April 19th Provisions Session Summary: “Teaching Information Literacy in the Age of Google”

**The access the audio recording from the session, click here!**

Our last Provisions session of the Spring Semester explored the theme of” Teaching Information in the Age of Google.” Presenters shared previous experience with teaching courses dealing with literacy, and effective strategies for improving success for a diverse range of college students. An audience of approximately 35 faculty and staff members attended to hear presentations from Steve Black, LibrarianCailin Brown, Department of Communications, and a joint presentation from Elizabeth Yanoff, Department of Teacher Education and Mary Lindner, Librarian. 

Steve Black from the Library kick started the session by presenting on “Information Literacy: An evolving perspective.” Steve first provided the audience with an overview of the new definition, standards, and framework for the evolving category of “Information Literacy.” Information literacy can be defined as “a cluster of interconnected core concepts, with flexible options for implementation, rather than a set of standards or learning outcomes, or any prescriptive enumeration of skills.” This new definition of information literacy is brand new, as it was just recently adopted in January. Steve stated that following the evolving definition, information literacy is now more difficult to assess in practice. Included in the new framework for information literacy are:

  • Threshold concepts, which are like “aha moments”
  • Authority, which is considered both constructed and contextual, as opposed to strictly peer reviewed articles
  • Information creation is a process and has value
  • Research should be inquiry based
  • Scholarship as conversation, meaning that students should contribute to the knowledge conversation
  • Searching as strategic exploration

Next to present was Cailin Brown from the Department of Communications. Cailin started off by explaining how she introduces the concept of journalism to her students. She discusses the elements of journalism and then asks her students, “why journalism?” Throughout the course, Cailin will take her students on a walk around the neighborhood, which allows them “to get up and get looking.” For the fall semester, she will take the students early on in the course, and for the spring semester this will happen towards the end (due to weather conditions). Exploring the surrounding neighborhood allows her students the opportunity to make connections between the college and community. In opposition of the “stranger danger” rule, Cailin encourages her students to strike conversation with strangers. Cailin stated that by simply asking one question, you can learn an abundance about an individual, as people are very willing to share information when asked. In addition to community experience, Cailin exposes her students to the legal aspect of journalism by working closely with a local lawyer, Bob Freeman. Bob Freeman assists Cailin in teaching her class how to access public information, such as fire records. In ending her presentation, Cailin shared these two examples of her students’ journalism work that is published on The Pine Hills Blog:

Cailin also shared the website, The Committee on Open Government, which provides additional  information on the freedom of information.

Lastly, Elizabeth Yanoff from the Department of Teacher Education and Mary Lindner from the Library presented on three different ways of examining information literacy. Elizabeth and Mary reiterated the new standards of information literacy, but focused on content area reading, disciplinary literacy, and new literacies.

1. Content area reading refers to before, during, and after processes of reading comprehension.  For this type of reading, K-12 educators typically use KWL charts, which allow the students to reflect on what they already know, what they want to know, and what they learn from the particular reading. For the ECE 230 course at the college, Elizabeth discussed how she requires her students to review and edit their writing. This process encourages her students to locate their topic sentences, reflect on how their ideas were developed, and create an appropriate conclusion. 

2. Disciplinary literacy focuses on skills that are discipline specific and inquiry based. Work in a specific discipline is able to be contextualized. Educators of a discipline are able to view writing as an objective and have specific skills that allow them to excel in their discipline. Educators must be aware that their speciality allows them to view literacy with a discipline specific lens.

3. New literacies refers to the new age of digital literacy. Mary spoke about the research that Donald Leu and his colleagues have done regarding the digital age. Leu and his colleagues found that researching information should be treated like problem-solving. This means that students should identify important questions, locate relevant information, critically evaluate information, synthesize the information, communicate effectively, and monitor/evaluate along the way. Florida Memory is an online platform where students can explore specific skills needed for online learning, such as audio and video. Mary and Elizabeth spoke about how this online resource shows students how to access information, how to narrow results, and how to navigate online websites. Other online resources that are utilized for information literacy include Wimba and ZOOM (which were mentioned in the previous session, “Teaching Online.”Elizabeth shared a recent example of how she utilized technology as an online learning platform when class was cancelled due to the snow conditions. For the missing class, Elizabeth required her students to complete an online WIKI, post on Pinterest, engage in an online discussion, and post on the blog.

