My #ACRL2013 Experience

In my former job, we all posted to a shared blog about conference experiences, and I’d tend to report in great detail. However, (at least to my knowledge) that’s not an expectation at my new institution, and I didn’t take the notes I’d normally take.

With that being the case, I still wanted to take a second to share some of the things that I participated in and found useful.

For one, I was on two panels. One was on “personas” in libraries, or how strengths and personalities can best be used to meet an organizations’ goals. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on this with former down-the-road colleagues Lynda Kellam and Jenny Dale. If you’re interested in the general gist of the message, here are the slides:

We’re exploring next steps with that idea. The other panel I was on was Hacking the Learner Experience. This panel was organized by Brian Mathews and was a chance to get to collaborate with Andy Burkhardt. We talked about how understanding the learner experience can help inform library instruction and the library’s role at the institution. Slides are here:

Otherwise, it was a conference filled with connections and interesting ideas. I heard several interesting papers, and had many one-on-one conversations: some just sharing in common experiences or catching up, some about brainstorming and ideas, and some about concrete projects that I hope we’re able to pull off.
Time well spent! Now, back to reflecting on some of the new ideas and trying to do some of the things that are so fun to think about!

A Bit on Backwards Design and Assessment

Last week I had the privilege of presenting at the North Carolina Library Association’s College & University Section and Community & Junior College Libraries Section‘s Assessment Beyond Statistics conference.

It’s a really good local conference, that is centrally located for the state, that shifts topics a bit each year to remain relevant to the two core sections’ interests. A few years ago I was invited to give the keynote when the topic was instruction. This year, we enjoyed a presentation given by Duke’s Head of Assessment and PlanningYvonne Belanger. She gave an excellent presentation outlining how we should shift our thinking from reporting on decontextualized numbers to doing new types of assessment that allow us to tell the library’s story.

My part in the day was presenting on using Backwards Design principles in developing teaching and learning environments for students–from traditional one-shots to how to develop the website and spaces. Here’s my talk:

I actually put more words on the slides than I normally do, so you might actually be able to make sense of it without additional notes.
The 30,000 foot takeaway is that we will always do better at whatever we’re trying to do if we stop and first think about what it is we want to do. Nothing particularly revolutionary there, yet it’s something we, in education, forget to do enough that Backwards Design has become a thing.
I have the best of intentions for blogging–my “blog ideas” notebook in evernote is getting to be a bit overwhelming. But between updating a strategic instruction plan, overhauling course evaluation, coming up with new ways to assess learning in our programs, teaching a new version of our class, and a bunch of “extracurricular” library projects going on, I just haven’t been by the computer as much lately. But once all those things wrap up, expect posts about them! :)

A Teaching and Learning Conference

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Elon University Teaching and Learning Conference. I have gotten to go to this several times and always take away something useful from it. Last year it was threshold concepts. This year it was the power of slowing down and reflecting.

Not that I had to be taught, per se, to be reflective. According to my Strengthsfinder results, that’s pretty core to how I work. Just in the past few years I’ve fallen out of the practice of carving out time for it and the exact same time that I’ve gotten busier at work due to meetings and at home because of other (adorable) obligations.

And at this point reflection resonated with me because it really aligned with other things I’ve been thinking about lately. For example, I’m reading a great book on introversion:

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

As some reviewers have noted, this book is a bit judgmental towards extroverted folks, but still contains a lot of interesting and useful points about introverts and the importance of time alone to be creative and innovative.

Okay, so with that as the background:

The keynote of this conference was given by Ashley Finley, Senior Director of Assessment and Research – Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU). This was particularly exciting to me as those of us involved in instruction at my library have been discussing the AACU Value Rubrics a lot over the past year. If you’re interested in her talk, you can watch it for yourself. She spoke on the importance of authentic assessment of the learning process rather than focusing only on the learning outcome. It was a level of nuanced discussion that can only be had once an institution has gotten used to assessing learning outcomes, so I was especially glad that we have been talking about that for the past year.  Much of my personal take away from the talk was the importance of metacognition and reflection in the learning process.

Following that keynote, I attended a session on evaluating teaching. This seemed particularly relevant to me as that’s one of my instruction projects on tap for this semester, and was useful in particular as I was reminded of the importance of using several types of evaluation in considering your own teaching. Student evaluations provide useful information, but it’s only useful in context. The presenters pointed out that further context can be provided by (very structured) peer evaluation and personal reflection on one’s own teaching. Reflection–again!

My next session was on thinking out loud in the process of teaching. It was a workshop given by philosophy professors and more than anything made me wish I could go back and get an advanced degree in my favorite discipline. The premise of the workshop was that reading is approached differently in different disciplines and the best way to approach this is to have the students read (and think) out loud with support from the instructor. The instructor should also do that as demonstration to the students. The facilitators pointed out that math, as a discipline, has been doing this for some time by asking students to write out their work. I couldn’t help but think that we do that in libraries, too. Anytime we do an unplanned search in a class, and explain what we’re looking at and how we’re interpreting it, the students are getting a chance to see what we’re thinking. If any of us have done the exercise where students print out a list of results and notate it with what they think about each source, that’s a chance to see student thinking.

My final presentation was on first generation students. It was a good session, packed with facts from Davidson. My main takeaway from this session was not necessarily what was planned by the instructor.   I kept thinking about Universal Design and Universal Design for Learning. In those approaches you design something for one group, but it has benefits for another. In Universal Design you might build a building with a ramp for wheelchairs, but then it also benefits those with strollers or rolling luggage. Win-win-win! In UDL you might design a learning object, like a video, to have subtitles for those who have trouble hearing. However, those subtitles also benefit those who learn best from reading or those who are using the video in a crowded place on a muted computer. In this session the presenter kept talking about the needs specific to a majority of first generation students, such as a hard time participating in group discussions due to language challenges, and I kept thinking of how if you designed a class that didn’t rely on group discussions then shy students would also be able to succeed. Likewise, if you don’t require very expensive textbooks, then no one would be faced with purchasing them. If you designed a class keeping in mind that it would be hard for students working jobs in the evening (many first generation students are in this situation) it would also benefit students who are returning while keeping their jobs or are parenting when they’re not in class. Universal design is good in all contexts.

So, for me, it was a really good day. Lots to reflect on in light of what I’m thinking about these days and several tangible things I can implement back at my own library. Great conference as always!