Distracted

Written by Jane Hammons, Teaching and Learning Engagement Librarian with University Libraries Teaching and Learning Department

 

What can librarians and instructors learn from Shakespeare and other playwrights or composers that we can use to get, and keep, students’ attention in the classroom?

In Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It, James M. Lang explores the topic of distraction and makes recommendations for strategies we can use to cultivate students’ attention. While his book was not intended specifically for librarians, many of the strategies are ones that librarians could use to help capture students’ interest. As Lang notes, “Teaching fails when we can no longer focus our students’ attention” (pg. 5). And so, thinking about, and strategically incorporating, practices to garner students’ attention should be one of our key focus areas when planning an instruction session, workshop, or course.

Before diving into the strategies, Lang takes some time to explore the broader issue of attention and distraction. He describes a narrative that is likely familiar to many of us, which is the idea that at one point in time, we all were able to focus. But now, thanks to all of our devices, we have lost that ability. Lang, however, challenges this notion, stating that “we have been sidetracked” by “assertive voices who lay the entire blame for our distractible natures at the feet of our laptops and phones” (p. xiii). Instead, Lang argues that we have always been distracted, providing examples of complaints about the inability to concentrate that are found throughout history, well before the first smartphone. Distraction, Lang argues, is natural to humans. And so, rather than focusing on strategies for avoiding distraction, such as banning technology in the classroom, Lang proposes that we instead focus on strategies that we can use to get attention. Lang insists that it is possible for us to get and keep students’ attention but that this must be something that we cultivate deliberately.

And this is where the reference to Shakespeare and other playwrights and composers come in, for these are folks who are regularly able to get, and keep, people’s attention for long periods of time. Based on these examples, and other research into learning, Lang provides several strategies that instructors can use to help keep students focused. A few examples include:

 

  • Create a sense of community in the classroom. As Lang notes, we are social beings, and “we are built to pay attention to other human beings…” (pg. 98). Having students interact with other students in groups or pairs can help them to stay on task.
  • Use students’ names. As we know from those times when we hear our name shouted out in a crowd, “our names have tremendous power to capture our attention” (pg. 107). While this can be challenging for librarians teaching one-shot sessions, there are things that you can do, such as temporary or erasable name tents, that can allow you to use students’ names even during a one-shot setting.
  • Move students, and yourself, around. While this is not always possible due to room configurations, having students move around, or making sure that you move to different places in the classroom, can help to refocus attention. When possible, Lang recommends that you “make your movements around the room deliberate” by standing near different groups of students. He encourages you to “join them in their space” rather than remaining behind the invisible plane that often separates teachers from the students (p. 119).
  • Make students curious. Rather than starting with an overview of learning objectives, start with a question or activity intended to get students interested in the content of the session. For example, show an image and have them consider how that might be related to the overall theme of the class session.
  • Make it modular. Think of an instruction session of consisting of several different short modules, and have each module be a different kind of event or activity. For example, a short lecture followed by a group activity followed by a demonstration followed by an individual writing activity. When possible, try to follow a passive activity, such as a lecture, with a something more active, so that students are switching between modes. As Lang notes, attention degrades over time, so each time you switch between modules it is a chance to recapture attention.
  • Think like a composer or playwright and provide transitions and signposts. Similar to the point above, plays are broken into different acts, with each new act being another chance to regain the audience’s attention. In addition, the audience usually is given a program that provides them with clues to what is coming up and allows them to reorient themselves if they get lost. Providing a similar structure can also help get students’ attention.

 

As you review this list, you may be thinking that you already do many of these things, just as general best practices related to teaching. In this context, the key is thinking about these strategies as tactics for getting and keeping students’ attention, and making sure you are being deliberate about how you employ them in the pursuit of attention.

 

Reference:

Lang, J. M. (2020). Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It. Basic Books.

 

I’m Using EBSCO

Post written by Danny Dotson, Associate Professor, Mathematical Sciences Librarian & Science Education Specialist, and head of the Orton Memorial Library of Geology & the Gardner Family Map Room at The Ohio State University

 

So have you ever had a student tell you that they’re using EBSCO or ProQuest – or some other “database” for their searching? If you’re a librarian, you’ll know this isn’t useful info. But I’m going to help demonstrate just HOW unusual it is.

