A critique of online and live library workshops

Part 1: CLUE (online library orientation)

UW Libraries’ Campus Library User Education Tutorial (CLUE) presented a succinct, yet complete overview of beginning research strategies that freshman Communication Arts students would need. It was especially sage to predict and address the common misconception among teenagers that they can “just look it up on Google,” as shown in Module 2: College Level Research. The librarians do a good job here selling why library services are valuable to academic research and explaining how college-level research could be different from what students may have experienced before.

It is nice that each module in the tutorial is divided into 2-6 minute videos. Since the videos include embedded, interactive quizzes, students can be held accountable for the information if they are required to use CLUE as part of a course. This is also good pedagogy because it forces students to reconsider the most important parts of each module, aiding in comprehension and retention. Because the quiz questions are partially dispersed throughout the video, students are more likely to stay engaged and not lose focus by the end.

An improvement I might suggest would be providing access to an outline or transcript of the modules’ content once a student has successfully completed a quiz as a take-away tool. Requiring students to print their successful quiz results seems a little low-tech, given that the libraries obviously use an advanced screencasting application, Adobe Captivate, to create these interactive videos. Also, sometimes students do not have handy access to printers, making the print certificate requirement cumbersome and/or a barrier to success. We have to be sensitive to the digital divide with hardware access. Perhaps a solution would be to give students the option to click a button to share their results digitally with their instructor.

While I found the content of this tutorial to be very useful and wish that my undergraduate training had included something similar, it would have been a good idea to include a practice database search among the modules, even if the search was completely optional. The quizzes provide comprehension checks, but do not guide students to apply their new skills. It is likely that they soon will be asked to do such in their courses, but offering additional practice in this content might be welcome practice for some. Obviously, database content and search results change regularly, so it would be difficult to verify students’ work or provide something for them to compare to (unlike the controlled responses of the quizzes).

Part 2: A live library workshop

On November 4, 2013, I attended a workshop at a library on UW campus about ACT 31 Resources, which is a law requiring teachers to include instruction on Native American culture, customs and history in Wisconsin. The workshop was led by one of the library’s graduate teaching assistants and a former advisor for the American Indian Studies program.

The setting was relatively informal, since the workshop did not require prior registration and there ended up being a small number of attendees. The presenters arranged the chairs in three or four rungs of a semi-circle, with a notecard sitting on each chair. There were also laptops set up on side tables for participants to complete a short Google forms survey to provide feedback to the presenters at the end.

The primary difficulty during the workshop was a technology failure. The computer that was hooked up to the projector had an unreliable Internet connection and seemed to be struggling to respond. The library staff decided that the machine probably needed to be imaged, but did not scramble to replace the technology by substituting the setup with a laptop. The presenter tried to lead the discussion without the slideshow while the computer caught up, but at one point we had to watch a video from the screen (and speakers) of a MacBook set on a chair.

It is smart to have a backup plan in case technology fails you when you are teaching, but in this case, I would have expected the library to had have anticipated problems with the machine that needed to be updated. The majority of the resources were digital, so low-tech was not a good option. There were lots of handouts available to take away, including articles and teaching strategies, but I might have appreciated a printed list of these ideas compiled on one sheet.

The presenter offered a reward to an attendee who answered her first question, which is a nice way to encourage participation, but it was the only reward offered, which was a little disappointing. (Who doesn’t like free stuff, after all?) We were also guided through an activity idea called “Descriptive Art” as a way that teachers could share Native American art and culture with students in a respectful way. I really enjoyed the interactivity and practical application of this activity.

It was also nice that there were visual, multimedia and discussion aspects to this workshop. I left the library feeling curious and impassioned to learn more about native cultures. I had my laptop with me so that I could take a look at some of the websites the presenters were referring to, and I imagine that it would have been valuable to the other attendees to do the same. The workshop was only scheduled for one hour and the presenters were very sensitive to this by starting and ending on time. They could have included a segment where participants could spend some time hands-on with the resources on computers and talking about teaching ideas, but there simply was not enough time. Perhaps 90 minutes would have been more realistic to cover the resources they were sharing.

