Experiments with a 3-credit Research Course

This semester I seized on an opportunity to teach a new, 3-credit course in our Honors Program. It’s called Quest for Answers: Intro to Research, and I joined two other adjunct professors to design the syllabus. Since the status of librarians is always a hot topic, I should say that I’m teaching this class as an adjunct, hired by the Honors Program. Librarians do not have faculty status at Tulane, and the library cannot offer its own credit-bearing courses. However, my department saw the value in my contributing to this new course, and I have their permission and blessing to work on this in addition to my daily responsibilities.

I don’t think my teaching comrades would argue with me that the course content is mostly my doing;  many of the concepts we’ll discuss and work with in class are at the heart of information literacy in higher ed. It’s also worth noting that the course is interdisciplinary, and is meant to serve students from across the liberal arts and sciences.

This blog has been a bit dormant lately, so this seems like a good venue in which to reflect upon the course as it unfolds. I’ve also been asked to share my syllabus, which I’m happy to do, and this seems like an efficient way to disseminate it.

So please find attached my syllabus for COLQ 2010, the honors colloquium course I’m teaching this fall:


Teaching with Primary Sources and the Library of Congress

A few weeks ago librarians converged upon Philadelphia, PA for the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter conference. It was great to reconnect with colleagues from around the country, I made good progress on my committee work, and I was able to attend some interesting discussion groups.

Another highlight for me came from the Library of Congress, which had a booth in the vender area and hosted a series of short presentations throughout each day. This is where I met Cheryl Lederle-Ensign, Educational Resource Specialist at the LOC, and attended her presentation, “Layer After Layer of Awesome”: The Teaching with Primary Sources Program.  In addition to digitizing a wealth of historical documents and images for easy online access, the good folks at the LOC also want to support teachers in using these online resources. Cheryl and her colleagues have curated digital collections into themes, written lesson plans and teaching aids, and also sponsor professional development for elementary and secondary teachers.

I introduced myself to Cheryl before the presentation began, and her enthusiasm was infectious; she was so pleased I had arrived specifically for her talk. Several school librarians were also in attendance, and while they had plenty of questions during the session, I remained quiet and took notes. At the end, as the others gathered their things to leave, Cheryl thanked me for sitting through the whole presentation, perhaps thinking I wasn’t her target audience but had been too polite to leave early.

On the contrary, I insisted. The wealth of materials the Library of Congress has assembled to help elementary and secondary teachers integrate primary sources into their teaching are based on the same pedagogical scholarship and goals that informs my current efforts with undergraduate history students. Freshmen and sophomores are not so different from high school juniors and seniors, and university professors who assume their undergraduates already know how to analyze and incorporate primary sources in their writing are likely to be disappointed with the results.  Cheryl and I chatted about pedagogy in history teaching, and I learned that much of the LOC’s education outreach is built on the scholarship of Sam Wineburg and his colleagues; Wineburg’s Stanford History Education Group is also a member of the LOC’s Teaching with Primary Sources Consortium. Cheryl was very interested to hear about my experiments in library instruction in our new history methods course, and was glad to hear that my teaching methods are also based on Wineburg’s pedagogy.

Cheryl and I agreed that the responsibility for teaching students to analyze and think critically about historical documents, images, and artifacts belongs to educators at all levels. The Teacher Resources that Cheryl and her colleagues have assembled, while marketed to K-12 teachers, provide us all with valuable pedagogical support for that mission. Librarians and archivists in higher education should engage with the teaching materials that accompany the Library of Congress’s online collections, and work to incorporate not just the collections, but also the pedagogical theory and practice of teaching with primary sources in our work with students and faculty.

Government Shutdown Reference Help

As the federal government shutdown drags on, students and faculty members are beginning to notice. Valuable government information resources needed for their homework assignments and research projects and made available on those beloved .gov’s are now “.gone.”  All or parts of the websites of the Library of Congress, the U.S. Census Bureau, and other handy government agencies have been furloughed along with their human counterparts. Many are still available, but without any new content, and somewhat amusingly, the federal government is providing online information about the shutdown itself, and how it impacts services: http://www.usa.gov/shutdown.shtml.

On my campus, a history instructor has already received the excuse, “I went to view the images assigned for class, but the Library of Congress website is closed due to the shutdown.”  A case of Congress ate my homework, perhaps.  And in an editorial in the campus newspaper, the Hullabaloo, a student lamented the lack of access to valuable government information online.  I should point out that the examples the editorial writer gives are not, in fact, victim to the shutdown, but he’s got the right idea. The shutdown is affecting the flow of information.

This sounds like a job for a librarian!

In an attempt at rapid response, and to help my users get the information they need, I’m putting together a Government Shutdown LibGuide to start to fill the void. My colleagues and I have circulated the link via our library’s social media accounts, and I plan to draft a letter to the editors of the Hullabaloo directing students and faculty to library resources that can help.  It’s worth noting that some subscription services have offered free access to their government document databases during the shutdown: EBSCO is providing free access to their version of ERIC, the Department of Education’s research database, and the folks at Social Explorer are opening access to their great census data tools.

Most students may not realize that libraries, especially the federal depository libraries, often have government information in print and electronic formats independent of actual government websites.  It’s our job to inform our users of these valuable resources, and prove our value even when the federal government itself has failed them.


Sociological Images Course Guides

In addition to sharing my own lesson plans and teaching experiences, Library Instruction Lagniappe seems like a good place to share links to other instruction resources I find.  So while I’m working on my next post, here’s an online resource you might find useful:

SocImages Course Guides.

If you’re not familiar with it, Sociological Images is a great site whose authors use imagery as a starting point for analysis and discussion of sociological issues.  It’s great reading in its own right, but also a great resource for classroom instructors.  The Course Guides are an effort to compile posts into categories typical of course offerings in sociology, and thereby help sociology faculty in adopting them in their teaching.

Librarians will find these useful as well.  When looking for new ways to engage my social sciences students in the research process, I often look to what kinds of hands-on instruction the faculty are using in their classrooms.  The journal Teaching Sociology is another great resource for this, and was extremely useful while designing the content analysis lesson plan described in my last post.  The authors of SocImages and Teaching Sociology are sociologists, so naturally they take the disciplinary content–sociological theory, topics, and methodology–as their starting point.  When I read these, I try to look past the content itself and think about the research skills students need to fully grasp the lesson, the library collections that could be used to pull it off, and the assumptions faculty (subject experts) might make about what their students (subject novices) already know.  With that in mind, I try to provide the materials and pedagogical support to make teaching and learning as successful as possible for students and instructors alike.

Speaking of experts and novices, that’s what I’m working on for the next post, so stay tuned for some thoughts on pedagogy.