Category Archives: Bibliographic Instruction is Dead

Our Own Horn

Happy to announce that an article Dani and I wrote that was published by Reference and User Services Quarterly last year – “How Do Our Students Learn: an Outline of a Cognitive Psychological Model for Information Literacy Instruction” – was recently named a “Top Twenty” Article of 2015 by LIRT – ALA’s Library Instruction Roundtable. So I thought this might be a good time to toot our own horn again, and promote the piece for those who may not have had a chance to check it out. I’ve heard now from several people that the article helped them engage in discussions with their colleagues about implementing empirically informed, learner-centered teaching in their own libraries, which is really awesome.

Here’s the abstract:

Effective pedagogy requires understanding how students learn and tailoring our instruction accordingly. One key element of student-centered pedagogy involves understanding the cognitive psychological processes according to which students learn, and to structure our teaching with these processes in mind. This paper fills in a gap in the current literature, by applying empirically grounded lessons drawn from the cognitive science of learning, and discussing specific applications of these lessons for information literacy instruction. The paper outlines a framework for information literacy instruction, grounded in the educational and cognitive psychology literature, for facilitating student retention and transfer of information literacy skills, two classic measures of student learning. Five specific principles and several strategies for promoting retention and transfer within information literacy instruction are outlined.

And you can check out the whole thing via RUSQ. If you’re having trouble locating the article, drop me a line (kevin dot michael dot klipfel at gmail dot com) and I’ll help you out.

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There’s Just Some Stuff Students SHOULD Know: Some Thoughts on Dewey on Education with Reference to Library Instruction

I was having a passing conversation the other day with our new library dean and another librarian at my university that all of the sudden involved me pontificating (a rare occurrence, to be sure) on the nature of education. I’m leading a project at my university where we’re creating a formal information literacy curriculum with written outcomes, modules, and assessments, and  several librarians are involved in the process.

At any rate, as I said, we were talking kind of in passing after the meeting about whether there are things, objectively speaking, that “students should know.” I think this is a common view in libraries and in education. Let’s call it:

The Objective Importance View: There’s just some things an educated person should know.

This is, I think, probably uncontroversial on the face of it. After all, what the hell are we doing here, if not educating students about stuff they should know?

But here’s the thing. I actually think The Objective Importance View is false.  More colloquially, I probably think it’s controlling bullshit.

Here’s why.

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Information Literacy Implications of “Algorithmic Bias in Library Discovery Systems”

In the not-too-distant past, my library adopted a new discovery system for our catalog access. Right away, my colleagues and I noticed weirdness: some keyword searches would pull up seemingly unrelated items (where a search through the bib record revealed no clues) or an exact title search would display the title we were looking for several items down. I’ve been stumped for why this is happening, and got no good answers from the vendor.

Which is why I’m super grateful for Matthew Reidsma’s recent, very excellent blog post, “Algorithmic Bias in Library Discovery Systems.” It’s long, but worth reading the whole thing. In fact, I’d say it’s a necessity for all librarians—go read it, I’ll wait.

Welcome back! So, to summarize: Reidsma tested Summon’s Topic Explorer function and discovered some odd, leading things, which are the function of how the tool’s algorithm works. For example, a search for “muslim terrorist in the United States” led to a Wikipedia result about “Islam in the United States”—a distressing conflation.

This is why it’s really *not good* for us to present the whole “Internet=bad, Library=good” dichotomy that is so easy to fall into. In many cases, the library search isn’t great either: the algorithms that run it are created by people, and are certainly not perfect, and may reflect the biases or simple not-thinking of the creator. So no matter what the tool is that we use to find information, that question of evaluation is critical: is this actually a reflection of what I was looking for, or does it take a leap (e.g., terrorists –> Islam)? And even if all of the results do seem related, we need to interrogate how they are being displayed: most people are only going to look at (maybe) the first ten results: do they represent a certain viewpoint? These problematic issues exist in ALL library discovery systems, not just open web products like Google.

