Category Archives: Events

Participatory Learning, Active Application: Reflections on the ACRL Conference

With the month winding down folks are getting back into the swing of things following this year’s ACRL Conference in Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago. Several of us ACRLoggers were in attendance — we took the opportunity to meet face to face and chat, and in those conversations the idea of a collaborative post-conference blog post was born. Several of us focused on participatory learning at the conference, while some attended more traditional sessions and brought back ideas for active application in their libraries. All of us had a great time.

Kim Miller: Seeking Application

ACRL 2013 has been highlighted on my calendar since I missed my chance to attend in Philadelphia two years ago (the conference fell during the second-to-last week of graduate classes, not great timing). This year, I was determined to make it happen since my classmates who were crazy enough to go in 2011 had nothing but positive reports, and I heard from my current colleagues it was a conference where academic librarians can get a lot of bang for their buck. I was looking forward to visiting a new city, learning new things, meeting new people, catching up with old friends. The cherry on top turned out to be my opportunity to also lead a roundtable discussion about mobile games in libraries.

Throughout the conference, I found myself naturally drawn to talks which explore issues I’m currently facing at work. For instance, our library recently started planning to redesign one of our classroom spaces which will incorporate modular furniture, group workstations, and iPads to facilitate a more creative and active learning space. So I was interested to attend “The Flipped Classroom: Integrating Formal and Informal Learning Spaces” session in which I learned about the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College Library’s Wisconsin Collaboratory for Enhanced Learning (WisCEL) classroom. With collaborative computing areas, break out small group workspaces, and technology-enabled teaching stations, WisCEL seems like a marriage between a library learning commons and an active learning classroom; it’s definitely a space I would love to explore as an instructor (though it sounds like the UWM librarians do not currently teach library sessions in the space). They presented some interesting footage of professors explaining how they approach instruction in this space, as well how students have responded to the environment. I left the session inspired to start brainstorming ways our new space will used to promote more active library instruction sessions and how I might facilitate my colleagues’ experiences transitioning to the new space as well.

As a self-described “research nerd,” I usually love reading through stacks of literature from diverse areas of scholarship. However, at conferences I particularly look forward to poster sessions because, in addition to learning about a multitude of projects in a short amount of time, I have the opportunity to talk one-on-one with the people behind these projects. I appreciate the instant gratification of having my lingering questions or comments addressed first-hand by the librarian project experts. Again drawn to projects which speak to my daily work, a small sample of the areas I learned about over the 4 poster sessions include: re-thinking online subject guides with “Mapping Standards to Content: Creating Comprehensive Research Guides using ACRL’s Psychology information Literacy Standards”, connecting with first year students through workshops with “Making Connections, Providing Support”, iPads in instruction with “iPedagogy for Adults,” using concept maps in instruction with “Sketching Success”, and responsive web design with “Once is Enough.”

Ian McCullough: Mission to Learn

I may be the only blogger who didn’t have an official reason for going to ACRL 2013; I didn’t present, have a poster, or lead a roundtable. I was the only one with the time and interest to attend from Akron; so I balanced my schedule between personal interests and broadly applicable knowledge I could bring back. Two workshops, three sessions geared to science librarians, two poster sessions, and some library marketing.

The workshops are what really stuck with me. I attended “Flip It, … Flip It Good!: Adapting the Flipped Classroom Model to One-Shot Library Instruction Sessions with Understanding by Design” and “Higher Learning: Effective and Engaging Information Literacy Instruction for Upper-Level Students,” both were heavily pedagogical – and both were awesome. Steven Hoover taught the flipped classroom workshop and as noted in the title cribbed heavily from Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe. He presented the clarifying content priorities model as a way to decide what to present in person and what to flip in an IL one-shot. “Enduring understanding”? Try to present it in person with active learning. “Important to Know and Do” or “Worth Being Familiar With”? These are your candidates for external tutorials. Each table tried to work through a scenario and pare down our (hilariously long) list of learning outcomes, triage them, and come up with instruction strategies. We didn’t make it, but the strategy made sense and I’ll be trying this for a chemical engineering class in the Fall.

