Category Archives: Student Issues

Use this category for posts about our students, student services, and other issues involving students.

Information in the Indignation Age

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Mark Lenker, Teaching & Learning Librarian at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

As a librarian, I worry about the ways that emotion, especially anger, influences our interactions with information. So much of our political discourse is intended to arouse indignation, and I’m concerned about indignation’s impact on one’s ability to learn. Higher education needs to become more intentional about preparing students for inflammatory discourse as a potential hazard in the information landscape.

An important Pew study offers a lens for understanding the cyclical relationship between our media habits and the increasing political polarization of the United States. The short version is that media consumers spend more time with media that confirms their political outlook, and that ideological reinforcement makes one less receptive to dissenting views. The degree of outrage and distrust in our political discourse makes this dynamic quite unsettling. A quick perusal of the online comments following any major news story shows that media-driven ideological reinforcement is not leading to higher rates of polite disagreement – AkronKittyLuvver is out for blood.

A subsequent Pew study confirms the tension. Researchers found that Democrats and Republicans tend to associate negative character traits with members of the opposing party. A strong contingent of Democrats say that Republicans are more dishonest compared to other Americans. An even larger percentage of Republicans say that Democrats are more immoral than other Americans. Majorities of both Democrats and Republicans say that the other side is more closed-minded compared to other Americans. We are all-too-ready to make hostile judgments about those whose perspectives differ from our own. What does this self-righteous antagonism mean for our capacity to learn about complex and evolving issues?

Indignation in both the media and in personal communications is particularly worrisome because it signals to one’s audience that the matter at hand is so grave and so morally charged that there is no room for alternative perspectives. Attempts to present other points of view will be met with resistance or even hostility, so there is little point in sharing a different opinion (unless you take moral offense at the indignant person’s thinking, in which case you can vent your own sense of outrage).

But is indignation necessarily the enemy of open-mindedness and open discussion? In True to Our Feelings, philosopher Robert Solomon presents a more nuanced view of anger and indignation. According to Solomon, anger arises when we have been hurt or offended in some way, and it manifests itself as an impulse to level blame against the offender. While anger can operate on a strictly personal level (“his loud talking is distracting me and it’s making me mad”), indignation implies that the offense oversteps important considerations of justice and morality (“his loud talking in the quiet area of the library is rude and unfair”). The sense of transgression involved with indignation can make a difference in the level of vehemence with which indignation is felt or expressed. Indignation involves more than simply being offended – it is being offended and having justice on your side (or at least feeling that way).

Because indignation is wrapped up with one’s understanding of justice and morality, it is not the sort of emotion that one can get over easily. Moving past indignation may require a revised estimation of the line between justice and injustice, and that sort of reexamination is hard to undertake in today’s polarized environment. The indignant mind presents fertile ground for confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and other obstacles to learning.

But Solomon also points out that anger and indignation have their value. For one thing, the ability to experience and express these emotions is essential to maintaining our personal dignity, to stand up for ourselves or to stand against unfairness. As Solomon puts it, “[T]here are times when one is a fool not to get angry, not only because the situation calls for it but because otherwise one degrades oneself as less than a fully functioning human being.” Indignation puts energy and backbone behind our convictions.

Furthermore, for Solomon (and for Aristotle), anger is not inherently irrational. Instead, anger is rational when it fits the occasion, when it is directed at the right parties, and when it is proportional to the offense (neither an overreaction nor an underreaction). Forward-looking considerations are also crucial for assessing anger’s reasonableness. Solomon emphasizes the strategic qualities of emotions, especially their impact on how we relate with others. Does one’s style of anger fit with one’s long-term interests, or is it better to revise (or even abandon) one’s current strategy?

Considering indignation in this strategic light, I find a theoretical home for my worries. For example, indignation is irrational if its heat and hostility get in the way of negotiating to address the conditions that inspired indignation in the first place. Indignation is also irrational if it entrenches the indignant person in righteousness to such a degree that they cannot consider other points of view or continue to learn about the circumstances of the offending injustice (which, in the case of political disputes, are probably quite complicated).

Can indignation foster learning? A sense of outrage might lend urgency to one’s investigation of an injustice, driving one to learn more quickly or more deeply than an investigator without the same sense of passion. Amia Srinivasan points out that anger is part of really understanding oppression, a matter of viscerally apprehending the gulf between the way things are and the way they should be. A vital educational message for these polarized times is that learning is a crucial lens for reflecting on the reasonableness of one’s indignation.

