Monday, December 15, 2008

Partnering with Writing Centers and Teachable Moments

Recently I read two good articles in The Reference Librarian. The first one discussed the issue of teachable moments, looking for times when patrons might be willing to receive more information. Susan Avery notes that these "moments" cannot be planned or "anticipate[d]," are "dependent on the readiness of the recipient," and are "serendipitous." Librarians can give more help than required; we can share our expertise of the many information tools we encounter on a regular basis. Of course, Avery does acknowledge that librarians should be "sensitive to the needs of the patron." Frankly, some individuals could care less about conducting a database search more efficiently as they have other priorities and demands on their time. Therefore, librarians must make their own judgment calls, paying attention to receptivity, attitudes, perceived time constraints, information needs, etc. (117).

Along these lines, Avery suggests ideas that can be found in your standard library-science textbook on reference work:
1. Listen.
2. Be patient and flexible.
3. Look for body language cues.
4. Keep it short and to the point.
5. Let the students do the work.
For understanding the different setting in which a librarian might look for a "teachable moment," see the article.

Works Cited
Avery, Susan. "When Opportunity Knocks: Opening the Door Through Teachable Moments." The Reference Librarian 49.2 (2008): 109-18.

Rachel Cooke and Carol Bledsoe promote the idea of including the Writing Center within the campus library. Doing this would "provide opportunities for partnership" (119). This would be more convenient for the students, particularly those involved in the research and writing process. They discuss how librarians and writing tutors could provide help at each others' desks. Librarians could also train the writing tutors to do some basic research, which would benefit many students simultaneously as many tutors are actually students.

Much of the article revolves around five "challenges" encountered by reference librarians and writing tutors alike:
1. Guiding students through the sequence of the writing process (120).
2. Uncertainty about the assignment (121).
3. "The paper is due in an hour" (121).
4. When students request a librarian or writing tutor to do their research or edit their paper (122).
5. Students who say: "I can find everything on Google. I'll just cut and paste." This touches on the quantity and quality of sources as well as proper citation of these sources.

Let me make just one comment about challenge number one. The authors make a good point that librarians and tutors should not assume that the writing process is the same for everyone. Increasingly, college instructors require their students to write a paper without doing research--at least at the outset. Particularly with lower-division students, instructors find that they let the sources do the talking. Having students write their own thoughts first helps them know what they think; then they can analyze and evaluate what the sources say in comparison with their own ideas.

Therefore, once the students has written their own personal idea paper, then the instructor requires them to research in the area of their topic and write a paper that incorporates their own ideas while also considering the ideas of others. I repeat myself here, because this is something I want to remember. The idea seems to promote real learning and connecting it with real life. What do I know about X? Why do I think this way? What do others say about this topic in question? How do my ideas differ from someone else's? Do their ideas expose any gaps in my own logic? Will I change and adjust my own thinking on this? How?

Somewhat reminiscent of Hegel's model, an instructor who follows this kind of assignment encourages students to form a thesis, consider an antithesis, and then synthesize the two. Adopting this approach could facilitate higher orders of thinking for many students, since too often students revert back to their comfort zones of reporting what they find, rather than thinking about what they find in their research. These "comfort zones" hearken back to show-and-tell activities in the early stages of a child's education.

Cooke, Rachel and Carol Bledsoe. "Writing Centers and Libraries: One-Stop Shopping for Better Term Papers." The Reference Librarian 49.2 (2008): 119-27.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Using Google Analytics to Track Usage of Your Websites or Blogs

Not too long ago I learned that it was possible to track the number of visitors who come and visit your website or blog. I decided to give it a try and began an account with Google Analytics. This account remains free to me for now. I do not know enough about it right now to say whether or not it would charge for more specific data gathering or crunching.

Anyway, I largely forgot about this, until recently I wondered if it had gathered any statistics for me. It shows a report of the last month's activity on my site. Apparently, 139 people have viewed my blog in the last month, but these people have visited it 149 times. It's likely that I am the only repeat visitor. Please tell me if this is not the case. 70.75% found my blog via a search engine. 19.05% found the site from a referring site, perhaps a blog reader. That leaves 10.20% who visit this blog directly, so I guess that would be me. 50 pages were viewed a total of 216 times.

How should I interpret this data? I do not know for sure, but the cool thing I liked about the report was it's feature that showed me which pages were visited the most. It gave a top four list:
1. Library Instruction A La Carte Information Literacy
2. Updated Teaching Philosophy
3. Active Learning Ideas
4. How Do You Know if it's Scholarly

I like how it shows the average amount of time a person viewed your page. The "Updated Teaching Philosophy" averaged about 8 minutes a view, while the "Active Learning Ideas" page was viewed about 6 minutes a view. It's just fascinating to me that I can track this now. I'm not sure how this will affect what I do with my blog. It seems that the proprietors of the blog applications and the analytics applications would want you to understand a bit how you are reaching out to the world, perhaps that would inspire the blogger to write a bit more and consider topics that would appeal to a larger audience.

We shall see if I write about this more in the future. There are certainly sites and blogs that discuss ways in which the bloggers can make their blogs more prominent and visible.