(P.S. I didn’t mean this part to sound negative, like I said–I was really enthusiastic afterwards about the content. I learned SO much! I was just making observations and trying to think of ways to troubleshoot some of the glitches.)

Research Report on What Heritage Learners Want/Need from a Spanish Course

Case Study: Perceived Needs and Expectations of Rural High School Heritage Spanish Learners Informing a New Program

Introduction

During the 2013-2014 school year, the high school I work at launched a Spanish course reserved for native or heritage Spanish speakers who already have measurable proficiency in Spanish but have not fully developed their academic skills in the language. The class is composed of 16 Latino students, ranging from freshmen to seniors with cultural backgrounds from Mexico and the Dominican Republic, some of whom have received little to no formal schooling in their native language. The course is in a pilot year and is being taught by myself (the author) and the Level 3-5/Advanced Placement Spanish instructor. We have no official school board-approved materials and have been using the Spanish Level 4 textbook at an accelerated pace with supplemental activities for heritage speakers.

Unfortunately, discipline and motivation have been significant problems so far. We often struggle with off-task behavior, vulgar language (in Spanish), disrespect toward the teachers and other students, extraneous talking, etc. It is often unpredictable whether the planned activities will either flop or surprise us. Many students are not completing assignments, whether given in class or as homework, and rarely take initiative to understand instructions, whether verbal or written. As both of us are experienced language instructors (I, in my 8th year, with experience as an English as a Second Language teacher and former French teacher, and my co-teacher in her 20th year of teaching Spanish), it is exceedingly frustrating to be dealing with such ongoing classroom management concerns. We as instructors continue to realign, seek informed advice and try alternative strategies in hopes that the course will go more smoothly and our students will benefit from the instruction we are trying to provide.

The Research Question

I designed this research project as a case study, using student questionnaires and behavior observation data, in response to our real information need. Going into the study, I assumed that the behavior problems we saw were stemming from inappropriate materials and/or activity selection, since students were continually complaining about tasks being unclear/too easy/too difficult. Our hypothesis was that if we know what students actually want or need from a heritage language course and we can deliver that, then our situation and the behavior problems will improve. Ultimately, this research seeks to answer the following question: What do heritage learners actually need from a Spanish language course (that can be used to drive instruction)?

The Search Strategy

I collected feedback directly from the heritage learners, as well as from several advanced nonnative speakers enrolled in the Level 5/Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish course for comparison purposes. Data was solicited from an additional two heritage learners who had previously been taking World Language Spanish courses and are now currently enrolled in the AP Spanish Language course; these two students were given the same surveys as the other heritage learners.

Where possible, I worked with my co-teacher to develop tools that we could use to collect data for this project and to help us make decisions for the class. At the beginning of the course, we conducted brief conferences to review placement test results with the heritage students and asked them to briefly analyze their data and set goals for the course. The primary data collection tool, however, was a four-page survey that asked students to consider their reasons for registering for the course, what their strengths, weaknesses and learning styles are, as well as their opinions of the course content. Students were also given a type of holistic self-assessment rubric called the WIDA Can-Do Descriptors, which is used to qualify student linguistic ability in reading, writing, listening and speaking, and asked students to rate their own Spanish abilities (WIDA, 2012). To assess and rank learning style preferences, students completed an online inventory (Memletics Learning Styles Questionnaire, 2013). Nonnative students from the Level 5/AP course were given a similar needs survey and the Can-Do Descriptors rubric.

I compiled all of the data using Google Forms, which also makes an interesting graphic analysis of the data collected. I also had access to all of data in a Google-created spreadsheet that I could sort and organize to draw conclusions. I used this spreadsheet data to create the additional charts included later in this report.

Here is the Placement Conference and Goal worksheetHeritage Learning Expectations and Needs Survey and Nonnative Learning Expectations and Needs Survey. You may also view a PDF of the compiled heritage learner survey data here. The nonnative survey data is available here.