Rational indignation cannot become so all-encompassing that it crowds out dispositions to learn. Indignation motivates learning when it is combined with intellectual courage (a willingness to face ugly situations squarely, without rationalizing them away or exaggerating their severity) and with epistemic humility (a clarity about the limits of one’s perspective and a consistent recognition that one can always learn more).

Media-inspired indignation is an information problem, a potential pitfall that higher education should help students prepare for by exploring a range of important questions:

  • How do partisan media, indignation, and intellectual autonomy relate to one another? Does media-inspired indignation stimulate or stifle curiosity about politics?
  • How does indignation over political matters define one’s relationships with one’s peers? With other groups?
  • When political leaders and campaigns use rhetoric to inspire indignation, how does that work to their advantage?
  • Is indignation worth the costs? Political discussions in the media typically address exceedingly complex conditions that impact vast, diverse groups of people. Given the uncertainty involved in policy making, when we weigh the likelihood of achieving a satisfying political resolution against the consequences of being angry at our neighbors, is the antagonism associated with indignation justifiable? If not, what attitudes are more appropriate?

To be clear, my concern is not ideological. If one’s beliefs place them in the far reaches of the ideological spectrum, that may be perfectly legitimate, as long as those beliefs stem from the careful, iterative consideration of the best evidence available. But when I look at the polarization data from Pew, I don’t think that’s what’s happening. I worry that indignation contributes to a cycle that drives us ever further from the ideal of informed political participation. Our students need to reflect on this dynamic – they need to demand better of their politicians, their news sources, and themselves.

(Though perhaps, not too indignantly.)

What does your student-centered lens on library practice look like?

Perhaps you, too, have been following some of the recent instances of student shaming and blaming. I’m referring particularly to the piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education in which the author suggests a fictional student is lying about a grandmother’s death as a way to get out of finals. I’m also referring to the session at the 2017 ACRL conference in which a few presenters disparagingly referred to their students as “our sweet dum-dums.” Even just a sample of the incisive commentaries on these and similar instances of student shaming (check out, for example, pieces from Acclimatrix, Jesse Stommel, Jordan Noyes, Joshua Eyler, and Veronica Arellano Douglas to name a few) illustrate how incongruous this talk is with the very real empathy, care, and respect I know we have for our students.

We could dissect the problems that are at the core of these troublesome statements further. We could discuss what happens when we talk like this and why it’s imperative that we don’t. We could reflect on the times we’ve inadvertently said regrettable things ourselves. But what I’m more interested to think about now is how we exercise our empathy, care, and respect for students, and how we can do it better still. What does it mean to keep students at the center of our library practice?

I think it’s worth checking in with the significant history and usage of the term “student-centered” in pedagogical contexts. There, we might see the concept phrased as “student-centered learning,” particularly when contrasted against “teacher-centered learning.” We might sometimes see it called “student-centered teaching” or “learner-centered education.” While these terms might indicate slightly different philosophical orientations, they are essentially variations of the same.

Maryellen Weimer says that learner-centered education is about learning skills for learning, alongside content. It requires learners to reflect on the what and the how of their learning. It invites students as collaborators and leaders of their learning. Learner-centered education, or student-centered education, changes the balance of power and control. “The goal of learner-centered teaching,” Weimer writes, “is the development of students as autonomous, self-directed, and self-regulating learners” (p. 10). In the learner-centered environment, learners have a lot of responsibility and, as Phyllis Blumberg asserts, the instructor’s role “shift[s] . . . from givers of information to facilitators of student learning or creators of an environment for learning” (p. xix).

When we talk about student-centered, then, we’re talking about engaging students in high-impact practices and with skills and resources that contribute to their learning and help them continue to learn. We’re talking about helping students succeed and continue to be successful. We’re talking about empowering our students to be active agents in their own learning.

Student-centered is a guiding principle by which we chart our path. Student-centered is an attitude or a disposition, a way of working.

A student-centered way of working means practicing empathy for students. It means inviting students to co-construct meaningful learning experiences and environments. It also means challenging our students to think deeply, critically. It means challenging them to challenge their assumptions and themselves, and to go further.

A student-centered lens on our library practice means enhancing the role of assessment in our decision-making and improvement, asking what kind of impact we are having (or not having) on student learning and success. It means enhancing student voices in our decision-making, inviting their input in formal and informal ways. This way of working means cultivating an attitude of flexibility, innovation, and improvement. It means collaborating across a library, across an institution.

