February 10, 2016

Revisiting digital badges, 2016 edition

After a Twitter convo about what's going on with badging initiatives and recently reading an article about badging in libraries that I (+ noted by some others) don't agree with, it feels like time for an update on my thoughts about badging.

When I first started thinking about badges and using badges, they seemed to help solve the problem of so many requests for library instruction, but without having the resources to physically be embedded in each class. I first designed and implemented badging into the one-credit course we used to have for information literacy. It was fully online and part of the coursework included tutorials and other online work. I created badges for our initial pilot that required instructor feedback and more conversation between instructor and student for badges to be earned (rather than automated earning through multiple choice, etc.). This pilot was very successful. Students enjoyed earning badges, saying it helped them organize what they were learning and that it provided more... closure perhaps... than just doing a tutorial or reading something and moving on. Since this course was geared toward freshmen, the badges added a student success component to help them think more about how to study and how to move through a course.

When we moved into the Fall semester pilot (still in 2013), when enrollment for this course gets to be the largest (over 100), we had to revise the badges and make them all mostly automated so that our GA could actually get through all of them plus her regular grading and instruction work for this course. Although students were still positive for the most part about the badges, it didn't feel as successful, to me at least, from an instructor standpoint. This could wind up being a discussion instead about class size, but I think both aspects played a role in my impression.

During this time, I thought since the info lit outcomes for our general education program weren't as strong (and mandatory?) as they needed to be, and that perhaps embedding badging options into gen ed courses would help usher in more info lit instruction, but where librarians wouldn't need to be coming in to do one-shots. We just don't have the resources for those anymore, and as Instruction Coordinator, I will firmly say I don't feel they are beneficial pedagogically to our instruction goals here at the UofA (we are phasing them out, #nomoreoneshots).

I wrote about my presentation to gen ed faculty here and also included student feedback from the pilots. Faculty were positive and it was a possibility to make this work. With a new online college established (UA Online), we also considered embedding badges in these programs since badges might work better with fully online courses. We also considered badges for the Writing Program at the beginning of this academic year. But just popping in automated badges in various spots of the curriculum (without greater collaboration with faculty, potentially) would essentially be the same thing as a one-shot, just virtually. This would be more physically possible, but not be so beneficial pedagogically. After bouncing around and evaluating what might work best instruction-wise, and based on the needs of these programs and departments, we reverted back to thinking about badges as a student success tool. So we have ultimately landed on collaborating with the College of Letters, Arts, & Sciences (CLAS) to use badges in their student success course for undecided students. We are working with our GA and ARL CEP Fellow to have them create and design these badges, and there will be 4 available to students in this program to introduce them to research.

This brings up the discussion also then of using badges with the Framework versus the Standards. I was able to design badges, that required instructor feedback and communication (not automated), to teach students about scholarship as conversation, research as iterative, and other frames. It was totally possible. But when we needed to shift badges to automated for our large pilot (and CLAS has over 1,000 students), this isn't really possible. And it has nothing to do with what is better, the Framework or the Standards--I do like the Framework better, FYI--but pedagogically, instructor feedback and interaction with students is going to be more effective and have a greater impact (that's my opinion, at least).

I do think badges are great for student success purposes and for engagement. Badges contribute to how a one might want to project their identity. After discussions on campus about badging stemming from the pilot I did, badges are being used in a large-scale student engagement initiative that's essentially related to AAC&U High Impact Practices. I think this is a great way for students to track what more holistic experiences they are having on campus and can help them conceptualize what they've done. When it comes to classroom instruction or information literacy initiatives, I think the use of badges gets more tricky and a number of factors need to be considered. And I prefer more fluidity in instructional design and collaborations with faculty that badges anchoring curriculum can't provide.

Now, one of those factors that always seems to pop up when badges are discussed is employer needs and employer impressions of students' value as future workers. I recently wrote about the state of higher education and info lit instruction in the winter 2015 issue of Communications in Information Literacy: A Pedagogy of Inquiry, so you can get more context on where I'm coming from with that article. My entire perspective of badges since I first became interested was about improving pedagogy, badges as instructional design, and trying to give students more autonomy over how they might want to represent themselves and their learning. If the badges and the learning piqued employers' interest and helped students get jobs after graduating, that's great, but should not be the sole purpose of badging (or education!). This is one of the main problems I have with a recent article about badges for employers in the Jan 2016 issue of C&RL. The use of "critical information literacy" in the title is a bit misleading, but regardless, critical (as in essential, according to this article's use of the word) anything for instruction shouldn't hinge on what employers say they need. This post is already getting quite long, so do read my CIL article if you'd like more on that. As others had pointed out to me, some of the other problems with the article include: lack of citations to librarians who have already published and presented on badge-related topics (and the citation of my work is incorrect--we saw my article is the only one cited of librarians who have researched this, and is also described strangely, plus my name isn't even included in the citation); it's confusing why HR reps and not even hiring managers were interviewed; and why this particular methodology was chosen.

