Category Archives: Higher Education

Postings about the higher education industry.

Shifting Scholarly Communication Practices and the Case of Dr. Salaita

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Sarah Crissinger, graduate student in library and information science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Many LIS practitioners are probably already familiar with this story, but here’s a quick recap just in case:

In October 2013, Steven Salaita accepted a tenure-track position within the American Indian Studies program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He subsequently quit his job and made arrangements to uproot his family from their home in Virginia. On August 1, 2014, Chancellor Phyllis Wise revoked his offer—an offer which had been decided upon by faculty within the American Indian Studies program—stating that she would not be passing along his recommendation to the Board of Trustees. Wise cited Dr. Salaita’s tweets as the impetus for utilizing this loophole, stating that “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them” would not be tolerated. Later, it was revealed that Wise was in close contact with donors that had differing views from Dr. Salatia’s.

These actions have created a “catastrophe” for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for several reasons. First, Wise made a conscious decision not to engage in a discourse about Dr. Salaita’s viewpoint or even the format he chose to express it in, but instead punished him for voicing his opinion by compromising his livelihood. These actions don’t seem to be in-step with the values of the academy. UIUC also exhibited no real due process. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has held that Illinois failed to demonstrate cause without holding any hearings or even providing proper notification.

Most importantly, UIUC’s actions are an egregious violation of academic freedom. But I will assume that I don’t have to tell LIS professionals (who are embedded in academia!) the reasons why. LIS scholars, practitioners, and students have already recognized this violation of intellectual freedom and have agreed to boycott Illinois. In addition, ACRL’s Women and Gender Studies Section has facilitated a discussion about the events on UIUC’s campus. I want to instead challenge librarians to think about Dr. Salaita’s unique case in a new way.

We have reached a pivotal moment in the academy. “Scholarly” communication is being redefined before our very eyes. Next month, I will be involved (at UIUC nonetheless) with an Online Scholarly Presence Symposium, hosted by the library. We will be encouraging students to embrace social media, blogs, repositories, and other public outlets for their scholarship and ideas. I currently teach a workshop about altmetrics for graduate students and faculty at UIUC. It is centered on the idea that scholarly impact isn’t as simple as citation counts; we explore impact by looking at traditional metrics alongside alternative metrics that account for public presence.

The list goes on and on. Scholars everywhere are writing about social media’s impact on their work. Regardless of if their blog or their Twitter handle is on their dossier (I’m guessing it’s not), it still impacts their work. Roopika Rasam, a postcolonial scholar and digital humanist, recently posted an entry on her blog entitled A Love Letter to Twitter, where she stated:

Twitter has opened up the contours of the academy, widening my communities within it and linking me to the world beyond it. By using Twitter as a professional tool, I have become a person committed to working in public. I have learned more about genre, rhetoric, and audience than I ever did in college or graduate school. Ideas for articles, projects, and books germinated on Twitter. Twitter is proto-scholarship; you won’t find it in my tenure file but it’s responsible for everything in it.

Katherine Clancy, an anthropologist, recently wrote a response to a satirically proposed metric, the K-Index. Neil Hall joked that a K-Index (or, you guessed it, a Kardashian Index) would in essence gauge a scholar’s public profile against their “actual” publications by dividing their Twitter followers by their number of scientific publications. Clancy’s response? She finds that this is unfair representation that makes an either/or dichotomy; the scholars who might have a higher K-Index are the ones that are “younger, less white, and less male.” She asserts:

So yes, he’s punching down, and that makes it not funny. There is no dark corner of academic metrics to expose when the people you’re mocking are the ones least well positioned to respond. I would never have gotten that paper published – in a journal with an impact factor of 10.5, no less – because I am one of ones whose profile is built on “shaky foundations.”

All I can do… is blog about it.

Ithaka S+R’s 2012 report entitled Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians found that many historians use their blogs to “test the waters” for new scholarship. Sometimes they even present findings because, as one respondent stated, “I have a book. Maybe forty people have cracked the spine. But, the blog has tremendous readership.” However, the report also finds that changes in disciplinary culture and T&P practices are incremental at best. Only by adapting these practices to new modes of communication and embracing junior faculty that implement them will any real change come to fruition.