“Higher Learning” addressed the problem of upper division students stultified by repetitive IL sessions. Lynda Kellam and Jenny Dale used a variety of fun activities, which we could deploy back home, but also emphasized the connection of outreach to and collaboration with the faculty as critical to effectively reaching upper division students. If the communication isn’t there, the instructional design will suck and you’re likely to bore the students. Like my earlier workshop, we took a scenario (of our own devising this time), broke it down to learning outcomes, and reverse engineered a lesson, this time with using the ADDIE model. Once again, we didn’t finish; but the structure is there and my advanced chemistry lab students should benefit.

These workshops addressed a problem, mainly that my pedagogical background is weak – I can hold attention but am historically poor at using active learning techniques in class. But also Akron is modernizing our information literacy program, so I may have some colleagues who might benefit as well. The conference got me fired up about improving both my teaching and our IL program. I’m hosting a brown bag session for some of the other faculty to share what I’ve learned and I hope my enthusiasm rubs off.

I wanted to quickly praise two posters – “Mapping Standards to Content” which Kim has already noted and Can Bibliometric Indicators Predict Institutional Citation Patterns?” which was the closest thing I saw to my own research at ACRL, but way better.

Maura Smale: Thinking, Camping, and Sharing

I arrived in Indianapolis later than expected due to weather-related travel snafus; the conference was well underway by the time I set foot in the Convention Center, and I felt a bit like I’d fallen behind before even beginning. Perhaps that’s the reason that, once I finally got to Indy, I found myself preferentially seeking out the kinds of conference experiences that offered the opportunity for conversation and participation rather than the more traditional paper sessions. There were lots of papers and panels that looked interesting, as usual. Actually, that’s always my one complaint about ACRL: there’s just way too much to do. Instead, I decided that I’ll spend a day at some point over the summer going back to the conference website to take a look at the papers, presentations, handouts, posters, and video of the sessions I missed (a colleague suggested calling it #ACRLrewatch — who’s with me?).

On Friday morning I attended the first half of THATCamp. I’m a big fan of THATCamps and had a great time at the sessions I participated in: Diversify the Digital Humanities and Libraries and Publishing (links are to the public, collaborative notes in Google Docs). I think what I most appreciated at THATCamp was the chance to talk with librarians from all over the country and lots of different kinds of academic libraries: from research universities to community colleges, from rural to urban, from small to large. Not to devalue the interaction we all have online — of course the library community is very digitally connected — but I so rarely have the opportunity to have a face to face discussion with a variety of folks about big chewy topics like diversity and inclusion, community activism and engagement, and scholarly communications. It was delightful.

Another participatory highlight of the conference for me was the Saturday morning panel How Feminist Pedagogy Can Transform the Way You Teach and How Students Learn. One of the panelists started with a story, which is always a great way to begin a session, about her own experience with feminism. Then the panelists asked those of us in the audience to do some work, to turn to a fellow attendee and consider our own feminist perspectives and lessons we’ve learned. I’m sure I’m not the only one who initially blanched at the prospect of engaging in a think-pair-share activity at 8:30am on the final day of the conference, but it was easy to get into conversation with my partner and we found lots to discuss. The panel continued with definitions and themes of feminist pedagogy, and each of the panelists shared examples of the ways in which they’ve brought this perspective into their library classrooms. To round out the session we were asked to participate in a follow-up think-pair-share and consider the ways in which our responses and understanding of feminist pedagogy in library instruction had changed. It was reassuring to learn that feminist pedagogy incorporates active learning strategies that many of us already use in our instruction sessions: group work, asking for student input, and encouraging discussion, to name just a few. I left the session eager to bring new focus to feminist pedagogy in my own teaching, and luckily I still have a couple of classes remaining this semester to try it.

