I have authored a new post that is part of a larger ongoing series I’m composing and researching for DMLCentral. In this second post, I do some additional foregrounding of inquiry and reflection that will inform research and exploration of how this concept plays out in different kinds of libraries and communities. These concepts and the fieldwork I hope to do resonate deeply for me, and I hope they will for you, too.
I’m delighted to share that I have joined the blog team at DMLcentral-–I’m humbled and honored to write and think in this learning space as so many people who are part of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub have inspired my work and pushed the boundaries of my thinking. My first post, “Literacies and Fallacies“, is now up if you would like to read the first of what will be a series. If DMLcentral is not already one of the resources in your learning network, I hope you’ll consider adding this collaborative blog and curated collection of free and open resources that will offer you multiple perspectives, research, and and provocative ideas to contextualize your thinking about learning environments, ecosystems, and the dynamics that inform them.
“Connected learning is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success, or civic engagement.”
from Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design
For the last month or so, I’ve been dwelling in Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design, a research synthesis report that outlines the research and findings of the Connected Learning Research Network, a group chaired by Dr. Mimi Ito. In addition to the report, I’ve enjoyed the series of recent webinars centered around the report:
- The Essence of Connected Learning Environments
- Effective Mentorship Through Shared Purpose
- The Realities of Youth and Peer Culture: Balancing Learning Opportunities and Risks
- Connected Learning As Pathway to Equity & Opportunity
- Assessing Connected Learning Outcomes (of all the excellent webinars, this is the one that provided a powerful push in my thinking and resonated most deeply with me)
Supplementary readings have also informed my understanding of this report:
- What’s All the Fuss About Connected Learning, Dr. Henry Jenkins
- Connected Learning and the Unclear Road to Equity, Justin Reich
- Connected Learning: Interdisciplinary Researchers Recommend Core Changes, Dr. Mimi Ito
- Connected Learning: An Agenda for Social Change, Dr. Mimi Ito (an especially powerful primer to the report)
- National Writing Project Connected Learning Inquiry Group
- The Connected Learning Google Plus Community
- Connected Learning videos at the DML Research Hub YouTube Channel
In “Connected Learning: An Agenda for Social Change”, Dr. Ito asserts that connected learning:
“…is not about any particular platform, technology, or teaching technique, like blended learning or the flipped classroom or Khan Academy or massive open online courses. It’s agnostic about the method and content area. Instead, it’s about asking what is the optimal experience for each learner and for a high-functioning learning community?”
In the Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design report, the authors describe connected learning as a design model:
“Our approach draws on sociocultural learning theory in valuing learning that is embedded within meaningful practices and supportive relationships, and that recognizes diverse pathways and forms of knowledge and expertise. Our design model builds on this approach by focusing on supports and mechanisms for building environments that connect learning across the spheres of interests, peer culture, and academic life. We propose a set of design features that help build shared purpose, opportunities for production, and openly networked resources and infrastructure” (5).
I’ve recreated this visualization embedded in the report to provide another way of looking at connected learning and thinking about how this model seeks to “knit” together the contexts of peer-supported, interest powered, and academically oriented for learning (12):
I’m still coding and organizing my notes from the report as I try to pull out the big takeaways for me, but as I review these notes and the ones I took from the webinar on assessing connected learning outcomes last week, I’m thinking about this first wave of big ideas and questions:
- How do libraries develop learning agendas that are aligned with agendas for social change in their community? How do the two inform each other?
- How can libraries embrace this approach to designing learning environments to help us move from “nice to necessary?”, a question that was posed at ALA Midwinter in 2013, and that I’m attempting to flesh out in my work here as a Learning Strategist at Cleveland Public Library (and that I hope to share with you later this year).
- How do we create learning environments and experiences as well as relationships with those we serve to move beyond the initial “sweet spot” of attachment to building a deeper level of engagement? How do we as librarians (with the help of our community) design learning environments that provide diverse entry points and access for people to form communities of learning where they can create more nuanced narratives of learning as they create, share, and connect with others? How do we design learning spaces and experiences that create more “pathways to opportunity” and participation?