Many people argue that “tweets are not the same as classroom teaching (or scholarly writing),” and, to some extent, I agree. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that in today’s academic environment, the two are inadvertently conflated. A scholar’s online presence—especially when it is related to their academic niche—is undeniably linked to that scholarship, and more broadly the scholar themself. Again, leaders interested in scholarly communication are attempting to change the tenure environment so that digital work and social media presence are measured and a more of a portfolio model is implemented. So the current question is, how can Dr. Salaita’s tweets be used to jeopardize his academic career but cannot be used to reflect his academic impact or scholarly success?

I am, of course, illustrating a point that applies more broadly to all scholars. Dr. Salaita’s case has opened a can of worms for academics everywhere. Where is the line between personal and professional, if there is such a thing? What is “fair game” for interpretation or critique? How can we facilitate conversation if we’re fearful of repercussions?

My intention is not to suggest a scenario of big-brother institutions that track down scholars. I think that instead we should recognize alternative forms of scholarship so that they are more fully protected. The AAUP’s report on Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications states that electronic communication does not “warrant any relaxation of the rigorous precepts of academic freedom”. It calls for surveillance to end and for faculty to be involved in IT decisions concerning privacy and academic freedom. It asserts that intramural and extramural communication or “speech outside or inside the university’s walls” is irrelevant in the world of electronic communication.

The report says that it’s a no-brainer if the social media outlet isn’t linked to the scholar’s academic work; personal tweets, for example about political views, are protected. But what about when politics are central to scholarship? As an aspiring librarian, I find myself standing up for what I believe in (and what my profession believes in) not only in my daily interactions but also in my social media presence. There are a whole host of professionals that would probably agree—political scientists, scholars of medicine, etc., etc. Not everyone will agree with everyone else’s methods, conclusions, values, or even presentation! There is no form of scholarship that is neutral. But that’s the beauty of it, right? The academy allows us to converse with each other (aren’t we saying that scholarship is a conversation these days?), even if we disagree.

In many ways, Dr. Salaita’s case is an abnormal one. But it is also a case that has the ability to set precedence, not only in the discussion of social media and academic freedom but also in the conversation about changing scholarly practices. I once had a panel of deans come into one of my classes and assert that scholarship, as a practice, is less about tenure and the vetting processes attached to it and more about changing the world, advancing knowledge, and making a direct impact on the city, state, or nation it is published in. That’s a lofty assertion but it’s one I’d challenge us as librarians and scholars to think more critically about. Scholarship can be communicated in endless formats, often depending on what is most conducive to the audience and topic. It’s time to protect and acknowledge work that looks different than “traditional” scholarship. If we don’t, we risk losing creative and innovative faculty and an engaging conversation that could change the world we live in.

To support Dr. Salaita and the Department of American Indians Studies, please join the students, faculty, and alumni of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at UIUC in signing this open letter.

Academic Libraries and the Adjunct Crisis

The large and growing number of faculty members working off the tenure track at U.S. colleges and universities has been well-documented. Recent years have seen frequent articles in the higher ed media including the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, as well as major media outlets like the New York Times. You may have read anthropologist and writer Sarah Kendzior‘s 2012 article about contingent faculty in Al Jazeera, or any of the blog posts by adjunct writing instructor Lee Skallerup Bessette at Inside Higher Ed, just to name a few of the many articles addressing what’s become known as the adjunct crisis.

As an academic librarian on the tenure track I’ve often found myself thinking on how the rise in adjunct faculty affects academic libraries. The ACRLog blog team has written about this issue in the past, though since the percentage of adjunct faculty has only continued to climb — up to 76% by 2011, according to the American Association of University Professors — the issue remains highly relevant to all in higher education. While hiring adjunct or part-time librarians obviously impacts academic libraries, I’d like to think here on the effects on academic libraries of increasing numbers of adjunct faculty in departments outside the library.