The Findings

When asked to self-assess their language abilities in listening, speaking, reading and writing, the heritage learners ranked themselves highest in the oral language domains of listening and speaking, which were likely the primary ways that these learners acquired Spanish as young children. In contrast, the nonnative speakers felt more comfortable in the literacy domains of reading and writing. A chart of the average self-ratings of both groups is shown below:

Self-Rating of Abilities

One part of the survey asked students to check off areas or skills from a list that they felt they needed to improve and areas or skills that they saw as strengths. Top areas of improvement for the heritage learners were: using accents (94.4% or 17 of 18 respondents marked this), editing/finding mistakes in my own writing (77.8% or 14 of 18), spelling correctly (66.7% or 12 of 18), formal/presentational writing (61.1% or 11 of 18) and interpreting English to Spanish (61.1% or 11 of 18). Their commonly perceived strengths were: interpreting English to Spanish (55.6% or 10 of 18 respondents), informal/everyday writing (50% or 9 of 18), watching TV or listening to the radio in Spanish (50% or 9 of 18) and fiction/informal reading (44.4% or 8 of 18). While several of the nonnative speakers marked formal/presentational writing (60% or 3 of 5 respondents) and interpreting—speaking (80% or 4 of 5) as an area of improvement, they were not as concerned with spelling correctly or using accents as the heritage learners were. In fact, 60% or 3 of 5 of the nonnative speakers listed spelling and accents as strengths. Charts comparing the two groups’ perceived strengths and weaknesses are shown below:

Weakness Chart

Strength Chart

When asked about what they saw as the most valuable part of the course so far, heritage learners cited the work they had done with writing (7 mentioned this) and learning about accents (4 mentioned this). Interestingly, the most common frustration (mentioned by 5 students) was the poor behaviors of other students, such as not working or too much talking.

My Interpretations

Overall, according to the survey results, there is a general consensus that heritage learners are looking for help with their writing, especially using accents and spelling. Students are also interested in reading more and practicing interpretation/translation skills. Based on the data, it is fair to conclude that since heritage learners are most confident with oral language, we could use oral language as a tool for accessing content and higher-level thinking. For example, students could listen for input (using a strength) and then respond in writing (addressing a weakness). Likewise, students could read for input (addressing a weakness) and then discuss orally (using a strength).

While discipline has been a problem in this class, I was pleasantly surprised to see several serious, insightful reflections from students on their surveys, as well as two students who actually expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to share their opinions and have input on our course content. Unfortunately, three students have dropped the course from the original 19 we began with, but we think/hope we may be left with solid core of students who care about their own improvement. These results warmed my heart and made me wonder if my assumptions were correct—that if we gave students what they wanted and needed from the course, then the poor behavior would improve.

Reacting to the Data

Incidentally, in the week leading up to the administration of the survey, we attempted to change our teaching approach from text-guided to project-based. The students, while sometimes dawdling, seem to be much more engaged with a project that seems meaningful and authentic to them. Two of them made comments on this move as “most valuable” on their survey before they had even completed the project! After receiving the survey results, we also began including some drop-in mini-lessons on written accents and spelling, since a significant number of students had cited these as weaknesses.

In general, we did see some improvement in behaviors; there were definitely less discipline referrals during this unit. Students were also more focused while working on a larger, integrated digital storytelling project as opposed to completing photocopied worksheets about the “present perfect subjunctive” verb tense. However, we still quite frequently encounter destructive and negative attitudes from some students who say, “I can’t/I won’t/I’m too lazy/I don’t care/This is dumb because I already know everything/This is too hard” (sometimes out of the same students’ mouths within the same five-minute period!)

My conclusion—just because someone claims to value something, doesn’t mean that they will follow through and pursue said thing.  My heritage learners may be able to identify that written accents and spelling are weaknesses for them, but they are not all quite ready to commit to the concentration and critical thinking necessary to pursue mastery. The presumption that my research question would provide me with the solution I was looking for was perhaps misguided and there may be other components coming together to cause the classroom chaos that we have been experiencing.

Suggestions for Future Research

Given the defeatist and defiant attitudes expressed above by those students still resisting our attempts to teach a meaningful needs-based Heritage Spanish curriculum, it might be valuable to investigate motivation as a factor causing some of our classroom problems. For example, sometimes when presented with an optional extension activity for those who finish the required work (this would be intrinsically motivation—the pursuit of self-improvement), students refuse and choose instead to try to distract other learners. A similar phenomenon occurs when students are offered a “reward” such as a piece of candy or a mystery prize (an example of an extrinsic motivator). In the context of the digital storytelling project, several students worked very diligently and meticulously on the written and visual portions of the project, but then shut down and refused to complete the audio requirement, despite the knowledge of the rationale for the audio part of the project and facing a significant negative effect on their grade. These refusals to succeed are puzzling, yet worth looking into.