Following the brief presentations, the floor was opened up for discussion and questions from the audience. Here are a few points and observations that arose from the discussion:

  • There are an infinite number of stories to be written in journalism
  • There are connections across the themes of this session and the previous session about online learning
  • Suggestions to support learners across disciplines include:
    • Making more connections across work together as professors
    • All writing includes literacy skills, therefore all should teach information literacy
    • Professors should improve their communication and collaboration
    • Use the same “language” and ideas in all disciplines
  • Students are novices in their discipline and need to be taught how to prioritize information
    • Professors need to remember what it was like to be a novice, and be aware of how that can influence their work
  • How can we get support across discipline incorporated into the Liberal Education program?
  • How to get students from point A to point B?
    • Disperse information throughout the curriculum
  • How to encourage student inquiry but maintain boundaries?
    • This is a constant balancing act

March 22nd Provisions Session Summary: “Teaching Online”

To access the audio recording of the session, click here.

Our second Provisions session of the Spring Semester explored the theme of” Teaching Online.” Presenters shared previous experience with teaching courses online, and effective strategies for improving success for a diverse range of students. An audience of approximately 30 faculty and staff members attended to hear presentations from Lily Shafer, Instructional DesignerSilvia Mejia, Department of World Languages and Cultures & Associate Professor of Spanish, and Daniel Nester, Associate Professor of English.

Lily Shafer, Instructional Designer, started off the session by emphazizing that the most important aspect of an online learning environment is the interactivity. There needs to be a balanced amount of teacher-student interaction. To be successful, online courses need a strong sense of instructor presence. Lily recommends that teachers should only give an opinion at the end of a discussion or to intervene to steer the discussion in a different direction. If a teacher intervenes early on, students will be less likely to challenge or have a different opinion on that particular concept. Lily also recommends that instructors deliver feedback as an accumulation of the whole class’ misconceptions and concepts that were understood well, in order to avoid singling out one student. A diverse set of online tools that are currently available for professors to access for their online courses are:

  • Discussion boards are a great, interactive tool on BlackBoard for:
    • Ice-breaker activities
    • Scavenger hunts
    • Debates
    • Peer evaluations
    • FAQ and Q&A pages
    • Creating an informal student community
  • Blogs are great online resources to share:
    • Research reports
    • Group projects
    • Writing assignments
    • Long-term status updates
  • Journals are great ways to maintain individual student-professor commnitcation because they allow students to:
    • Share private issues/problems
    • Reflect on their learning process
    • Express any concerns regarding the course work
    • Gain one-on-one feedback from the professor
  • Wiki’s are a useful tool for creating a collaborative space for students to share information, as well as giving students the opportunity to work together in a digital environment. Wiki’s can be used for many things, such as:
    • Group projects
    • A glossary of course terms
    • Peer evaluations
  • Voice threads are a great tool for building an online community
  • ZOOM– creates a face-face online conversation by including each student in the class using webcams

Second in line to present was Daniel Nester, Associate Professor of English, on “Building Online Community: Teaching Poetry In Performance Using WordPress, Facebook, Dropbox, and SoundCloud.” Dan teaches the English 218 course: Oral Interpretation of Literature. For this class, students are required to record their poetry performances and upload them to various media sites, such as SoundCloud, WordPress, Facebook, Dropbox, and YouTube. Dan also discussed how he uses many other “online features” for his course, such as video lectures, a teaching blog, a “secret” Facebook page only for his students, and GoogleDocs. Dan’s course teaching blog has a collection of course materials for his students to access, including the course syllabus and class tutorials.  In addition, his students are required to perform to a live audience at “Poetry Slams.” In preparation for live performances, students are in charge of publicity using a setup crew. The setup crews are in charge of creating flyers,  taking photos of the events, and creating Biographies of the performers. A final online tool that Dan uses for his course is Odyssey. Odyssey allows his students to freely write about their experiences in his class, experiences of their performances, and overall experience with the course material.