Working conditions for contingent faculty make participating fully in the campus community a challenge. Adjunct faculty may not have office space which, in addition to their potentially complicated schedules because of a need to teach at several different institutions, can mean that adjunct faculty don’t spend much time on campus outside of the classes they teach. Many adjunct faculty have multiple email accounts which may hinder our ability to connect with them if we don’t know which address they check most frequently. While some adjunct faculty return to teach the same courses in the same department over multiple semesters, many do not. At my institution new adjunct faculty are invited to attend an orientation to the college, though time pressures may make it difficult for them to do so. Staying in touch with adjuncts between semesters to keep them in the loop about library collections, services, and resources can be challenging.

As academic librarians we strive to provide access to collections that are most relevant for the disciplines and subjects taught and researched at our institutions. But while adjunct faculty may be teaching a majority of the courses in a department or subject, it can be difficult to involve them in acquisition decisions. Scheduling workshops and meetings at times when adjunct faculty are available may not be possible. At my college adjunct faculty often teach on evenings and weekends, when our full-time library faculty are less available. And though we do offer library workshops in the evenings occasionally, many adjuncts may not be able to attend them (or other faculty development programs) since to do so represents an investment of their own (often uncompensated) time.

The work we do with students can also be affected by whether their professors are full-time or adjunct. Difficulties getting in touch can hinder our ability to consult with adjunct faculty about their students’ research assignments before they come for library instruction. Some adjunct faculty may be unfamiliar with the collections and resources at our library, and may create assignments for students that are a mismatch with what we have to offer. Depending on their backgrounds and familiarity with the institution and the library, adjunct faculty may not realize that librarians are partners in information literacy and can offer research and library instruction. More than once I’ve heard from adjunct faculty members that they never knew that we provide research instruction for all subjects and disciplines at the college, not just English composition.

What actions can we as academic librarians take? We can stay informed about the challenges adjuncts face, and learn more about increasing adjunct activism, including the New Faculty Majority, an adjunct advocacy group. If we work in an institution with a union, we can advocate for health insurance and other benefits for contingent faculty members. Within the library there are small actions we can take as well. We can make a special effort to reach out to adjuncts with information about the library and, if budgets allow, consider offering a stipend to adjunct faculty to attend workshops, meetings, or other programs in the library. I’m sure there are other ways to partner and advocate with adjunct faculty members — I’d be interested to hear about what academic librarians are doing.

Higher ‘Professional’ Ed, Lifelong Learning to Stay Employed, Quantified Self, and Libraries

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Bohyun Kim, Associate Director for Library Applications and Knowledge Systems at University of Maryland, Baltimore, Health Sciences and Human Services Library. This post was originally published on our sister blog, ALA TechConnect.

The 2014 Horizon Report is mostly a report on emerging technologies. Many academic librarians carefully read its Higher Ed edition issued every year to learn about the upcoming technology trends. But this year’s Horizon Report Higher Ed edition was interesting to me more in terms of how the current state of higher education is being reflected on the report than in terms of the technologies on the near-term (one-to-five year) horizon of adoption. Let’s take a look.

A. Higher Ed or Higher Professional Ed?

To me, the most useful section of this year’s Horizon Report was ‘Wicked Challenges.’ The significant backdrop behind the first challenge “Expanding Access” is the fact that the knowledge economy is making higher education more and more closely and directly serve the needs of the labor market. The report says, “a postsecondary education is becoming less of an option and more of an economic imperative. Universities that were once bastions for the elite need to re-examine their trajectories in light of these issues of access, and the concept of a credit-based degree is currently in question.” (p.30)

Many of today’s students enter colleges and universities with a clear goal, i.e. obtaining a competitive edge and a better earning potential in the labor market. The result that is already familiar to many of us is the grade and the degree inflation and the emergence of higher ed institutions that pursue profit over even education itself. When the acquisition of skills takes precedence to the intellectual inquiry for its own sake, higher education comes to resemble higher professional education or intensive vocational training. As the economy almost forces people to take up the practice of lifelong learning to simply stay employed, the friction between the traditional goal of higher education – intellectual pursuit for its own sake – and the changing expectation of higher education — creative, adaptable, and flexible workforce – will only become more prominent.