- How might libraries of all kinds serve as an “open network” that is a medium and a mentor to helping people connect and move more meaningfully across multiple learning spaces and spheres within their local community as well as a larger and more global community of learners? Kris Gutierrez’s metaphor of “learning as movement” across many kinds of contexts has spurred this thinking.
- Kris Gutierrez and Bill Penuel discussed concepts of horizontal learning and boundary crossing in their webinar and explored the question of how do we help people leverage the practices, disposition, and expertises honed in one learning space to another to go deeper with that learning and expand the possibilities for action and participation. How do libraries support communities of learning in engaging in this boundary crossing and engaging in horizontal learning to build greater personal as well as civic capacity?
- Both Gutierrez and Penuel emphasized the need to further contemplate and explore individual and collective assessment of these practices. In the words of Dr. Gutierrez, “What tools, dispositions, practices, forms of expertises TRAVEL and how do we know it when we see it?” I’m also thinking about how we frame formative and summative assessments as touchpoints for learning.
- How can librarians help people take deep “vertical knowledge” in a specific content area and apply it across multiple learning contexts and spaces? This question relates to horizontal learning and boundary crossing. I like to think of these concepts as cross-pollination of ideas and learning.
- How do more effectively build vocabulary for this kind of learning in our learning communities?
- How do we more effectively thread and address issues of equity across our instructional design and assessment processes?
- How do libraries cultivate deeper and more meaningful partnerships and connections with other institutions of learning in their communities for more strategic impact?
- How do we as librarians facilitate the creation of sustained networks to help people make connections between social, academic, and interest driven learning? ( see page pp.46-47 in the report for more on this question)
As you can see, these learning and design principles as well as the findings and concerns shared in the report have saturated my thinking. As I make additional readings and passes through my notes from the report, I will continue to take an inquiry stance to further unpack the concepts and language embedded in this work. I’ll also revisit the case studies included in the report to further develop ideas on what this work could look like in practice in different library settings. In addition, I will carve out more time to listen as well as contribute to conversations about connected learning in the NWP study group as well as the Connected Learning Google Plus group.
You may have noticed the sparse number of blog posts so far in 2011—the relative degree of “quiet” here on the blog is in contrast to the buzz of activity happening offline.
Writing, Thinking, Reflecting
Some exciting writing endeavors have occupied a good bit of my creative energies and time outside of the school day over the last three or four weeks; I’ll be sharing more about these efforts closer to publication times later this spring. While the writing process is sometimes quite stressful, it also leads to intense and thoughtful reflection; in some cases, the discovery of new resources to better inform current and future practice/projects.
The Unquiet Library Is Decidedly Unquiet: Projects
The school day and beyond have been jam-packed with a multitude of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors engaging in their late winter research projects (folklore, American authors, archetypes and popular culture, current/hot events, needs/causes and service organizations that work to address these needs on a local, state, or national level) through their English courses. I’ve also been working with science teacher Mary Panik on a unit about natural disasters, which included students creating a wiki for their research findings as well as a Skype session with a research vessel off the coast of New Zealand. In addition, I’ve worked with Criminal Justice studies teacher Jason Hubbard and his students to research natural or man-made disasters and lessons learned from those events; I’ll be posting student created “presentation zen” style slidedecks to the pathfinder later this month once presentations are completed. One of my favorite collaborative efforts from the last few weeks is a research project Susan Lester and her seniors are engaged in about the role of social media in recent political uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, and Iran. I’m looking forward to reviewing with the teachers what they felt worked well and suggestions for tweaking these research assignments later this month as we try to improve the effectiveness of our collaborative efforts.
Observations, Questions, Worries, Action Steps, Goals Evolving So Far in 2011
- Providing students scaffolding with tools like graphic organizers and “checkpoints” of research tasks to complete is essential, especially for underclassmen who may be coming to us with limited prior research experiences.