While the move from using a Spanish textbook aimed at nonnative speakers to project-based learning was a definite improvement, stringing together a series of projects will not create a unified, intentional curriculum. Locating a research-based, integrated skills Heritage Spanish textbook written specifically for a high school audience is important to the success of this program. Students will need a top-down, or macro-, approach to language development that both employs their oral strengths and activates their literacy weaknesses, with a targeted bottom-up, or micro-approach, that develops linguistic needs (such as accents and spelling) specific to heritage learners. Additionally, for the sanity of the teachers involved, who both are charged with multiple courses to prep for in a day, having a quality textbook in place to guide the course would be a welcome addition, instead of creating everything from scratch.

Although this study hinted at comparisons between heritage learners and nonnative speakers of Spanish, the sample size was not statistically significant, nor was the data collection focused on extracting the differences between the groups. This would be another viable option for future research. I chose not to include a formal literature review as part of this research report because I tried to based my findings on action research instead, but a reasonable next step would be to conduct an in-depth literature review on, for example, the differences between heritage learners and nonnative speakers, the specific needs of heritage learners and the most pedagogically sound approaches to teaching heritage learners. Even though heritage language instruction is not extremely common at the secondary and post-secondary levels, there do exist leaders in the field to consult with.

Suggested References for Further Study

Beeman, K., & Urow, C. (2012). Teaching for biliteracy: strengthening bridges between languages. Philadelphia: Caslon Publishing.

Carreira, M. (2007). Spanish-for-native-speaker Matters: Narrowing the Latino Achievement Gap through Spanish Language Instruction. Heritage Language Journal, 5(1). Retrieved from http://hlj.ucla.edu/ViewPaper.ashx?ID=Zq%2fzGiOkw8kPzTK3FOHvkg%3d%3d

Carreira, M., Jensen, L., & Kagan, O. (2009). The Heritage Language Learner Survey: Report on the Preliminary Results. National Heritage Language Resource Center.

Jensen, B. (2013). Research Project Organizer. Big6. Retrieved October 21, 2013, from http://big6.com/pages/free-stuff.php

Maxwell, L. A. (2012). “Dual” Classes See Growth In Popularity. Education Week, 31(26), 1–17.

Memletics Learning Styles Questionnaire. (2013). Retrieved October 11, 2013, from http://www.learning-styles-online.com/inventory/questions.php?cookieset=y

Polinsky, M., & Kagan, O. (2007). Heritage Languages: In the “Wild” and in the Classroom. Language and Linguistics Compass, 1(5), 368–395. doi:10.1111/j.1749-818X.2007.00022.x

Potowski, K. (2005). Fundamentos de la enseñanza del español a hispanohablantes en los EE. UU. Madrid: Arco/Libros.

Ricento, T. (2005). Problems with the “language-as-resource” discourse in the promotion of heritage languages in the U.S.A. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 9(3), 348–368. doi:10.1111/j.1360-6441.2005.00296.x

StarTalk/NHLRC. (2009). Teaching heritage languages: An online workshop. [Online course modules]. Retrieved October 26, 2013 from http://startalk.nhlrc.ucla.edu/default_startalk.aspx

WIDA. (2012, September). WIDA’s Can Do Descriptors by grade-level cluster. World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment. Retrieved from http://www.wida.us/standards/CAN_DOs/

What did I learn from my research project?

Without going into too much detail about my struggle with this project, the primary thing that I can say I’ve learned from this project is that I have a few ingrained preconceptions of “what research is” and “what research papers look like.” For example, when I’m told to include my citations in APA format, I assume that this means “read stuff and write about it, making citations with quotes, paraphrases and summaries,” but really, this wasn’t the approach that my research topic/question/process required. My instructor would probably say that I overthought this project and that my major challenge was keeping it small for the purposes of this class. She’s probably right, but I think I’m just wired that way.