For those that may not know why at all, a background.  EBSCO and ProQuest are database vendors. They sell many different databases. Many many databases.  And while their branded platform may make most, if not all, of their databases look the similar (if not the same in some cases), what these databases search for and their search features can vary.

Imagine if you asked someone what they were eating. And they replied “Nabisco!”  That’s not very informative. Are they eating Chips Ahoy!? Ritz crackers? Easy Cheese?

Using what Ohio State has to offer, here are the possibilities for when people name a vendor rather than the actual database:

Now let’s look closer at EBSCO’s database.  I mean, real close.  How small does the font have to be to get all of the databases to fit so that this blog can be drafted in just a 1 page Word document (1/2 inch margins)? Even using 4 columns, the Arial font has to be at 4 pt!

This just addressed two vendors. There are others with multiple databases..

So next time you have someone say they’re using EBSCO or ProQuest, let them know you had some Nabisco earlier!

Principled Uncertainty as Catalyst for Learning

By Craig Gibson, Professor and Professional Development Coordinator in the Libraries at The Ohio State University

 

On Wednesday, April 20th, 11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. EST, The Ohio State University Libraries (OSUL) will host a virtual chat entitled, “Principled Uncertainty as a Catalyst for Learning: A Conversation with Barbara Fister.” Barbara Fister, a well-known information literacy advocate and the Scholar in Residence at Project Information Literacy (PIL), will join Michael Flierl, the Information Literacy and Research Engagement Librarian at OSUL, who will moderate the 90-minute session, to discuss how librarians and educators can help students deal with uncertainty by developing ethical curiosity as an everyday life habit.

As academic librarians, how do we develop dispositions like curiosity in order to enable “principled uncertainty,” especially at scale? How do we work across curricula to develop this habit of mind in assignments and courses? How do we work with faculty and faculty developers to accomplish this shift in mindset over time? How do we leverage the “one-shot” instruction session to encourage more open-ended exploration of complex subjects on the part of students to encourage more open-ended exploration of complex topics as learning trajectories, to resist the drive for “settled answers”?

During a virtual conversation with librarians, faculty, staff and students from the OSU library system, Writing Center and the Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing, the Drake Institute for Teaching and Learning, at OSU as well as members of the statewide ALAO organization, Fister will explore these questions and draw from both her depth of experience leading an academic library and her recent article, “Principled Uncertainty: Why Learning to Ask Good Questions Matters More than Finding Answers,” for the PIL Provocation Series. Fister, Professor Emerita, Gustavus Adolphus College (MN), designed workshops and taught courses on information literacy at the college level for over 30 years. She is the Contributing Editor for the PIL Provocation Series, and has been PIL’s Scholar in Residence since 2019.

The virtual discussion is limited to 60 – 65 participants who may register in advance hereALAO members are invited to attend.

 

Limit Yourself

Post written by Danny Dotson, Associate Professor, Mathematical Sciences Librarian & Science Education Specialist, and head of the Orton Memorial Library of Geology & the Gardner Family Map Room at The Ohio State University

 

One of my favorite things to do when visiting a course is to talk about the value of the limit options in library search tools. I go into this knowing that some will likely not make use of some of these and go through the habit learned from years of using Google of doing a more manual sift through of content. I’ve even had a student in my own credit course say they preferred the manual sift after being introduced to these advanced features. Until they were made to use them and then indicated they realize how much work they made for themselves by not using these options.

I try to demonstrate the value by showing how much less you have to look at. For example:

Why limits?

Maybe you don’t read another language….

Maybe you don’t want to get up from your computer…

Maybe you only want to focus on recent content…

Or maybe you want all of these….

Of course, in any case, there may still be items not relevant. Relevant items may be removed because they don’t fit the imposed extra criteria. But it means less (sometimes far less) items to examine for relevance.

 

So make your life easier – limit yourself.

 

Connecting Instructors with Resources: Introducing the University Libraries’ Instructor Resources Site

Written by Jane Hammons (Teaching and Learning Engagement Librarian), Hanna Primeau (Instructional Designer), Amanda Larson (Affordable Learning Instructional Consultant), and Allison Schultz (Library Liaison for the Office of Technology and Digital Innovation) at The Ohio State University.