What does your student-centered lens on library practice look like? I’m eager to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Privacy and Academic Libraries Right Now

I have a kid in high school whom I’ve often jokingly referred to as my in-house research subject. I’ve been interested to observe and think about the ways that he accesses information for school and non-school reasons, especially as he gets closer to the age of many of the students who use the library where I work. When he started high school I was initially surprised by the number of educational technology products he was required to use. Much of my grumbling around these systems stems from my concern that some of his classmates likely don’t have good access to computers or the internet at home, and that use of these systems puts a strain on some kids to find time to use the school or public libraries to do their homework. But lately I’ve also been concerned about the number of products my kid has to use, which is only growing. Beyond the very real password management considerations, I’m also increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of information these systems collect about him.

That’s one reason I’m looking forward to digging in to the new EFF report Spying on Students: School-Issued Devices and Student Privacy. From the executive summary of the report:

Throughout EFF’s investigation over the past two years, we have found that educational technology services often collect far more information on kids than is necessary and store this information indefinitely. This privacy-implicating information goes beyond personally identifying information (PII) like name and date of birth, and can include browsing history, search terms, location data, contact lists, and behavioral information. Some programs upload this student data to the cloud automatically and by default. All of this often happens without the awareness or consent of students and their families.

Yes, this report covers only K-12 schooling, but it’s of relevance to us in college and university libraries, too, and not only because we’ll be seeing many of those students at our institutions soon. The proliferation of learning analytics across campuses has been fueled by their highly-touted potential for using institutional student data to help them stay on track, ultimately increasing student retention and graduation rates. Libraries (and the vendors we do business with) have data about our patrons, too — how can we ensure that students’ privacy is protected when we (or other college offices) use that data?

A recent preprint of an article by Kyle M. L. Jones and Dorothea Salo — Learning Analytics and the Academic Library: Professional Ethics Commitments at a Crossroads — does a fantastic, thorough job of walking us through these issues. From the abstract:

[T]he authors address how learning analytics implicates professional commitments to promote intellectual freedom; protect patron privacy and confidentiality; and balance intellectual property interests between library users, their institution, and content creators and vendors. The authors recommend that librarians should embed their ethical positions in technological designs, practices, and governance mechanisms.

Beyond reading this report and preprint, what can we do to learn more and help protect our patrons’ privacy (and our own)? Keeping up with these issues is a good first step. For starters, I recommend the terrific work of education technology journalist Audrey Watters published on her Hack Education blog. Her longer pieces and transripts of her presentations go in depth on many privacy-related topics, and her Hack Education Weekly News tracks edtech across a huge range of publications and outlets.

We can also work to audit our own internal library systems and practices, and to push the vendors we work with to protect patron privacy. Further, we can increase digital privacy awareness among ourselves, our coworkers, and our patrons. At the library where I work we hosted a data privacy training for all library faculty and staff a few months ago, run by some of the smart folks from the Data Privacy Project. They covered digital privacy protection for us as technology users as well as ways that we can shore up privacy protections in the library. Their presentation materials are all available on their website, too, for any library to use to offer digital privacy workshops for their community; my college’s library is running one next week during Choose Privacy Week.

Your Library Is a (Job-Seeker’s) Wonderland

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Megan Mall, Director of Content Strategy at the American Association of Law Libraries.

In my previous position, I worked as a librarian in a university career center. In short, I helped students locate companies of interest and prepare for interviews.

The idea that a librarian could help students with their career pursuits was initially something of a mystery to them. But once they saw the caliber of information available through subscription databases and the librarian’s expertise at work, they were converts. They excitedly provided updates on job offers. They wanted to know what databases to use for research projects and hobbies.

Providing career research assistance was a highly effective entry point to the library for most of the students I worked with. Words like “database” and “online resource” that were simultaneously prosaic and nebulous became meaningful as things that offered near-immediate benefits. And, really, who would argue with a service that saves you time, makes you look smart, and helps you land a job?

In addition, providing career research assistance was a fantastic way to demonstrate the library’s importance to outside stakeholders through usage statistics, satisfaction surveys, and student testimonials—not to mention the indisputable currency of helping students land jobs.

Though I worked with MBA students in the role, I relied upon a few foundational resources that are available through many undergraduate and public libraries. I’m going outline how to use them to launch your own career resource center.

