Let’s Assess!

The California State University system has been considering a move to performance-based funding. Librarians here have expressed a lot of consternation about how we can show we’re worth funding, let alone why we should have to show it at all. At the same time, Cal State Fullerton is making a big push towards implementing and assessing High Impact Practices (HIPs) as part of our focus on increasing student engagement, retention, and graduation, so as a library we have to figure out how we can incorporate HIPs as well.

I think there’s a tendency for librarians to worry a lot about how we’re going to assess what we do, both because it’s not something we’ve done formally and we’re inexperienced with it, and because librarians worry that their academic freedom is going to be impinged.

As an Instructional Design Librarian, I see the push towards assessment a little more optimistically (though I’m not at all onboard with performance-based funding!). However, I am interested in being effective at what I do, whether facilitating student learning, or providing outreach at campus events. I want to know if I’m making a difference. I also feel pretty well equipped to perform assessment activities since instructional design is my specialty.

What do you want to know?

Before we should start worrying about how we’re going to assess what we do, we have to decide what we want to assess. I think that there are two paths to decide on what we want to assess. There are our campus priorities, which of course we have to support, especially with the possibility of performance-based funding. There are also our own priorities – what kind of library do we want to be? What kinds of services and collections do we want to provide? What do we want students to learn from our one-shots?

I’m an Instructional Design Librarian, so naturally my assessment focus has an instructional bent. I like to write learning objectives for every session I teach, and each learning object that I create. Learning objectives ought to be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and (sometimes) Time-bound. I write objectives for one-shots like “students will be able to give two examples of why a scholarly database is a better choice for university research than Google,” or they’ll be able to “describe the process for finding books using the Books & eBooks tab on the Pollak Library home page.” I’m not likely to demand that students write essays on how to search for books at our library so that I can formally measure their mastery, but I am likely to do an informal assessment to verify that students are learning.

Both formal and informal assessment will give us useful information on what works and what doesn’t, possibly saving us from using time and money on instructional efforts that aren’t effective. Formal assessment is just the quizzes and tests we give, or other graded assignments from which we can collect data. Informal assessment might just consist of chatting with your students to see if they “get it,” or if students are actually accomplishing a given task that they were assigned. I use a lot of informal assessment in my one-shot sessions due to limited time. However, I’m also working on a couple of assessment-related projects at my university that will yield useful data.

ID Workshops, ACRL Assessment in Action, and Badges

As this post falls under the cateogory “First Year Academic Librarian Experience,” you might assume that I’m still a new librarian. You’d be correct. That means I haven’t yet accomplished any meaningful assessment efforts, but I’m on my way. Last month I planned and delivered an instructional design workshop for librarians, wherein I introduced the concepts of Backward Design and how to write learning objectives. We definitely need to work more on writing measurable learning objectives, and I plan to deliver more workshops in the future. (FYI, I assessed my “students’” learning through Plickrs and Padlets in the class, but it was definitely informal assessment). I want to help librarians discover ways they can be as effective as possible in their work.

I’ll be doing some major assessing for the next 14 months since I’m now the proud Librarian Team Leader of the Pollak Library Assessment in Action (AiA) Team, part of the third cohort of ACRL’s AiA program. We’re going to embed our Human Services Librarian into an online class this fall, and assess his impact on student learning. This particular Human Services class used to come in for in-person instruction, but since it’s gone totally online the instructors have done without library instruction. This is a trend at our university, so I’d like to learn how we can better serve our online students and now just let them fall off our radar.

Finally, I’m contemplating the mechanics of implementing a badges program here at our university. I recently managed to get a really simple (beta) eLearning webpage going for us on a WordPress platform. There are several WordPress plugins that can be purchased that turn your WordPress site into an LMS – like LearnDash and Sensei. With the site magically transformed into an LMS, we can award badges based on quiz and tutorial completion. How cool would it be to tally up the number of Super Searcher badge-holders? If we were able to track our badge-holding students’ retention and graduation rates, we’d have some really nice information on the library’s correlation with student success!

A Conceptual Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Laura MacLeod Mulligan, M.L.S., Information Services Librarian, and Dr. Adam J. Kuban, Assistant Professor of Journalism, both at Ball State University.

Academic buzzwords such as “interdisciplinary” and “collaboration” get paid ample lip service in university administration strategic plans and current scholarship, but practically speaking it can be difficult to begin or sustain such a partnership. With strong faculty support, public services librarians can become embedded in courses, revise assignments, review student output, and assess student learning—playing a more meaningful role in the physical and virtual classroom. We wish to reveal our methods of interdisciplinary collaboration—specifically what has given it longevity and made it successful. From evidence grounded in aggregate literature and personal anecdotes, we have developed a conceptual model for effective collaboration that could apply to any interdisciplinary partnership.