Marc Meola: Entering Conference Space

This was my 5th ACRL National Conference and each one always seems better than the last! Three sessions that stuck out for me were a writing workshop, a THATCamp, and a Roundtable discussion.

The workshop was called, “Get Writing! Overcome Procrastination, Remove Roadblocks and Create a Map for Success.” This was perfect timing for me since I am working on a paper right now and feel a little stuck. Unlike Contributed Papers or Panel Sessions where attendees can simply sit back and take in information, the Workshop format asks that participants actually do some work. Instead of just hearing someone talk about how to create a work plan for writing a journal article while saying to yourself, “hmm those are some mighty fine ideas and I sure am going to do that someday,” you actually have to sit down right there and go ahead and create a work plan for writing a journal article. Trained facilitators are on hand to whip you if you can’t hack the workload.

Creating a work plan for writing a journal article involved:

  • breaking the project down into steps
  • writing the steps on post-it notes (green or yellow)
  • identifying roadblocks (red)
  • creating milestones (blue)
  • organizing the post-its into a time line on a piece of 11 x 17 paper.

Simple enough, but very useful tools for anyone, novice or experienced, working on a journal article. Some ideas for getting over roadblocks included getting a mentor/coach and using an accountability buddy who checks in with you at milestones. (Don’t forget the ACRL Research Coach program!) I took my work plan home and taped it above my monitor, where it now mercilessly taunts me. Facilitators Jerilyn Veldof and Jon Jeffryes of University of Minnesota Libraries did a masterful job of organizing the content and managing participant interaction.

Handout: How to Get a Paper Written and Published: Designing a Work Plan to Avoid Procrastination

I arrived at THATCamp at 8:30am on Friday morning with a pounding headache thanks to a libation called “Remember the Maine,” which I and some librarian friends felt compelled to investigate fully (because of our pure love for American history) the night before. In the session I attended we created an e-book using a web bibliography, our laptops, and a tool called Calibre. The whole spirit of how we went about doing it was great fun: people were willing to admit when they had no idea what to do; those who knew taught; and those who just learned then taught someone else. It would be wonderful if we could duplicate aspects of this model in our workplaces. Although our finished product was not perfect, working through the complete process together was very valuable. Micah Vandegrift skillfully coordinated the whole thing.

One Hour: One Project – DH and Libraries Ebook

Finally, although I’m not quite there yet but like to look ahead, I attended a roundtable discussion called, “55 Years Old with a 33 Year Library Career: What Now?” The discussion was wide ranging but included important issues such as ageism in librarianship, career and retirement planning, and the need for intergenerational dialogue. These issues deserve more attention; look for a blog post that continues the discussion soon!

ACRL Conferences are perfect for getting yanked out of your day-to-day routine and entering Conference Space — that unique zone where you explore new ideas, meet new people, and return to work reinvigorated and re-energized. Thank you ACRL, see you in Portland!

How Much Is Enough?

I’ve been hearing more and more, recently, about people dropping out of service and professional development opportunities because they cannot secure funding from their institutions to attend. A member of a statewide committee I am on said this fall her continued membership would be contingent on her institution’s ability to pay for her travel to the meetings (since this is Ohio, that only ever involves driving, and her institution is only 25 miles away from where meetings are held). My ALA committee recently accepted a proposal for a panelist at a Midwinter discussion forum, but the panelist just e mailed me to say her institution would not provide her with funding to go, and were there any funding opportunities for her? I asked a coworker just this morning if she was going to Midwinter or not and she said no, and that the reason she wasn’t was because of funding. “Our travel stipend only pays for most of a trip to Chicago,” she said.

Well, she’s right about that: my official faculty stipend is $500 a year (though after you add in the extras it can be as much as $1500). And professional travel is not cheap. Someone planning to go to Midwinter next month can expect to spend well over $1,000: $165 for registration, $129/night (plus 12.5% tax) for the cheapest hotel on the official list, $71 per diem for meals (according to the U.S. General Services Administration). My flight from Ohio cost $405, airport transportation via the Super Shuttle in San Diego is $16 round trip, and airport parking back home is $10/day.

I find conferences energizing. At them I get great ideas, stay on top of what’s going on in the field and always meet interesting people. I learn lots, sleep little, and talk talk talk. But what are our institutions’ obligations to pay for this kind of professional development? What’s the payoff to them when we attend? A tight-fisted fiscal officer would point out that service can be done locally and research can be presented through publications rather than presentations. To learn new things, people can take webinars from the comfort of their own offices. And, while librarians who do national service and presentation may see it come back to them in the form of slight pay increases, it’s not enough to offset the cost of the travel itself. I don’t attend national conferences merely for my own benefit (do I?). Are we really supposed to do this just for the love of it? While no administrator has ever come out and asked me to quantify the institutional benefits of my professional development, is it really only a matter of time?

I asked if ALA had any funds to tap into for my committee’s speaker, and the answer was that “there is a long-standing ALA policy against providing stipends to librarians.” I’m sure the reasoning is that librarians should support the work of the organization and the development of our professional colleagues, but, facing financial pressures and funding shortfalls, it seems like many librarians are opting out.

According to my calculations, I spent over $1800 of my own money attending conferences and meetings this calendar year after all my reimbursements (which were well over $1500 due to a generous conference scholarship and part of the pot of travel money not used by my tenured colleagues). For me, it’s money well spent, but it’s also a lot of money, and I know it’s a lot more than many can afford. I don’t think our institutions are trying to send the message that professional development is not important, but I wonder if more and more of the rising cost of conference attendance has been shifting to the individual over the last decade and, with the economy being what it is, we’ve reached a kind of breaking point. Is conference attendance going down? I looked at the attendance for several conferences over the past few years, and it’s inconclusive: NASIG attendance has gone down, but ALA attendance has fluctuated and ER&L conference attendance is up. But I know ALA sections are worried about declining participation in committees and have been promoting virtual participation. Is this the answer?

It seems like the strategy of self-funding conference attendance, on top of membership and section fees, is not viable for the long term, though I’m not sure what the answer is – giving more breaks to presenters and other participants, upping virtual opportunities, or consolidating our opportunities so we get the most bang for our conference dollars.

Like many, my take-home pay is going down on January 1. But my rent isn’t going down, and neither is my student loan payment or the price of gas or any number of other essentials, so I am going to have to find other places in my personal budget to cut back. I’m not sitting out San Diego, but I wonder how many of my ALA committee members will make it.

Speaking of Seattle . . .

While you’re planning your ACRL travel – or if you’re still on the fence about it – here’s another event to consider. Radical Reference (“answers for those who question authority”) is planning a preconference unconference to be held on Thursday, March 12th on academic libraries and social justice, including programs and collections of an alternative bent.

An unconference is a relatively spontaneous and unengineered conference at which attendees share information and generate ideas, unfettered by a rigid schedule or high registration fees. Though this is a relatively new concept for libraries, something similar was organized for an ASIS&T regional conference in 2007 – InfoCamp Seattle. As described by Aaron Louie,

In the library and information science community, there are limited – and often cost-prohibitive – venues for social interaction and professional development. Our field is constantly evolving, and those without a substantial travel budget or professional education program are left behind . . .

. . . we didn’t need to look far for alternative conference models. In recent years, collaborative, open conferences have become increasingly popular. The common element is that the attendees create the content, usually day-by-day, at the conference. This species of conference is generally known as an “unconference” . . . our schedule would not be decided beforehand. No speakers or topics would be pre-selected. We would create a theme, invite the right people and let the attendees decide what they wanted to talk about. By design, it would be participatory and user-centered, encouraging input, discussion and debate from everyone who attended.

Sounds like an intriguing addition and/or alternative to the traditional library conference.