 

One of the challenges for librarians can be making sure that instructors are aware of all of the resources available through the library. Instructors, meanwhile, may find themselves searching for instructional materials to help students engage with the library and develop research skills, but not know where to go to find them. To overcome this problem, a team from The Ohio State University Libraries Teaching & Learning department has been working to develop a one-stop site where instructors can find guidance for incorporating library resources into their courses, learning more about affordable and open educational materials, and teaching information literacy and research.

Site Development

The creation of the site was a multi-year process that began with a desire to inventory the existing digital learning objects that had been created by Ohio State librarians and staff. The road from this beginning to the site launch did not always run smoothly. The COVID19 pandemic saw three members of the development team given new responsibilities to support the rapid transition to virtual instruction, taking time away from the project. An initial WordPress version of the site was developed and launched in 2020, but then came a new opportunity to transition to site to a location on the library website. While this shift brought new work, the opportunity to have a more visible and easily accessible location for the site was worth the challenge.

Site Overview

One of the major goals for the site was to connect instructors with “ready to share” resources that can be quickly integrated into a course. Resources include videos, recommended readings, and sample activities.

The newly launched Instructor Resources at University Libraries site provides information and resources on a range of different topics, including:

  • Integrating library materials
    • The materials on this part of the site are intended to help students gain familiarity with The Ohio State University Libraries system, with “ready to share” resources that will teach students how to utilize the library catalog, navigate databases, discover eBook collections and more.
  • Locating and teaching with affordable materials
    • This part of the site provides instructors with an overview of the affordability spectrum and gives guidance for locating, evaluating, and teaching with affordable resources.
  • Teaching research and information literacy
    • This part of the site includes resources and activities that instructors can use to help students select appropriate search tools, develop research questions, evaluate information sources and use information ethically.

In addition, instructors can request several pre-made Canvas modules on topics such as synthesizing sources, citation tracing, citing sources, annotated bibliographies and literature reviews. Modules can be downloaded into a course and edited by the instructor to meet course needs.

Resources are available to anyone teaching at The Ohio State University and are intended to be ready to share with students with minimal or no modification needed. Many of the resources are also available to librarians and instructors outside of Ohio State.

Next Steps

While the creation of the site was a long journey, our hope is that it will be a place where instructors and librarians can quickly locate library-curated materials to support student learning. We also recognize that the “launching” of the site does not mean the end of our work. For our next steps, we are developing a plan for the ongoing development, maintenance, and assessment of the site. This involves creating guidelines for how new material will be added to the site, including material created by Libraries’ faculty and staff outside of the development team.

Use These 5 Ideas from the Dance Classroom To Liven Up Your Next Instruction Session

Written by Mara Frazier, Curator of Dance at the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute at The Ohio State University.

 

Take a moment to close your eyes and take a deep breath, filling up your belly. Let it out through your mouth. Teaching is hard. Teaching library instruction in a one-shot, during a global pandemic, is especially challenging.

Challenges in library teaching are many and include:

  • tricky instructor requests
  • library anxiety
  • limitations to the 50-minute 1-shot

Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic has destabilized us. Due to Covid we must learn new tech tools and teach online and hybrid instruction. Covid has put an added emotional and cognitive load on students. All of this can make it hard to convey the information that we need to get across in a one-shot.

In 20+ years of teaching dance, I found that sustainable, transformative teaching always accounts for the mind and body. As crazy as it may seem to apply dance instruction ideas in the library, I believe that it is quite sensible.

The key is the common ground of the body.

What I am about to say is both obvious and profound: We all have a body.

It is with/through/in a body that we sense, process, and navigate the environment.

This is obvious and yet we often forget its import. We might focus more on the information we need to get across in a teaching session than on the ways our students will experience it in. By changing our orientation towards learning to account for the way mind and body work together, we can improve student engagement in our classrooms.

Here, I’ve gathered a few examples of how this plays out in the dance classroom and paired the examples with thoughts about how to implement this­–in fact, how I do implement this–in library instruction.

I hope in this list of 7 things, you find something you might want to try in your next one-shot to increase the engagement of your students.

1. More listening, less talking.

Chances are, you are talking too much in your teaching. (I know I do.)