I'm writing this quickly before I do an ACRL webinar soon (to talk about our use of the Framework and how we are phasing out one-shots... which I would love to write more about sometime in the future), but I knew if I didn't make this post now I might not have time again for awhile. Here's hoping there aren't any glaring errors. And hoping more that this post was useful to those of you asking about what I've learned about badging and how we're using them here at the University of Arizona.

December 15, 2015

Why I #critlib

For the #critlib chat tonight, we are talking #feelings (moderated by Kevin Seeber), and instead of a reading Kevin asked that participants reflect on some questions. A few people have already written great posts. Some from the top of the feed: Kelly McElroy, Emily Drabinski, Andrew Preater, and more if you go to the hash. My attempt is below.

I almost think I was a critical librarian before even realizing it. What got me interested in becoming a librarian was a 2002 article in Punk Planet written by Alana Kumbier interviewing people like Jenna Freedman, Jessamyn West, and other awesome librarians/archivists doing activist and social justice work in the profession. I didn't even realize librarianship could be that as I read the article as an undergrad. I felt pretty blah about college and even dropped out for a year. I had some (now laughable) plans of hopping trains and maybe becoming a professional piercer... who knows. I think I read Days of War Nights of Love too many times as an impressionable 19 year old. But reading that Punk Planet article showed me that you can have a career that's not soul sucking and actually helps people and could make the world a better place. I later finished my degree but wasn't necessarily planning on librarianship as an ultimate goal. It came to me later after working for a couple years, and I decided to go to library school.

I didn't really know anything about critical theory and all of my activism-related activities were based around practice only. I didn't think of myself as much of a reader or theorist before library school, but more of a do-er. I did get interested though in how theory could guide practice (ending up as praxis) and wanted to learn more. I'm still learning. This is why we (Emily, Jenna, Kelly, Annie, and I) started this hashtag so that we could all learn from each other.

Librarianship is over 80% white and has been for a long time. Clearly we need to take other approaches and need to be critical of what has been done already if it's not working. Librarianship is also over 80% women, however men are still fast-tracked to administrator positions, make more money, and are invited to speak and lead in much larger percentages compared to their makeup in the field. Librarians, like other women-dominated, service-oriented fields, are often valued and paid less than fields dominated by men. This is not because work perceived as women's work is less valuable, but because society treats it as less valuable. These are all real things that critical approaches work to dismantle. There are many other hegemonic systems in place that oppress people, I've only touched on a few. But as I learned in my own journey here, we can't just "do," we also need to reflect, discuss, plan, and get to those bigger ideas that bring us to bigger outcomes. We need both theory and practice, and we can't do it alone, we need community. Especially when many of us are in privileged positions, we need to do a lot of listening and can't just take action on what we think might be most effective without working in collaboration with others. Those of us who participate in #critlib don't all agree on everything (as others have stated), but it is a meeting place, somewhere to exchange ideas, debate, and build momentum. That's why I'm here.

June 13, 2015

Expertise and educators: Teachers make a difference

If you care about teaching, stop what you're doing and read Joshua Beatty's CAPAL 2015 paper, "Reading Freire for first world librarians." I had seen others tweeting about how great this paper was but hadn't had a chance to read it until now.

I can't really even count the amount of exclamation points I wrote all over my printed-out copy. There are a lot! We talk about a few things regarding critical pedagogy that have had me feeling conflicted. I wasn't sure how to put my uncertainty into words. Conversations regarding teacher authority, students-as-teachers, and borderline disdain for outcomes have had me feeling like "hmmm no" but not entirely sure how to express my hesitation clearly. And when I say "we," I mean librarians, teachers, and higher ed faculty who engage in discourse about critical pedagogy, but also sometimes those more informal discussions in our #critlib chats. And this is certainly not uncommon, a hashtag to talk about umbrella topics does not automatically imply there is monolithic agreement and a shared politics/approach/philosophy. This is why these conversations are great, because it's a safe space to talk about these things. I just haven't been able to fully articulate my disagreement about these issues until reading this paper.