Naturally, this socioeconomic background behind the expansion of postsecondary education raises the question of where its value lies. This is the second wicked challenge listed in the report, i.e. “Keeping Education Relevant.” The report says, “As online learning and free educational content become more pervasive, institutional stakeholders must address the question of what universities can provide that other approaches cannot, and rethink the value of higher education from a student’s perspective.” (p.32)

B. Lifelong Learning to Stay Employed

Today’s economy and labor market strongly prefer employees who can be hired, retooled, or let go at the same pace with the changes in technology as technology becomes one of the greatest driving force of economy. Workers are expected to enter the job market with more complex skills than in the past, to be able to adjust themselves quickly as important skills at workplaces change, and increasingly to take the role of a creator/producer/entrepreneur in their thinking and work practices. Credit-based degree programs fall short in this regard. It is no surprise that the report selected “Agile Approaches to Change” and “Shift from Students as Consumers to Students as Creators” as two of the long-range and the mid-range key trends in the report.

A strong focus on creativity, productivity, entrepreneurship, and lifelong learning, however, puts a heavier burden on both sides of education, i.e. instructors and students (full-time, part-time, and professional). While positive in emphasizing students’ active learning, the Flipped Classroom model selected as one of the key trends in the Horizon report often means additional work for instructors. In this model, instructors not only have to prepare the study materials for students to go over before the class, such as lecture videos, but also need to plan active learning activities for students during the class time. The Flipped Classroom model also assumes that students should be able to invest enough time outside the classroom to study.

The unfortunate side effect or consequence of this is that those who cannot afford to do so – for example, those who have to work on multiple jobs or have many family obligations, etc. – will suffer and fall behind. Today’s students and workers are now being asked to demonstrate their competencies with what they can produce beyond simply presenting the credit hours that they spent in the classroom. Probably as a result of this, a clear demarcation between work, learning, and personal life seems to be disappearing. “The E-Learning Predictions for 2014 Report” from EdTech Europe predicts that ‘Learning Record Stores’, which track, record, and quantify an individual’s experiences and progress in both formal and informal learning, will be emerging in step with the need for continuous learning required for today’s job market. EdTech Europe also points out that learning is now being embedded in daily tasks and that we will see a significant increase in the availability and use of casual and informal learning apps both in education but also in the workplace.

C. Quantified Self and Learning Analytics

Among the six emerging technologies in the 2014 Horizon Report Higher Education edition, ‘Quantified Self’ is by far the most interesting new trend. (Other technologies should be pretty familiar to those who have been following the Horizon Report every year, except maybe the 4D printing mentioned in the 3D printing section. If you are looking for the emerging technologies that are on a farther horizon of adoption, check out this article from the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Emerging Technologies, which lists technologies such as screenless display and brain-computer interfaces.)

According to the report, “Quantified Self describes the phenomenon of consumers being able to closely track data that is relevant to their daily activities through the use of technology.” (ACRL TechConnect has covered personal data monitoring and action analytics previously.) Quantified self is enabled by the wearable technology devices, such as Fitbit or Google Glass, and the Mobile Web. Wearable technology devices automatically collect personal data. Fitbit, for example, keeps track of one’s own sleep patterns, steps taken, and calories burned. And the Mobile Web is the platform that can store and present such personal data directly transferred from those devices. Through these devices and the resulting personal data, we get to observe our own behavior in a much more extensive and detailed manner than ever before. Instead of deciding on which part of our life to keep record of, we can now let these devices collect about almost all types of data about ourselves and then see which data would be of any use for us and whether any pattern emerges that we can perhaps utilize for the purpose of self-improvement.

Quantified Self is a notable trend not because it involves an unprecedented technology but because it gives us a glimpse of what our daily lives will be like in the near future, in which many of the emerging technologies that we are just getting used to right now – the mobile, big data, wearable technology – will come together in full bloom. Learning Analytics,’ which the Horizon Report calls “the educational application of ‘big data’” (p.38) and can be thought of as the application of Quantified Self in education, has been making a significant progress already in higher education. By collecting and analyzing the data about student behavior in online courses, learning analytics aims at improving student engagement, providing more personalized learning experience, detecting learning issues, and determining the behavior variables that are the significant indicators of student performance.

