” look on a student’s face. Knowing that you are dealing with an environment populated largely by students coming from underprivileged or low-access backgrounds, moving classes online should not be the first step in a successful push to rectify the digital divide. Ensuring that students develop core technology competencies early in their academic careers – even if that’s once they start college – would help.

I am not suggesting that online courses are *bad*. They are useful, and a great option for students who require more flexible schedules. However, there seems to be little acceptance at the administrative level that offering more online classes is not a panacea. It will not necessarily help retention (and may well harm it), and it may not even help the divide in digital skills if the students in the course don’t have the required skills to succeed in the first place. There seems to be a lot of assuming going on in higher education (or at least at my institution) with regards to bigger pushes for online course availability. And we all know what happens when you assume…

Given that there still exist severe divisions based on income level, class, and gender when discussing access to computer technology and digital learning, I have to say that I remain unconvinced that throwing kids into an online learning environment because you assume that’s what they want more of is not the answer. Getting them some basic technology and information literacy core competencies may be a start, though.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Guardienne's To-Do List

I am always better about getting things done when I write them down. And when I have some sort of accountability factor. Since I hate looking stupid, writing these here for public consumption will force me to get all my shit done. I am also attaching aspirational deadlines in cases where hard deadlines do not exist.

Book Chapter abstract: deadline 4/30. (That's not aspirational, that's fact, per editor)

Proposal for LI Cookbook: May 15. (Also not aspirational.)

ALA poster, "Academic Library 2.0: Self-Paced Guided Training for Faculty and Staff," for Annual: deadline 6/16.

Book Chapter: deadline 6/26. (Actual deadline is 6/30 per editor, but am leaving for ALA on the 26th.)

Scholarly Article 1 (full 1st draft): deadline 7/18.

Scholarly Article 2 (full 1st draft): deadline 8/1.

Scholarly Article 1 (final manuscript): deadline 8/22.

Scholarly Article 2 (final manuscript): deadline 9/5.

Of course, this doesn't take into account various library projects like developing a marketing plan to develop our upper-level library instruction program, generating some faboo podcasts. It doesn't account for the possibility that one of my three pitches for IL08 will likely be picked up (but hey, these lists are here for us to add items to, right?)Nor does it account for my MFA work, but I do that at home at night and on weekends, and I have been lucky enough to not bring too much library stuff home other than for the usual book reviewing and committee work stuff.

This doesn't look too bad, actually. But I've been freaking out, because I'm gone from 5/22 through 6/1 for my MFA residency, and then jetting out again for Anaheim not too long after that. And June's remaining weekends are sucked up by a visiting friend and then an out-of-state baby shower.

Pretty sad when an academic librarian looks forward to the beginning of Fall semester as a *break* from the summer! I do feel better for having these deadlines written out though. I now feel as though I've prioritized my junk and am ready to plow ahead. Tomorrow and this weekend will be spent dogging that chapter abstract and getting a chunk of the chapter, hopefully, outlined and introduced.

I am such a nerd. I *love* this, even as stressy as it makes me feel. The afterglow come September will be something...

Info Lit Course: Musings

Coming from a private liberal arts background, I do have to admit that I didn't immediately understand why universities would offer for-credit classes in information literacy. Isn't all that information essentially interwoven through the courses students take? I mean, it's essential for any discipline.

Let's back up. I went to a very small, private, expensive (I will have student loans to bequeath my grandchildren) liberal arts college. You know the sort - kids who drive cars daddy bought practically (if not actually) new, who clerk at daddy's law firm during the summers, and who don't drink beer because frankly, that sort of thing is for state school fraternity boys - Crown and Jack welcome, all others will be booted at the door. On the other hand, it was an extraordinarily rigorous academic atmosphere: if you missed three classes, you automatically failed. Fifteen page papers were the norm. There was no such thing as multiple choice, and we regularly hobnobbed with professors afterhours. Our professors would go to the library and look at the books we had cited to be certain we weren't just making up information and a page number in our citations. (No, really. I swear.) Information literacy may not have been called that as we learned it, but it was woven through our classes and education nonetheless, and our faculty actually enforced its application through rigorous academic training. When I was presented with the concept of info literacy in library school and asked what it was called, I said "Common sense." (Yeah, I was totally that student.)

It comes as no surprise, then, that my alma mater pumps out folks who attend grad school as a matter of course. Now that I'm working in academia at a larger state school where absences go practically unnoticed, professors are overworked and multiple choice is a godsend, and papers rarely exceed 8-10 pages, I have to say I'm a teensy bit appalled at how easily student can slip through the system all the way to graduation and rarely come across anyone who challenges them to rigorously examine the information they use. This has made me reconsider my formerly skeptical stance on offering a for-credit information literacy course.

I mean, we offer a "Freshman Life" course for credit, and that pretty much teaches the kids how to come and go from school without getting hit by a bus, or taking candy from the old man in the van down by the river. It is not a terribly rigorous class, it covers a hodgepodge of basic life-skills topics, and is generally taught by staff members from around the university. If something like this can be touted as something that helps increase retention of out students who come in as borderline, how much better for them a class focusing on information literacy? Not just citation, but why we cite and why there are different ways to do it; not just a one-shot 45 minute instruction session on the difference between popular and scholarly sources, but time to actually delve into the source of information and its production so they become more knowledgeable consumers and users; not just saying "no Wikipedia or Google!" but actual academic assignments exploring the uses and shortcomings of those tools. There are a lot of things that aren't covered in Freshman Comp because technically they don't fall under tis rubric, but that students still need to be exposed to in an academic setting to be successful students.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has a retention problem. We know it, admin knows it, and they're trying to cobble together a strategy that addresses it. having been here a year as a reference and instruction librarian, and seeing the absolutely lost faces begging for salvation during finals, I'm beginning to think that this may be an invaluable tool for these kids. Many of our students are the first in their families to go to college. Others come from low income backgrounds and can't afford to go anywhere but a state school. Some students come in on a HOPE scholarship awarded to high school students who can scrape up a 21 on the ACT and a 3.0 high school GPA. The problem is that college is not high school, and a 3.0 in college is (arguably, I suppose) more difficult to obtain than the work that got them to college in the first place. Unless some of these students, who begin as borderline keepers to begin with, are given some extra tools to firm up their academic endeavors, a good many of them won't make it.

I consider it my job as a librarian not only to find you the information you need, but to make sure I teach you just enough to empower you and find it yourself. hitting students at point of need at the reference desk is wonderful, but they're not in learning mode then. They're in OMGWTFBBQ emergencygimmearticlepaperdueHALP!!111!!11!!!eleven! mode. They're not processing research steps. And the 50-minute one-shot is not enough to teach them how judgment of information is integrated through their entire lives, not just related to their 5 page argumentative essay on the death penalty.

Now, the question is, of course, whether or not a for-credit info lit class has any impact. I've printed out the bibliography of articles I want to read on it (thank you, ili listserv!). I'll have to pitch it and will likely get pushback from it, since we don't have enough library bodies as it is, and other faculty may see it as unnecessary.

Come September, when I can breathe again, I am going to seriously bring this up as a project to my bossladies. I absolutely want to expand our instruction program into upper level courses, and we'll be working on that program plan this summer, among myriad other things. But I'd like to see an info lit course piloted, at least. Maybe I'll make this part of my 3-year plan.

Friday, April 18, 2008

On (Not) Writing Academic Articles

I know how to write an academic article. I train people how to do their research, and how to structure their papers. I'm a peer reviewer for a number of journals, and I read such articles on a regular basis.

Given all of this, why is it so gosh-danged hard to compose myself and get myself together to write one myself? I have a good seed of an idea. I've printed all my research and have ILL-ed the books we, of course, don't own. The problem is that I cannot seem to pull my brain together in similar fashion. I can't decide where to start. I can't stop the hamster on its wheel in my brain for long enough to sit with the articles and just READ.

My trouble is that I have developed work-induced ADD. I have grown accustomed to putting out fires and working in fifteen minute blocks of time (generally interrupted by meetings, emergencies, backing up at the refdesk, teaching, and random folks wandering into my office). This is the nature of the beast. I recognize that, and I enjoy it - I would die of dullness if my job were the same every day.

Perhaps part of it is that it's Friday. It's the Friday of a week that has been characterized primarily by a lack of sleep (due to my own vague illnesses of springtime, as well as my pupster's recent sickness) and various new stressors (like being volunteered to present unpopular material to the Faculty Senate and doing my first public poetry reading among strangers - and a few colleagues).

I'll admit it. I'm cranky and tired. I need a week on a beach to clear my brain of the clutter of a semester, and unplug from everything electronic. I'm starting to seriously despise my computer screen. And this article isn't writing itself. Ugh.