Create a Company List: Hoover’s

Sue Ellen “Swell” Crandell will graduate from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a degree in marketing. She’s interested in finding a job in Seattle. First, we want to see what’s out there—in Seattle—using Hoover’s. Hoover’s is a multi-purpose resource that can function as a company directory.

From the “Advanced Search” screen, I added a few filters, and Hoover’s generated a list of over 100 companies.

The list includes companies like Nordstrom, Starbucks, Amazon, and Microsoft. Swell decides to focus on software companies.

Build Industry Knowledge: IBISWorld

IBISWorld is a great go-to resource for industry knowledge. The reports are typically updated several times per year. You can search by industry, company, or product keyword from the front page.

Some of the reports are very broad, and others are quite specific. For example, my “software” search from the landing page yielded over 700 results.

Each report is extremely thorough and organized in the same way—and can be downloaded to PDF.

Each report also contains an iExpert Summary—which provides an infographic-happy “greatest hits” version for those short on time or who feel overwhelmed by the intensity of the full report.

Locate Company Information: MarketLine Reports

For company information, MarketLine Reports make an excellent one-stop shop. They are available through several different databases, including EBSCO’s Business Source product line. These reports are typically updated twice per year and are 35 to 50 generously spaced pages. It takes about 20 minutes for a thorough reading of a MarketLine Report of that length.

Though access points will vary, I found mine in Business Source Complete by going to “Company Profiles.” From there, I searched for Microsoft, and up it popped in PDF.

You can get important quantitative information though Key Facts and Revenue Analysis—as well as qualitative information through History, Major Products & Services, and the insightful SWOT Analysis.

Find Company News: Factiva

I recommend using Factiva and its endless array of really smart filters for finding company information and more. Not only that, this is a very efficient way of getting verified, and non-fake news! By using Factiva, you will be able to bypass paywalls and cache-clearings and other internet indignities. It’s updated every morning.

The month’s most important news about Microsoft

All manner of useful intel under Factiva Expert Search

Another potent filter is Product Announcements, which will tell you what’s new, where the company’s headed, and what interviewers will be interested in talking about.

Limited Database Access?

If you don’t have subscriptions to the databases used here and can’t access satisfactory substitutes, I recommend looking at your local public library’s collection to see what they offer. Do you share reciprocal access privileges with a nearby college? If so, you might see if you can form a partnership.

If you’re stumped, feel free to contact me and I will do my best to help you find alternatives.

Recommendations for Getting Started

A live demonstration is a must for showcasing these services to students and stakeholders. Go where your students are—consider leaving the library and taking a laptop to the student center or career fair for demonstrations, questions, and general visibility.

Form relationships with career services and student clubs to continually market the initiative. Get feedback on success stories and areas for improvement.

If possible, I highly recommend offering dedicated appointments for individual students. This provides the chance to provide unhurried guidance and a positive, focused research experience.

Spread the Word

Encourage students to recommend the service to peers. Use social media and library signage to supplement the personal, on-the-ground, face-to-face mission. Survey students. Ask them to share their success stories.

Keep decision-makers in the loop. Share feedback, student triumphs, and statistics. Not once—regularly. I know this is difficult for some librarians, but it is imperative.

Additional Resources

Strategic Approach to Interviewing: Best Practices for the MBA Market: The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business offers a thorough guide. Though it was designed for MBA students, it is appropriate for other audiences as well.

Interviews & Offers: Princeton University has compiled a very helpful roadmap of preparing for all aspects of the process.

Test for E.C.H.O.

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Marc Mason, Library Undergraduate Services Associate at Arizona State University Libraries.

I had one of those days today. One of those rare ones, the kind of day where you walk around with a little more bounce in your step, your chin tilted a bit higher. It was a day where – hallelujah! – validation rained down upon my shoulders and washed away some of the frustrations I’ve felt lately on the job.

We could all use a few more of those days. Mine came about courtesy of our university’s International Students and Scholar Center. Prior to school starting, they held a day-long conference for all incoming international graduate students. This is the second time that the ISSC has put on this conference, and they have generously included me as a breakout session speaker each time. Last time out, around 20 students came to my talk, which I will admit was disappointing. I suppose the competition during that time slot was fierce, but my library-guy pride to this day still kind of believes it can’t have been that fierce and more students should have come to see me.

Arrogance? Sure. But I think libraries could use a little more swagger.

