Trip Report: CARL Conference 2012

Posted on 8 June 2012 at 3:08 pm in Musings.

In April of 2012 I attended the biennial conference of California Academic and Research Libraries, the state affiliate of ACRL. The conference theme was “Creativity & Sustainability: Fostering User-Centered Innovation in Difficult Times.” The focus of the keynote presentations was the promotion of innovative leadership (or, in the cases of some institutions, how to overcome a lack of innovative leadership). The conference proceedings have now been published online:

The opening keynote presentation was from Jenica Rogers, a library director at a university in upstate New York and a blogger at Attempting Elegance. In her presentation, she quoted some disturbing figures about how few library directors felt they had an innovative plan for the future. If institutional directors don’t feel they have a plan for the future, how must their staff feel? What does that say about the future of their libraries on campus? Rogers emphasized the easiest thing a director can do to foster innovation is to say “yes.” If you’ve hired a staff of motivated, creative librarians, saying “yes” will be the ticket to innovation and change.

Another keynote was from co-presenters Char Booth, coordinator of instruction at Claremont Colleges, and Brian Mathews, an Assistant Dean of Library Services at Virgina Tech. There presentation focused on threshold concepts in education and using curriculum mapping to refine and improve campus-wide information literacy programs. Their invited paper is available online and I highly recommend reading it.

I highlighted the following extract on tumblr:

How does threshold concept theory apply to academic librarians? It can be argued that incorporating knowledge of threshold concepts into our instructional strategy enables us to be more effective and empathic – anticipating the challenges our learners face and intervening with insight into their disciplinary experience. This can impact not only what and how we teach, but also when is the right time to cover particular topics and skills. In short, it enables us to survey the entire learning landscape within a discipline and optimize the libraryʼs interaction. By understanding the common stumbling blocks, knowledge gaps, and frustration points within a given subject domain, as well as with particular courses and assignments, we can better position the library to become a strong instructional partner.

As a liaison to my university’s nursing program, I feel it is incumbent upon me — even if the depth of my nursing expertise is limited — to investigate the relevant threshold concepts are in nursing practice so that I can deepen my work with the nursing students. I feel inadvertently stumbled into a threshold when I made a recent presentation on evidence-based nursing, a highly specific, clinical practice that involves using research to provide answers to clinical questions. Presenting on that specific a subject pushed me beyond the usual approach of ‘access the database here, use these search terms and limiters’ type of workshop. I had to get knowledgeable on realms beyond my experience — things like PICO questions, meta-analysis and systematic reviews — and relay the importance of these concepts to students who are still sometimes new to scholarly research. I came away from that presentation feeling like the formal process of creating a PICO question — and using that question to derive strong keyword search terms — transformed the students’ approach to scholarly search in ways that will benefit them beyond evidence-based practice. If they can master a high-level concept like PICO, the rest of their information seeking-skills will come to them more easily.

A few other highlights from the conference:

Predicting Innovation in Library Environments

Michael Germano, CSU Los Angeles.

CSU’s Michael Germano became a librarian after a career in tech entrepreneurship, and compared and contrasted elements of successful leadership with some of the bureaucratic elements he believes hinder libraries. One of his major points was that your internal culture affects your users. It has a significant impact, especially on existing, ongoing users and customer retention and loyalty.

He described innovative climates as possessing the following traits:

  • Accountability
  • Assessment/Evidence Based
  • Change tolerant
  • Confident
  • Competitive
  • Fearless
  • Positive/Supportive
  • Reward Oriented
  • Vision Driven

He asked how many of these traits are embodied by libraries?

He described the following as values that drive innovative environments:

  • Risk tolerance
  • Flexibility
  • Boundarylessness
  • Customer Focus
  • Shared purpose
  • Value/Empower people
  • Results oriented
  • Sense of urgency
  • Low tolerance of repetition

In contrast, he used the following attributes to describe existing library culture:

  • Organized and predictable
  • Permanency
  • Shared values

He emphasized how leadership qualities can create an innovative environment. He characterized leadership as the process of influencing others to engage in a shared task or purpose — leading is not managing.

Library instruction: information visualization and keyword searching

Matt Conner & Melissa Browne, University of California, Davis

This presentation was the culmination of a CARL-funded research study on the keyword searching techniques of college students and the effect of visual literacy tools on search success.

The basic idea is that vision and cognition are fundamentally related. Representations of data with visual designs assist comprehension and insight. A popular example is the red state/blue state map that makes political affiliation so much easier to grasp than a series of charts that conveys the same information. Their survey used information-seeking tools that emphasize visual elements to see how it affected user behavior and success. Some of the tools they used were the now-defunct Google Wonder Wheel and EBSCOhost’s Visual Search.

Known patterns in student search strategies are either single-word searches or long strings of natural language. Students tend to only skim search results. Students will give up quickly and assume there is nothing on their topic. These strategies don’t largely work using library resources. The researchers suggested that instructional librarians are not always giving students the best guidance for their topic searches. It’s really important to turn topic ideas into search keywords in a way that affects and strengthens search outcomes.

The question the researchers tried to answer was whether visualization would help students formulate more systematic searches.  Could it improve efficiency and increase satisfaction? Results were inconclusive, though users did have some success improving their keywords after using EBSCOhost’s Visual Search.

The research provided one surprise outcome: student behavior isn’t exclusively about searching and terms. There was a strong tendency towards link-following. They may start with one search in Google, but ultimately follow a series of links until satisfied, which partially explains the popularity of the hyperlink-rich Wikipedia.

