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?

The Future of Peer Review?

It’s still a few weeks until Open Access Week, but starting now you can help reimagine what scholarly publishing might look like in the future. Media Studies scholar Kathleen Fitzpatrick has made her new book manuscript available online for open peer review. While Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy will go through the traditional blind review process (it’s slated to be published in print next year by NYU Press), Fitzpatrick also plans to incorporate reader comments from the online manuscript into her revisions, asserting that “peer review will be a more productive, more helpful, more transparent, and more effective process if conducted in the open.”

The beginning of open peer review for Planned Obsolescence also marks the launch of MediaCommons Press, the latest project from MediaCommons (which Barbara first alerted us to a couple of years ago). MediaCommons uses the CommentPress theme for the popular, open source WordPress blogging platform. Manuscript text is displayed side-by-side with reader comments, facilitating paragraph-level discussion of the book.

Of course this isn’t the first experiment with open peer review of scholarly works. Fitzpatrick published an article about CommentPress in the Journal of Scholarly Publishing in 2007, and also made it available online for comments. Noah Wardrip-Fruin opened up the manuscript for his book Expressive Processing to “blog-based peer review” on the group blog Grand Text Auto; it also went through the traditional peer review process before being published by MIT Press this year.

What’s most interesting to me about the Planned Obsolescence project is that the book itself discusses the process of peer review and scholarly publishing. Browsing the chapter titles and subtitles there looks to be lots of interest to academic librarians: discussions of authority, intellectual property, preservation, and the sustainability of university presses. I haven’t had a chance to read more than the first few pages yet, but I’m looking forward to continuing (and commenting, too).

For the Hacker in You

Last week was the official launch of Prof Hacker, a new website devoted to productivity, technology, and pedagogy in higher education. A link to this group blog first popped up in my Twitterstream a couple of months ago and I immediately became a regular reader. While the main audience for Prof Hacker is college and university faculty teaching semester-length courses, there’s also lots here for academic librarians. (And of course we sometimes teach credit-bearing courses, too.)

Prof Hacker publishes at least one new post every weekday featuring news, advice, and how-tos. Posts are short and accessible, and cover a wide range of topics. Some of my favorites so far include:

  • A couple of posts about using and managing course blogs, including a review of the pros and cons of group vs. individual blogs and thoughtful discussion on evaluating and grading blog posts. Great comments, too.
  • A timely entry on managing stress over the course of semester (timely for me, at least, since it was published on the first day of classes at my college). Great advice that’s worth saving to reread on the first week of every semester.
  • One professor’s report on using iPod Touches in a class he taught over the summer. This one seems especially relevant for librarians as we investigate ebooks and the various ways that they (and other library resources) can be accessed by students.
  • And if you miss something and need to catch up, each week there’s a handy week in review post drawing together all of the previous week’s entries (the week I link to was particularly full of great posts).

Definitely a valuable addition to my feedreader. What blogs/sites are you reading this semester?