As a novice dance teacher, I used to take a lot of time to explain the correct ways to do and think about a given movement. I would talk about a movement’s history, other names, and a thousand technical pointers about how to perform a given movement correctly. Meanwhile, students were standing, waiting, with their eyes glazing over. Over the years, I learned that almost anything else worked better. I learned to structure chances to practice early and often into the class. By doing, students could observe and respond to themselves and others.

The next time you are planning library instruction, build in time for listening and doing. Think about where and when to talk less. Where can you pause and offer students the opportunity to talk or experience?

For example, when a student asks a question, instead of answering it, open the question to the class. Try, “Great question. Does anyone have an answer they can contribute?” Or, when teaching a specific search strategy, try starting with an experience before explaining anything about it. Let the students have an experience, respond to it, and go from there.

2. Be Present

Many of us have been taught to prepare, prepare, prepare. But have you ever spent hours developing a beautiful slide deck and handouts only to have to skip the last 40% of the slides and rush through the handout in the class session? Have you ever spent so much time prepping that you have developed an overwhelming assemblage of information that is too much to share, and then become too stressed to connect with students and swore never to teach again?

I have. I’ve done the equivalent in the dance classroom too. This means rushing into and through dance movements in front of students, while forgetting to relate to them as actual humans. This results in stressed students and a stressed instructor. People who are stressed don’t learn well.

I’ve learned to replace some of my prep time with mindfulness meditation or deep breathing. Instead of a detailed document outlining my class plan, sometimes I will do a simple flow chart showing the concepts and activities I intend to engage in. Therefore, I show up more present and responsive.

Figure 1. A simple flow-chart style lesson plan for a dance class. Try something like this instead of a detailed document to free up your time and attention to be present with students.

It is more powerful to be mindfully present than to cover a large batch of information. Next time you’re prepping a lesson, take a step back.  Instead of detailing activities and resources down to the word, try simply sketching your class’s flow in a simple flowchart. Then use your remaining planning time to breathe and visualize your class. How do you want students to feel during and after the lesson? How do you want to feel? This is inspired by activist Adrienne Maree Brown’s idea of “more presence, less prep”–a principle of her theory and practice, Emergent Strategy.

3. Embrace Practice

Practice is everything in dance. In dance, a student may at first be unable to accomplish even the most basic step correctly. Take the plie, a bend of both knees with a straight back. Nearly every ballet class begins with a plie. It is only through years of repeated, intentional practice that dance students achieve mastery of this simple step. In the process of repeating it over years, students grow profoundly.

Furthermore, even expert ballet dancers continue to start their daily practice with plies. As an individual returns to this basic movement over the course of a career, they gain new insight into the same movement information.

What if we approached our library teaching sessions with a practice mindset?

We know that students will not achieve mastery in a 50-minute one-off. Therefore, it makes sense to think of the student’s lifelong relationship to information. Even though we may only have one instruction session with them, they will need to access information over and over throughout the course of their lives. What foundational concepts can you give students a chance to practice in your next teaching session, even if they have practiced it before? Can you allow the possibility that students will struggle with their practice, knowing that they may achieve mastery down the road through the struggle?

4. Invite students to explicitly pay attention to their physical sensations

Dance classes often start and end with ritualized opportunities to become aware of sensations. This may include instruction to take a deep breath, to be still, or to sense one’s physical weight supports in a seated or standing position.

Applying a strategy like this doesn’t have to be anything complicated for the library classroom. It can be as simple as an invitation to observe something they see in the room, to observe the temperature, the feel of air on their skin, feel their seat underneath themselves, or take a deep breath. This can be particularly useful when trying to approach an activity or topic that you anticipate can bring up anxiety, like engaging with technology or using complex search strategies. You can offer this as simply as how this article began, by saying “Take a deep breath.”

Explicitly acknowledging the body can feel like an impossible barrier to breach as an instructor. However, in my experience, students love to be given a low-stakes opportunity to become aware of their sensations, breath, or physical location.

5. Try a “brain dance”.

Brain dance comes from creative dance instructor Anne Green Gilbert, who founded the creative dance center in Seattle. Brain dance moves reduce tension, helping students coordinate their breath, body, and focus of their eyes, becoming more ready to learn. When I see students showing tension in their muscles or becoming restless, I offer a brain dance exercise as a quick reset.

