Annotation: Visual Tools

Ruffini, M. F. (2008). Using E-Maps to Organize and Navigate Online Content. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 31(1), 56-61. Retrieved from

This article aims to help university faculty use computer-generated mind-maps, or e-maps, in their online course management systems in order to improve the student experience. The piece contains screenshots and application ideas for the use of e-maps, as well as explanations for how make them available. Special educators and education reformers have long been encouraging K-12 teachers to use graphic organizers in their instruction because of the cognitive benefits they offer, but higher educators often do not receive the same nudges. By rebadging the idea for universities in a scholarly journal format and including a short review of learning theory research, this article could offers a proven best-practice used in K-12 education to academia without the risk of contempt.

I can pick anything?

So, I’m faced with a research project this semester where the topic is wide-open for me to choose from, not even a course theme. The idea is actually to track the research process following a research model (like I-Search, Pathways to Knowledge, Big6, Handy 5, etc.) To do so, then, I can pick ANYTHING I want to learn about. Quite the tall order.

I’m kind of torn about doing something that would benefit me professionally and something that just feeds my curiosity. Both are valid endeavors. If any of my old readers still are watching after my long silence, I’d love your thoughts on research development potential/narrowing. Here are my ideas:

Building libraries in the developing world
I am really interested on how these projects come to life and the impact they make. An extension would be to investigate the follow-up on these projects, like they do with reality shows sometimes to see it really has made a difference. I would love to connect with Librarians Without Borders (and/or start a UW-Madison chapter) and go on a service trip. Also, I’ve seen things on Amazon over the years about donating Kindles to places where there are no books. At Ikea, there’s a solar powered reading light they donate for every one they sell. Do those work?

Collection development for Heritage Spanish speakers, especially young adults
This is a topic I’m interested in because it would serve a dual-purpose of library-based research and something applicable to my job. I’m not sure how research worthy it would be, because it’s something I’ve struggled with for awhile and don’t feel like I have leads.

Competency-based education and badges
When I first learned about this topic (summer 2012), it absolutely blew my mind and made me think that American education has got it wrong, with the Common Core, high-stakes assessment and teacher accountability. To me, this could a viable solution for education reform. I’d like to see how it’s progressing. There is some potential for action research with this for me, because I have an badge program set up for my students.

Jesuit education and outreach
These last two are little bit more of personal interests. I was completely inspired by the Jesuit approach to education while an undergrad at Marquette, and even more so as I learned a little about Ignatian spirituality. Historically, the Jesuits made some waves and had a widespread reach. I have a feeling that there is more than meets the eye even today.

Training of service dogs
I read Luis Carlos Montalván’s book, Until Tuesday, about his experience as a veteran with a service dog. I also could watch this webcam for hours. Working dogs in action are just so fascinating to me. I love it when they bring in the drug dogs to sniff lockers. When I see a service dog, I always want to pet them because they are so well-behaved (but you can’t because they have a sign that says “Don’t!”)

(insert theory here)-ist practitioner

To be honest, I groaned when I saw that part of my course investigation this week centered around Constructivism. I have a constructivist colleague who talks about it like its the best thing since sliced bread and condescends about her “behaviorist” department cohorts. Indeed, some of the things she does are good teaching and kids learns, but kids also are learning well from her colleagues–which makes me wonder if their success comes more from relationship-building and the developmental levels and intrinsic motivation of the students, more than “the teaching theory” used.

Personally, my experience with a constructivist teacher at the university-level in the past was more frustrating/infuriating than helpful. It felt like it was an excuse for the instructor to pan off their lesson planning on the students by making run every class and presentation, under the guise of constructivism.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of good things about the theory too, some of which I share in my own philosophy, such as student-centered learning. The article I annotated this week actually made me retract my fangs a little bit on the topic (whereas the Thomas chapter seemed to push my buttons a little bit, reminding of those instructors I know who have a superior air concerning the theory.) Of the 12 descriptors in my article, I probably subscribe to 11 of them. Does this label me as a Constructivist? Nah, I’m sure that I also agree with large parts of other big learning theories too.

So, given these experiences and the additional research I’ve done on Constructivism (just to be sure I’m understanding it correctly), as a librarian, do I feel it’s important to operate under this or similar theories? Perhaps, yes, because your instructional style and philosophy should be informed by theory and best practice, however, not to the point that you are jumping on a bandwagon of the “next big thing.” Like fad dieting, I feel like it just isn’t going to end well, no matter how good your intentions. Instead, everything in moderation–for teaching and dieting.

To me, labeling yourself as a (insert theory here)-ist practitioner isn’t important. In fact, sticking to one approach actually could be negative if your approach excludes the learning style of some of your students. One-size-never-fits-all, I’m sorry. During my other Master’s program for Teaching ESL, the big theories in that program were “inductive learning” and “task-based language teaching.” After a while, I resented the expectation that these were being presented as the “only way” to teach things well. If this were a T/F question on an exam (i.e. The ONLY way to teach is to follow X theory…), the “ONLY” would tip most of us off that the answer is false. Why would teaching be any different?

Annotation: Constructivism

Brooks, J.M. & Brooks, M.G. (2001). Chapter 9. Becoming a Constructivist Teacher. In In Search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms (2nd ed.). Retrieved from

This chapter begins by briefly outlining some of the resistance to constructivist teaching before offering encouragement for educators wary of making the change. The authors describe 12 descriptors of constructivist teaching behaviors and examples for each of how the concept might look in a sample classroom. While framed as constructivist theory, many of these behaviors could simply be labeled today as “good pedagogy.” The book from which this chapter comes was first published in 1999 and updated in 2001, possibly explaining why the theory seemed to be presented as a radical new idea. However, once beyond what could be perceived as excessive flaunting of the term “constructivism,” the ideas are solidly founded on research and observations of successful classrooms and are paired with plausible scenarios for teachers to internalize.

Annotation: Defining “information literacy”

Abilock, D. (2013). Information Literacy: Building Blocks of Research: Overview of Design, Process and Outcomes. NoodleTools. Retrieved September 4, 2013, from

This web resource conceptualizes information literacy by dividing it into the component skills that learners need to master in order to become successful researchers. Information literacy is defined here as “a transformational process in which the learner needs to find, understand, evaluate, and use information…” The webpage offers descriptions of  “building blocks” for this inquiry process, followed by a breakdown of student skills, strategies and outcomes. The content is organized in bulleted lists and hyperlinks, providing a quick overview, as well as an in-depth look at ways the processes could be taught. Though hosted by the commercial research tool vendor, NoodleTools, whose motivation for posting this information is likely promotional, the sources of their information are clearly referenced at the bottom of the page and the strength of this resource lies in its organization and presentation. The explanations are succinct and practical for professionals seeking to understand the elements of informational literacy. Because it is not written in extended, academic discourse and is not meant to overwhelm, this resource could be appealing to a general library- and school-based audience.