Lastly, Silvia Mejia, Department of World Languages and Cultures & Associate Professor of Spanish, shared her experience with teaching a hybrid class-Spanish 203: Memory and Culture. Silvia described that she was reluctant in the beginning to be teaching a hybrid course. However, now she believes that the hybrid format is very beneficial for her students, and it also produces much less stress for herself and her students. For her course, Silvia uses a “flipped classroom” approach, meaning that students are required to complete tutorials and practice at home, and class time is used for discussion and interactive activities. Silvia assigns her students tutorials on the content, which allow her students to watch as many times as needed. If she were to explain the same thing in class multiple times, it could be redundant for some and take too much class time. Having to learn the material at home allows students to learn at their own leisure and pace. This then leaves more class time for Silvia to clear up misconceptions and allows students to practice their communication skills with their peers. Silvia believes that the in class interaction of conversation and communication is the most valuable part of the hybrid course. Silvia shared the instructions for one assignment, in which her students must use the vocabulary (clothing, shopping and daily routines) that they have learned in a creative and meaningful way by producing a video. Silvia recommends for her students to use Wevideo, however they are free use another one if they prefer to do so.

Following the brief presentations, the floor was opened up for discussion and questions from the audience. Here are a few points and observations that arose from the discussion:

  • Blogs are a useful resource for expressing opinions, sharing introductions to research papers, and for competition in the workplace.
  • Grading online…should there be a grade assigned to all work?
    • Most thought yes, every assignment should count for a grade.
  • The majority of students are very comfortable with online learning, and at times are more knowledgable of additional online resources to use.
  • Do students need to be self-regulatory to be successful in an online class?
    • Yes, self-regulation is necessary for success.
  • Online assignments should have very clear and specific instructions.
    • For dissuasion posts, instructors should be specific on the dates of when posts are due, the times that the posts are due by, and the amount of posts required for the grade.

Please join us for our upcoming Tuesday, April 19th session on “Teaching Information Literacy in the Age of Google.” Provisions’ sessions are from 12:00-1:15 in Standish A&B. All are welcome and no reservations are required. Free lunch and refreshments will be available! Hope to see you all there!! 🙂

March 22nd Session: “Teaching Online”


Online Learning…Good Or Bad??

Distance education was founded in 1728, but there has been an increasing focus on online learning in recent research and literature (“Infographic history of distance education”). Online learning has become more widespread and popular due to the many benefits it offers. Some benefits of online learning include: greater flexibility, a broader target population, cost efficiency, self-discipline and self-directed learning, and the attainment of college credentials.

Advancing technology has allowed us the opportunity to create a new way to earn an education. Although there are many benefits of online learning, it has its disadvantages as well. A few drawbacks of online learning include: decreased retention, self-discipline (lack of), lack of social interaction and reliance on technology. However, research has shown online learning to be just as effective as traditional learning . According to a meta-analysis by Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia and Jones (2009), online learning and traditional learning were found to be statistically equivalent in their effectiveness. The meta-analysis also found that students in online learning environments performed better than those in a traditional setting.

Three well-known MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) that are currently operating are Coursera, edX, and Udacity.

  •  Coursera is dedicated to providing educational access to all. Through a partnership with universities and organizations, Coursera presents online courses designed to be available universally. Coursera provides an online training course for educators to master MOOC’s. The Learning To Teach Online (LTTO) MOOC was created to help educators enhance and advance their skills for teaching online and/or blended courses. The duration of the online course is 6 weeks, averaging  between 3-6 hours of work per week. There are 8 different modules required to be completed in order to pass the course. For any educators that may be interested, a form to apply for the course can be accessed here.
  • EdX was founded in 2012 by Harvard University and MIT, with the goal of providing a free education to all. EdX has more than 90 partnerships with universities and institutions around the world. EdX is currently the only MOOC operating as a non-profit organization.
  • Udacity, founded by Stanford University, strives to create an affordable and effective higher education program available globally. Udacity is dedicated to “teaching the skills that industry employers need today, delivering credentials endorsed by employers, and educating at a fraction of the cost of traditional schools.”

