January 27, 2015

Competency-Based Learning & Creating Meaningful Experiences: Mutually Exclusive?


Lately, I have grown to be more skeptical of competency-based learning as used in the contexts it has been generally implemented, despite the fact that I am working to integrate library information literacy badges into our university-wide general education program (see my recent presentation with Andrew Battista about this topic for the 2015 CUNY Games Festival). So I was a little unsure what to expect in the Educause webinar I attended yesterday, Participatory Learning and Assessment in Competency-Based Contexts (ignore the unfortunate abbreviation of assessment in that URL...).

But I was pleasantly surprised with the webinarand also glad to see it was Dan Hickey from Indiana University doing the presentation. I took a BOOC on assessment practices with him a year or two ago and the way that course was developed has influenced my online course design.

I just wanted to reflect on what he talked about during the webinar because I think it's important for info lit instructional design, student engagement in general, and also as a way to think about standards vs the framework as we continue to have ongoing conversations about the ACRL revisions.

So first, if you're not familiar with competency-based learning (CBL), you can get some background here. Granted, that background info might be a bit biased since the Dept of Ed is in favor of implementing CBL. It's essentially the idea of replacing Carnegie seat hours with focus on passing assessments instead. So, if you prove you already have the skills or knowledge, you don't have the spend the time (re)learning the material, or if you learn content more quickly than others, you can spend less time on a unit.. On one hand, there are some great things that could come out of that, especially when we think about making information literacy instruction more appealing for both faculty and students. But there is also the *other* hand, where both Audrey Watters and Tressie McMillan Cottom have discussed the false meritocracy this reinforces, creating more barriers and difficulty for lower-income students in particular. Likewise, when you can just buy your skills through "cheaper" online assessments that have been corporatized, where does that leave social learning and any magic that could happen in the classroom? And how much weight does that really carry for finding a job (particularly for marginalized groups)?

Dan Hickey's presentation seemed to be about bringing the benefits of CBL into the classroom, while avoiding the not-so-great parts. He did mention that CBL is really like an assembly line, and that it's hard to use competencies in this way because teaching is so contextual. We don't want to make competencies a "statement of declarative knowledge." It's impossible to have students all learn the same things in the same way. Different students will have experiences that make them find more importance in one thing over another, and different groups of students will create knowledge that differs based on varying points of view.

Hickey discussed 5 Participatory Learning and Assessment Design Principles in order to make this point and demonstrate how to better incorporate CBL to make it contextual, examples follow:

  1. Use public contexts to give meaning to knowledge tools: it's necessary to help students unpack between course concepts and their own context. This is personalized learning, not individualized learning.
  2. Reward productive disciplinary engagement: disciplinary engagement involves both declarative knowledge and cultural practices. Be open with comments and engagement, stay away from grades. Let students interact and explore.
  3. Grade artifacts through local reflections: save time for interaction, not on nitpicking via grading. Grade reflections instead of posts and comments (and stay away from using discussion boards).
  4. Let individuals assess their understanding privately: use re-engagement instead of remediation, and offer open-ended and optional opportunities.
  5. Measure achievement discreetly: there is too much teaching to the test, focus on bigger ideas. Withhold item-level feedback for test security and don't let students obsess over item-level answer memorization.

December 12, 2014

More on ALA Instructional Design Essentials ecourse

image via infed.org
Since it's a ways off and we've had people asking about when it will be offered again, I just wanted to make a quick post that our next 4-week session of ALA Instructional Design Essentials will be offered in May 2015. Instructors are myself and Erica DeFrain. We decided to wait until May since it's a slightly less busy time for academic library instruction and thought it would work better with people's schedules. Registration will open up sometime later in spring.