When I go back to teaching in the fall, I’m going to be sure to teach evaluation outside of the context of a specific search engine—I want students to feel comfortable questioning all information they see, and not to elide that skillset because they implicitly trust that a certain search (i.e., the library search) is more reliable. If our job is to teach students to be critical consumers and creators of information, I’d say that it’s incumbent upon us not to take the easier path, but to surface the way these systems are constructed and the potential for bias and leading that such systems create. Many thanks again to Matthew Reidsma for his excellent article, that highlights the problematic nature of discovery systems.

How will you approach this in your teaching?

#questioneverything

For more related research on algorithms, you should check out Safiya Noble’s work on how commercial search engines represent gender and racial identity. It’ll make you stop in your tracks and rethink how you approach teaching searching. Promise.

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Learner-Centered Reference & Instruction Online Course

Dani and I will once again be teaching a course on Learner-Centered Reference & Instruction, with a focus on the science & psychology of learning,  via RUSA/ALA. You can now register for the course that begins on 2/15/2016 and ends on 3/27/2016.

Here is a bit of info on the course:

This course will introduce library practitioners to empirically sound approaches to learner-centered teaching that can be applied to creating effective reference and instruction services that maximally facilitate student learning. The first part of the course will be devoted to understanding the current science of how students learn from the perspective of cognitive and educational psychology, and concrete ways that library practitioners can apply this learning to the library context. The second part of course will deal with motivational aspects of learning: What does the psychological research say about what makes students want to learn, and how can we use this research to motivate information literacy learning? The final part of the course will cover issues of diversity and inclusive pedagogy from within the framework of culturally responsive pedagogy: In a diverse educational landscape, how can we construct our teaching so that it includes, rather than alienates, as many students as possible?

The aim of this course is to give librarians the tools to feel more confident in their instructional strategies and ability to support student-centered learning. Not only will the course introduce participants to scientifically grounded pedagogies, but will lead them through exercises to concretely apply these theories to their own library contexts. This course will be of interest to any librarian who engages in reference or teaching, and is unique in providing a current overview of the current educational literature alongside practical strategies.

We’re excited to teach it again; please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

For questions about the logistics of registration you can contact: registration at ala dot org

For questions about the course itself you can contact me at kevin dot michael dot klipfel at gmail dot com (Dani is on leave for a little bit right now so it’ll be easiest to get in touch with me at the moment)

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Teaching and Expertise

Well, again to return to teaching: Experience is very important. It comes only with time. I have time behind me so I venture to teach and say to students, “I don’t really know a hell of a lot more than you do except I’ve been around longer and I do have experience and if I can articulate it some of it will rub off and do you some good.

-Walker Evans

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Last Chance to Register: Learner-Centered Reference & Instruction Course

This is the last chance to register for the online course Dani and I will be teaching via RUSA/ALA on learner-centered pedagogy as it applies to libraries (the class starts Aug 10th).

Bit of info:

This course will introduce library practitioners to empirically sound approaches to learner-centered teaching that can be applied to creating effective reference and instruction services that maximally facilitate student learning. The first part of the course will be devoted to understanding the current science of how students learn from the perspective of cognitive and educational psychology, and concrete ways that library practitioners can apply this learning to the library context. The second part of course will deal with motivational aspects of learning: What does the psychological research say about what makes students want to learn, and how can we use this research to motivate information literacy learning? The final part of the course will cover issues of diversity and inclusive pedagogy from within the framework of culturally responsive pedagogy: In a diverse educational landscape, how can we construct our teaching so that it includes, rather than alienates, as many students as possible?

The aim of this course is to give librarians the tools to feel more confident in their instructional strategies and ability to support student-centered learning. Not only will the course introduce participants to scientifically grounded pedagogies, but will lead them through exercises to concretely apply these theories to their own library contexts. This course will be of interest to any librarian who engages in reference or teaching, and is unique in providing a current overview of the current educational literature alongside practical strategies.

We’re excited to teach it again; feel free to let us know if you have any questions.

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Taxonomies of Denial: Ways We Subtly Reject Evidence-Based Practice (Pt. 2: Individual Denials)

Following up on yesterday’s post on denial:

The next couple deniers tend to be more personal in nature. This is maybe more the kind of thing you may see on the ground.