In The Limits Of Open, Carl Straumsheim discusses some of the shortcomings of MOOC’s. According to Carl, without paying for courses, students are only able to view graded assignments. Only those who pay for the courses can have full access to the graded assignments. Although it is free to explore materials such as, videos, lectures, discussion, and practice quizzes, learners must pay in order to receive an actual certificate of completion and to receive academic credit.

According to the article, How To Break Into Online Teaching, there are certain preliminary actions to be considered before beginning to teach online.

  • Identify your skill level of:
    • Time management and organization
    • Online communication
    • Teaching in an online environment
    • Technology
  • Know what kind of teaching job to search for
  • Activate and use your social networks
    • Academic groups
    • Alumni
    • Professional associations
  • Choose which courses you have the ability to teach
  • Examine alternative options

**The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching and Best Practices for Teaching Online websites provide helpful resources pertaining to online learning strategies for professors of online courses. In addition, Anastasia Salter has written several helpful articles to aid professors on their online teaching journey. These can be accessed from one of her posts, Wrapping Up A Large Online Course.**

Please join us for our upcoming Tuesday, March 22nd session on “Teaching Online.” Our esteemed presenters for the March 22nd session include:

Lily Shafer– Instructional Designer
Silvia Mejia– Department of World Languages and Cultures
Daniel Nester– Associate Professor of English

Provisions’ sessions are held from 12:00-1:15 in Standish A&B. All are welcome and no reservations are required. Free lunch and refreshments will be available! Hope to see you all there!! 🙂

“Flipped” Library Instruction

In keeping with the theme of the “flipped” classroom in first-year writing, Pete and I decided that we would also attempt to flip the library instruction that tends to be a standard part of our ENG105 classes and FYW in general (In fact, in the “Learning the Ropes” article that Pete wrote about, researchers found that “Freshman said they found campus librarians (29%) and their English composition instructors (29%) were the most helpful individuals on campus with guiding them through college-level research” (3)).  To accomplish this, Pete created a helpful series of videos to guide students through the library research processes and databases that are typically covered during a librarian’s classroom visit.  The students came to class with a basic understanding of how to approach the research assignment at hand, leaving class time free to spend answering questions and doing some hands-on research with the assistance of our reference librarians.

Hopefully the students learned as much as Pete and I did.  We thought we’d share some of our thoughts about the experience:

  • In the Hofer, Townsend, and Brunetti article that Pete details in his last blog post, there is a lot of concern with the “flat” landscape of Google.  Respondents (librarians) to the authors’ survey describe their issues with students’ research tactics:  “They [students] seem to see information as flat, as coming all from one place, Google” and “How to read a citation and understand what type of publication it represents–journal article, book, etc…  Many are used to getting all information from one flat source–Google.”  While I understand what the respondents are trying to get at with the word “flat” (there is more to the research beyond Google and much of the diversity in sources needs to be sought out in other ways, and, as Pete describes below, sources all seem the same to students), I also find the word a bit misleading.  What struck me in working with my students while they were researching this week is that the types of sources available via a Google search are more complex and diverse than ever before.  Part of the assignment [Citation Trail library worksheet] that the students were working with asked them to identify citations and source types, and yes, as the previous respondent describes, students struggled with this, but to be honest:  So did I.  One student discovered a massive online project about digital literacy that isn’t quite a blog but certainly isn’t a static webpage as it regularly publishes articles by scholars researching the topic of teens and digital literacy.  So what is it?  What kind of articles are these pieces that aren’t necessarily peer reviewed or appearing in print publications but involved in scholarly research by experts in a field?
  • The other aspect of the flipped library instruction time that proved challenging was getting students to move away from Google and into the library databases.  This difficulty is described in both the “Learning the Ropes” article and in “Troublesome Concepts and Information Literacy: Investigating Threshold Concepts for IL Instruction.”  Because the assignment asks students to track down sources contained in both scholarly and popular sources, there is good reason for many of the students to start with Google search to help track down a source from a reading that doesn’t have a bibliography (for example, as Pete details here in his video about “tips on running down elusive documents”).  Students did well with using Google to find the details of the specific reference; however, getting them to then take that information and use it to find the book or article in our own library’s holdings was a bit of a struggle (it often involved me hovering and directing them to open additional tabs and pull up the catalog or databases).