We are reflecting and revising from the first session of the course in September/October 2014, but here is the gist:

What you will get out of this course:

  • How to use backward design and instructional design models to create your own teaching, while being critical of the limitations of ID
  • How to leverage learning theories and knowledge of student motivation to create more compelling instruction
  • How to integrate assessment holistically into your curriculum, lesson, or learning object so that you can help students reflect on their own progress, while you reflect on your teaching
  • How to critically select and position technology within your instruction to enhance student learning
  • How to develop an awareness for critical pedagogical practices to create inclusive classroom atmospheres or learning objects 
We use a connected model of learning where participants interact and create content. Everyone is learning from everyone, and a number of students had said they made great connections to peers during the course. We had an amazing group of librarians enrolled in the fall and we really enjoyed being able to teach and learn from them!

Some feedback from students:

"This instructional design course has given me the holistic, systematic, and results-focused approach that I was hoping to cultivate towards instruction, and I look forward to further developing my teaching along these lines. My coursemates were a wonderful resource, and I found several posts helpful in thinking about measurable and contextually anchored assessment, the feedback loop, motivation and the affective domain, and the potential contexts for our teaching. Thanks in particular to [student], whose thoughtful comments were so helpful for assessment and technology applications, and to our instructors, Nicole Pagowsky and Erica DeFrain. This was my first experience in online asynchronus learning, and it has been a very positive one that I’m happy to recommend to others!"

"I thoroughly enjoyed the course and learned so much. My biggest take away was to start from the end and work my way backwards when planning for a course and developing curriculum. I have learned that it is not what I want to teach but what I want students to learn. I will never look at instruction the same, and that is a really great thing!"

"I think the thing I found most useful was how the course was structured, i.e. that we applied these Instructional Design principles to a real-life scenario. Going into this course, I had some familiarity with ID concepts, but I had never applied them to my own work. Having an end goal in mind made it easier to explore ID concepts in a practical way. I think the concept that will stick with me most is backward design; it has made me reconsider how I approach instruction, by making sure that I think first of the goals for the course, workshop, etc. before proceeding to how the material will be presented. I struggled most with learning theories, in this class. I think that I have a decent handle on them now, but I’m still not entirely sure of the intricacies of each theory."

"I already want to say thank you to Nicole and Erica for the great course. I learned a lot out of the reading! + the peer-endorsement activity was an eye-opening experience (thx to the blog technology :)"

"What struck me the most was how much my initial class design changed from week 1 to week 4. Without realizing it, I had done an about-face! When I pulled my old posts together and tried to write up this final project post, it became clear just how much the readings and the other participants’ blogs had changed my views."

If you're interested in registering for the course, feel free to contact me or Erica with questions; or get in touch with ALA for any logistical concerns.

December 9, 2014

#acrlilrevisions Next Steps

It seems like we are almost at the final version of the ACRL Framework revisions. I submitted my feedback a couple weeks ago through the ACRL Student Learning & Information Literacy committee that I'm on (we are sending it collectively) and feel for the most part that I have a decent grasp on how we might use these at the University of Arizona. Even though it's not finalized yet, we've been needing to work with the draft as is for projects here, such as badging, programmatic instruction, and constructing our department's IL plan and philosophy not too long after we had a restructuring. I'm helping coordinate our plans for programmatic instruction here so I keep thinking and re-thinking about these frames.

When designing instruction, I like to come up with "big questions" or "understandings," as Wiggins and McTighe refer to. From looking at the frames and trying to think about how can librarians and teaching faculty collaboratively understand these concepts and work toward shared goals, I put some big questions together to try and capture broader thoughts. From there, a colleague and I also worked on writing some outcomes we could map through curriculum mapping once everything becomes finalized. I'm also using these in other work that can't wait for the final draft. I thought I'd share some of this here as some librarians in my department are also sharing this with librarians at ASU and NAU tomorrow at a joint mini-conference that I can't attend since I will actually be presenting our version of the framework so far with big questions and outcomes to general education faculty for their feedback.