A simple, non-threatening, brain dance-inspired exercise to invite students to do during library instruction is to a cross-lateral movement. This is any movement that brings a body part across the body’s center line to the other side. For example (this is the one I use most often), invite students to bring their right fingertips across their body to touch the back surface of their left shoulder. While touching the shoulder, invite them to take a deep breath into the belly and let it out. If you phrase it right, explaining that this is an optional reset to help them focus better on the next phase of a lesson, you can avoid making anyone feel performance anxiety, and give an out to any who are determined not to participate in a movement activity.

Try it out

I hope this post gave you a few physical or mental strategies you’d like to try to increase student engagement in your classroom. Now I will turn it over to you:

How do you already engage students physically in their learning?

Which of these things would you like to try in your next one shot?

How would you tailor it to apply to your subject area?

Let me know in a comment.

 

References:

Adrienne Marie Brown, Emergent Strategy (Chico: AK Press, 2017).

Anne Green Gilbert, Brain-Compatible Dance Education. (Champaign, Human Kinetics, 2019).

Thoughts on Making Sustainable Anti-Racism Last in the Classroom

Written by Shannon Simpson, Scholarly Instruction Librarian at Kenyon College

 

Around the socially distant fire pit a few weeks ago, a friend in aeronautics contemplated a hypothetical alternative career. Librarian was his conclusion. He had been thinking about all the ways libraries have come through for people in the pandemic, from wifi hotspots to streaming services, he rattled off ways libraries fill a plethora of individual needs in our communities. And, we all agreed, once again, that if libraries weren’t in existence today, the idea would be laughed out of any room. “Socialism. Communism! ANARCHY!”

He’s not the first person to share this with me. I’ve had everyone from tattoo artists to musicians (and even sometimes tattoo artist musicians) tell me that they too, have considered the field of library science. Much of their interest and appreciation comes from what they see public libraries doing. Having only interned or been a page in public libraries, I have deep admiration for their work with limited resources and time–all while dealing with endless printer and HVAC issues. 

Academic libraries have a few similarities. We too have endless HVAC and printer issues. I bet you didn’t know that the upcoming version of the 2022 OED defines “Library,” as “a building with information professionals and services in which there is inadequate printing, plumbing, or heating.” True story. We provide laptops and study rooms, and software and cameras, and databases and books, and, and, and… not unlike public libraries. But here’s the thing, most of these provisions (aside from books and journals) started with one librarian identifying a need in their community and putting a plan of action together to address that need. Then, other librarians heard about the thing and some of them did the same. (I found the rapping librarian phenomenon of the early 2000’s a particularly dark time in our field.) And what my friend doesn’t realize is that each of those cool provisions was often the sole idea of one inspired librarian. 

So what happens when the librarian with an ear to the ground and a problem solving skill-set leaves? When the librarians change so can the programs, services, types of material, etc. So. What lasts in our spaces? What is required to last? Especially when budgets are cut and the pipe that was once leaky, finally bursts all over the LJ145s and there goes wifi hotspots, new additions to the LGBTQ+ zine collection, Kanopy, the overnight gaming event, etc. etc.

Throughout much of my 12 year librarian career, (I had a few careers before this one. One in music. Another in tattooing. Okay, not tattooing. Yet.), I have been dedicated to integrating more and more DEI ideas and standards of practice, into any new programming, communication, and instructional endeavors that I touch. Using a Black feminist lens, and imbuing information literacy sessions with decolonized perspectives and sources by historically excluded voices, is now my norm. But, these are my individual choices. And, while most instructional librarians are given the same autonomy, what choices are they making? Much of my work life, as an academic teaching librarian, is based on individual choices that I make as an individual librarian in deciding what voices and perspectives to include or exclude in my practice. 

Most organizations, colleges, libraries, public and private, etc fell over themselves making statements of anti-racism, creating land acknowledgments, and publicly supporting Black Lives Matter. And, even though I have contributed to a few statements myself, now is the time to carefully examine ourselves and start making public changes to back up those statements. Who are we going to be accountable to? What will we be accountable for? What will actually last in our spaces? What do we want to last?

Here’s where I see the conversation around DEI finally shifting; rather than focus on an individual’s cultural competence, (very important but a different conversation), what if we start to examine the system itself. Where are we upholding white supremacy in the spaces and spheres in which we have control and influence? Where are we still upholding an inequitably designed system? Is it in the decision-making process? Budgeting? The way we conduct a reference interview? How we don’t acknowledge the silences in our collections? Where do we have enough power to change? And how can we turn those ideas into job and career expectations and responsibilities no matter who inhabits our spaces in the future. 