— From Pete

Two things resonated with me as I walked around and helped students make sense of the documents they had brought up on their screens.

  1. Many did in fact seem to have difficulty understanding format types and purposes outside of the context of their computer screen. The landscape had indeed become flat and within that one dimension, all content was in an important sense equal.
  2. Last year Bryan Alexander, educator and futurist, delivered a keynote speech at a conference I attended. What I most remember about his speech was that he contended that we had moved from being a “culture of the page” to a “culture of the screen.”  One implication of this shift is that a new generation, largely unfamiliar with the print counterparts of online journals, ebooks, etc., have a hard time making critical distinctions between the types of resources that show up on their computer screens.

An inability to determine the context of the resource hampered their ability for critical evaluation.  The Hofer article referenced in an earlier post contends that a key understanding that many students have trouble grasping is, in her shorthand, “format as a process.”  By this she means:

What makes a book a book and a newspaper article a newspaper article has nothing to do with how one accesses it (print/digital), but with the process that went into creating it. Understanding this principle helps students navigate the information they find online and evaluate it according to the process underlying its creation, rather than by a set of memorized, constantly changing, inconsistent characteristics.

This lack of understanding was evident as I spoke to many students and did indeed appear to be one of the outcomes of a “flat environment.”

  • Our awareness of these challenges of student research influenced both the assignment design, as well as what Pete covered in his video series.  I wanted students to begin making these distinctions and being able to identify types of sources early on in the research process and also for them to be able to see the range of sources that all scholars and writers use when composing a researched text.  Perhaps by next time framing “what makes a book a book and a newspaper article a newspaper article” in the terms that Hofer, Towsend, and Brunetti describe as “the process that went into creating it,” students might better understand the concept of “format as a process.”  This, after all, needs to be a goal of ours according to Hofer, Townsend, and Brunetti.  Citing “format as a process” as a “threshold concept” means that “the next step from a pedagogical standpoint is to make curricular changes that surface the teaching and learning of these concepts and then to assess student learning in these areas” (402).

The Amazing World of Technology

Everyday new technology is created. Jokes are made that by the time a person buys the new version of a piece of technology another newer version will come out the next day. In fact some people avoid using technology all together because they don’t want to have to adapt to new rules every time an upgrade becomes available. However, for every new program or piece of technology created there are dozens of resources to help people learn to use them. Articles on technology pop up every day with tips on how to use technology to better the workplace, home life, and education. For instance, online classes are so common today some schools offer entire majors in an online setting.

Professor Hacker recently wrote an article called “7 Strategies to Make Your Online Teaching Better.”  The first tip for professors of online courses is to use online tutorials to help avoid the many bugs that come along with using technology. Tutorials can be the next best thing to sitting in a classroom with the professor. Tip number two is to remember that students taking online courses are not in a classroom setting. Therefore they are not in the structured setting that a physical classroom has to offer. Tip number three is to set specific times students should be online in order to discuss any pertinent questions or talk through difficulties students may be having with the course. While they may not be meeting in a classroom students will still appreciate the time set aside to focus solely on one course. Tip number four is something all types of teachers should consider. Be specific with details and feedback. E-mail students what they should be doing for the week and don’t worry about length. The lack of physical class time should be replaced with online help. Tip number five is to make sure your personality doesn’t get lost in cyberspace. Make sure you come across as human instead of as a piece of technology. This will make it easier for students to communicate with their online teachers. Because online students do not see their professors on a weekly basis they do not receive the reminders that most other students receive about due dates. Tip number six is to have online students set up some sort of calendar that will remind them when assignments are dues. There are several online tools that will send e-mail alerts or text messages when important assignments are coming up. The last tip Professor Hacker has applies to all teachers. Don’t be afraid to incorporate something new into a course. The worst thing that could happen is that something doesn’t work out and will have to be replaced with a different idea the next time around.

