On Citing Blog Posts in Professional Literature and Discussion: How Seriously Should We Take Blogging?

I very rarely check out our stats, referrers, or things like that, but doing so just now reminded me of something minor but that always strikes me as somewhat odd: people citing blog posts as evidence in (our) professional literature. I’ve noticed now, a couple times, people having done that about things I’ve said on the blog, and it raises for me several I guess you would call “meta-issues” related to blogging and scholarship.

I suppose, in part, all of the issues stem from tension between (a) the seriousness and effort I put into what I’d call my “real” work: the things I put an enormous amount of thought into and end up publishing in peer-reviewed, professional journals and (b) stuff I blog about and just sort of write off the top of my head.

Maybe this is just me, but I, for one, don’t take blogging all that seriously, in the sense that it’s more like me thinking out loud: about stuff I’m thinking about, stuff that annoys me, stuff I want to get others’ input about, and so forth. I remember when I was a philosophy graduate student having drinks and dinner with a person who has a very famous academic blog. Someone was saying he should write about so and so serious topic and he replied “It’s just a blog.” This, I thought, gave the appropriate amount of weight and importance to an “academic” blog: yeah, it does have a level of seriousness because the subject matter is, after all,academic, but, on the other hand, it’s just a blog.

Now, maybe this attitude is no longer a viable one in 2015 as it was back when I was a philosophy student: blogs are just taken more seriously as part of the scholarly conversation now. That’s fine, and perhaps I should get with the times. I do think, though, that it takes away a lot of the point of blogging in the first place when we start elevating the level of scholarly importance that we often treat them in the library profession. One thing that’s nice about blogging as opposed to what I’d think of as real scholarship is precisely the fact that I don’t have to hold myself to as high a standard of rigor blogging as I do in a scholarly article. Blogging affords the blogger the chance to put ideas out there, to test them, and so forth, in a quicker, easier, more casual way than you can do with a peer-reviewed article. An average peer-reviewed article takes me at least a year; a blog post takes me anywhere from 30 seconds to an hour. So it always seems strange to me that people would cite stuff from a blog in a serious scholarly conversation, even though it makes sense to me for other bloggers to refer to other stuff bloggers say within the realm of the “blogosphere,” as it were.

So, one question might just be a sort of quasi-empirical one: why are people citing blogs as if though they’re actual, serious scholarship?

Another question: Does one have an obligation to maintain blog posts as part of the permanent record of scholarly conversation? For example, there’s stuff I’ve posted after about five seconds of thought that people have ended up citing, and I’m like … huh, I don’t even like care about this that much, and now it’s getting cited, and my inclination has been to delete it (because, frankly, I think they shouldn’t have cited it as evidence for what they’re taking it as evidence of in the first place). So do we have some kind of obligation to maintain that kind of thing? You, of course, can’t e-mail C&RL and be like, hey, just playin’ with you about that article, I’d like it back now. But I could delete this whole blog in like three seconds, and, let’s face it, the world wouldn’t be much worse off. I guess there’s always “Way Back” stuff where you can get old internet sources, but still.

Of course, the strangeness I experience over the blog-citing thing may have nothing to do with any of these objective issues of scholarship, and more to do with my own subjective experience blogging, where I don’t really ever consider the fact that someone is actually going to read any of this. This blog, for me, is more or less just a personal diary as it relates to our profession, and, as such,  I give very little thought to how it’s going to be recieved at all. But maybe that’s more of a 2001-era LiveJournalish view of blogging and I should get hip.

Or not.

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Friday Quote

I knew the man he was and I didn’t really care about what everybody else thought of him.

-LeBron James on J.R. Smith


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Learning Styles: The Educational Myth that Just Won’t Die (Especially in Academic Libraries)

Well, here we go again.

This time the culprit’s an article in the brand-spankin’ new issue of College & Research Libraries (who, ironically enough, recently published a little credo about raising the stakes for research done in the profession) entitled “Learning Style Dimensions and Professional Characteristics of Academic Librarians“:

The article’s question:

Do librarians with different characteristics, such as type of work responsibilities or age, have different learning styles?
Though the article hand-waves and refers to one 2005 article they cite as evidence of the continued validity of learning styles, they ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence that there’s simply no scientific reason to believe that teaching with one’s “preferred learning style” in mind actually enhances anyone’s learning . Despite this, the author’s systemically measure librarians’ preferred learning styles, and suggest things like:
In the classroom setting, learning styles need not be used to prescriptively modify
learning materials or attempt to match learning plans to specific individuals, but instead
as a framework by which educators can understand the diversity of their students and
by which individuals can reflect on their own tendencies in teaching and learning. Both
self-awareness and awareness of others’ potential differences can enhance teaching and
learning. Specifically, learning style assessments may encourage librarian-teachers to
recognize when an alternative teaching style is desirable and to expand their teaching
style to accommodate a larger variety of learning styles.
Perhaps, too, we might suggest that therapists in 2015 heed Descartes’ 17th century belief that depression may be the result of too much black bile floating around in one’s skull – you know, as a way of thinking about the wide array of compassionate alternative perspectives we might take toward depressed persons. Sure, it’s not true, but how else could we possibly take into account diverse perspectives on such a complicated issue?
Educational psychologists – even ones who recognize the central importance (and deep cognitive complexity) of information literacy – have long recognized that learning styles are an “urban legend” not based in fact. Hopefully someday more librarians will think evidence about student learning is worth taking seriously too.