Transforming Research into Practice: Using Project Information Literacy Findings to Revitalize Instruction and Outreach

Michele Van Hoeck, CSU Maritime; Ann Roselle, Phoenix College; Catherine Palmer, UC Irvine

Each presenter gave a specific example of using Project Information Literacy (PIL) findings at their institutions. Each of the research reports referenced below can be found on the PIL Publications Page.

First, some of the basics of PIL; it is an ongoing research project guided by Dr. Alison Head and Dr. Michael Eisenberg at University of Washington’s iSchool. It has surveyed 11,000 college students from 52 campuses across five studies.

Michele Van Hoeck focused on incorporating ideas from 2010 PIL survey, “Truth be told: How college students evaluate and use information in the digital age.” The survey involved 8,353 students on asked about their course-related and everyday life research. It was an online survey with 22 questions.

The first major finding of the survey was that students reported the most difficulty with getting started (84%), finding a topic (66%), and narrowing a topic (61%) – described as “failure to launch.” PIL conducted follow-up interviews with certain students. Students said it wasn’t a lack of ideas that made it hard to start, it was a fear of their idea failing them, and an inability to vet their topic. They were desperate for context and background, hence using Wikipedia very heavily.

Based on these PIL findings, Van Hoeck developed new learning outcomes for her LIB100 course at CSU Maritime:

  • Develop methods for exploring and vetting new topics.
  • Gain awareness of sources for context & background.

She suggested a couple methods of addressing these learning outcomes in a one-shot instructional session.

  • Infolit icebreaker: using Poll Everywhere to ask “What’s the worst thing about a research paper?”
  • Creating a Getting Started tab on a LibGuide (or other model of institutional research guide or pathfinder.)
  • Focus first session on getting started, devoted to sources for starting research.
  • Only demonstrating electronic sources and explicitly comparing them to Wikipedia.
  • Van Hoeck used libguide stats for assessment, looking at Fall 2010 vs. Fall 2011 usage. Paired with a new lesson plan, the LibGuide saw a tripling of link usage.

Ann Roselle of Phoenix College looked at the 3rd PIL report, “Assigning inquiry: How handouts for research assignments guide today’s college students.” The survey looked at 191 research assignment handouts from 28 different institutions across disciplines. 83% of the surveyed handouts could be described as a “standard research handout” — that is to say, unexceptional and including several common weaknesses.

The study compared the majority of research assignment handouts to city roadmaps with no street names included (because they did not specific which databases students should use.) Only 13% of handouts mentioned consulting librarians (or faculty). Only 18% mentioned plagiarism.

The PIL report described these assignments as paying “more attention on the mechanics of preparing a research assignment” rather than getting started, defining the topic, or evaluating the information.

As a response to these PIL findings, Ann Roselle hosted a workshop for faculty to give them a better idea of how to create a research assignment handout. She had faculty work in small groups. They worked through sources slowly and were given handouts to analyze. The selected handouts were a balanced mix good and bad to see how faculty would analyze them.

Time was given at the end of the workshop to provide faculty a chance to consider how their own handouts work. When asked to describe one common pitfall of research handouts, faculty identified that “librarian not included” comes up a lot. Faculty were also advised also include actual links to specific databases.

Feedback from faculty who have worked on improving their handouts includes, “I have noticed that students have less questions about how to do the assignment, and I am generally getting more college-approved sources.”

Catherine Palmer adapted a St. Olaf College Research Practice survey into a PIL-inspired pre- and post-test assessment model for UC Irvine. One advantage of the open-source St. Olaf assessment was the ability to include open-ended questions on research practices. UC Irvine replaced Project SAILS with this approach.

English Composition Students: How Are They Using Their Sources?

Sharon Radcliff & Elise Wong, Saint Mary’s College Library

This was an interesting presentation on a research project librarians at St. Mary’s conducted on the bibliographies of their freshmen composition papers. The pilot study included 25 papers in 2008. In 2010 they expanded the study to approximately 80 papers. 20 papers were not included in the 2010 study findings because they didn’t have bibliographies at all.

Some of their findings from the second survey were on the types of sources used:

  • 44% websites
  • 30% magazines and journals
  • 22% books

Regarding the citations, 58% were direct quotes, 42% were paraphrased. The faculty would prefer to see a higher percentage of paraphrasing in order to synthesize ideas, which is considered a stronger form of writing than a heavy reliance on direct quotations. About half of the quotes were introduced and analyzed. 20% had an introduction but no analysis. 14% analyzed afterwards with no introduction. 13% of quotes had no introduction and no analysis.

As a outcome of this survey, faculty & librarians revisited their instructional design to account for shortcomings with the hope that composition faculty could consult with librarians in course design and embed library tutorials in class materials.

There were some limitations of study. It was not a random sampling — the papers volunteered by English faculty. There was no discussion on the quality of the sources, and no association between un-cited information in the papers and plagiarism.

For the future, the librarians would like to implement multiple instructional strategies, design a study to test these strategies, in order to compare their modified practices to a control group. They would like to add specialized instruction on citations to sections of first semester in English comp. They would also like to compare results with sections not receiving instruction at all, and determine means to track the progress of students over four years of education.

One element the St. Mary’s librarians are adding to their freshmen year instruction is having the students actually find an article and identify the parts of a citation. They make sure the students at least write out one citation in class — have them have the experience of doing it themselves.

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