Monthly Archives: September 2012

Commuting is Not Distance Learning

The other day I met the student who won the prize drawing in my library’s new student orientation scavenger hunt this semester. She was delighted as I handed her the gift card to the college bookstore, and I was delighted that she had the chance not only to win the prize but also to get to know the library’s resources and services. As it turns out her odds were quite good, because unfortunately participation in the scavenger hunt was somewhat less than overwhelming. There are lots of possible reasons for that which we’ll try to get at them when we make changes for next semester.

But thinking about those reasons started me thinking about commuter students. I’m at a large urban public commuter college within a large urban public (mostly) commuter university. When many people think of college they likely conjure an image of a traditional campus with residence halls, as we tend to see in movies and on TV, but I’d guess that a sizable number of college students commute to school. After all, according to the American Association of Community Colleges, in Fall 2009 fully 44% of all U.S. undergraduates attended community colleges, most of whom are commuters.

When we talk about library resources and services I think there can be a tendency to conflate commuter students with distance learning students. Both groups spend large amounts of time off-campus, but I think there might be real differences between them. Distance learning students have chosen their off-campus program of study, which presumably means that they have the space, time, and technology available to them somewhere off-campus, perhaps at home, to complete their coursework. They go into college knowing that they’ll need to carve out an acceptable study space for themselves, and that they’ll need to access college and library services online. We may worry whether distance students are finding all of the great content — online tutorials, ask a librarian, ebooks — on our library websites, but at least we can be reasonably confident that they have the technology to do so.

I don’t think we can necessarily assume the same for commuter students. I’m deep into analyzing and writing up the data a colleague and I have collected about the scholarly habits of students at several colleges at our university, and it’s clear that for many of them the above assumptions don’t hold true. They may not have a quiet, solitary space for study in their homes, which they often share with family members or roommates. They may not have reliable access to the internet or even a computer in their homes, and while some have and use smartphones for many information and communication needs, not all do.

What do commuter students need from their college library, and how are we doing at meeting these needs? Two thoughts spring to my mind:

Quiet study space: Earlier this year a great post over at Confessions of a Community College Dean caught my eye. The library on his campus designated one room as a “tech-free quiet study space,” and the students flocked to it, even going so far as to self-enforce the rule for silence. At my library students sometimes come to the Reference Desk to ask a librarian to shush a noisy group of students, so I find it especially interesting that students self-monitored the silent study room.

Accessible collections: Even though not all college students have mobile devices or reliable access to the internet in their homes, it’s clear that smartphone ownership is increasing. I imagine that it would be very useful for students with unreliable internet access (or a long commute on public transportation) to be able to download relevant content at the library for use later, when they may be offline. When we acquire ebook packages with restrictive DRM and downloading policies and multiple, confusing steps required to access content on a mobile device, it presents a barrier to students using this content in the ways that may be most supportive of their learning.

What other resources and services can academic libraries offer for commuter students? I’d be interested to hear what’s happening at other colleges with large commuter populations — please leave a comment!

Active Learning and Teaching the Teacher

Ever since I attended ACRL’s Immersion Teacher Track about a year ago, I’ve been trying to incorporate more active learning strategies into my classes—and surprisingly, it’s been a lot of fun! One unintended benefit of these activities has been the opportunity for me to see inside the minds of students by seeing and hearing how they reason their way through this crazy journey we call research.

A couple weeks ago, I did a workshop for juniors and seniors enrolled in a music management course that requires students to write a large research paper. One problem the professor and I encountered in prior semesters was that students struggled with assessing and using their sources properly. For example, they sometimes have problems discerning when a source is heavily biased.

In an effort to get students thinking critically about assessing their sources I came up with a group activity. Each group had a different research topic with three sources. The sources ranged from peer-reviewed articles to a search in Twitter for “Skrillex” and “dubstep.” I asked students to incorporate the CRAAP test (–the brainchild of the brilliant librarians at CSU Chico), which stands for currency, relevancy, authority, accuracy and purpose. After utilizing the CRAAP test, students were instructed to decide if (1) they would use the source for each paper and (2) how they would use it. Following the activity, each group presented their topic and three sources to the rest of the class.

I’m hopeful that this activity will eventually prove to have any effect on this group’s ability to assess and use their sources. We shall see. Nevertheless, I can definitely say that it taught me a lot about students’ perception of sources of information. Here were a few of my notable observations:

  1. Autobiographies and interviews: While students were able to recognize the value of these as primary sources, they didn’t seem to understand how a musician’s statements regarding his/her own success could not be completely trusted.
  2. Blog posts: Students were really suspicious of blog posts—and they should be! But they didn’t immediately see the utility of a blog post as evidence of public opinion.
  3. Twitter: Musicians use Twitter to connect with their fans, but students didn’t recognize the potential for using it to monitor trends in music genres or musicians.

This activity made me realize how I subconsciously make assumptions about how students think. For whatever reason, I thought students would be better at discerning how to effectively use unconventional sources. I also wonder to what extent their responses were informed by what they thought I (the librarian) wanted to hear. Regardless, I am pleasantly surprised to discover how active learning activities can be used to teach the teacher.

Yeas, Nays, and Next Steps

I was in the midst of a particularly busy day last Wednesday when the decisions on the ACRL 2013 Conference contributed paper, panel, preconference, and workshop submissions were sent out, so it was a few hours later that I had a chance to catch up on Twitter. Suddenly my feed was full of happy tweets from librarians with accepted conference proposals, and somewhat more melancholy tweets from those who had their proposals turned down this year.

According to ACRL there were 20% more submissions for the 2013 conference across all four formats than for the ACRL 2011 Conference. The acceptance rates were 30% for contributed papers, 23% for panels, 45% for preconferences, and 39% for workshops.

I’m full of conflicting feelings about these conference yeas and nays. I’m delighted that the panel proposal I submitted with two collaborators was accepted, and it’s great to see the yea announcements from other librarians I follow on Twitter. But I was also disappointed to read the nay tweets from many librarians whom I admire. I found myself wondering what their proposals were about and whether they would have been relevant or interesting to me.

While pleased about this year’s yea I’m no stranger to nays: last time around the panel proposal I submitted for the ACRL Conference with several collaborators was rejected. However, my collaborators and I reconsidered our ideas, and in the end we reworked our panel proposal into a poster session submission which was accepted. If you’re thinking about next steps for a proposal that wasn’t accepted, you might want to take a look at some of the alternatives that Steven suggested in a past ACRLog post (retooling and resubmitting as a poster session proposal among them).

And if you didn’t send in a proposal for a paper, panel, or other session last May, remember that there’s still time to submit a proposal for a poster session, cyber zed shed presentation, roundtable discussion, and virtual conference webcast. Those proposals for the ACRL 2013 Conference are due on November 9, 2012.