I posit all of this with my heart on my sleeve. I want a better system for all future librarians, I want a welcoming and engaging instruction experience for ALL students, and I’m not really sure that I have much faith in lasting and meaningful change. Let’s challenge each other to come up with some great ideas and prove me wrong.

 

Resources:

Anti-Racism Organizational Development

 

Ohio 5 Codex Group (with Anti-Racism and Decolonizing classroom inspiration ideas)

 

Design Justice Network

 

Reflecting on Searching Strategy Development

By Kerry Dhakal, MAA, MLS, Assistant Professor, Research and Education Librarian at The Ohio State University’s Health Sciences Library

How concepts are developed and how they are organized, searched and mapped in databases is the crux of searching the literature for me and what initially drew me to health sciences librarianship. Since becoming an MLS health sciences librarian, I have spent hours upon hours in learning, conducting, evaluating, revising, disseminating and publishing search strategies in collaboration with clinical healthcare providers, faculty and students in academia. Librarians regularly think about search strategy development, especially when teaching others, but we often do not have a lot of time to teach deeply on critically reflecting on search strategies. In May, I attended a presentation by Jolene Miller, University of Toledo, about reflective practice in health sciences librarianship. It got me thinking about how I can incorporate reflective thinking about searching in one-shot sessions or courses I help teach. I wanted to see if having students reflect on their strategy development was valuable for them in learning about the systematic search process, particularly since the product of their searching in the future will lead to guidelines, policies or practices that directly affect the care of patients.

In a course that I help teach in the fall each year, N8460 Integrative Reviews, the professor provided class time to students, the professor and myself to dive deeper into these types of observations. Why does using a certain keyword or subject heading pull articles on this relevant concept but not others? Why do certain subject headings, particularly those concerning demographics, include specific groups and not others, when the general understanding of that concept is that it should? Why do individual research databases have the same name for a concept but a different definition? These are great questions for students to ask.

This semester the professor and I also collaborated to develop a search strategy assignment. The doctoral (PhD) students in the course developed clinical or research questions, then I taught a full class session on how to search systematically in PubMed, using keywords, subject headings, and synonym searching techniques. The students were asked to submit the search strategies they developed for their questions in PubMed and to answer three questions reflecting on the steps that they took for developing their strategy. The assignment was a great success as not only did the students make observations about their search strategies, they commented that the process of reflecting on the assignment provided them with an opportunity to have time to critically think about the process of searching. The following class session, I provided additional guidance and tips for developing their search strategies more effectively. In that same class session, several of the students asked additional critical questions about the process of searching and about how the databases find articles, particularly focusing on article recall, sensitivity and specificity aspects of searching.

Next fall semester, I would like to take a second step and ask students to complete a survey to learn what reflecting on their practice taught them, based on the findings from Miller’s study (2020) about how reflection helps one identify personal strengths and weaknesses, gaps in knowledge or skills, achieving perspective, and recognizing errors (p25).

Here are some resources about reflective practice in the health sciences:

Miller J. M. (2020). Reflective practice and health sciences librarians: engagement, benefits, and barriers. Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA, 108(1), 17–28. https://doi.org/10.5195/jmla.2020.777
Winkel, A. F., Yingling, S., Jones, A. A., & Nicholson, J. (2017). Reflection as a Learning Tool in Graduate Medical Education: A Systematic Review. Journal of graduate medical education, 9(4), 430–439. https://doi.org/10.4300/JGME-D-16-00500.1

Raterink, G. (2016). Reflective Journaling for Critical Thinking Development in Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Students. The Journal of nursing education, 55(2), 101–104. https://doi.org/10.3928/01484834-20160114-08

Zori, S. (2016). Teaching Critical Thinking Using Reflective Journaling in a Nursing Fellowship Program. Journal of continuing education in nursing, 47(7), 321–329. https://doi.org/10.3928/00220124-20160616-09

Thompson, N., Pascal, J. (2012) Developing critically reflective practice, Reflective Practice, 13:2, 311-325, DOI: 10.1080/14623943.2012.657795

