Monthly Archives: November 2009

Digital Natives, Scholarly Immigrants?

While browsing through my table of contents alerts recently I came across an interesting article in the current issue of the Journal of Higher Education: “University Students’ Perceptions of Plagiarism,” by Lori G. Power (unfortunately behind the paywall at Project Muse). It’s a happy coincidence to come across this article now, as plagiarism has been much on my mind lately for a couple of reasons. A colleague is teaching our first student workshop on avoiding plagiarism this week. We’re also planning to offer a plagiarism workshop geared for faculty next semester, in collaboration with our college’s Writing Across the Curriculum program.

Power interviewed freshmen and sophomores at a small university in Maine both individually and in focus groups to try and unpack their knowledge about plagiarism. Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), they don’t know as much about plagiarism as we may think (or hope). Power acknowledges that this aligns well with the results of previous studies, but her work reveals students’ perceptions of plagiarism in their own words, with fascinating results.

Power found that student responses to her questions about plagiarism fell into two main categories: agency and externalization. Most students expressed only partial understanding about what exactly constitutes plagiarism, especially regarding paraphrasing. Yet they were dissatisfied that many of their professors warned them away from plagiarism by emphasizing the potentially harsh penalties rather than explaining the nuances of academic writing. Students also noticed that faculty responded in different ways to plagiarism, which further increased students’ confusion. Ultimately, many students that Power interviewed expressed frustration at being required to play by the rules of the scholarly communication game without having had these rules fully explained:

It seems apparent at the college level at least, students see plagiarism as a bit of a power trip. Professors and college administrators seem to often tell students not to plagiarize, and warn them of the consequences, but these students don’t believe they do as well at helping students understand why not to plagiarize, or how not to plagiarize.

The other major theme identified by Power in her student interviews was externalization. Power suggests that because undergraduates–novices in the academic world–are unfamiliar with intellectual property, they view the prohibition against plagiarism as somewhat arbitrary. They often don’t identify a moral component to plagiarism, and don’t believe that there are consequences for plagiarism in the real world. And when asked why they shouldn’t plagiarize, many students in Power’s study replied that their professors needed to know that students had learned the course material rather than copying it from someone else.

Power concludes with suggestions for addressing plagiarism with our students:

We can’t assume a one-size-fits-all approach will work in preventing plagiarism. We must open wide the dialogue about power, judgment, and student agency. We need to improve our strategies for helping our students to discover the importance of intellectual property and the sharing and ownership of ideas.

Our students may be digital natives, but most are scholarly immigrants (at least as first- and second-year students). And as academic librarians, we have much to contribute to student learning about scholarly communication, intellectual property, and plagiarism.

Titles Do Make A Difference

Not your job title – the title of that paper you’d like to get published or conference proposal you want to submit. Now that ACRL has announced the call for papers, panels and more for the 2011 15th National Conference in Philadelphia, many academic librarians will begin thinking about submitting proposals. I believe the 2009 ACRL conference had one of the all-time lowest acceptance rates for papers and panels, and I expect that 2011 will be just as if not more competitive. So you need an edge. Here’s my advice for you. Don’t underestimate the importance of the title you choose for your submission.

Do proposals with catchy titles really get selected more frequently than those with bland titles? I don’t know. I do know that as you review the 2009 program you will see that many of the papers and panels that were accepted have catchy titles that effectively connect into the conference theme or locale. For example, “Assessment Baristas: Can We Start a Rubric for You?” Seattle. Starbucks. Baristas. That title taps into the locale quite nicely. Admit it. That’s sure beats something like “Creating Rubrics for Information Literacy Assessment.” Comparing the title of proposals that get accepted to those that get rejected and analyzing their “catchiness” factor would definitely make for an interesting research paper. BTW, take note of the (mostly) catchy titles for the conference tracks. As you read the 2011 call for participation you see there are references to the interdependence theme and a host of references to colonial and revolutionary times in Philadelphia. How might you work this into the title of your proposal?