I was disheveled on a couple of levels throughout this project (I wonder if anyone else in my class got as overwhelmed as I did on this one… probably not, I think I’m just having that kind of fall–like it would be great if I ever was healthy again.) I did really appreciate being able to talk to my instructor for some guidance along the way–she and I spoke a few times on the phone, which was great. Really, though, I value that kind of interactivity, so as a student, I think that a face-to-face class makes that a little handier!

In five years, what will I remember? I’ll probably remember the realization that my final project required a big rewrite. Sigh.

I don’t feel like my research successfully gave me feel of the “student experience” of going through a research model, because I had some timing complications of collecting the case study data from my students. Therefore, I’m not really sure that I can say that this assignment has influenced my philosophy of education/vision of myself as an instruction librarian. If the purpose of the assignment was to help me get my arms around the concept of embracing a research model, I still don’t think I’m there. I kind of wonder if actually leading a student through something like that would help me out. (Stay tuned, I believe I’ll get the opportunity in the next week or two. A new project is awaiting.)

P.S. I’m still not done with this beast.

P.P.S. I think that I want a Grad School Barbie for Christmas. She looks/feels just like me. Except I have her life and a full-time job, just like Real Job Skipper.

the draft

A progress update:

For the research project I’m working on, I chose to study how what heritage speakers need from a Spanish course that is different from what non-native speakers need. As a sort of case study, I have collected survey and observation data from the class of heritage speakers I teach at the high school.

Truthfully, I wasn’t really ready to write the draft when my instructor asked us to, nor have I been real good about using the research model as a framework (also as we were asked to do). I have collected and compiled a lot of great data though and the draft has helped push me along so that I am not leaving all of this project until the last minute… but holy cow I feel like there is still a lot left for me to do. That said, I’m glad there are built-in check points. I think we all need that, no matter how old we are.

Speaking of research models, I went with the Big6 model because I’ve heard some buzz about it in the local K12 communities and I thought it would be good career prep. I’m kind of wondering if I am working with a square peg and a round hole.

Sigh… I don’t feel like I’ve got my arms around this. Where does the time go?!

Zotero, Mendeley and managing my personal information

This week I was tasked with choosing a PIM (Personal Information Management) tool between Zotero and Mendeley.

The jury’s still out for me on this one. It just seems to me that the learning curve is a little steeper than necessary for advanced features with PIM and it might be hard to convince experienced researchers to make the move when they have already developed systems that work for them.

I tried Mendeley over the summer for my term project with my summer class, mostly because, I think at the time, Mendeley had the MS Word plugin that would sync a bibliography for me. If I’m not mistaken, that is something that Zotero does now too. However, I found out that I didn’t actually like the bibliography feature, at least as I was working on an annotated bibliography, because the Mendeley plugin didn’t like that I wanted to “get between” the entries and add an annotation. I love MS Word and consider myself to be an advanced user, but it can be frustrating when the dummy-proof formatting features take over assuming they know what you want. I ended up using the Mendeley bibliography in a separate doc, and then copying and pasting the entries elsewhere so that I could have them and manipulate them. Call me stubborn, but I wasn’t quite ready to hand the control over and didn’t have the time to learn all the fine points on how it actually could have worked for me more efficiently.

My other main frustration with PIMs, and this goes for both Zotero and Mendeley, is that importing something manually is cumbersome and tedious. If the automated importer doesn’t sense the article, you are stuck fixing the metadata. In some situations it’s not a big deal, but alternative sources, like web media–videos, online interviews, etc, maybe me wonder how the PIM can even help if I’m still doing all the work. With Mendeley, it didn’t even always sense the bib data within an article from the UW-Libraries database. I asked myself, “Wouldn’t it be easier to just go back to “my old way” and do “export citation information” in APA format and copy and paste it right into my project document?” For most small research projects, yes, I think it is easier my old way–especially if the alternative is manually entering the metadata. However, I can imagine for a dissertator, PIMs are the WAY. TO. GO.