Teaching in the Fall Semester

Written by Zach Walton, Reference and Instruction Librarian at The Ohio State University’s Lima Campus Library

Now that we are firmly in the Fall semester, I thought now would be as good a time as any to reflect on some of the changes we’ve likely made in how we teach at present. It’s likely that some of us are teaching in more of a hybrid format, while others favor more virtual or in-person instruction. In a recent OSUL Teaching & Learning Workshop, a major theme of the session was determining and planning how librarians will be teaching this semester. It was generally agreed upon that OSUL librarians will likely be determining the mode of outreach, engagement, and instruction in a way that best works with campus faculty, colleagues, and students. We discussed how teaching in a virtual environment was incredibly convenient, but also discussed the benefits of face to face instruction.  

How have you been preparing for your class sessions this Fall? Have you encountered any challenges in planning, or have you developed new strategies you’ve been implementing in your instruction? How have you been engaging with your students? Have you had success negotiating with faculty on the best mode of instruction?

A Different Take on Teaching Plagiarism and Citations

By Jane Hammons, Teaching and Learning Engagement Librarian with The OSUL Teaching and Learning Department

In last month’s blog post, my colleague Danny Dotson made the case for a universal citation style, rather than the variety of citation styles used by various disciplines and journals. Reading his post got me thinking of a presentation from this year’s ACRL Conference. In Under Pressure: Rethinking How We Teach Plagiarism, Natalie Hill (University of New England) and Laura Tadena (Texas State Library & Archives Commission) take a “feminist, anti-racist, and equity-informed look at how we teach plagiarism” and citations.  

In their presentation, they make the argument that “traditional anti-plagiarism measures are punitive, harmful, and widespread.” They describe how plagiarism is typically taught with an emphasis on compliance, but without the context that allows students to understand why citations are considered so important. They make the case that focusing on perfect citation format doesn’t really tell us anything about what the student learned. Hill and Tadena recommend that instruction related to plagiarism and citations should focus on the why of citation and should center around functional attribution, rather than perfect format, stating that “proper credit is greater than a citation style.” 

Hill and Tadena also challenge the idea that citation represents a neutral practice, instead stating that “citation is a political act.” When we choose to cite someone, we “give those voices power,” and those that tend to be cited the most are those that already have power. They argue that we should encourage students to critically consider their own citation practices within this context.  

I was inspired by this presentation and included a discussion of their ideas in a virtual workshop I gave on teaching ethical information practices. The audience included both librarians and disciplinary faculty. At the beginning of the presentation, I asked participants to rate their level of agreement with the idea that current methods of teaching plagiarism and citations are “punitive, harmful, and widespread.” Just over half of the participants (N=27) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, about 20% disagreed or strongly disagreed, with the remaining 30% not sure or neutral. In discussion with participants during the workshop, I sensed growing agreement with the concerns raised by Hill and Tadena, as well as a good deal of support for the idea of functional citations. But there was also hesitation. A few participants indicated that they worried about teaching plagiarism and citations in a manner that could be seen as out of alignment with the guidelines provided by the university. Unfortunately, I did not feel that I had a great response to the participants who shared these concerns, and I am interested in hearing what others might have to say.  

What do you think? 

  • Are our current practices for teaching (and punishing) plagiarism and citations doing more harm than good? 
  • Do you consider citation to be a political act? If so, does this inform how you approach teaching citation to students?  
  • Do you support the idea of teaching functional citations? If so, how can we do this in the context of university-wide academic integrity policies?  

Please share your thoughts in the comments! 

For those who are interested in diving deeper into this topic, here are a few resources: 

Baker, Kelly J. “Citation Matters.” Women in Higher Education, (Sept. 30, 2019),  https://www.wihe.com/article-details/124/citation-matters/  

Hill, N. & Tadena, L. (2021). Under Pressure: Rethinking How We Teach Plagiarism. Association of College and Research Libraries Conference Presentation. 

Ray, Victor. “The Racial Politics of Citation.” Inside Higher Ed, (April 27, 2018),  https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2018/04/27/racial-exclusions-scholarly-citations-opinion  

Salem State University Library, Evaluating Sources: Act Up: Citation Politics Guide developed by Dawn Stahura. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. 

LaTrobe University, Power and Politics in Referencing