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Month: September 2014

Doing it Wrong?

Two students have come to me in the last week saying that they listened and understood while taught how to navigate the MLA International Bibliography, but then when they tried it themselves, nothing seemed to work.

This tells me two things. First, MLA is hard. Second, I’m teaching it wrong.

There are caveats, of course. One of them being that my “research for compsing seniors” instruction session is rapid-fire review of things they’ve hopefully learned in lower level courses, plus advanced techniques they’ll need now more than every before. This is the one class where covering a bunch of stuff quickly matters to me (rather than experimenting and playing with a thing or two in class).

On the one hand, perhaps these and similar caveats really do mean that I should be doing lecture/demo, having them do the “workshop” portion of a hands-on class outside of class, and then wrap up with me one-on-one, just as they’re doing. On the other hand, maybe I’m using this as permission to rely on the less difficult instruction format of lecture/demo when really I should be working at finding an efficient hands-on approach to that session. Or maybe I need to rethink the approach of my lecture/demo.

So many options, so little clarity. All I know is that these students didn’t learn what I wanted them to learn, and that’s got to be at least partly my fault.

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Of information sharing and of peril

CC-BY-ND by ABitMadInTheHead
CC-BY-ND by ABitMadInTheHead

It’s been an emotionally tumultuous month in my professional life. My profession is all about making information accessible and about encouraging the responsible use of that information. Most of the time this feels like an uncomplicated position to take. Some of the time, it feels impossible or even dangerous. Here are three vignettes that come to mind.

Libraryland is currently wrestling with news of Joe Murphy’s 1.25 million dollar defamation lawsuit against two librarians who spoke publicly about his (long-standing) reputation as a womanizer. Barbara FisterMeredith Farkas, and Laura Crossett have all written excellent, thoughtful pieces about this issue, so I won’t even try to recreate that here. What I will point out is that they make it clear that sharing information about sexual harassment seems to be off limits in our society. If nobody can speak out, it’s no wonder that harassment continues to run rampant through our society, but speaking out is hard. And right now we’re coming to grips with exactly how hard it can be.

Yesterday I was pointed to a petition from one of my institution’s now-former students. Her claim is that she is being punished with expulsion as an indirect result of calling for help and thus sharing the information of her roommate’s drug overdose. I don’t know any of the students involved, or any information beyond what’s in the petition and in this morning’s student newspaper report, but it’s clear that this incident is sitting right in the center of issues about the relative social benefits and perils of sharing compromising information.

Finally, and on a much less dire scale, my own blog is a continuous example of decisions to share and not to share. I write less often than I once did in a large part because I’m in many more leadership positions than I was before, leaving me feeling uncomfortable sharing some kinds of information for fear of losing the trust of people I work with, not because I have bad things to say but simply because I don’t own these groups’ ideas so they may not be mine to share, and people may not share ideas with me if they feel like I might report things prematurely.

Responsible transparency is hard. It has always been hard. And while the three examples that are bouncing around in my head right now have very little else in common, they’re reminding me pretty forcefully of how unendingly difficult it is to manage appropriate balances of transparency and secrecy. There are very real dangers associated with NOT speaking out. (Well, there’s nothing life-threatening about me deciding not to blog about some committee I’m running, but it might be a slight disadvantage to other people who will then reinvent the same wheels.) I only wish there weren’t also real dangers associated with speaking out. I wish our professional mantra about information wanting to be free weren’t so fraught in real life. Give me a straight up copyright or licensing conundrum any day. This other stuff is far more society-shaping, and there is so much at stake.


Living and working with a chronic illness

Last week was Chronic Illnesses week. Last week was also the first week of classes at my institution, so time and energy for reflective blogging was at a pretty low ebb. But perhaps it’s in keeping with the theme of that week that posts like this happen when the poster is able rather than by some goal written on a calendar.

Morning, noon, and night. I can swallow each set in a single gulp! How's THAT for a super power.
Morning, noon, and night. I can swallow each set in a single gulp! How’s THAT for a super power.

Like many people I know, I live and work while dealing with a chronic illness. These illnesses come in many flavors — mine happens to be Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. A few years ago, my CFS was so debilitating that I seriously contemplated quitting my job and moving in with my parents to be an invalid on their couch for the remainder of my days, and I honestly hoped that those days would be few in number. I had no realistic hope for improvement and no energy to live. Basic things like chewing were often too tiring to contemplate. Breathing was a chore. Work? I was doing my best, but students were beginning to comment that I looked mostly dead, my supervisor kindly removed me from every project and committee I was on in one fell swoop, and my poor colleagues took up more of my slack than was fair (and did so without complaint, for which I will be forever grateful).

Thankfully, things have improved since then. I can’t work the 60- and 70-hour weeks I worked years ago, but I can put in a full, enthusiastic day at work as long as I don’t do anything else that day. I can’t keep a spotless house, but I can keep a functional one if I work carefully and efficiently. I can’t do a lot of galavanting with friends, but I can make some plans and even keep most of them. And for the first time in 7 years, I have hope that I’ll be able to keep up with life and with work.

Because of the amazing support I’ve received from family, friends, and colleagues, and because of the creativity of my medical team (which includes my unbelievably helpful mom), I’m doing ok.

It’s almost guaranteed that you have someone you work with who is living with a chronic illness of some kind or another, and many of these illnesses are invisible to the casual observer. It’s likely that this person is at the end of his or her rope most of the time, desperately hanging on to some semblance of normalcy. It’s likely that this person is scared and feels like a failure a lot of the time, simultaneously worried about receiving accommodations and about not receiving them, constantly rewriting their sense of self.

You really can  make a difference in that person’s life just by being patient, gentle, and kind. I don’t have words to thank the many people in my life who have been and continue to be vital supports for my fragile body and battered psyche. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You have made my life possible in the most real sense imaginable.


Revamping Refresher Training, now with bonus polling

Every fall, the helpdesk student supervisor and I lead “refresher training” for the IT helpdesk student workers who have shifts at the Research/IT desk in the library. Usually this consists of the two of us talking to the student workers about responsibilities and rules and then helping them figure out the ever-vexing microfilm reader/scanners. Again.

Needless to say, this always goes over super well, especially from 5-6 during the first week of classes. A couple students engage and the rest try not to fall asleep.

For some reason, I’ve had this mental block where I think of “training” as that boring thing that has to be done but that I try never to do when I’m “teaching.” Training is “here is how,” and teaching is something much more engaged and interesting. Turns out? I was wrong.

This year the helpdesk supervisor said “I want to change it up. We should make it interactive.” And I said, “I’ve been wanting to experiment with Poll Everywhere.” And so we ran an almost entirely poll-based training session, followed by a “microfilm race” (each group had to complete one task on one of the three reader/scanners) and it was good. The only thing that we didn’t cover was having every student touch every reader/scanner, and the students got to engage while also participating in their irreverant cohort culture via free-text responses here and there in the poll. Oh, and they still got paid for being there. So while it was definitely still training, I think it was definitely better.

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