It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Winter Break

Finals end today at the college where I work, and the semester is coming to a close. I really value the stretch of slower days in the library during the intersession; it’s a great time to take stock of what we’re doing and where we’re headed. This semester was incredibly busy, with a big increase in enrollment and much more instruction than last fall, so I’m even more grateful for the temporary slowdown. This winter break I’ve got three big projects to I’m hoping to tackle:

1. Planning for Next Semester
The core of our library instruction program is a mandatory one-shot for all English Composition classes, and our instruction librarians met last week for a debrief and planning session. For next semester our focus is on increasing both student and faculty participation in these sessions. We brainstormed a number of strategies at our meeting and will start to implement them over the next few weeks. I’m looking forward to teaching the revised sessions next semester — it’ll be interesting to see how these changes impact student engagement.

2. Long-term Program Ideas
In addition to prepping for our Spring instruction sessions, I’m hoping to take some time this intersession to think more about the future of our information literacy and library instruction program. I’m especially interested in learning more about programs that feature intensive, one-on-one collaboration between librarians and faculty in other departments. I’m excited to dig into research on faculty development programs like the Undergraduate Information Competency Initiative at Cornell University, the information literacy workshops at James Madison University, and the Information Literacy Quality Enhancement Plan at Trinity University.

3. Research and Scholarly Work
I’ll have a few research leave days in January, so I’m planning to catch up on some research and writing. I’m working on a research project with a colleague this year and we’ve got a pile of data from interviews with faculty and students to start to analyze; I’m also beginning a study with another colleague. And, despite my best efforts at keeping up, I still have a stack of articles that I haven’t found time to get through this semester. If I can shrink that tower of paper by the end of the winter break, it will definitely feel like an accomplishment!

Digital Natives, Scholarly Immigrants?

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

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

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

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

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

Power concludes with suggestions for addressing plagiarism with our students:

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

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

Encouraging Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Open Access Week

Last week was Open Access Week, and my library hosted an afternoon program for faculty. We started things off with a brief introduction to open access scholarly journal publishing. After a quick review of the origins and history of OA, we discussed the benefits of OA journals for faculty, students, libraries, universities, and the general public. We also demonstrated how to find open access journals in the library and on the internet, using an article written by one of our own faculty members as an example. Next, a faculty member from our Nursing Department spoke about her experiences publishing two articles in an open access journal.

We kept the presentations short to allow plenty of time for discussion (fueled by coffee and cookies, of course). There was a smallish group in attendance with a nice mix of newer and more seasoned faculty from many different disciplines across the college. Many junior faculty members (including me) are concerned about how articles published in open access journals will be regarded in the promotion and tenure process. It was great to have a forum to share the information that there are open access journals with prominent scholars on their editorial boards that employ a rigorous, double-blind peer review process, just as do subscription-based journals.

We also spent a fair amount of time discussing the means of production for open access journals. At the beginning of the program my library colleague mentioned the Open Journal Systems platform, an open source system that can be used to publish an open access journal, including managing the peer-review process. As the discussion progressed we began to consider the feasibility of publishing an open access journal at our college. It was a fascinating (and enjoyable) direction for the conversation to take, one that I hadn’t really anticipated when we planned the program.

I’m hopeful that our lively discussion indicates an growing interest in open access scholarly publishing at my college. Recently we’ve seen an increasing emphasis on faculty research at the college and university, and perhaps open access scholarly journal publishing will have a role to play. We’re pleased that our Open Access Week program was a success, and are already thinking ahead to planning for next year’s event.

Did your library plan any events to celebrate Open Access Week? Did you learn anything new about faculty attitudes towards scholarly communication on your campus?

Teaching Students, Teaching Faculty

Over the past few semesters we’ve ramped up the number of faculty workshops we offer at the library where I work. We’re a small library in a fairly large college, and it can be tricky to balance our faculty initiatives with student instruction. Faculty sessions usually take longer to prepare, and since we only offer one workshop on a topic each semester, we can’t economize on prep time the way we can with some of our library instruction for students.

While library instruction to students is an important mission for our library (and a huge part of my job), we only have the students for a relatively short time before they graduate. Faculty, on the other hand, tend to stick around for awhile. So I think there are several good reasons for continuing to offer as many faculty workshops as we do:

  • In my experience many faculty members are actively interested in learning more about the resources the library has to offer. Some of my faculty colleagues have mentioned to me how fast the research landscape is changing, and how difficult it can be to keep up. Offering workshops on advanced search strategies for the catalog and databases encourages faculty use of our books, databases, and other materials, which makes good sense for the library.
  • Faculty workshops are opportunities for outreach and to raise the library’s profile in the college. We’ve met lots of new faculty members recently, as well as faculty from departments that aren’t traditionally heavy library users. The library has partnered with the college’s new center for teaching and learning to offer our workshops through their faculty development program. This partnership has given us additional visibility on campus, and their talented intern has created beautiful posters for us to use to advertise our workshops.
  • Anecdotal evidence over the past few semesters suggests that many faculty who come to our workshops request library instruction for their classes, too. Thus, faculty workshops also provide opportunities for us to promote student library and information literacy instruction. Our workshops are open to all faculty at the college, and it’s especially nice to have a chance to connect with adjunct faculty, who can be harder to reach than the full-timers.

Does your library offer workshops or classes for faculty? What strategies for faculty workshops have you found successful? How do you balance the instructional desires/needs of faculty and students?