Sunday, September 14, 2014


My section is of the opinion that we need a new acronym.  MERPS for now.

After Monday's enthusiasm, Wednesday's results were not what I expected.  We had 4 groups, 2 at small whiteboards and 2 with paper and stickies.  I had and offered plenty of supplies.  On Wednesday, I kept the introductory comments super-brief and let the groups re-form, with no instructions except to continue until 3:35 when the groups will informally present their findings.
Things started off well enough with all 4 groups reviewing where tiny left off, adding either more variables or connections. So far, so good,  I heard on group talking about and triangulating their or their friends' experience with Catholic School with the Wes' experiences in inner-city public schools,  Riverdale academy and Valley Forge.

 At anywhere from 3 to 10 variables, the groups seemed to run out of steam,  Molly and I both visited all teams and made suggestions.  I called a couple of time-outs, once to suggest going through their annotations in the book and another to suggest looking for contributing factors to branch off the variables they had.  With the exception of the team that asked how to handle the different reasons for "no father figure," the suggestions seemed to fall on deaf ears.  The groups stayed together, but the conversation appeared to turn off-topic. The big all-guy group and one at the smaller all-girl groups had a couple of people who appeared to be on the periphery, not part of the main conversation.

At 3:35, we started the reports, with two groups vying to go first,  I heard some good explanations of the groups' reasoning for their classifications and connections.  The reports took the full fifteen minutes.  Another adjustment for the students to make is that their written artifacts are for THEM, not ME,  I had to loudly insist, for the second time that week, that the paper-and-stickie groups take their maps with them.  I expect to need to reinforce this again when we do Phase II prep on Friday.  

This exercise seemed like fertile ground for an AAR.  I struck with my plan on Friday for 20-25 minutes each of PSP discussion and pre-writing, then the AAR.  I connected the two topics with the question, "how many factors influenced who YOU are up to this point?"  The group readily agreed there were thousands to an infinite number. "So,"  I asked, "why only 5-10 for both Wes's lives?"  Answers ranged from only knew what was in the book, to need to prioritize among so many.  I asked, based on the huddle discussion, it any thing seemed uncomfortable or awkward.  Got some silence, Molly re-asked. One student said no and the others very quickly agreed.  We will need to return to this question, I'm sure.  While two groups included economic class in their variables, none included race, so that conversation will come.

In my pre-AAR preparation, I had quite a variety of variables as to why there were so few Wes variables.  These ranged from mid-week slump to avoidance of uncomfortable subjects to inexperience with complex problems leading to a desire to oversimplify.  I also noticed that the groups tended to generate variables one at a time, then go over the category and connections for each variable.  Mixing analysis and idea generation usually isn't a good idea.  I asked whether re-framing the task as "generate as many variables as you can" would lead to more variety of variables, then the process of classifying and connecting can happen.  I expect to have the chance to try this on Friday during Phase II prep. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Maps, Post-its, Comments! from Richard

I appreciate Richard's post on the variations of three sections' mapping of the variables affecting Wes Moore.  I'll continue my comment in the next post, just to keep the titles straight.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Koosh and SPERM

picture of koosh ball
Koosh - Molly and then several students in their Reflection Papers suggested that everyone would be more comfortable working together and participating with a little more time to get to know one another.  Molly volunteered to do a short icebreaker before we got into Design Thinking.  The result was tossing the koosh, saying something interesting about yourself, and saying the name of the person you toss it to next.  On the first round, interesting things were the usual: major, where from , sports liked, etc.  I went last and tossed it to Molly.

On the second round, Molly suggested we all tell something a little deeper, maybe more personal.  She started with a factor of her identity (keeping confidentiality here), and we heard of injuries, illnesses, places of origin, languages spoken, family relationships.  I felt comfortable and safe enough to share why I didn't graduate high school.  The point of the second round was that we have all been through a lot, and we can get to know and trust one another.  I am SO impressed with Molly for coming up with a good, engaging icebreaker that was appropriate for this stage in the semester.


Design Thinking - I'm improving at making my points with less chatter.  I was concerned about the time I needed to present the material on Design Thinking and Wicked Problems, and get everyone transitioned into groups.  It worked out, and I made a point of referring to both the elements of thinking and information fluency, to attempt to connect what may seem to be a string of disconnected topics.

I suggested three groups and got four, no crisis.  All groups followed the SPERM pattern (Social, Political, Economic, Religious, Messaging/Media).  Two took the (small) whiteboards and I offered stickies, wall space, and large paper to the other two groups.  The whiteboard groups seemed to make more progress in generating variables and making connections in shorter time, but the paper and stickies groups seemed to concentrate more on establishing their processes.   The all-guy group in the northeast corner was especially proud of the organized way they were capturing their variables.   I actually needed to interrupt everyone at 3:48 to remind them to capture their work and bring their Wes Moore books next time, when this will be continued.   I can't wait to see how this progresses and how deep the groups go.

Information Fluency in my (Cecilia's) section

The more I see my own QU 101 students think and discuss and apply critical thinking, and the more Information Fluency sessions I facilitate in other instructors' sections, the more I' make the connection that Information Fluency is a necessary application of critical thinking.  I was worried that by scheduling my section's IF session ahead of doing the taxonomy, I was rushing it before they were ready.  Actually, having it follow Critical Thinking I and II, elements of thought and fallacies, made a great sequence to discussion of the purpose of and process of creating a resource (format as process), how authority of an author or a source depends on their community and the audience for the source, and the value that authors and compilers add to data to create useful information. 

