Leadership Challenge #5

Module 7 LdC reflection on provocative question #4

Provocative Question (LdC)

How can your behaviors shape your action research study to be a COLLABORATIVE action research study?


Reflect on Module 7 LdC Step 3 – determine your leadership challenge

What behavior did you experiment with/try out for your leadership challenge last week?
This challenge was a continuation of the network expansion challenge from before. I reached outside my comfort zone by contacting people theoretically interested in my problem of practice whom I did not previously know.

What did you end up doing for your leadership challenge last week?
I spoke via Skype with two researchers from Florida State University (Drs Gross & Latham) who study information literacy in first-year students, and corresponded via email with Sylvia Tag at Western Washington University, who wrote one of the few papers on library services to transfer students.

Reflect on Module 7 LdC Step 4 – assess and reflect on your leadership challenge

How did your change in behavior affect others in your Community of Practice? Tell the story of what happened.
Over both of the iterations of this particular challenge I think that the main change I’ve seen has been a focusing of the somewhat fuzzy ideas that I’ve been trying to wrangle about my problem of practice and who should be included. I’m considering more and more how the borders between communities can be leveraged and made porous with boundary items and individuals (including but not limited to myself).

Reflect on your experience with the Leadership Challenge for this module.
On March 8th I spent about a half an hour talking with Drs. Melissa Gross and Don Latham at Florida State University, via Skype. I also emailed Sylvia Tag earlier in the month, and received a (long) response on March 9th. They were all wonderfully generous and supportive – which I am starting to get used to. For some reason I have assumed until now that people will respond to “Hi, I’m a graduate student interested in X. Can I talk to you?” with impatience (if at all), and it’s quite nice to discover that the opposite has generally been true. This has very much been a leaning in experience for me – I’m generally a typical librarian, who wants to spend time with my databases and journals, but not with the people who are behind them.

Drs. Gross and Latham did a series of studies of first-year information literacy skills, including assessing some interesting interventions to support them, using the precursor test to the MREST from James Madison University. They were very interested to hear about the continued development of the test, and asked me quite a lot of questions about it – which helped me understand what information I’m lacking there (including how the validity and reliability were judged, and trend data over time). They had not considered the unique situation of transfer students in the past, so we had a very interesting discussion about how that group might differ from native freshmen. They were also very interested in how students got the instruction necessary to support success on the test. In their research, they’ve found that first-year students without prior training tended to do poorly (most not passing) – this is true of the MREST across the board on the first attempt, which raises the question of whether students are attempting to take the test without first taking the online modules (possible) vs. whether the test is not assessing mastery of the content presented in those modules (also possible). In the end our conversation was very helpful for thinking about what sort of intervention I might do.

I had nearly given up on Sylvia Tag – she responded to me two full weeks after my initial email – but am glad I didn’t. The survey and article that she did on transfer students and library preparation/services is over 10 years old, at this point, and understandably Sylvia has moved on in her career. However, she did connect me (by Cc:) with another colleague of hers at WWU who is currently interested in transfer students. However, it was this in her email that I found very interesting:

When I wrote the JAL article, I was seeking credibility. I wanted to have transfer students, themselves, support increased library programing for their particular needs. The survey, and consequent article, served that purpose. Our library implemented some new services – a webpage for transfer students and I contacted our regional community colleges to build connections.

Like Tom Atwood, it’s clear that Sylvia approached her research with a purpose – not just to find out about these students, but to get “credibility” for moving forward with supporting them. I am similarly looking at my Cycle 0 work as a means of demonstrating to my colleagues both in LET and elsewhere at JMU that transfer students matter, and that we could do some low-cost but high-yield work to support them more effectively. Sylvia did note that in the past 10 years both the transfer population at WWU has changed (more students doing their core coursework at the community college to save $$), and the library’s ability to support transfers has changed (for the worse). They currently focus on this population during the orientation and first semester, and don’t provide unique online materials for them. That’s in line with what Tom was telling me has happened at Toledo, as well.