- I need to provide tools for to our teachers to better pre-assess student prior knowledge about research skills before beginning a research project so that we can better target those skills as part of our focus on process.
- I’m thinking about resources and strategies for improving nonfiction reading skills (periodicals, nonfiction books, essays in book chapters or databases, reference articles) for students. While some students show great skill in identifying supportive details or evidence to develop a main idea, many need additional assistance in this area. Even though some of the teachers did targeted practice in which they modeled and had students practice these skills with these types of texts, many students need additional yet authentic practice with these kinds of reading skills and nonfiction texts. Nonfiction Matters by Stephanie Harvey (great for any age, really), Strategies That Work: Teaching Comprehension for Understanding and Engagement by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis, and Subjects Matter: Every Teacher’s Guide to Content-Area Reading by Harvey Daniels and Steven Zemelman are three resources that come to mind; what others resources (print or virtual) would you suggest?
- How do we more effectively engage students who seemingly do not want help or choose not to use class/library time work on their projects in spite of multiple efforts from teachers and librarians to support their work and learning needs? Whether it is a traditional text-based paper, a wiki-based project involving choice, or even a multimedia project, I’ve observed an increasing number of students this year who seem resistant to taking advantage of class time to work on a project.
- How do create more inquiry-oriented research assignments without overwhelming struggling learners with both content and process?
- I continue to struggle with feelings about citation processes—our students are definitely making strides in differentiating information sources, both print and virtual, this year, and NoodleTools has been instrumental in that process. However, in order to better meet students at their point of need, I have started creating “information organizer” handouts for assorted information sources to help students jot down the essential publication information they will need for citing the source. In the past, I have balked at using these kind of paper handouts and felt that it was more efficient and effective for students to enter the bibliographic information as they worked through the NoodleTools wizard. However, I’ve changed my stance and realized that for many students, particularly those with limited research experience, this extra layer of scaffolding makes the process of using the NoodleTools less stressful and tedious. While I’ve always provided print and virtual copies of directions for citing sources, I’m now using these “publication information organizers” to help students record the bibliographic information in the order they will need it for the NoodleTools citation. I’m still in the process of uploading handouts and tutorial videos I have previously created or recently created to this new NoodleTools portal (in the past, this was included as a separate tab or page in individual research guides), but you can see the beginnings of this new citation help portal here. The most difficult source for students to cite is Gale Literature Resource Center simply because there are so many possible combinations of possible information sources, particularly those with 2-3 layers of publication information–I am hopeful that some new updates to NoodleTools this summer will help us work through some of the more complex citation challenges.
For next year, I will work with department heads to devise a formal list of information literacy/research/inquiry skills each student should be able to successfully demonstrate at the end of each grade level so that we can have better consistency in the skills we are targeting since our state and district curriculum do not provide a comprehensive or sequential list of benchmarks. We’ll also include options for formative and summative assessments that both teachers and students can use for demonstrating mastery of these skills. I also hope to get more teachers to include reflective pieces in research projects for student metacognition, particularly when thinking about what they have learned from the research experience and to more effectively articulate information source evaluation with more purpose and thought. While some teachers are already working on this skill with me through blogging, annotated bibliographies, or information source interviews we’re doing with students, I think this aspect needs to be more commonplace in all research assignments across every subject area. Finally, I think some teachers are now more receptive to my encouraging them to consider incorporating more frequent but smaller formal research assignments into their courses throughout the school year to better support student learning while tackling some of the challenges I’ve identified in this post.
Looking Ahead to 2011-2012: Shift Is Happening Now
As if all of these observations, action steps, questions, and goals aren’t enough to think about, I have been working with a team of teachers to propose some shifts in our library program and how the library supports teaching, learning, and student achievement at Creekview High. I’ll be blogging later this week about this new initiative that has our administrative support and that I believe is going to help The Unquiet Library take a huge leap forward in better supporting both teachers and students in 2011-12. Not only I am thrilled about the new initiative we’ll be officially launching in August 2011 (although the groundwork is already in progress), but the teachers are equally excited and passionate about this new initiative as well—that in and of itself is energizing! I look forward to sharing the details of this new initiative with all of you on the blog later this week.