I know it sounds like I just bagged on Mendeley, so why would I pick it over Zotero now? Truthfully, going into this week, I expected to make a switch to Zotero because I was disappointed in my first impressions of Mendeley. I downloaded Zotero (Mac platform) and did some compare/contrasting. To me, they are almost exactly the same. They look almost the same. I don’t feel like one is more intuitive than the other. I liked that Zotero’s save citation dialog box doesn’t require a click to make it go away like Mendeley does after you save something–but at the same time, I duplicated records more than once with Zotero because I wasn’t watching for the dialog box after I clicked and hit it a second time to be sure.

I also like that Mendeley has a dedicated iOS app, while there are only 3rd party apps for Zotero. I’m not convinced I will use the mobile feature, but it’s nice to know.

The feature that pushes me a little toward the Mendeley side is the “Recommend related documents” button that searches your library and recommends other similar results for you. I could see this as a useful tool when researching to be sure you hadn’t missed anything. If it exists in Zotero, I couldn’t find it. I am still open to using Zotero and I don’t feel like I know how to use the full capacity, especially with annotations, on either, but I figure I should continue to give them a shot.

My Research-able Question

My research project this semester is pretty open-ended: basically, research something using a specific research model, reflect on the process and report out. The results of the research are not as important as the process for once!

I found myself narrowing my topic into something that intrigues me (the notion of competency-based education) and that I could bury myself into reading and researching… however, the process of coming up with the Research-able Question made me think about where the research could potentially lead me (like a final product, if we actually were to write “the research paper” at the end). My conclusion–this topic would likely lead me to a persuasive/evaluative paper, which sounds good, especially since that’s a nice high level with Bloom’s Taxonomy. BUT… it’s probably not what I need right now!

What I need right now is a SOLUTION to a PROBLEM! Isn’t that the ideal information-seeking-need?! (Plus, problem-solution information needs can also involve higher-level thinking, so I am not going to consider this chain of thought inferior to my other idea.) Here’s my problem: I am team-teaching this high school Spanish for Heritage-Speakers course and it’s absolute chaos. We are in a “pilot year” and we are our own curricular and methodology leaders. We don’t have specialized materials or a set curriculum or even extensive training. We have each other’s strengths, prior knowledge of/relationships with the students, a daily prep period and a section of 18 kids. We are not being told or coached from above on how to do this and while we have formed some theories, this is truly trail-blazing for us. Did I mention it’s absolute chaos?!

Because this problem directly affects my daily work, stress level, overall happiness and self-actualization, this is the most motivating and in-depth information need I have right now… so here are my questions:

  • What do heritage learners need from a language course that foreign language learners do not need?
  • How can we motivate heritage learners to be invested in their biliteracy skills? What is the best use of class time for heritage language learners?
  • What course materials are appropriate for a multi-age, multi-ability classroom that could be used over two non-sequential years of a heritage course?
  • How can non-native-speaker teachers command authority and respect in a class of heritage speakers?
  • What is the best way to grade/assess heritage learners, especially within an institutional system of standards-based reporting?

Ultimately, the big question is, “What’s a girl to do in my situation?” Or, what do non-native-speaker teachers need to have for and know about teaching heritage learners in order to improve biliteracy skills?

The good news is that I’ve already identified a few leads on paper and human resources that should probably help me in this quest, I just have to get cracking on the actual DOING!

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!”)

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 http://www.noodletools.com/debbie/literacies/information/1over/infolit1.html

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.

Novice Searching

It is easy to become overconfident as a novice searcher because simply finding an answer to a research question seems to count as a success, but that answer does not confirm that your search was exhaustive and includes the best results out there. However, when challenged with exercises based on more complicated or unfamiliar information needs, I found that my searches were sometimes misguided or incomplete. For example, it seemed like when I lost points on course assignments, it was usually for this reason: I either didn’t really understand how to find the answer or I stopped searching prematurely.

In Suzanne Bell’s Librarian’s Guide to Online Searching (2012), she provides a “Searcher’s Toolkit” in chapters 2 and 3. As I studied chapter 2 on the use of Boolean Logic in searching, which she described as

“the most fundamental concept of all… In fact, this concept is so fundamental that you’ve probably run into it before, possibly several times through grade school, high school, and college. But do you really know what Boolean logic is and how it works? Do you really understand how it will affect your searches?” (p. 19),

I thought, “Finally, a practical use for that semester I spent in Logic class as an undergrad!” Of course, I proceeded to read the chapter thinking of how the application of Boolean logic to my own Searcher’s Toolkit was going to be a simple, yet valuable addition. Indeed, it was; when I implemented it in an assignment to compare databases, I quickly got a nice tight package of results. I found out later from my instructor that I actually didn’t quite understand the “Order of Boolean Operations” (Bell, 2012, p. 23) necessary to successfully use Boolean logic in a database and that the use of parentheses helps a lot, just like in mathematics.