Because of that tiny turnout last time, I had little in the way of expectations going into this second conference. So it was more than a bit shocking when I arrived at my room to set up and saw that there were 240 chairs arranged in the audience. I can take a joke at my expense, but this had the look of something that was going to be embarrassing. I swear I felt my sense of pride start to shrivel. The time ticked down. The previous session finished. I held my breath.

A flood of people poured into my room. 180 of them as a matter of fact.

Floating on air, I did my thing, offering up the library services I wanted them to know about, and keeping them laughing all the way through. When I was done, over two dozen stayed to talk to me further. Like I said: it was incredibly validating. May each and every one of you have a day like that, and soon – that’s my wish for you.

I’ve been working with the international population for over seven years now, and in general, it is always my favorite part of my job (even when it isn’t one of “those” days). The opportunity to meet and teach people from all over the world is truly a gift. It has also put me in a position to speak at conferences on international student topics and to meet amazing colleagues from across the country in the process. It has given me the opportunity to see humanity in an incredible light, and to truly take a stand for tolerance. I would not trade it for anything. My job gives me the chance to continuously learn, both on an academic and on a cultural level.

I have occasionally been asked about best practices for working with international students, and with that in mind, I decided to put into words how I go about working with these student populations and their extraordinary cultural differences. I call it “Test for E.C.H.O.”

E stands for Empathy: The first thing you can do is show your capability for understanding. These folks have traveled thousands upon thousands of miles to be at your institution. Sometimes they have traveled for almost three days depending on long layovers. They’re far from home, they cannot get home easily, and everything is somewhat scary. The signage is in a second language. The odds of any random cashier speaking their native tongue is slim. Local foods may not sit well with their digestive systems for a while and they may get sick for the first few weeks of being here. Oh, and they may not see their families for a year or better. The whole process can be wildly intimidating, and all it takes is one bad interaction with a local to make them question their life decisions.

Don’t be that local. Keep some of the above in your mind and let it guide you in how you approach working with these students.

C stands for Care: After you have shown empathy, follow that up by demonstrating that you believe that they matter. That you care about them as fellow human beings. Don’t allow that physical distance they’ve traveled to become an emotional one as well. (Life need not always batter us with metaphors.) I can’t even begin to tell you how many students I have worked with over the last few years who responded to simple moments of genuine caring. Creating that connection grounds that student to the university and provides them a human connection to their educational experience.

Be that connection. It’s great for them, and I promise it’s great for you as well.

H stands for Humor: Different cultures have different senses of humor, that much is certain. But laughter creates a bond between you and the international student that will be of enormous benefit.

There is a tendency among many in our profession to take themselves very, very seriously. And I get that – we are the gatekeepers for information, freedom fighters against the tyranny of government overreach, yadda yadda yadda. However, that seriousness can also be rather intimidating, not just for our international students, but for all students. This sometimes places our expectations for students far out of reach for where their real capabilities lie. If and when that happens, students start avoiding the library, seeing it as a foreboding place where they do not belong.

We never want them to feel like they don’t belong. Right? So be silly. Tell a joke that revolves around a pop cultural artifact that has worldwide appeal. No matter where we are from, certain things are popular. Star Wars, Beyonce, Harry Potter… it isn’t difficult to find common ground. Use it to get some laughs, put their minds at ease, and create a learning experience they will never forget.

O stands for Optimism: And finally, help these students believe. When you are working and learning in a second language, particularly one as difficult as English, confidence is a fragile thing. Setbacks can be crippling, and doubts about one’s ability to succeed (not to mention the time and money put into coming to the U.S.) can set in quickly. Numerous students have shared their “I almost quit” stories with me since I started working with this population, and they all have pretty much the same plot: a failure of some sort, painful phone calls to friends/confidants expressing regret and fear, worries about how family may react when they go home in “disgrace,” and (for those who stuck it out) a eureka moment where they got the right help to carry them through their struggles.

A librarian can be that help. Be that help.

When working with an international learner, using phrases like “yes, you’ve got this” or “I can tell you understand this stuff” can make a massive difference as that student continues working through their assignments. The reassurance of an expert goes a long way towards solidifying confidence and building a strong mindset for success. And they’ll remember the part you played in that success, I promise you.

The world isn’t slowing down anytime soon, and neither is the influx of international students to U.S. schools. Cultural literacy and competency is going to become one of the most critical skills our library staff can possess. So as you find yourself working with this population – whether individually or whole classes – take just a moment to remind yourself to test for E.C.H.O. Trust me – you’ll be glad you did. And you’ll have more than a few of those kinds of days.