Below is our draft thus far. I thought I'd share it in the hopes that it might help others grappling with this stuff. I changed "searching is strategic" back to "searching is exploration" for our purposes because we all liked that version better here. We are also trying to think of more simple frame names that we could use. Even with our bigger additions and small adjustments, it's not perfect, but we're getting there.

Since it seems there is/was some disagreement via Twitter about whether "conversation" or "discourse" might be better wording for the first frame... I am on the side of conversation. If we're talking about opening up the act of research and having students become creators, I think discourse is limiting. Discourses set rules and restrictions, not really inviting in great diversity. As Aleman (2014) says, "Those in power or in control of the discourse normalize certain principles and ways of being through discourse to perpetuate norms, and to demand compliance, conformity, and submission to these norms" (p. 113). Discourse limits diversity in perspective and often in mode of publication. I also love this quote from Ball in Egea that I shared not too long ago: 
So I say keep it "conversation." Ok and now here are our frames and outcomes:

Frame 1: Scholarship is a Conversation
Scholarship is a conversation refers to the idea of ongoing discourse within a community of scholars who create, consume, and critique new insights and discoveries occurring over time as a result of competing perspectives and interpretations, building on each other.
Big Questions:
Ø  What barriers exist when entering into the “conversation” of scholarship?
Ø  How can we gain greater understanding of topics by examining the connections and ongoing narratives between different scholarly pieces?
Ø  How do our responsibilities shift when moving from just consumers of information to critics and/or creators of it?

Students should be able to:
·         Recognize the metaphor of “conversation” to describe the purpose of research
·         Identify the contribution of specific scholarly pieces and varying perspectives to a disciplinary knowledge “conversation”
·         Contribute to the scholarly conversation at an appropriate level, through the lens of becoming a creator/critic

Frame 2: Research as Inquiry
Research as inquiry means that research is an ongoing exploration, depending on continuous questioning where answers develop new questions or new lines of interest in any field.
Big Questions:
Ø  How could understanding of a topic be improved through uncertainty in the process of research?
Ø  How can varying needs shape the importance of certain types of information?
Ø  How can we know what we don’t know? How do we go about figuring out what is not there instead of only what is visible by finding gaps in thought or content?

Students should be able to:
·         Formulate research questions based on curiosity and gaps in information or data available
·         Describe via reflection how the research process is iterative, requiring persistence
·         Apply research methods that are appropriate for the need, context, and type of inquiry

Frame 3:  Authority is Contextual and Constructed
Authority of information depends on where the source came from, the information need, and how the information will be used. It is constructed and contextual. Authority should be viewed with an attitude of informed skepticism and openness to new perspectives.
Big Questions:
Ø  How or why do we decide if someone has “authority” on a topic?
Ø  What might be expected of us as we become authorities ourselves?
Ø  How might biases privilege some sources of authority and silence others, especially in terms of others’ worldviews, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, etc.?

Students should be able to:
·         Determine attributes of authoritative information for different needs, with the understanding that context plays a role in authority-based attributes
·         Recognize that traditional notions of granting authority might hinder diverse ideas and world views
·         Acknowledge that oneself may be seen as an authority in a particular area, and recognize the responsibilities entailed

Frame 4: Information Creation is a Process
Knowledge can be expressed in different styles, which has an impact on how information is used and shared. It is important to look to the underlying processes of creation as well as the final product to critically evaluate the usefulness of the information.
Big Questions:
Ø  How might information be perceived differently based on how it’s packaged? E.g., why might there be an expectation to use scholarly sources in a college paper?
Ø  Why do certain types of information automatically seem to have credibility where others might not?

Students should be able to:
·         Articulate the purposes of various types of information as well as their distinguishing characteristics
·         Distinguish between format and method of access, understanding that these are separate entities
·         Identify which types of information best meet particular information needs

Frame 5: Searching is Exploration
Locating information requires a combination of curiosity, discovery, and luck. There is no one size fits all source for the needed information. Finding information is nonlinear and iterative, requiring the use of a broad range of information sources, flexibility, and the willingness to make mistakes and try again.
Big Questions:
Ø  How can we best determine what we’re looking for so that we can identify an effective search strategy?
Ø  How might differing information needs change an approach to searching?
Ø  How can failure and mistakes help us in finding information?