A must read for librarians and teachers is the latest report from Project Information Literacy at The University of Washington, “Truth Be Told: How College Students Evaluate and Use Information in the Digital Age.” The paper abstract describes the study:
A report about college students and their information-seeking strategies and research difficulties, including findings from 8,353 survey respondents from college students on 25 campuses distributed across the U.S. in spring of 2010, as part of Project Information Literacy. Respondents reported taking little at face value and were frequent evaluators of Web and library sources used for course work, and to a lesser extent, of Web content for personal use. Most respondents turned to friends and family when asking for help with evaluating information for personal use and instructors when evaluating information for course research. Respondents reported using a repertoire of research techniques—mostly for writing papers—for completing one research assignment to the next, though few respondents reported using Web 2.0 applications for collaborating on assignments. Even though most respondents considered themselves adept at finding and evaluating information, especially when it was retrieved from the Web, students reported difficulties getting started with research assignments and determining the nature and scope of what was required of them. Overall, the findings suggest students use an information-seeking and research strategy driven by efficiency and predictability for managing and controlling all of the information available to them on college campuses, though conducting comprehensive research and learning something new is important to most, along with passing the course and the grade received. Recommendations are included for how campus-wide stakeholders—faculty, librarians, and higher education administrators—can work together to help inform pedagogies for a new century.
Dr. Alison J. Head and Dr. Michael B. Eisenberg identify the seven major findings of this study:
1. Students in the sample took little at face value and reported they were frequent evaluators of information culled from the Web and to a lesser extent, the campus library. More often than anything else, respondents considered whether information was up-todate and current when evaluating Web content (77%) and library materials (67%) for course work.
2. Evaluating information was often a collaborative process—almost two-thirds of the respondents (61%) reportedly turned to friends and/or family members when they needed help and advice with sorting through and evaluating information for personal use. Nearly half of the students in the sample (49%) frequently asked instructors for assistance with assessing the quality of sources for course work—far fewer asked librarians (11%) for assistance.
3. The majority of the sample used routines for completing one research assignment to the next, including writing a thesis statement (58%), adding personal perspective to papers (55%), and developing a working outline (51%). Many techniques were learned in high school and ported to college, according to students we interviewed.
4. Despite their reputation of being avid computer users who are fluent with new technologies, few students in our sample had used a growing number of Web 2.0 applications within the past six months for collaborating on course research assignments and/or managing research tasks.
5. For over three-fourths (84%) of the students surveyed, the most difficult step of the course-related research process was getting started. Defining a topic (66%), narrowing it down (62%), and filtering through irrelevant results (61%) frequently hampered students in the sample, too. Follow-up interviews suggest students lacked the research acumen for framing an inquiry in the digital age where information abounds and intellectual discovery was paradoxically overwhelming for them.
6. Comparatively, students reported having far fewer problems finding information for personal use, though sorting through results for solving an information problem in their daily lives hamstrung more than a third of the students in the sample (41%).
7. Unsurprisingly, what mattered most to students while they were working on courserelated research assignments was passing the course (99%), finishing the assignment (97%), and getting a good grade (97%). Yet, three-quarters of the sample also reported they considered carrying out comprehensive research of a topic (78%) and learning something new (78%) of importance to them, too.
I plan to study this report in more depth during my week-long Thanksgiving vacation, but I think finding #4 speaks to what we have been trying to do with the Media 21 project. Overall, it looks like academic libraries are facing some of the same challenges we are in K12 schools in trying to build collaborative partnerships to provide a more authentic and integrated approach to positing research as a tool for learning rather than an isolated event that seems to lack relevance for students. I’m also thinking it would be meaningful and insightful to replicate this study at the high school level and compare findings. I’ll blog more about my reflections on this project post-Thanksgiving holidays, but in the meantime, take a look at the report and share your reactions/reflections.
You can see other reports and work from Project Information Literacy by the link beneath the screenshot: