Friday, January 6, 2012

Episode 32: Critical skills and strategy

*(Not actually episode 2, as Jason says at the beginning and end of the episode for some reason)

Audio note: Rachel's wifi dropped in and out a bit. We think that nothing important was said during the brief pauses! Also, the recording quality improves after the first five minutes or so, so if the audio sounds muddy at first, stick with it.

Download the podcast (mp3, ~48 minutes)

Rachel's upcoming new gig

Show Notes:


      1. Hi Jason, Rachel and Anna,

        First, I want to thank you for the effort you put into your podcast. I look forward to the monthly updates and love that you are not scripted! Anyway, this month's podcast really struck a chord with me. Rachel, I've been trying to figure out how to introduce more critical thinking skills for a long time now and I applaud the three of you and your great ideas in the podcast.

        In my experience, the teaching of critical thinking needs to be scaffolded over time. When I think back to my own college experience (pre-Internet) it was a gradual awakening to finally figure out that maybe I can add to the conversation within my paper with my own ideas. Too often I encounter students who want the articles they find to give them the answer they need in 1-5 sentences in a succinct manner. I am constantly reminding them that after they actually find the relevant article they need to synthesize it and relate it back to their topic--in their own words.

        Recently, I gave a oneshot to a litcrit class on the basics of book and database searching. The instructor gave them a very tough assignment and they had a hard time finding anything. Some of them came to me for help and I taught them how to delve into the TOCs of books and how to do advanced searching in the DBs and Google. They still didn't understand how something that was only slightly related (by the title) might actually help them. It wasn't until the third visit by 3 of these students that they finally understood that THEY had to read the material and make the connection to their thesis in their own words and with their own ideas. So, I don't think it can be done in a one hour workshop (sorry Rachel!) After I give my oneshots, I offer the students to come to the reference desk when I'm on duty or to contact me via email. I have started creating LibGuides for some of the oneshots and that has broken down some or the librarian/student barriers as well. They need time to develop these skills as I have seen through the litcrit class. Those that want to give the extra effort will find me and get the extra attention.

        Anyway, that's my two cents. Keep up the great work. I love listening to your podcasts during my treadmill workouts!

        Maryanne Mills
        Instruction Librarian
        West Valley College
        Saratoga, CA

      2. Maryanne, thanks so much for your wonderful comments!

        I really love the point you make about students not realizing what exactly they should be doing with these wonderful articles and bits of information that they find - yet another thing I gloss over, but completely changes how students approach the information-gathering stage of research.

        I always go back and forth as to whether creating a course-specific LibGuide is good (personalization! direct contact to the librarian!) or bad (it doesn't teach them how to navigate the web site or choose resources for other classes), but anything that reduces barriers sounds like a positive.

        Thanks for giving me some (more) things to think about!

      3. Rachel -- I just did a presentation about Libuides, and I have some thoughts and research about that very question!

        Let's read Maryanne's comment on next month's episode and talk about all this.

      4. It was challenging to listen to this month's podcast. I kept wondering how I would phrase some of the situations related in the podcast. It struck me that every competent librarian's own approach plays a small roll in the overall building of a student's critical thinking. We look for immediate metrics that allow feedback so we can judge how effective our teaching is. We need to be aware that a measurable difference probably occurs over the course of semesters rather than 50 minute classes. Librarians should be confident that what we teach is usable down the road. Maryanne's experience with the student who had the a-ha moment well after the library instruction class shows that the road to critical thinking is long and often requires mistakes so we may learn from them.

        My database analogy focuses on orange juice (I work at SUNY Orange). There are many brands and each brand has a variety of pulpiness and added nutrients. I can get "orangey" goodness from any brand but if I want specific added value I need to select the right variety.

        Andy Heiz
        Electronic Services Librarian
        Orange County Community College

      5. When I was listening, I thought of a (perhaps time consuming) way to present the issue of effective keywords: ask students to imagine that they had written an article. How would they expect someone to search for it and find it? They'd have to assign subject terms. This strategy makes the student consider the issue from a different angle that might be impactful. Or: hand out some random short articles to groups and have them jot down what they agree to be the main subject terms.

        Julie Cornett
        Librarian, Instructor
        Cerro Coso Community College

      6. I like that idea (and I'm curious to see how well they can think like a researcher). I was definitely trying to get this idea across during a class yesterday, and showed them the author-supplied keywords, which would fit into the lesson quite nicely!