For example, you may run into:

The Know it All: The know it all just KNOWS something won’t work, whether there’s compelling evidence for this or not.

For example:

“This won’t work. I tried something not really similar to this at all under a completely dissimilar set of circumstances in 2004; therefore, this thing you’re doing now won’t work.”

You may also have occasion to someday encounter

The Mind-Reader: Similar to the know-it-all, the mind-reader already knows something, but it’s about what other people think.

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Taxonomies of Denial: Ways We Subtly Reject Evidence-Based Practice (Pt. 1: Epistemological Denials)

On a recent post I wrote about my time at UNC-Chapel Hill and its role in shaping my beliefs about the importance of using evidence in our decision making as library practitioners, Candice Benjes-Small commented, wondering what the actual objections I’d faced regarding evidence-based practice actually were.

This is a really good question, and one I’ve sort of explicitly avoided in the interest of being professional. It’s rare, of course, to see objections to evidence-based decision making in print and, as such, detailed descriptions of these objections could require me to relay more personal anecdotes, in effect calling out other members of the profession. I think it’s tacky to do that to people who don’t willingly put their names out there.

Nevertheless, I thought about what Candice said for a long time, because I think that denials of evidence based practice, since they would seem so strange on the surface (What on earth can you explicitly say to someone rejecting the idea that we should make informed decisions?!), often work really subtly, in ways that we might not actually be aware of in our day-to-day practice. It is, therefore, important to be aware of them: both in terms of what to look out for in other people and also – I think perhaps most importantly –  in ourselves. For this is ultimately the point: while EBT is not controversial intellectually, it can become controversial interpersonally and also internally: EBP requires us to go beyond ourselves. It requires us to be selfless. It requires us to go where the evidence leads, not necessarily where I want. This, of course, can be hard, and, consequently, the varieties of bad faith we use to resist it seem to know no end.

At any rate. What I’ve decided to do is give you a brief taxonomy of denial: ways I’ve experienced evidence denial (i.e., people behaving as if though something is “wrong” with EBP). It goes without saying that these are anecdotal, so I suggest them as food for thought rather than overwhelming evidence for anything).

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What North Carolina Did to Me: Some Thoughts on Evidence-Based Library Practice

ChapelHill

This topic – the role of evidence in guiding our beliefs and behaviors about library practice – is something I’ve touched on here many times, but it comes up so much and in so many different ways that I thought I’d say a little about what I’ve come to think of as my “evolution” as an academic: from a very theoretically minded philosophy student/lecturer to an empirically-based library practitioner/scholar (i.e., someone someone who works in a library and is also required to publish stuff to obtain tenure).

Many librarians have a humanities background and I think this has an impact on the nature of our thinking. It did, at least, for mine. By the time I got to library school, I had spent my entire adult life studying philosophy, a discipline based mostly on a priori argumentation and speculation about how things might (or ought) to be,  and very little on empirical data.  I remember sitting in classes in library school and thinking teachers were nuts for doing studies. Surely it must be the case that x! I remember thinking to myself all the time. That seems totally wrong! But surely and that seems are not very convincing in the social sciences, which is what information and library science, in fact, is.

Even by the time I got around to working on my master’s paper – a requirement for all UNC SILS master’s students – I was still being cautioned by my adviser that I was thinking too broadly, too philosophically/humanistically, and not social-scientificey enough. I wanted to argue that something was the end all be all solution to a particular problem, instead of being careful, and showing that my study seemed to demonstrate, at least in this particular case at this particular university, that my hypothesis seemed to be confirmed.  I had a tendency to want to say more than the evidence allowed, a tendency that I think, in retrospect, was sort of based on a classical education in the humanities, instead of one in the sciences or social-sciences.

But something in me has changed: I’m now pretty hardcore about evidence based practice.   I don’t want to hear about “theories” of learning, I want to see evidence that your preferred method actually does improve student learning. I don’t want to hear your opinions about why the reference desk is so unbelievably charming and wonderful; I want to see evidence that it gets used a lot and that the questions are robust. I don’t want to hear about how important it is to have this book in the collection; I want to see evidence that it gets checked out and used (Ranganathan and all that, remember?).

Now, look, sometimes theory and philosophies inform practice. Of course they do: I’d think you were weird and not a reflective practitioner if they didn’t. I’ve just got no patience as a practitioner for abstract philosophizing or anything that falls much under the heading of “theory,” when that theory is not also borne out by the facts of empirical study (even though some of my own published scholarly work seems philosophical or theoretical, it is not: every attempt is made to ground it in the relevant evidence and data).  I’ve become sort of a pragmatist about things: I wanna know what works and what doesn’t, and I wanna get rid of the stuff that doesn’t work in favor of what does. And the way we can figure out what works and what doesn’t isn’t by sitting in our offices and (just) thinking about it, or by defending something because it’s what we’ve always done: it’s going to be by doing it and collecting data and testing whether or not it actually works in practice.

Now, as I say, I wasn’t born thinking like this; quite the opposite. So what happened? Well, I was thinking about this last night, and it occurred to me that the answer could be summed up in two words: North Carolina. That’s what happened to me. I went to library school at North Carolina.

Let me explain.

I think I got to thinkin’ about this recently when someone I was talking to said something vague like “Well, most library degrees are done online now,” lamenting the fact that people weren’t really getting the proper training.  I didn’t really say anything to the contrary (I was, you know, trying to be polite (fun fact about your boy KMK: he’s like, shockingly, exceedingly polite). But I did get to thinking: what did I learn at North Carolina that I might not have gotten if I’d just done my degree online, or if I’d never gone there at all?

I should say, before I get into the actual answer, a million things: I’ll be a champion of The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill until they bury me. I just can’t imagine what my life would be like if I hadn’t gone there. It was that important. But anyway. I think one of the most transformative things for me from having attending UNC’s SILS, in person, was the emphasis in my classes and program that professional library practitioners – the one’s with MLS’s – were in a sense defined by the fact that they were evidence based practitioners – reflective practitioners who methodologically test their assumptions about their practice by conducting research in their local environments and always seeking improvements based on these results. My SILS classmate and now collaborator Alex Carroll defined evidence-based instructional practice in a very similar way in our recent LOEX presentation.  That what North Carolina did to change my thinking: it instilled in me the belief that professional practice = evidence based practice.

This (as Alex and I tried to argue in our talk), is par for the course in other professional programs and professions, such as nursing, social work, and medicine (and, thankfully, it’s increasingly the case in education). And, of course, it’s central to the very nature of librarianship itself: librarians are in the business of evidence – we provide people with evidence so that their beliefs are based on the best available evidence within a particular domain. That’s just what we do. It’s just what we’ve always done.

So here’s why I’m still writing about this: it sometimes still amazes me how controversial the central lesson I learned at North Carolina is. Because it is. It’s controversial. Rock stars – library instruction rock stars – approached us after our talk to tell us that they thought this was the wrong approach. (I guess when you’re a rock star, you can just say things and people just believe them and then it’s annoying when people come along and want reasons to believe what you say …I don’t know?)  And it’s not just the rock stars (who, let’s face it, as a punk rock kid from way back, I’ve never cared much for rock stars, anyway): we see it in our practice, day in, and day out, locally and profession-wide. People defending stuff not based on evidence. It’s ubiquitous.

So you have to ask yourself: what gives? What on earth makes what I learned at North Carolina so controversial on the ground?

The best answer I can come up with is: resistance to change.

We don’t like to change.

And we don’t like to be wrong.

For individuals who struggle with having a growth mindset, one’s ego is often tied up with ones beliefs. “If my beliefs are wrong it means I”m wrong.”

So we resist change.

Let’s also not discount laziness here: when you’ve been doing something one way for a long time it’s often a pain in the ass to change.

So here’s the thing North Carolina didn’t quite teach me: even though this idea of evidence based practice is what it means to be a professional librarian, on the ground, this will often be the exception and not the rule. Following the evidence – pursuing the truth – will more often than not be met with resistance.

But you can’t let that stop you. You plow ahead and pursue your work and do what you know is right.

You believe in evidence over opinion, yourself over the expectations of others.

You do what North Carolina taught you.

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Last Chance to Register!: Take a Course with Rule Number One! (Redux)

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