While privacy is a natural concern for Quantified Self, it is to be noted that we ourselves often willingly participate in personal data monitoring through the gamified self-tracking apps that can be offensive in other contexts. In her article, “Gamifying the Quantified Self,” Jennifer Whitson writes:

Gamified self-tracking and participatory surveillance applications are seen and embraced as play because they are entered into freely, injecting the spirit of play into otherwise monotonous activities. These gamified self-improvement apps evoke a specific agency—that of an active subject choosing to expose and disclose their otherwise secret selves, selves that can only be made penetrable via the datastreams and algorithms which pin down and make this otherwise unreachable interiority amenable to being operated on and consciously manipulated by the user and shared with others. The fact that these tools are consumer monitoring devices run by corporations that create neoliberal, responsibilized subjectivities become less salient to the user because of this freedom to quit the game at any time. These gamified applications are playthings that can be abandoned at whim, especially if they fail to pleasure, entertain and amuse. In contrast, the case of gamified workplaces exemplifies an entirely different problematic. (p.173; emphasis my own and not by the author)

If libraries and higher education institutions becomes active in monitoring and collecting students’ learning behavior, the success of an endeavor of that kind will depend on how well it creates and provides the sense of play to students for their willing participation. It will be also important for such kind of learning analytics project to offer an opt-out at any time and to keep the private data confidential and anonymous as much as possible.

D. Back to Libraries

The changed format of this year’s Horizon Report with the ‘Key Trends’ and the ‘Significant Challenges’ has shown the forces in play behind the emerging technologies to look out for in higher education much more clearly. A big take-away from this report, I believe, is that in spite of the doubt about the unique value of higher education, the demand will be increasing due to the students’ need to obtain a competitive advantage in entering or re-entering the workforce. And that higher ed institutions will endeavor to create appropriate means and tools to satisfy students’ need of acquiring and demonstrating skills and experience in a way that is appealing to future employers beyond credit-hour based degrees, such as competency-based assessments and a badge system, is another one.

Considering that the pace of change at higher education tends to be slow, this can be an opportunity for academic libraries. Both instructors and students are under constant pressure to innovate and experiment in their teaching and learning processes. Instructors designing the Flipped Classroom model may require a studio where they can record and produce their lecture videos. Students may need to compile portfolios to demonstrate their knowledge and skills for job interviews. Returning adult students may need to acquire the habitual lifelong learning practices with the help from librarians. Local employers and students may mutually benefit from a place where certain co-projects can be tried. As a neutral player on the campus with tech-savvy librarians and knowledgeable staff, libraries can create a place where the most palpable student needs that are yet to be satisfied by individual academic departments or student services are directly addressed. Maker labs, gamified learning or self-tracking modules, and a competency dashboard are all such examples. From the emerging technology trends in higher ed, we see that the learning activities in higher education and academic libraries will be more and more closely tied to the economic imperative of constant innovation.

Academic libraries may even go further and take up the role of leading the changes in higher education. In his blog post for Inside Higher Ed, Joshua Kim suggests exactly this and also nicely sums up the challenges that today’s higher education faces:

  • How do we increase postsecondary productivity while guarding against commodification?
  • How do we increase quality while increasing access?
  • How do we leverage technologies without sacrificing the human element essential for authentic learning?

How will academic libraries be able to lead the changes necessary for higher education to successfully meet these challenges? It is a question that will stay with academic libraries for many years to come.

Tales of the Undead…Learning Theories: The Learning Pyramid

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Candice Benjes-Small, Head of Information Literacy and Outreach, and Alyssa Archer, Instruction Librarian at Radford University.

“If I have to sit through YET ANOTHER freaking ‘professional development’ session based on these cockamamie theories, I am going to pluck my eyeballs out and throw them at whatever charlatan the administration hired to conduct said session.”- professor on an online academic forum discussing learning myths, including the pyramid.

Some educational myths just can’t be killed. Case in point: the learning pyramid.

If you’re  involved with student learning, you are probably familiar with the Learning Pyramid. This diagram breaks down different modes of learning and argues that more active modalities are better for long-term learning: we remember10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, and so on, all the way up to 90% of what we do.