This remarkable luck with identifying and connecting with librarians and information scientists interested in transfer student support has emboldened me. Next week I’m attending the biennial Association of Colleges & Research Libraries meeting in Baltimore. I’ll be spending some time there trying to find new people to add to my growing network. One thing I’ve realized from talking to Tom, Tammie, and emailing with Sylvia is that there’s a much larger population of librarians who are interested in this area but have never published in it. All three of them talked about forming an email list or other means of staying in touch with each other – to share information but also to support each other. This sounds like the beginnings of a Community of Practice – how exciting!

Module 9 LdC Steps 1, 2 and 3 on provocative question #5

Provocative Question (LdC)

Note: Apply “Steven Johnson: Where Good Ideas Come From” video from TEL 703 Readings to this week’s leadership challenge (in addition to Wenger).

As related to your job, how is change initiated in your organization? Do CoPs matter in the process … of initiating change?  … of operationalizing change efforts?  … of institutionalizing change?

Step 1. Prepare for an on-line Conversation

Quote/ideas from the book; applications/instances from your workplace setting Page number/ timestamp
 The persistence of forms inherent in reification is not just a reminder of the past; it can refocus our attention in new ways, surprise us, and force us into new relations with the world.  Wenger p. 88
 The simultaneous investment of practice in participation and reification can be a source of both continuity and discontinuity. In fact, since both since both participation and reification are inherently limited in scope, they inevitably create discontinuities in the evolution of practices… Similarly, new artifacts, ideas, terms, concepts, images, and tools are produced and adopted as old ones are used up, made obsolete, or discarded.  Wenger p. 89
 Because the world is in flux and conditions always change, any practice must constantly be reinvented, even as it remains “the same practice.”  Wenger p. 94
 An essential aspect of any long-lived practice is the arrival of new generations of members. As long as membership changes progressively enough to allow for sustained generational encounters, newcomers can be integrated into the community, engage in its practice, and then – in their own way – perpetuate it.  Wenger pp. 98-99
 While newcomers are forging their own identities, they do not necessarily want to emphasize discontinuity more than continuity… As a result, newcomers are not necessarily more progressive than old-timers; they do not necessarily seek to change the practice more than established members do… Conversely, old-timers have an investment in their practice, yet they do not necessarily seek continuity… They might thus welcome the new potentials afforded by new generations who are less hostage to the past.  Wenger pp. 156-157
 Traditional ideas about ideas are wrong – eureka moments. Ideas are not “single things” – they are instead a network. Ideas are really cobbled together from lots of other ideas.  Johnson approx. 3:50, 6:50
Almost all of the important ideas happened in a lab group not in the lab, but around the conference table where they share what is and isn’t working.  Johnson approx. 8:40
People revise the stories of their discoveries to emphasize a eureka moment. In reality, it’s more like a “slow hunch” that takes a long time to form and refine. “Great ideas fade into view over time.”  Johnson approx. 9:30
Need to connect one person’s hunch to another person’s hunch. Should be spending more time not protecting ideas, but connecting them to each other.  Johnson approx. 11:50

Applications from workplace setting:
The Wenger quotes that I chose here have largely to do with the impact of new members vs. old members on the Community of Practice. This is very much on my mind as I look at my various small communities within the libraries. In my department, we have fourteen faculty (including myself, as department head). Of these fourteen, five have been at the university a year or less, one has been here three years, four for four years (including myself; I am tenured because of a short clock), and four for six to 10 years (and are now tenured). This has a huge effect on the department’s attitude towards change. On the one hand, we have few people with baggage. On the other, we neither have a pool of experience to draw from, nor a deep well of trust that could sustain uncertainty (not to mention that the need to balance risk-taking is different pre- and post-tenure). I’m not sure you could really consider us a CoP yet – though I’m being very transparent about wanting to be one.

We also don’t have a good history of initiating or sustaining change. I was also part of a “slow hunch” to reform the public services units that had already been underway for two years – and wasn’t allowed to be implemented for two years after I started. That was a long and frustrating period in which we were trying to essentially subvert the system in order to put in a change. When the reorganization suddenly became a reality, those of us who had been working on it were clearly ahead of other people – and that became both a benefit and a real problem.

We have a relatively new dean (he started July 2015), and I became the new Associate Dean for our public-facing library units on Thursday. The dean and AD before us were highly change-averse, which percolated throughout the organization to the point where once something was written down (this was hard; there was a culture in which any one person could put the kibosh on any project, no matter how tangential it was to their work) it was fixed. And new people were strongly acculturated to avoid risk, change, or trying anything new. My response, when I came in July 2013, was to encourage change within my local department in a way that insulated them from the rest of the organization. It became our culture – and our department was one of the stronger ones when the reorganization came to be. So, I’m not sure how to answer the question of how we sustain change – because I don’t know!


Step 2. Hold an on-line Conversation

Fishbowl notes (Group 4: Daihim, Justin, Erica, Richard, and Teddi)

  • Justin – ODL as a boundary object – p19 CoPs that bridge institutional boundaries. See this in his department changing from LMS support to pedagogical support.
  • Erica – p13, learning as participation caught in the middle. learning as transformative. Our orgs are learning-centric, so we have to be aware of this role when putting into place an innovation.
  • Teddi – In an educational unit within a for-profit institution. Some changes come from the top-down, other times they come from partners and move up. p52-53 – negotiate anew over and over again.
  • Daihim – Lack of or inappropriate prerequisites – change in the honors program ripples throughout lots of different areas. Agree with Erica that these things have to be considered before implementation. p218 – combination of coordination and alignment. Have to make sure all people affected are aligned and in agreement.
  • Richard – Yes, C0Ps matter! p175 – engagement can also be narrow…CoP can become an obstacle. Agree with this – get so used to what practice is that you don’t see other options.
  • Justin – p228 potential communities of practice. Lots of change and evolution over last few years at his institution. Concern over how to select the right people for a new community.
  • Erica – p261 privileging of certain perspectives is limiting. Don’t want to be so geared to one perspective that you get stuck. Trying to expand participation to be more diverse. Look at representation broadly & extend invitations to expand perspectives.
  • Daihim – On his campus, committees are required to have representation from specific areas. But you get the same heavily involved people on all of these committees! These people get all the power and voice – as opposed to those who aren’t involved.
  • Richard – p77 rebellion can be a form of participation. At his institution, rebellion pushes change.
  • Erica – Johnson’s liquid network & breakthroughs at the conference table. People have to show up and voice an opinion to have this happen.
  • Teddi – tend to get bogged down in reification (manuals etc). 293 – in the end it is practice that produces results. Policies support but don’t replace practice.
  • Erica – Johnson’s slow hunch – the first idea isn’t always the last one, sometimes you need addition of more ideas to make a change.
  • Daihim – trying to get students to reidentify themselves. p293 – learning as change in identity. Also is seeing a change in himself and his identity – have to learn these things first before he can ask the students to learn/change too. (ok, that’s just cool).

Thoughts on the fishbowl:

I find it really interesting that this group drew from completely different quotations (and sections) of the Wenger text than I did, but ended up thinking about some similar things. In particular, this question of who is in the Community of Practice as a strong driver of the availability of change as a process as well as of specific directions those changes might lead is something I was trying to consider in my own selections as well as my workplace reflections. With CoPs that are based in hierarchical units (such as my department – which does include several additional people not counted above who are members but not members) you don’t always get to choose who is part of the community. However, with things like the community of librarians interested in transfer students, there is the ability to choose to include or exclude people. I really like the focus that the group took on thinking about diversity, alternative viewpoints, whether this is inherently tied to newness (Wenger would say no), and the role of dissension or rebellion.

Step 3. Determine your Leadership Challenge/new leadership challenge

As noted above, next week I am attending the biennial Association of College & Research Libraries conference in Baltimore. As I look at the session topics, I am pulling out ones that specifically discuss change and change management in libraries, as a way to get more insights into how other places have experienced this question in their contexts.

Step 4. Implement and Reflect

Module 9 LdC – Reported in the next report.


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