Students should be able to:
·         Make connections between the importance of matching information needs and search strategies to appropriate search tools
·         Implement more advanced searching skills to respond to a discipline-based information need
·         Reflect on the usefulness of making mistakes in the search process and how searching is not solely transactional

Frame 6: Information has Value
Information has value means that information possesses several dimensions of value, including as a commodity, as a means of education, as a means to influence, and as a means of negotiating and understanding the world. The flow of information through systems of production and dissemination is impacted by legal, sociopolitical, and economic interests.
Big Questions:
Ø  How could value of information be wielded by powerful interests in ways that marginalize certain voices?
Ø  How might the use or absence of citations impact the conversation of research?
Ø  How could something like open access change creation, publishing, and learning?

Students should be able to:
·         Distinguish between plagiarism and copyright violations
·         Identify scholarly publication practices and their related implications for access to scholarly information
·         Identify why some groups/individuals may be underrepresented or systematically marginalized within the systems that produce and disseminate information

November 19, 2014

Confronting false neutrality in professional expectations

image via http://www.nycga.net/resources/general-assembly-guide/
I've got neutrality on my mind lately, particularly from many excellent #critlib chats talking about a sense of false neutrality in libraries and library instruction. And also in thinking about educational technology in the sense of how we use it, and how it is designed. Likewise, my ACRL-track panel proposal for ALA 2015 with Emily Drabinski, Jenna Freedman, Kelly McElroy, and Annie Pho was accepted: "But we're neutral! And other librarian fictions confronted by #critlib."

But I specifically wanted to draw greater attention to a good discussion starting on Andy Woodworth's blog in the comments about re-imagining librarian "rockstars" that hasn't gained much traction (yet?). 

Although Andy does acknowledge it is a loaded term, I think the problem comes in trying to neutralize the idea of the rockstar--or leader. In the comments, Andromeda brought up an excellent point:
“all of the nuance that comes with human beings and their personality. Should a role model librarian be assertive, but not overbearing? Be outspoken, but not self-aggrandizing? Be confident, but not arrogant?” 
To me, these are questions that can’t be addressed without also addressing their gendered and racial overtones. You and I doing exactly the same thing – you might get read as “assertive” (a masculine virtue bespeaking leadership), whereas I might get read as “aggressive” or even “bitchy”. And when I hear our black colleagues talk about how they’re read doing that same thing, it’s “bitchy” or “angry” or even “scary”. 
All of those questions you ask carry additional “but not” adjectives that narrow, or even close, the space of the possible, for some people. 
It's problematic to think about what we should expect from our leaders as broad, neutral categories of traits if 1. desirable leadership traits are based on norms of white, middle-class, cis-het males and if 2. we truly hope to increase diversity within librarianship. I added a comment:
These are great things to think about, but I do think Andromeda’s points warrant greater focus. There can’t really be an “ideal” with ongoing systems of societal oppression. We could say an assertive and highly motivated person could be an example of what a good role model would look like, but if a number of our colleagues are judged differently when exhibiting those traits, then the way we think about leaders in the profession has to be nuanced and understood within the greater context of society. Likewise, when white, cis-het men wind up being the majority of keynotes or those who are most visible, that can dictate certain expectations for leaders that seem normal and neutral but are highly skewed.
I don't want the point of this post to be giving Andy a hard time...and interrupting myself, look at that. I clearly felt it necessary to qualify my thoughts and my post to ensure I don't come across as being "bitchy" or stirring the pot. I think it's important to look at how we might easily miss false neutrality in not just library instruction and library services in what we project outward to our public, but also our own internal perceptions and expectations for ourselves as "professionals" (which can be an additionally loaded term).