Just in the last few weeks, we have witnessed two experts in separate presentations (one in librarianship, the other in education) refer earnestly to the pyramid.  And while we didn’t gouge our eyeballs out, it made us both wince. This is a zombie learning theory that refuses to die.  Whether it’s called the Cone of Learning or the Learning Pyramid, or demonstrates retention rates by another graphic, it keeps getting its head methodically removed by a dedicated cadre of researchers, yet rises up again in search of more brains. In this post, we’ll review the history of the pyramid, why it’s wrong, and why it never dies.

History of the Learning Pyramid

Edgar Dale, an expert in audiovisual education, created a model in his 1946 book Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching that he named the Cone of Experience to discuss various modalities/channels of imparting information. His cone did not refer to learning or retention at all, instead modelling levels of abstraction: words being the most abstract in his model, at the top of the cone, and real-life experiences the most concrete, and at the base of the cone (Lalley & Miller, 2007, p. 68). Take a look at the image below left: note that there are no percentages listed, this is purely a theoretical model. Dale did not value one mode over another, but argued for a wide variety of modes depending on context (Molenda, 2004, p. 161). Researchers speculate that Dale based the Cone on an earlier theoretical graph (below right) from 1937’s Visualizing the Curriculum, by Charles F. Hoban, Charles F. Hoban, Jr., and Samuel B Zisman.

learningpyramid2 learningpyramid3

Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience from the first edition of Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching, a model of abstract to concrete experiences.  

The probable inspiration for the Cone of Experience, from Visualizing the Curriculum, Charles F. Hoban, Charles F. Hoban, Jr., and Samuel B Zisman (1937, p 23)

Unfortunately, this conceptual model took on a life of its own. While Dale included caveats in the several editions of his work that the Cone was a theoretical model, and that multiple modes could apply to situations depending on the context, his work was ripe to be misused as a practical tool. As Michael Molenda notes, by the third edition of Audio-Visual Materials in Teaching in 1969, Dale had to include a full six pages of disclaimers regarding the cone, titled “Some Possible Misconceptions.”

Despite Dale’s warnings, the Cone of Experience was misapplied and renamed the Learning Pyramid. However, there is no conclusive evidence to back up these average retention rates. How did this happen?








Examples of what the Cone of Experience became. The links to the images above have been removed to protect the mistaken. They are just two examples of the hundreds found on a simple Web search.

Who first came up with the retention rates associated with the learning pyramid is murky, but researchers have theories. Molenda (working with several sources) believes the development involved Paul John Phillips, an instructor working at the Aberdeen Proving Ground’s Training Methods Branch during World War II. Phillips returned to work after the war to the University of Texas, where he trained members of the petroleum industry. The University of Texas records tie Phillips to the retention rates used in the pyramid. However, when Michael Molenda contacted both the University of Texas Division of Extension and the archivist at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, they could find no research regarding the percentages.

In Molenda’s history, the learning pyramid with retention rates was first published in a magazine article in 1967, by D. G. Treichler. The author included no citations or evidence to back up the retention rates, but Molenda suspects that they probably they came from Phillips, as he distributed training materials to the industry while at UT.

However, the current propagator of the learning pyramid is the unassociated NLT Institute for Applied Behavioral Science, which claims to have research from the early 1960s which supports the pyramid, but has lost the evidence. Will Thalheimer points out in an excellent post on the pyramid, that this lack of evidence negates all credibility. Even if research were conducted at one time, we cannot trust it. The context has been lost, as well as the ability to retest the method and examine it for errors.

Why the Learning Pyramid is False

Beyond its sketchy background, the learning pyramid should raise concerns:

  1. What kind of research results end up in such tidy percentages, all multiples of 10?
  2. How would one even develop a method for testing such broad claims?
  3. Do we really believe a learner can remember 90% of anything?
  4. Can an activity be separated from its content and be given credit for learning?

Many distinguished authors have gutted the pyramid’s claims. Educational expert Daniel Willingham provides excellent arguments against the pyramid related to oversimplification; providing an optimal learning experience does not boil down to the instruction method. There are many different variables that impact learning.

Our field has also tried to dispel the myth. In her book Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning, Char Booth explains another danger of the pyramid, that relying too heavily on the idea of mode strips away designing instruction for differences in context and content (2011, p. 41). Booth’s anecdote about how she embraced the pyramid because of its implications for student engagement illustrates another flaw with it. The pyramid is a visual sighting. If we only remember 30% of what we see, then a picture of the pyramid should not have such a dramatic memory impact on so many people.

