Observational Course Journal #2

Part 1: Worksite:

Because of the Teaching & Learning with Technology conference on Monday and the VLA meeting Wednesday-Friday, I wasn’t at work very much this week. However, one conversation among senior leadership (the Dean and Associate Deans) was significantly related to my problem of practice (transfer students’ success on the MREST). The dean is concerned that we spend a lot of energy and effort on a very distributed set of instructional products – notably the MREST, liasions’ individual teaching programs, Undisciplined Research / Passport events, Citizen 21, and MadLab. Each of these are located in one person, with that person having complete control. There is no collaboration or cohesion among the programs, and that means that there are overlaps and gaps in our messaging (and sometimes conflicts). He has asked that we form a group that will develop an “LET Curriculum” to bring together all of these different programs under one umbrella, with a common set of objectives and outcomes, scaffolded across the undergraduate curriculum. My instruction coordinator is already working on this from the information literacy perspective (the purpose of which is to link the MREST to upperclass instruction, and liaisons across disciplines); this idea expands that to include digital, media, and the other literacies over which we claim ownership.

Part 2: Observation: 

I observed the keynote lecture at the Virginia Libraries Association 2016 annual meeting on 10/27/16. Keynote speaker was Kwame Alexander, Newbery award winning author of The Crossover and poet. Mr. Alexander spoke for approximately an hour, completely off-script and without slides or other supporting materials (though he occasionally read from either a journal or from The Crossover, which he had to borrow from a member of the audience). Although there were more than 500 people registered for the conference, I estimate only about 150 were in attendance at the keynote; this was the first event of the conference and I think a lot of people didn’t get to the venue until after lunch when the general sessions started. This is the annual meeting of librarians from across the state (plus people from 6 other states, as far away as Connecticut!). I estimate half of the attendees are public librarians, a third are academic (community college, college, and university librarians like myself), and the remainder are from k-12 school media centers and special libraries (mainly government and corporate libraries). It was held at The Homestead, a 250-year old hot springs spa resort at the western edge of the state, about 90 minutes southwest of me and up to 5 hours drive for folks coming from the opposite edge of the state.

First, Kwame Alexander is a fabulous speaker. He recited poetry for us. He talked about his childhood and how he’d gone from being labeled a “reluctant reader” to winning the Newbery, and about how he now goes to schools to talk to students about poetry and reading. He read to us from his books. He was able to send us on rollercoasters of emotions with funny stories, and painful stories, and stories that made me want to weep for children who are labeled “bad”. Here are three quotes I’m carrying around from this address:

All the kids deserve all the books.

Literature does not segregate; we do that.

Words matter. Words matter for all of us. Words matter for all of our children.

These quotes connect back to my problem of practice, in a roundabout way. I’m concerned about helping transfer students succeed; Mr Alexander was saying that by labeling individuals or groups as being “bad” or “reluctant” or “trouble” we limit the support that we’re willing to give them. The goal is to help all people succeed, to engage all students with the world, regardless of how we perceive them.

Second, watching the audience respond to him was very interesting. The VLA population is largely white, female, and over 50 (this is reflective of the profession). Mr. Alexander is black, male, and I’d guess in his 40s. The room was set up lecture-style, with a raised dais at the front and a large screen for slides. Mr. Alexander alternated between standing behind the podium and coming out into the audience to speak from the center. This was a technique clearly meant to engage us; it also clearly made the people sitting on the center aisle uncomfortable. The lack of slides also meant that I had to really engage with him; no crutch to keep up with his discussion was available. At one point he clearly got a little frustrated with us for not being impressed with his award – “Y’all, I WON THE NEWBERY” he exclaimed, to some nervous laughter. This is not to suggest that the audience wasn’t engaged with his talk – I think most people really were. I wish I’d been able to interview some people afterwards about their impressions. The few people I talked to were equally as impressed with his talk.

Part 3: Readings:

Meyer, J. W., Ramirez, F. O., and Soysal, Y. N. (1992). World expansion of mass education, 1870-1980. Sociology of Education, 65, 128-149. doi: 10.2307/2112679

I really liked this article. While I don’t understand the statistics well enough to grok the tables, I trust the authors’ interpretation of their results. It had never occurred to me to consider the link between nationhood and education, but the findings resonate with some coursework that I had in college about the rise of nationalism in 17th-18th century Europe (focusing on Poland). The argument that mass education serves multiple purposes, from the individual to the social, as laid out on p. 131, is interesting. So too, is the idea that education spread first from the first “nations” in the modern sense through logical “polities” that can be seen both geographically and politically. I find the finding that differing characteristics of nations bears little effect on the spread and growth of mass enrollment strengthens the initial argument rather than weakens it.

Fullan, M., Rincón-Gallardo, S., & Hargreaves, A. (2015). Professional capital as accountability. Education policy analysis archives, 23(15). doi: 10.14507/epaa.v23.1998

The main argument of this article is that internal accountability for success, as shown through human, social, and decisional capital, is more effective in driving progress than external accountability, as shown through tools such as standardized assessments. In fact, systems with high success through internal accountability often also show high success on external measures; the one drives the other. Fullan et al. discuss achieving this through shared vision and focus, collective capacity and responsibility, leadership development, growth-oriented assessment, and system coherence and cohesion.

Part 4: Integrations

The Fullan et al. article in particular  is causing me to consider the underlying problem to my Problem of Practice in a way that I hadn’t before. If the MREST is an external form of accountability to student learning, how can the libraries work to build the internal accountability for information literacy skills among students, faculty advisors, and librarians? Where are the opportunities to build capital around the concept of information literacy, recognizing that the test itself is not going away?


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