Why catchy titles? Try imagining the guy or gal on the committee that selects papers or panels. This colleague is facing a stack of 200 or 250 papers. It’s critically important to capture that person’s attention right away, perhaps within 10 or 15 seconds – maybe even less. Failure to grab the reviewer’s attention immediately can be the difference between making the cut and being cut. Sorry if that sounds somewhat superficial and anti-scholarly. I’m sure we’d like our reviewers to focus solely on the content and judge proposals strictly on quality factors, but these folks are only human and a great title is going to get more attention than a boring one. And to some extent I think most of us would prefer a conference program with titles that catch our attention, demonstrate creative thinking and compel us to want to attend. Given the choice between two programs of relatively equal interest and potential quality, I think the one with the catchy titles is going to win out most of the time. While there’s no precise formula for coming up with a catchy title for your presentation, here are some ideas that might help:

1. Right at the top of the list is contemplating the themes and the location. Try to work one, the other or both into your title. For the Seattle conference two colleagues and I did a talk about user experience. Seattle has one of the world’s most popular user experiences – the Pike Place fish market. So we worked that into our title, “If Fish Markets Can Do It Then So Can We”. For the 15th annual conference in Philadelphia the revolution and independence – and interdependence – themes are ones to consider. If you’re not that familiar with the city, browse some visitor websites for inspiration.

2. Don’t settle on a single title. Keep writing down title ideas as you get them or when inspiration strikes. Start out with a dull title if you feel like you can’t come up with anything at first. For example, if all you can think of at first is something like “Promoting Active Learning in Your Information Literacy Session” (yawwwn!) you can morph that over time to “Revolt Against Boring Instruction Sessions: Create Interdependence in the Instruction Room with Active Learning”. That still needs some work. Just don’t wait till the last minute. And when you keep writing down your title ideas you may have several that, after some mixing and matching, will result in a truly catchy title.

3. Tap into your inner creativity but don’t force it too much. If you are trying to figure out how to work Rocky, revolution and cheesteak into the title of your proposal for the Philly conference then you might be trying too hard. You can actually overdo this catchy title thing. My suggestion is to run your ideas past a few colleagues to see if you might be going overboard. With some practice you will get it right.

Coming up with a catchier title, one that avoids the predictable, boring and cliched, may give you an edge. Just remember that winning proposals also have substance behind the sizzle the title promises. Getting the reviewer’s attention is just the first step. Then you’ve got to deliver the goods and sell the decision makers on your great idea for a program. The title is only the front door. You want the reviewer to step through it and spend some time with your proposal. I came up with three ideas for developing catchy (or avoiding bad) titles. How about sharing some of your tips.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Best Time to Write

Occasionally someone will ask me about my writing routine. How do I manage to write regularly? The most immediate thing that comes to mind is having something that really inspires you or gets you thinking, and that you feel compelled to write about it so you can share your ideas with colleagues. Having a steady stream of material to read is also important – and not just library literature, blogs and tweets – but resources from beyond this profession that will expose you to new ideas, stimulate your curiosity and inspire you to apply new ideas to your current situation. The one other thing I’ll usually mention is creating a writing routine and sticking to it as best you can. That usually means identifying both a time slot and a place for your writing. I used to be able to write reasonably well both morning and evening. In the past few years I find myself getting mentally tired by 10 pm, and at that point trying to write is nearly pointless. It may take me 15 minutes to write two sentences, and often I end up changing them in the light of the morning. That’s a huge time waste. So I’ve been shifting more writing to the morning when I have far better productivity. But I didn’t know that research suggests that the morning is the best time for regular writing. Peg Boyle Single, writing for Inside Higher Ed about dissertation writing shared the following:

Experts more often engage in deliberate practice during the morning; research has supported that we have the greatest capacity for sustained, engaged and demanding cognitive activity during the morning.

I agree that it can help to look at writing as a form of deliberate practice where the more frequently we engage in it at a regular time and for a regular duration of time, the more we increase our skill and output over time. It’s always a delight when the research says “you were right all along” (but it’s all right to conveniently ignore when it says you were wrong). I’ve been getting some good ideas from Single’s series of advice columns for dissertation writers. No matter what you are trying to write, you can find some ideas to help you do it better.

We Need One of These For Library Writing

In case you missed it the University of Chicago Writing Program created the academic-sentence generator for those of us too lazy to write our own incomprehensible, pompous academic gibberish. I only wish someone would come up with one of these for library stuff. Here’s an example a random academic sentence I generated:

The emergence of pop culture carries with it the invention of power/knowledge.

Not too shabby. Then again I seem pretty capable of constructing library jargon gibberish quite fine on my own.

Final Word on Neem Essay

Academic librarians have had quite enough to say about this essay, with the majority offering a negative critique or condemning it and a minority suggesting that we are somehow responsible when faculty disrespect us and don’t understand what we actually do. Just two thoughts on this. First, if you or I wrote an essay in the Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed that communicated a completely contemptible view of the faculty, do you think they would be suggesting on their blogs and discussion lists that faculty needed to do a better job of helping librarians to understand them. Pretty laughable. More likely, you or I could write off ever having any chance of being hired at a college or university in this country ever again. Second, the next time a member of the faculty publishes an essay like the one by Neem I think the best thing we can do as a community is just to ignore it. No comments. No discussion. Just a huge deafening silence. I think that would be the best comment of all.

