Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Underground Railroad Conference

I attended day 1 of a 2-day conference on "The Underground Railroad in Michigan: A Decade of Discoveries." The 1st panel included a series of court cases having to do with the Fugitive Slave Act vs. abolitionists who resisted slavecatchers. The next speaker was Karolyn Smardz Frost, an archeologist who wrote I've Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad, delineating the story of Thornton and Lucy Blackburn. They escaped from Kentucky and got to Detroit, where slavecatchers eventually caught up with them. During the trial, the African-American community protested, allowing the Blackburns to escape to Windsor. This sparked the first international court case between Canada & the U.S. over fugitive slaves, Canada refusing to extradite escapees to certain re-enslavement. The Blackburns moved to Toronto and started a successful cab (originally horse-drawn) business, and are buried there.

Allen Guelzo spoke on the Lincoln-Douglas debates, apropo to the current debates. Veta Tucker spoke briefly about Cass Co.'s history and the gift of documents to GVSU's Libraries collected by a local historian on the URR, Sondra Mose-Ursery. Mary Edmond from Grand Rapids told the story of Isaac Edward Bailey, a runaway from Virginia who was sent to Quebec but returned to Michigan to live (to the age of 105!).

David Boers told about his research on Carolyn Quarlls, the first identified fugitive slave to go through Wisconsin (she escaped from St. Louis to the Sandwich neighborhood of Windsor). Quarll's great-great-great-granddaughter, Kimberly Simmons, emphasized the necessity of integrity in relating these histories, as they are the stories of living descendents' families. As such, they don't need to be changed or embellished, but told as correctly as possible.

The conference was engaging and at some deep level, enraging. That slavery happened; that humans treat each other as animals; that these horrific abuses still happen in the world. Made knots in my gut.

p.s., here's an interesting book which describes how historians piece together their narratives from various types of documents:
Freedom roads: searching for the Underground Railroad by Joyce Hansen and Gary McGowan. Chicago: Cricket Books, 2003.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Teaching & Learning

In May 2007, I attended WILU, a Canadian conference on information literacy, with a focus on Web 2.0 / InfoLit 2.0. Cameron Hoffman spoke on the corresponding learning theory, Constructionism: creating an underlying philosophy with an overarching framework through discovery with co-learners. I.e., teachers design/create activities which lead to skill development and reflection. Social software (web 2.0) should lead us to discourse analysis--asking: who is speaking, who is absent, what is the power base, what are the cultural relationships, what are the vocabularies? He addressed the use of many web 2.0 tools in terms of information literacy formation.

My notes to myself included these suggestions:

Set up a blog for myself. Results: this is it.

CAP 115: set up a wiki for students to fill in answers to the exercises on web searching & evaluation. Results: in BlackBoard, a wiki only allows 1 user at a time, so we set up a blog instead in one section; I read each group's responses aloud to the class. This year I set up blogs in all sections of CAP 115 & will have students write responses as a prep for then responding aloud, instead of me reading (boring & pointless!).

CAP 115: use Flickr tagging to teach keyword brainstorming & subject access. Results: I did this, using a photo in Flickr & having them brainstorm search words, talking about the title & tags, & using a comparison photo from Library of Congress. Students don't seem to know what Flickr is (they use Facebook); so am not continuing that exercise.

Rick Salutin spoke: Standards & competencies try to prescribe/formularize a process for something interpersonal & human--it is presence that matters most. We get more from re-reading something & going deeper (especially in small-group discussion) than from reading something new all of the time. Humans are good at thinking, not knowing; we mistake the urge to think with the urge to know.

Sheril Hook, Esther Atkinson, & Andrew Nicholson spoke in a program entitled "Practice Makes Perfect: Applying and Adapting Best Practices in Information Literacy."
In embedding info lit into course curricula, emphasize the library vision--the availability of resources, & the enhancement of student engagement & critical thinking. Three discipline-oriented outcomes examples follow.

Social Sciences: identify & locate statistics needed; evaluate stats (time period, geography, characteristics of subjects, etc.); analyze stats (e.g., create a cross-tab table & draw conclusions); communicate results; cite (acknowledge sources/materials used).

Sciences: evaluate research by scope--does it include citation tracking stats & periodical impact? Check "reputable." Locate & interpret citation info--review the cited references; check the # of times cited (yields the impact factor of the article in the discipline); check for the journal's rank in the discipline.

Humanities: compare/contrast the sources of a myth & how the myth changed over time; identify changes & context; interpret changes in meaning. E.g., look at primary sources of art or music, biographical info on the artist/musician, & context in society, events of the period, culture.

Don't teach how to search but more on thinking about how sources are used & what the various tools provide. Change the focus from "tool-based" to "conceptual-based" library instruction & info lit. Only teach "how to do X" when learners ask, at the point of need.

Info Lit program evaluation includes looking at various factors.
A. market penetration:

# of students reached by year & semester; departmental contact (# students per department); # unique sessions per department; # sessions per course level (100-600).

B. reflection on current teaching practices:

How do we gain access to departments which are underserved? How add new depts? Abandon classes when there is little impact? Develop stronger vertical integration (per course level). Keep tables on tools taught, e.g., catalog, databases, library website, etc. Bring this to librarians' consciousness so we can reduce tool-based instruction. Develop strategies to meet goals. Build class profiles. How to abandon courses: if we engage students at a deeper level in 1st or 2nd year, don't do a basic catalog session at the 3rd/4th year level. For the few who haven't had the catalog instruction, point to a learning object (tutorial) for them.

Also, take a look at the entries about "Teaching on the Edge of Chaos: Dynamical Systems in Library Instruction." The main point I took away was: don't lecture but have students complete a task; by giving students experiences rather than lecture, we use "incremental complexity." WILU Blog. New Jack Librarian (scroll down to May 19, 2007).