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LOEX Slides: Librarians as Action Researches

Alex Carroll and I presented on the topic “Librarians as Action Researchers: A Practical Framework for Evidence-Based Information Literacy Instruction” at LOEX in Denver this past weekend. Alex has made the slides – which include the now infamous opening Rasheed Wallace slide – available via the University of Maryland’s Digital Repository.

Here’s the abstract for the talk:

This presentation proposes a framework for evidence-based practice for instructional librarianship drawn from discourse in education regarding the role of evidence in professional practice. We propose a framework for librarians to conceive of themselves as “action researchers”: professional practitioners who (1) adhere to the best available evidence about teaching and learning; (2) methodologically test their assumptions about their practice by conducting research in their local environments; and (3) apply these learnings in their own research and instruction practices. This definition differs from the current library literature on evidence-based practice in two main ways: it provides librarians with an established theoretical framework for becoming evidence-based instructors in practice and it elevates data about student learning, rather than professional intuition or faculty perceptions, as the driving force behind our decision making as teacher-librarians. We will next discuss the major practical benefits of this framework. First, it offers librarians a practical model that can be used to professionalize their teaching. Second, this increased professionalization as educators can help librarians more successfully meet the institutional priorities of higher education, the facilitation and assessment of student learning on campus. Lastly, by seriously engaging with the craft of teaching, teacher-librarians are better equipped to become genuine co-collaborators with faculty across campus. The implications of this shift in professional ethos may be considerable; such paradigm shifts do not often occur within a community of practice quickly or without some resistance. Consequently, we will conclude our talk by noting potential challenges and offering concrete recommendations for success for instruction librarians and library leaders seeking to foster an evidence-based community of practice in their own libraries.

Slides here. Thanks to everyone who attended!

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Ball don’t lie.


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Scholarship as Conversation: Teaching the Deep Structure of Attribution with Authentic Problem Contexts

Alex Carroll and Robin Dasler have an important new article out on “Scholarship is a Conversation: Discourse, Attribution, and Twitter’s Role in Information Literacy Instruction” in The Journal of Creative Library Practice that I wanted to draw to the attention of our readers. The article nicely models how we can teach the deep, conceptual structure of something like “why it’s important to cite stuff,” and does so while building a narrative around scholarship as conversation, using a relevant case study students will understand – Twitter – as a meaningful, real-life example.

In my view, one reason this kind of instruction is deeply valuable is that, according to cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham’s summary of the research on the cognitive science of learning,

The surest way to help students understand an abstraction is to expose them to many different versions of the abstraction […] new things are understood by relating them to things we already understand [… ] it’s not simply that giving concrete examples helps. They must also be familiar examples … It’s not the concreteness, it’s the familiarity that is important.

Why Don’t Students Like School? pp. 88-90.

Hence, using Twitter – a concrete example that is familiar to students – is a really effective method from the standpoint of evidence-based teaching practice to teach students the difficult abstract ideas of “attribution” and “scholarship as conversation.”

An excerpt from “Scholarship is a Conversation“:

When addressing scholarly attribution, citation, and plagiarism in one-shot instruction sessions, librarians often fail to present these issues in a manner that has relevance for students. Librarians often focus on intellectual honesty and the potential ramifications of plagiarism, both individual pursuits, rather than explaining that by creating an academic work, students are participating in academic discourse […]

One of the major deficiencies of this compliance-based instruction is that it presents students with a false dichotomy that does not align with their authentic life experiences; plagiarism is demonstrated as a black and white issue, rather than existing in shades of gray. Students who have come of age within a twenty-first century information ecosystem rife with remix and parody culture will likely find teaching that presents the re-use of source material as a non-nuanced issue unconvincing. Because students respond positively to instruction that aligns with their authentic experiences, this suggests that librarians need to develop new methods for teaching attribution and scholarly discourse that not only recognize the nuance inherent to these topics, but also presents these concepts within a familiar framework . As a familiar platform for social interaction with multiple avenues for giving credit and a shorter timescale, Twitter presents an opportunity to place attribution, plagiarism, and integrity into a humanizing, real world context that models how discourse unfolds in an authentic manner for learners. By embedding attribution instruction into a meaningful context, librarians and other educators can make substantial and much needed improvements to traditional compliance-based instruction, which is often built upon the slow, rigid, and unfamiliar patterns of how to cite scholarly works […]

Rather than limiting attribution to the realm of in-text citation and bibliographies, librarians working within libraries of all types should consider connecting these issues to case studies, which can convey to the public and students of all ages that attribution and copyright have relevance beyond the confines of academic writing.

Great case study in teaching students in a relevant way that moves beyond pointing and clicking; definitely worth a read, and a fine example of quality work in evidence-based information literacy instruction.

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