Professor Hacker – a blog from The Chronicle – is known for posts about technology, and in recent weeks has published several enlightening pieces on how technology can improve existing lesson plans. For example, the post “All Things Google: Using Google for Writing Portfolios” highlights the upgrades using Google Docs has for creating writing portfolios compared to the more traditional ways of creating writing portfolios. Not only does this help save the environment by limiting the amount of paper creating a portfolio requires it also allows students the ability to be more creative, to share their work, and to easily create an electronic portfolio for all of their writing. A sample portfolio is also available for viewing on the blog site.

Professor Hacker doesn’t just recommend using Google Docs for portfolios. In the post “Using Google Docs to Check In On Students’ Reading”  Brain Croxall shared one of his experiences with using spreadsheets in Google Docs. The program allowed him – and his students – the ability to see where the class was in their reading. He was able to adjust his daily lessons based on the information he was receiving online. The spreadsheets could also keep students who were ahead in their reading from devolving too much information to the rest of the class.

Many times the writers of the Professor Hacker blog ask readers for feedback on using technology in the classroom. One product of this feedback was the post “What Are Your Favorite Technologies in the Classroom?” This post has blogger George Williams sharing his best and worst technology experiences as well as asking others to send in their own classroom technology experiences. Williams’s worst technology experience is the time wasted by waiting for computers to load and students to log on. This post seems like the start of a discussion board where teachers can share their ideas and experiences.

With so much focus on using technology in the classroom it isn’t surprising that a company is working on making an online class that is free. Steve Kolowich from Inside Higher Ed reports that a company called Udemy is currently working on a project that could offer online courses to hundreds if not thousands of students for free. While these courses are not yet offered for credit, the creators are trying to get enough exposure to make these courses a possibility in the future.

Kolowich wrote another article for Inside Higher Ed – “Behind the Digital Curtain”  – that discussed the possibility of inserting new courses into college programs that would teach students about the technology they use every day.  Students use online tools in for school and for their personal lives; however, they are rarely shown how these tools work. Kolowich goes on to list several reasons why these courses would be beneficial. One of the most important benefits he lists is giving students a deeper understanding of the technologies that impact their daily lives.

While free online classes are not yet a reality, online tools are. Mashable.com lists “8 Ways Technology is Improving Education.”  From online gaming to student made videos to videoconferences between students from different countries, the internet offers a multitude of tools that can make learning fun and improve the education students receive. New ideas pop up all the time and are available for teachers in every grade level from kindergarten to graduate level courses.

Saint Rose Chronicle Covers Provisions Session

The Saint Rose weekly online student newspaper, The Chronicle, has a lovely article covering the “Teaching in Online Environments” session described below.

Teaching in Online Environments


February 17, 2009: This month Provisions explored the world of teaching online. Presenters included Karen McGrath, Professor and Graduate Coordinator, Robert Flint, Associate Professor of Psychology, and Cailin Brown, Assistant Professor of Communications.  

          Dr. McGrath provided an overview of the blogging tool available on Blackboard. Students are encouraged to engage in conversations, post comments, and respond to questions via his or her blog. McGrath’s students are also able to explore other blogging sites and acquire templates for their own use. Overall, the class is designed to give students the chance to see what blogging is all about. Dr. Flint demonstrated how with a few modifications an in class exercise can easily be converted into an on line exercise. Flint’s students were to experience, first hand, some of the physical, social, cognitive, and emotional experiences of a person who is actually addicted to a drug by using ice cubes. The exercise included “purchasing”  ice cubes through a discussion board on line. Finally, Dr. Brown spoke about her Online Journalism class and the role Blackboard plays. Students are able to post story ideas, provide feedback, comment, and upload multimedia into their blogs. Brown talks about how on line journalism is a 24/7 cycle and requires experimenting. 

          Many questions and concerns that were discussed during this session were how to incorporate Blackboard into other courses, how to use wiki and other blog tools, and finally how communicating effectively and appropriately online is an important part of becoming a “digital citizen.”  

          Below you will find the materials in which each presenter shared during the session, as well as links to other helpful and informative resources.

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