Our conceptual model

Our own collaborative efforts began in January 2012 in order to revise the curriculum of an introductory journalism research course for undergraduates in the Department of Journalism at Ball State University. This ultimately led to the creation of an innovative, technology-based capstone exercise that exemplified the nexus of screencasts with library database instruction. We have also embarked on a research study that assesses the same students’ comprehension of information literacy concepts à la ACRL’s new Framework for Information Literacy. One of our current projects is a practical consideration of interdisciplinary collaboration (in particular between library professionals and faculty in the disciplines).

Scholars who collaborate rarely read literature about collaboration before they begin endeavors. Even if you wanted to brush up on best practices for successful collaboration, you would have to wade through case studies and data surrounding discipline-specific scenarios. We began this project with a conceptual model based on personal anecdotes (i.e., a “model-first” approach) simply because it is natural to begin with “what has worked for us.” Please see our full paper from the 2014 Brick & Click conference for a full literature review where we discuss trends and themes in the literature and make recommendations for further reading. As we read others’ stories and studies and noticed patterns in what led to successful collaboration, we looked for areas of support as well as additional attributes that ought to exist as elaboration to the initial model presented.

We identified and organized a non-discipline-specific conceptual model outlining the (1) workplace conditions; (2) qualities/attitudes; and (3) common goals that have enhanced our collaborative, interdisciplinary experience and could thus serve as a model for any faculty-librarian partnership. To help unpack the importance of these three facets, we sketched a visual depiction of it (see figure 1) and also shared personal anecdotes from our experiences (see table 1).

Conceptual model
Figure 1: Our conceptual model for successful interdisciplinary collaboration

Two of these elements can be controlled: (a) favorable attitudes and personality qualities toward interdisciplinary engagement and (b) common goals determined between the involved parties. The third element—(c) workplace conditions—is largely out of the collaborators’ control but still impacts the partnership. When all three facets come together, we believe successful collaboration can occur. In the event that one facet is absent or lacking, we believe that collaboration can still function but may be difficult to sustain.

Table 1. Qualifiers for a three-faceted conceptual model for successful collaboration

Workplace Conditions Qualities/Attitudes Common Goals
  • Regular communication
  • Standing meetings
  • Physical space
  • Administrative support
  • Cooperative—able to compromise
  • Equitable—respect for roles
  • Trust—perceived competence
  • Shared vulnerability—safe setting to explore, inquire & critique
  • Enthusiasm—desire to continue collaboration
  • Identify individual strengths
  • Select conference & publication venues that “count” for both, or alternate
  • Establish research “pipeline” & philosophy
  • Articulate/update timelines

Workplace conditions

Essential to our collaboration has been regular communication. Keeping a standing meeting throughout the year has given us at least an hour per week to touch base, bounce ideas off one another, strategize, delegate, and debrief ongoing tasks. Booking a conference room in the university library gave us a neutral space in which to talk, think, and work without distraction. Having a coffee machine, audio/visual equipment (including a projection screen and speakers), and a large table made us feel comfortable and well equipped for any task—whether it be critiquing student screencasts, sketching out a four-foot-by-eight-foot poster, drafting correspondence to journal editors, or working side-by-side on separate computers.

Arguably most important in this facet is apparent administrative support. We are fortunate to have current supervisors who embrace our collaborative endeavors, valuing it in subsequent reviews and evaluations. Without it, the interdisciplinary collaboration would likely end, as one or both would deem it too high-risk to continue.

Qualities/attitudes

We have found that if there are common emotional qualities, a collaborative relationship can remain collegial and productive. In our experience, the following stood out as ideal qualities: a cooperative and compromising attitude; respect for and equitable treatment of individual collaborator roles; trust in one another’s competence; ability to be vulnerable, open, honest, and willing to learn; and an enthusiasm for the projects pursued.

Collaboration among faculty and librarians sometimes results in the librarian acting in a supporting role to help execute the vision of a faculty member. In our collaboration, the roles are refreshingly equitable, leaving each person feeling like a co-leader. For example, Adam would not finalize student grades in his introductory research course without receiving feedback from Laura regarding their capstone projects (i.e., screencast database tutorials) in case there were incorrect aspects related to the library resources that she, as an information professional, could identify. This arrangement sustains the momentum and collegiality longer than a leader-follower partnership.

Common goals

While research styles and philosophies differ from discipline to discipline, we discovered that we share similar interests in information literacy, critical thinking skills, student engagement, and assessment driven by qualitative data. Projects stemming from these research interests have been undertaken more easily because of mutual pedagogical interests and shared research methods. We have been able to identify professional development activities that “count” for both of us, and we alternate the focus of activities to make for an even distribution. For example, after presenting at a journalism educators’ conference in summer 2012, we took a derivative of the material to a state library conference in fall 2012 to share our work with that audience. We’ve come to call this our “research pipeline,” and it keeps our activities equitable and interdisciplinary.

What’s missing from the model?

Once we had consulted the literature, one noteworthy qualifier emerged that deserves mention in an ongoing effort to conceive an evolving model that reflects effective interdisciplinary partnerships.

It seems oxymoronic that literature acknowledges the benefit of interdisciplinary scholarship, advocating that “it likely yields more innovative and consequential results for complex problems than traditional, individual research efforts” (Amey & Brown 30), yet institutionalized traditions within academia continue to stymie interdisciplinary efforts. Amey and Brown explain that graduate students who identify with a specific discipline spend years being socialized into that culture, being taught to maintain a particular research identity lodged within the confines of their discipline. In a qualitative study by Teodorescu & Kushner, untenured junior faculty understand the theoretical benefit from interdisciplinary collaboration but feel compelled to abstain from it until after tenure, viewing it as a high-risk activity. KerryAnn O’Meara, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Maryland, issues a call to action via an essay written for Inside HigherEd: “Let’s not assume all candidates must make their case for tenure and promotion based on one static, monolithic view of scholarship.”

Similarly, LIS programs may not adequately prepare their students for interdisciplinary endeavors. Kim Leeder notes that “librarians are not initiated into [their] fields in the same way that faculty are: by reading scholarship, identifying [their] own specific area(s) of specialization, presenting at conferences, and building a network of colleagues whose interests overlap.”

This phenomenon could fit under the Workplace Conditions (resulting from administrative attitudes out of our control) or the Attitudes facet of the model (where it impedes expression of vulnerability in an attempt to solve problems and work together toward solutions).

Conclusion

Postsecondary educators want students ready for an integrated marketplace. Programs of study require students to complete coursework outside of their chosen major(s). Experiential, immersive, and/or service learning are topics of discussion at conferences about college teaching. It seems that, as educators, we recognize the globalization of society and the overlapping nature of most occupations, and we want our students to have diverse, interdisciplinary experiences—thus it seems prudent to adopt a similar mindset for our own scholarly endeavors. We should set an example for our students, valuing efforts to “reach across the aisle” and emphasizing interdisciplinary opportunities.

We believe our conceptual model could assist others as they begin to embark on interdisciplinary initiatives. In time, facets and qualifiers will evolve, transforming the notion of what equates to successful interdisciplinary collaboration.

A World with No Meetings?!

If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be: meetings.
— Dave Barry, “25 Things I Have Learned in 50 Years”

As funny as I think Dave Barry can be, and in spite of the fact that he is correct to imply that meetings are often not the most efficient way to get things done, I am one of those weird people that actually enjoys meetings. Not ALL meetings, obviously, but more than half of them. And even during un-enjoyable (i.e. unproductive) meetings I try to walk out with something that I can take with me and make useful…and I usually can (even if occasionally what I walk away with is a firm resolution to never impose a similar meeting on anyone).

Clearly, some meetings are more valuable than others but why? Reflecting on my current position in academia I feel that within the division of the library in which I work a pretty high percentage of our meetings are useful. Often they are a time to collaborate. The best meetings are those in which we get together with the intention of making decisions collectively and leave the meeting having done so…or in which the goal of the meeting is to learn something specific. The worst meetings, on the other hand, are those without a clear goal and, my personal pet peeve, those focused on brainstorming.

meeting flochart

As an example of a “good” meeting: twice a month I go to a meeting with the other members of the “Acquisitions Team” which consists of three collection development librarians (I am one of them), the Media Librarian and our Collection Assessment Librarian. We discuss areas of the collections that are important or need resources (based on data collected by our assessment librarian) and make decisions about how to curate our collection. And that is key: our goal is to make decisions; we do not just talk about ideas. There is a clear agenda for each meeting and a dedicated online space for our group to collaborate and communicate between meetings so that we are all up-to-date. These are useful meetings.

Quite a few of the meetings I attend are with vendors. As the Electronic Resources Librarian vendor communication is a huge (HUGE) part of my job. Some of these meetings are in-person while others are webinars, usually demos of products we own but occasionally demos of products we are evaluating or trialing. Sometimes these meeting are just myself and a vendor rep, other times these meetings involve more people – often subject librarians and even faculty. These meetings are almost always useful because they are an opportunity to learn about resources that support our users. Sure, you can read about vendors and resources online or watch tutorials but the chance to ask questions and see a demonstration of the value of a particular resource to our specific users is invaluable.

And then, of course, there are committee meetings. Whether you are a member of the teaching faculty or a faculty(-equivalent) librarian you attend committee meetings! Honestly, some of these are pointless in the sense that we could get done what we get done without meeting and in probably a lot less time. I think the reason these are “necessary” is often because the tendency of many people is to not participate if they don’t have to show up somewhere and I don’t know if that will ever change. Whether the main focus of your job is teaching, working in administration, or running the library, it is really easy to put committee work on the back burner. I have to schedule time on my calendar to prepare for meetings or else I will get busy and forget because my day-to-day responsibilities are more obvious. If I don’t respond to an email about an ebook issue or complete an order form, etc the library (or at least my little part of the library) will not be functioning smoothly. If I don’t prepare for a meeting of the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee there is not an immediate problem although in the long term if committees aren’t doing the planning the university will stop functioning smoothly…therefore meetings wherein we vote on new courses are useful.

Okay, I’m backing myself into a corner defending the value of meetings so I will stop now. In each instance I mentioned the time spent in a meeting is only worthwhile if certain things happen. In my opinion, these things must include, at minimum:

  1. One or more concrete decisions being made or measurable outcome accomplished.
  2. An agenda in place and followed.
  3. Valuable information being disseminated.

I have certainly attended meetings that were not useful. My personal frustration is highest with “brainstorming meetings”. These are usually somebody fleshing out an idea while everyone else contributes minimally or not at all. The person doing the brainstorming is almost always the person who called the meeting. If you want to do collaborative brainstorming make sure you include 1, 2, and 3 from above. Have an agenda, be sure you have an objective outcome to attain and be sure that the project or program you want to brainstorm about will benefit from information that every single invitee provides.

This post has been a round-a-bout way of getting to my point: meetings can be useful but there are limits to that and requirements for any meeting that must be met in order to achieve usefulness. I absolutely love this flowchart from the Huffington Post. It doesn’t perfectly match my own opinion or what I perceive to be the needs of my department but I would like to rework it to do so. If I get that done, I will come back and update this post but I haven’t had time to get to it yet – to many meetings!

I’m wondering what works for meetings at other academic libraries. What makes your meetings useful? Are they ever useful? Would you be happy in a world with NO meetings? I wouldn’t but I recognize that I might be in the minority.

The Good Kind of Contagious

I haven’t written an ACRLog post in a long time. It’s an all too typical story of the combination short-on-time + writer’s block sort: a busy late Winter/early Spring (such a wintery late Winter, too), and I’ve had conference and other presentation preparations to do as well as the usual work stuff. And since this is only my second semester as chief librarian in my library, “the usual” still includes a fair number of tasks and responsibilities that are new to me, and I’m still learning a lot. I’ve had post ideas in my head for sure — about the ACRL conference (which was terrific), for example — but I’ve been slow on the uptake and time has passed. Lucky for me, with Jen, Sarah, Erin and Lindsay on board we’ve not lacked for great stuff to read here.

One of the overarching themes that my colleagues and I have been working on this year in our library is environment. What’s the environment like in the library, for students using our resources and services as well as for our workers: library faculty, staff, and students? Enrollment at the college (and at the entire City University of New York) has grown tremendously in recent years. Which is terrific! Though of course sometimes having more people in our not-any-larger space can be a challenge. We’ve also navigated some retirements and hiring of new faculty and staff, and it’s been a more change-heavy year this year than in the recent past.

Environment encompasses both a physical component as well as a mental component. I don’t want to minimize the challenges that can come from shortcomings of the physical facilities — these are real difficulties that can impact our ability to work. But sometimes I think that the mental environment is even more important. We can feel it now in our libraries with finals upon us (or nearly so) and many students hard at work and/or stressing out. It’s why academic libraries often offer finals week stressbusters like coffee and snacks or therapy dogs, to give a little positive boost to the mental environment in the library at a time when it’s much needed.

Last week my research partner and I presented at the Connecticut Library Association Conference, capping off these busy past few months. We weren’t able to stay for the whole conference, unfortunately, but we did catch featured speaker JP Porcaro‘s presentation. JP spoke about inspiration, leadership, and the importance of a positive attitude, and one of his slides really resonated with me:

Emotions are contagious.

We all come from different places and have different reasons for being here. Everyone has a bad day occasionally, those times when it’s hard to stay positive. I want to work in an environment where we give everyone the benefit of the doubt, where the mental component of the environment is more positive than negative, even during finals week. It’s an important part of my job to help make that happen, and one that I’m still working on, especially on those mornings that start off with subway troubles or my teenage kid waking up on the wrong side of the bed. I’m redoubling my efforts here as the semester speeds to a close, reminding myself that emotions are contagious.

Going National at ACRL

I had the great privilege to attend ACRL last month in Portland – my first national conference! ACRL veterans had given me the scare that ACRL conferences are intimidatingly large and difficult to get around, but I planned out what I wanted to see in advance and found the conference very approachable, especially after attending the first-timers presentation.

I was excited about my impending trip to Portland for ACRL 2015 for months in advance, and Portland was truly a fantastic location for a conference. The public transportation was incredible, and drivers so friendly to walkers and cyclists – a complete departure from my home in Orange County.

What I got out of ACRL 2015

The biggest takeaways I had from attending ACRL were from networking and learning about what librarians were doing at other institutions. The very first presentation I intended was about online embedded librarianship, which is a project that I’m working on at my institution since only a couple of librarians have done online work with students. I learned a lot from audience participants and from chatting with librarians sitting near me. I also really enjoyed the poster sessions – I attended all of them, and chatted with many of the presenters.

I also made friends with many librarians from my area of southern California! I had lunch with a librarian that works only 40 miles away from me, but, amusingly, we met in person for the first time in Portland. I also got to reconnect with colleagues from previous places I’ve worked. It was great to see familiar faces!

While planning out the events I wanted to see at ACRL, I crammed my schedule full of vendor lunches and social hours, but pared those back and I’m really grateful I did. I had much less free time than I thought I would, and social opportunities and other events cropped up organically. Deciding that I wouldn’t overextend myself also meant that I briefly felt guilty about skipping Jad Abumrad’s keynote for a nap, but the nap was totally worth it.

What I would do differently next time

However, I did not attend any workshops or roundtables, or the Unconference – and I wish that I had. I was indecisive about attending the workshops and didn’t sign up before they all filled, but after the fact I realized that my work would really have benefitted from spending several hours developing a concept or a project. The roundtables probably would’ve been another great opportunity to learn from what other librarians are doing.

Next time I’m also definitely going to propose a presentation or roundtable (this year I was barely starting out as a librarian when the due date came!). A colleague and I were lucky to have a poster accepted for the virtual conference, but I would love to gather librarians interested in the same topics I am in one place to share and hear ideas.

What else should I attend as an Instructional Design Librarian?

I’m now pretty close to finishing out my first year as a new Instructional Design Librarian! While I got a lot out of attending ACRL, I wish that I had seen more presentations that were more directly relevant to what I do at work. Early in the academic year, I received the advice from a senior librarian to attend conferences where there are “people that do what you do,” but I don’t think there are that many librarians that do what I do, at least to the same extent.

I recently learned about the DevLearn conference, held in Las Vegas each year. It targets instructional designers and e-learning developers, not librarians – but it sounds right up my alley! I was intrigued by last year’s presentations that were focused on advanced aspects of Articulate Storyline functionality, or tutorial navigation design. While somewhat local, it’s really pricey! But perhaps it’s something to keep in mind.

Librarians at ACRL recommended that I attend Internet Librarian, or LOEX – but Internet Librarian doesn’t seem quite relevant to what I do. LOEX, though, has a lot of potential, and sounds like a great, small-ish, conference to attend as an instruction librarian.

Wrap-Up and Up Next

I stayed in Portland an extra day for sightseeing. I rented a bicycle for 24 hours and got a lot of use out of it, especially since the weather was sunny and perfect! I also ate wonderful food while I was in Portland (who knew a pickled beet and horseradish sandwich would be pretty tasty) and had the best toasted hazelnut latte of my life from a hipster coffee shop. I highly recommend taking time to sight-see after conferences, alone or with library friends. On my solo adventures on Saturday I ran into many a librarian, and then I went on a lazy bike tour with a friend on Sunday.

Alas, it seems like that day of sightseeing was the last day of not worrying about work for a while! In June, I’ll be attending the 2015 Institute on High-Impact Practices and Student Success in Madison, Wisconsin, as part of a university team; then I’ll be in San Francisco for ALA, where a colleague and I will be presenting a poster in-person. Previously I had been looking forward to my summer being slow so that I could tackle big projects, but I’m already anxious that I won’t have much free time at work, especially since I’ll be taking three weeks off work in July for vacation, and then my first tenure-track portfolio will be due mid-September. But I’m still looking forward to finishing out my first year as a real librarian!