I’m actually still not sure that I always do it correctly, but I think it’ll come with practice. As I continued working in my chosen database, I know I was very bold with my use of Boolean logic in search terms and often probably opted for results with good recall over precision by searching broadly (Bell, 2012). It takes longer to sift through the false positives, but I was more satisfied not to miss relevant results, especially with a database like Ethnic NewsWatch that indexes a lot of newspapers—sometimes very superficially.

Throughout my semester group project (on Health Resources for Latinos), I also found it valuable to use some of Alastair G. Smith’s (2012) Internet search tactics that I wasn’t as familiar with before. The BIBBLE technique proved especially useful toward the end of the project when we realized we needed to find additional resources to complete sections of the LibGuide that were sparse (Smith, 2012). Webpages that had already compiled authoritative resources helped us fill in the gaps and saved us some time. In finding demographic information about the Latino population, we used the CROSSCHECK technique to be sure that we correctly represented Latino culture, especially since none of us are of Latino background (Smith, 2012). For example, before we summarized common Latino health behaviors, we consulted two or three scholarly articles on the topic for consistency, so as not to stereotype or overgeneralize.

We were unsure for quite awhile on how to reconcile the focus and audience of our final project with the use of academic databases. Unfortunately, it took us until we had to write our learning objectives for the final presentation before we had a clear idea of whom we were targeting and how we could arrange the LibGuide. While we were able to come up with scholarly resources all along, it seemed a little backwards, maybe even wasteful, to conduct a large-scale search on a general topic like “Healthcare for Latino Immigrants” and then decide later if it was useful and how we would organize it.

Once we established the sections of the guide, we had to reevaluate where we had holes in our research and search again, which felt a little bit like starting over. Perhaps an outline of the guide earlier in the process might have been more efficient, but I’m not sure we would have had as global of a view or encountered some of the resources that were the most valuable. For example, the plain language focus was a serendipitous find. I don’t think anyone had it in mind as a search term early on, since there weren’t resources from the academic databases specifically about using plain language in health care. It was a topic spawned from the section on improving care that we had to scramble to develop because we missed the idea in the planning stages. We likely would have overlooked it completely had we been asked to come up with an outline of the organization of our LibGuide before we tackled the databases.

Likewise, when we finally focused on our audience as the health care providers serving Latino immigrants, the final searching and organization process accelerated immensely. However, if this had happened earlier in the process, again, we may not have stumbled across some of the resources we gathered with broader searches. Regardless, even though we narrowed down our resources to a reasonable selection, I couldn’t help but wonder if the task would ever really feel complete, especially given the depth of information out there about nearly everything.

Distinguishing between Black-Hat and White-Hat Search Engine Optimization

A quick lesson idea for teaching information literacy and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to high schoolers…

Audience: High School Students using Google as a source for homework help

Activity: To show students the importance of being able to distinguish black-hat and white-hat SEO results, I would model an example of how they use Google inefficiently as a source to complete assignments. For example, I would copy a question they might search for verbatim, complete with WH- words and question marks, so that they could see how much time they waste by using search terms that produce black-hat results. In this way, they could see examples of black-hat and white-hat SEO results before they get started on the activity.

Then, students will participate in a “Bad-Match Scavenger Hunt” activity. Students will use homework assignment prompts from one of their actual core classes (such as U.S. History or Biology) and will use the questions on the worksheet to try to encounter as many black-hat results as possible. Once they find some, they will show a screen shot of the result summary and then the actual page of the black-hat website. Each student will prepare their “top-3 ridiculous results” to share with the class (or within small-groups, depending on class size). A discussion will follow to help students identify the markers of black-hat SEO in their results and how they can avoid them in their search terms.