What’s the Harm?

As the opening quotation exemplifies, many teaching faculty members know the learning pyramid is false. If you bring it up to them, you will greatly diminish your credibility. (Because the pyramid is so popular, though, we also suggest you tread carefully if a professor speaks of it in a positive way!)

The pyramid also leads one to believe that mental activities themselves produce set amounts of learning. But this mindset fails to address the quality of the mental activity. A librarian might decide to implement a peer coaching activity because the pyramid says teaching others is the best way to remember something, but if the students don’t have the appropriate knowledge, they will probably just end up confusing each other. You should never design a lesson just so students are “active.” As Bill Cerbin states in his essay on active learning research and it’s implications for college teaching, “Active learning is most effective when the experience supports students to interact with and reflect on the subject matter in substantive ways.”

The Lure of the Pyramid

Despite the pyramid having been debunked in many venues for decades, it continues to show up in educational presentations and literature. How people learn is a complex topic, complicated by advances in neuroscience and cognitive psychology research. It’s natural that we should seek commonalities in learning. As the authors of the white paper “Multimodal learning through media” state, “The person(s) who added percentages to the cone of learning were looking for a silver bullet” (2008, p. 8). Shortcuts to ‘what works’ would be especially tempting to librarians who do not have extensive training in education.

In the library field, both of us have attended presentations where the speakers used the pyramid as a quick way to reinforce the importance of engaging students during class. “Remember, people learn better when they are doing!” we are exhorted, as the famous image appears in a slide. The “short cut” is not only a way to simplify complicated processes to ourselves, but to rapidly convince others that student activity is a worthy goal.

Finally, the pyramid speaks to us. When discussing the pyramid with other instructors, we often find ourselves agreeing to the “truthiness” of it: intuitively, it just feels right. Of course being active and participatory should lead to more learning than does more passive activities, like reading or listening. Who among us has not sat in an auditorium during a lecture (library or otherwise), surrounded by sleeping audience members? In fact, the research supports that lecture is of limited use when it comes to retention of material; people’s minds tend to wander after a short period of time. It seems common sense to conclude that methods alternative to lecturing would be better. And if we already believe that other methods are better, then when we view the learning pyramid, confirmation bias kicks in, prompting us to not question premises that support what we already believe.

Grains of Truth

So should we throw away the learning pyramid? Although we hope we have debunked the idea of that different methods of teaching will lead to set percentages of learning, we think this myth does address some valuable ideas:

1.    Memory matters. One of the best ways to measure learning is to assess the retention of material covered. We should continue to survey the literature on memory and retention, such as the 2013 article, “Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology.”

2.    Think multimodal. As has been mentioned, Dale did not intend to create a hierarchy of mental activities, but to suggest there was a continuum from which to choose. People’s attention spans are short, but they do tend to retain more when the instructor mixes it up: interspersing short lectures with peer collaboration, or after reading a passage, interacting with an online tutorial.

3.    Student engagement. The literature strongly supports that active learning exercises promote students thinking and caring about the material. This greatly aids retention, but it also helps lessen library anxiety and gives students a more positive feeling about the library sessions.

Final Words

Since the 1960s, experts have been trying to convince people that the learning pyramid is bogus. But for every article written exposing its weaknesses, there seem to be dozens of instances where it is invoked as truth in presentations, websites, and trade publications. We hope that having read this post, you will join the forces of pyramid slaying and base your instructional choices on valid research, not educational myths.

Shared Governance and Library Faculty: Jazzing Academic Community

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Sue Wiegand, Periodicals Librarian at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN.

As Commencement season draws near, I thought again of lines from Dana Goia’s poem: “Praise to the rituals that celebrate change…Because it is not the rituals we honor/but our trust in what they signify…” It’s been two years now since I served as Chair of our Faculty Assembly, the first librarian here to be elected to this role. Commencement is a ritual celebrating academic community — when we come together to celebrate the culmination of the academic year and our successful graduates. I think the ideal of academic community — all of our voices blending to make plans and create respectful discourse for mission-based decision-making — is what “shared governance” is all about. It’s a kind of jazz — a participatory blend of traditions, always changing — as well as a shared trust.

How many librarians participate in jazzing shared governance at their institutions, given the disparity of appointment categories at academic libraries? My “historic” 2009 election to be Chair-Elect of our shared governance body, Faculty Assembly, made me think more about this. I may be incredibly idealistic to be thinking in terms of academic community and shared governance at all, let alone as a librarian, a profession still subject to debate on its status, still sometimes considered a woman’s profession (well-behaved librarians don’t make history, right?). Higher education itself is on the very precipice of change in many of its hallowed traditions, and can ill afford more confusion. Could shared governance survive a librarian leading Faculty Assembly? Well, I had a lot to learn, but yes, we survived, with a lot of support from my faculty friends. Jazz is improvisational, after all. It absorbs and transforms tradition, and gives a participatory voice to all.

Are librarians faculty? Yes — in some academic institutions. Are we tenure-track? Yes — again, in some places. Can we earn promotion? You guessed it — maybe, maybe not, depends on where you are.

According to the Joint Committee on College Library Problems (including ACRL, AACU: American Association of American Colleges and Universities, and AAUP: American Association of University Professors), in a report issued in 2012: “Faculty status entails for librarians the same rights and responsibilities as for other members of the faculty. They should have corresponding entitlement to rank, promotion, tenure, compensation, leaves, and research funds.” I like the dual reference to rights and responsibilities. ALA and ACRL have also weighed in with their guidelines, the Standard for the Appointment, Promotion, and Tenure of Academic Librarians. The Chronicle of Higher Education has covered the question periodically; two examples are from 2008 and 2013. The comments sections often show a nice variety of perspectives on the subject, and incidentally on the academic tenure system in general.

Obviously, mileage varies a great deal on this one, and each tradition has its adherents. For me, having faculty status and earning tenure was a valuable experience that led to increased collaboration with classroom faculty, in both collection development of library resources and library research instruction. These include my favorite topic of conversation, scholarly communication — how it informs collection development as well as guiding research instruction for library resources — leading to informative discussions. The bittersweet part for me is that librarians here earn tenure, but are not eligible for promotion. It seems as though every place has its own ethos — its own distinctive style — about what seems to work best for them. Tradition rules.

Should librarians participate in shared governance? In my experience, the answer to that is an unequivocal yes — the experience is so rich, and the opportunities for interaction with classroom faculty so rewarding, I think librarians should let their voices be heard in their academic communities whenever possible. Shared governance and faculty status lets the librarian voice be heard, lest students enter the library to do research and find “there’s nothing there to support it,” says Deanna Wood, quoted on Inside Higher Ed. Yet, opportunities to contribute to shared governance and partnering with faculty vary as much as the opinions about librarian status. Should librarians stay in their place, the library? Which committees should they be eligible for? Does faculty status matter? How might the faculty status of librarians and their contributions to scholarship and shared governance enhance the educational mission and improve student learning in the academy? More research is definitely needed.

Still, for me, sharing the anxiety of figuring out what to do to be a full academic citizen involved getting to know my fellow faculty travelers on that uneasy road in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. After a fair amount of committee service over the years, when the question arose of putting my name on the slate for Chair-Elect, the first of my many protests was that I didn’t want to be Chair of Faculty Assembly — I was told that that was the first criteria! A Philosophy professor answered another protest of mine — that no one would vote for me — making me see that it wasn’t about me, but about being willing to make the commitment that underlies the “academic community/citizenship” rhetoric (I’m not a philosopher, so I’m paraphrasing here — what he actually said started with “So what?”). So I put my ego on the line, and was surprised and pleased to find that even a librarian could be elected to lead the Faculty Assembly at my academic institution.

Transformation — can the rituals that celebrate change and tradition encompass jazz harmony in shared governance and even librarian participation? Does our trust in the significance of academic citizenship invite us to think more deeply about the role and opportunities of librarians in the academy? I’m thinking about this as we prepare for Commencement here. Do we, to quote Goia again, “…dream of a future so fitting and so just/that our desire will bring it into being?” How do librarian status, service, and shared governance play out at in your academic community?