Faculty Blog Round-Up: PowerPoint

Among academic bloggers, yet another battle is raging in the PowerPoint wars.

Margaret Soltan, English professor and the venerable curmudgeon of University Diaries, links to a student’s blog to show how PowerPoint enables and encourages shoddy teaching.

Fellow English professor Alan Jacobs agrees, pointing to students’ sense of entitlement that results from PowerPoint.

Jonathan Rees, professor of history, puts the blame for bad presentations on textbook publishers.

Historian Timothy Burke defends the judicious use of PowerPoint, with suggestions for using it well.

Chad Orzel, a physicist, ponders how best to use PowerPoint, for both in-class lectures and later review.

Physicist Julianne Dalcanton offers a neat tip to solve Chad’s dilemma.

And English professor Scott Eric Kaufman lightheartedly warns of the dangers of putting students in charge of PowerPoint.

What are the benefits and pitfalls of using PowerPoint for library instruction?  How can you integrate it with other presentation tools?

Encouraging Engagement

Right now we’re in the midst of our busiest time in the semester for instruction at my library. I coordinate our information literacy program so instruction is always a big part of my job, but it looms even larger for me at this time of year. If I’m not teaching a class, I’m probably thinking about the classes I teach.

Like many other colleges, most of our library instruction program consists of the single required library class for all English Composition I students. Much has been written about the challenges of the humble one-shot, and I think we do a good job with these sessions given their constraints. Still, over the past couple of weeks I’ve begun to target on a few things that frustrate me. The more I’ve thought on this, the more I realize that a critical factor is engagement.

Student Engagement
It’s no secret that students often find their library sessions to be less than inspiring, and are often more engaged with the computers and each other. Some of these are classroom management issues, though we do require that professors attend sessions with their students, which usually encourages students to pay attention. But relevance is a factor, too: do students see the material covered by librarians as relevant to their coursework? There’s lots of evidence that students are more engaged when their library session is scheduled at the point of need, just as they are starting research on a paper or project. (Anecdotal evidence from the sessions I’ve taught supports this, too.)

One solution is to schedule our English Comp sessions just as students receive their assignments and are beginning their research. We’ve tried a couple of different scheduling strategies, including spreading the sessions evenly over the semester, and concentrating the classes in the few weeks just after midterms. But speaking with students and faculty and our student evaluations reveal that sometimes the sessions are too early, sometimes too late.

Next semester we may try contacting all English Comp faculty just before the semester begins to ask when they’d like to schedule the library session. We’ll need to be sure to emphasize that the best time for students to visit the library with their class is concurrent with their research assignments. Ultimately this scheduling method may not be possible because of sheer numbers: we’re a small library, and this semester there are 126 sections of English Comp. But given the real increase in student engagement that I’ve observed in my classes that do have a research assignment, it’s probably worth a try.

Faculty Engagement
I’ll admit that when I first started teaching library sessions I vastly preferred the classes in which the instructor sat quietly in the back of the classroom while I made my presentation at the front. I was nervous about my own teaching skills, especially covering all of the material in the session, and it seemed easier to go straight through it all without diversion.

Now that I’ve been at this for awhile I really value my library sessions with involved, engaged faculty. I can appreciate many of the reasons that faculty may sit quietly through the class. Many faculty appreciate that librarians have specialized training in research skills and information literacy, and are happy to give us space to teach in our discipline. But when an instructor engages with the librarian and the class — offering additional examples of relevant topics, search strategies, and keywords; reinforcing the need to critically evaluate sources; etc. — these sessions seem to be the most valuable for the students (and also more enjoyable for me).

Encouraging faculty engagement seems like it might be a bit more difficult than with students. A colleague suggested that we maintain the same pairings between librarians and instructors across multiple semesters. This would allow us to develop a closer relationship with faculty teaching English Comp, and help us tailor the library session more closely to the assignment in each class. Again, we may hit a snag because of the large number of sections, though with the increase in enrollment this semester we’ve got a new crop of adjunct English Comp faculty, so this may be a good time to try.

I’m sure there are lots of other strategies for encouraging student and faculty engagement in library instruction sessions. What methods have you used successfully? Which haven’t worked so well?