So without repeating everything he says, essentially, the point is that first world librarians have been interpreting Freire incorrectly. Most of us--myself included--have only read Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which was written with a very specific time period and population in mind and does not apply to Western classrooms (especially in the U.S. education system). Beatty points out how "Freire believed that North American teachers had conflated the concept of authority with the concept of authoritarianism. For Freire, the difference was essential. Authoritarianism was opposed to the existence of freedom, and is illegitimate. Authority, in contrast, was not opposed to freedom, but necessary to it" (p. 6).

The teacher's authority comes from their knowledge of the subject matter; but as Beatty explains, Freire realized in our misreading of his work that in rejecting authoritarianism, we wind up rejecting the teacher's authority... the thing that is actually needed for reaching freedom. And when we reject the teacher's authority and focus on this idea of teacher as just a guide or facilitator and not an expert with authority, we are actually causing harm to both the students and the teacher.

How this causes harm to students: Teacher authority is thinly veiled behind this idea of a classroom of shared power, which is just not in existence. Problem-posing in truth would be to acknowledge the authority of the teacher, to discuss it and be aware of it, instead of pretending it doesn't exist or making it seem like it can go away. I have never fully abdicated my authority as a teacher when I am doing instruction, feeling that I would come across as insincere. I wrote a blog post previously about TMI and student retention, and how trying to appear as if on the same level as your students is not helpful to teaching. I had included a couple YouTube clip examples in the post that have seemed to disappear, but this one can illustrate the idea here from Kids in the Hall, He's Hip. He's Cool. He's 45! The dad is trying to act like his authority is invisible by being "cool" and imposing no limitations on his son. He "doesn't care" about restrictions such as curfew and even goes to offer his son a joint with his cool man stance on the couch armrest. But the son clearly sees through this facade, not taking his dad seriously, as if he's a joke (well, he literally is):

This is obviously an exaggerated example, but I think it is disingenuous to frame a classroom as hey we're all the same, teacher, students.... even though I have the authority to grade. Also, there really are right and wrong answers in a number of cases. Dialogue is important, though. Facilitating is also important, but not at the expense of denying the expertise of being a teacher.

How this causes harm to teachers: I have written about the identity of librarians, the identity of librarians specifically as educators, and presented on how incorporating critical pedagogy into information literacy education can help transform our image. What Beatty is saying in his paper ties directly to this issue inherent in women's work and female-dominated professions having an expectation for service work and caregiving. Caregiving and warmth is essential to a degree in successful teaching, as we recognize the human component necessary for learning (affect), but positioning teachers--and librarian teachers, a double-whammy--as simply guides or facilitators or helpers, we are reinforcing a renunciation of authority, respect, and the need for individuals (mostly women) in these roles. We can have authority without being authoritarians. We can be experts and strategic educators who use learning outcomes (especially as formative assessment) while also working with students to realize their own knowledge and interests via dialogue and bigger picture learning.

I have found somewhat of a clash between educational psychology / instructional design principles and critical pedagogy when considering design, outcomes, and the role of the educator. I was so glad to read Beatty's paper to help me realize exactly where I felt uncomfortable with this conflict and why it existed. He talks about a lot of other great things like the idea of neutrality, the importance of collaboration with faculty, and neoliberalism + educational technology... you should really read.

And so, if anyone really can be a facilitator or a guide or a helper, then who needs us? Freire's notion of laissez-faire education would be realized. Teachers make a difference, and we can use our authority to help students learn. 

April 26, 2015

WAAL 2015 Opening Keynote: Transforming our image through a compass of critical librarianship

I went to Wisconsin this week to present the opening keynote at the annual Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians conference for 2015. I had a great time meeting librarians from all over the state, and really enjoyed talking about librarian stereotypes and using critical librarianship as a compass to transform our image.

Find details and access to all materials below!

Title: Transforming our image through a compass of critical librarianship

Description: Librarians have been lamenting our stereotypes for over 100 years, but has anything changed? Critical librarianship--the process of incorporating social justice through theory and practice into professional philosophies and day-to-day work--pushes us past a simple dismissal of stereotypes, and toward a consideration of what implications these tropes have on our diversity, status, pay, and ability to collaboratively carry out our work with faculty as partners.

This keynote address will examine how implementing critical librarianship through our library instructional pedagogy, scholarship, and other ongoing work can add greater value to the profession, and help transform the perception of librarians to campus, as well as our own perception of ourselves.

Transcript: Find the full transcript here, including list of references

Slides (It looks like slide 81 is blank, but it's a video)... the full PPTX is here, which includes the videos that you can watch in the ppt, and then image credits are in the notes of each slide). Below is the SlideShare version for quick reference but videos won't play here.