Janet Valeski facilitated our session last Friday afternoon.  She has a friendly, approachable style, and states things simply (but not too simplified) and clearly.  She followed our general format, starting out with the Infowhelm video and a discussion of the sheer size, complexity, interrelatedness, and dynamic nature of the information ecosystem. The exercise listing what students wanted to know in order to choose a college and the sources they used to find the information brought out interesting discussion of sources and the different ways format, authority, and value can be considered.  When Janet and I discussed the session afterward, we had an idea to let groups of students work out the three factors themselves instead of the librarian relating how they work with the various sources.  Janet asked interesting questions about control of and access to information, and led up to the role of libraries in general and of ABL in particular, finishing with our virtual presence (getting from MyQ to the internal, research-oriented website) and a friendly invitation to visit and remember librarians as consultant and guides for students' research projects.

Feedback from the students was positive.  A few even mentioned points from the session in their Reflection Papers.  A few succumbed to the distraction of (presumably) friends texting or on social media planning the weekend, but overall attention and participation was good.

On Monday, I was able to reinforce one of Janet's points when we talked about wicked problems being complex, not merely complicated.  We're on to Design thinking and SPERM now, and will return more specifically to Information Fluency late next week, after and AAR, the PSP, and the ETS.  At that point, I'm curious to see how the students question and analyze their sources, both in the book and beyond.

Gelting Organized and Still Giving Things Up

I use Blackboard. I lose paper, and the paper I want is never where I am. Deciding to go with a student-led section of QU 101 in mid-August left my Blackboard Course in a state of disorganization while I concentrated on getting the Students and myself off to a good start. Last weekend was spent on getting Blackboard back into shape,  Finally, in utter confusion, I asked Molly to look at all my weekly Overviews, combine them into one document, and look for days with too many assignments due. With her help I was able to see areas of unbalanced workload.  The topic of students negotiating due dates hasn't come up yet, but I'm ready to be flexible when it does.

There was also a lot of "good stuff" in Blackboard from last year, Which I mostly deleted.  Letting and encouraging the students to find Sources outside the book is not only Part of the philosophy of this course, but it's good for developing information fluency.  It's also been a relief to give up having to grade everything that I receive.  I still prefer to read whatever my students write.  That's my own curiosity at work and helps me get to know each One better.  

Side note on technology- I'm writing this by hand on the large Galaxy Note. It capitalizes somewhat randomly in handwriting mode, giving an odd Colonial feel to my high-tech, Sans-serif text,  It also likes commas,  Some proofreading is in order next,  Couldn't deal with the gibberish and commas, but left the odd capitalization in.  Back on a keyboard now.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Getting Comfortable and Thinking Critically

Days 3 and 4 were devoted to Critical Thinking.  Day 3 was that beautiful Friday, so se moved class outdoors under a tree in the quad.  The opener with the white things caught a few of us and I admitted that it caught me a couple of weeks ago as well.  The students expanded on their definition of CT and worked with the handout on elements of thought and intellectual standards, looking for biases and assumptions in our readings.  Readings chosen included Wes Moore (two groups), Jane English, “What do grown children owe their parents?” and Rousseau, the short section “the Right of Life and Death” from the Social Contract.  I encouraged them to choose something short that expresses an opinion and gave them 15 minutes to apply the handout’s elements.  This was effective.  Even in the two fairly large groups, everyone listened and contributed, and at the end the variety of topics and discussions of bias were lively.  Questions that came up were about the author Wes Moore telling the convict’s story when he was capable and literate enough to tell his own story, the content of the Jane English essay – owing versus what you would just do, out of love, and what claims parents have on an adult child’s life, and the right to preserve one’s own life.  

One of the Wes Moore groups started with an interesting challenge – they decided not to go with the textbook on the basis that since it was put together specifically for Quinnipiac students, it was therefore biased.  I asked the groups that did choose from the book if they agreed.  While all agreed that it was pretty obviously put together for this course, they were not comfortable enough with the contents to argue that it was biased or not.  Maybe this will tempt some of them to browse through and make up their own minds on the question.

On Wednesday, it was just too hot, so we stayed inside.  By three o’clock, most looked wilted, as I must have after a quick trot back to ABL for my QCards, which still didn’t unlock the classroom.  Someone in one of the nearby offices had a card that would do it.  I’m getting better at keeping my openers/new information short and to the point, so there’s plenty of time for the group activity.  This worked out, even with a short discussion of how to post to journals on Blackboard and where to find the questions that I’m posing, at least for now.  I hope that eventually the journals will become student-directed as well, and mentioned that eventually they may not all be reading the same thing at the same time.  Even in our awkward classroom, groups formed and we got some interesting mini-lessons on fallacies.  One group found a brief, unified example, working off an argument that “the sky is green” and having a green-sky quote for each fallacy.  Another worked off propaganda posters, and it would have been nice to be set up to project from an iPhone to see their illustrations, although they described them well.  I suspect that quite a few of the handouts from Friday got left behind, as some teams needed prodding to get them out and use them again.  But all groups managed to scrounge one up and complete the task.  The small-group work engages everyone and it was a little hard to reconvene the large group and end on time.  That’s a good thing.

I love not fussing over the number of groups or their size.  Molly sorts out major imbalances and I remind everyone to be sure that every student is welcomed into a group.   

Molly and I both agreed that we do need to have some in-class time to get more comfortable with one another, without concentrating on content or tools.  On Monday, we will take 20 minutes at the beginning of class for a more extended icebreaker or similar activity, then start on Design Thinking and Problem-Solving.  Today, Friday, Janet Valeski will visit and lead the discussion on Information Fluency.  My logic for scheduling it early is that information fluency is another application of critical thinking, and we will be getting into PSPs and the Wicked Problem soon enough.

QU 101 Information Fluency - 1st three classes

Today at 11 was my third time facilitating an Information Fluency session in QU 101.  These are the sessions that a group of librarians have offered to QU 101 instructors back in May.  This is where we introduce students to big ideas in information fluency, related to individuals in communities.  These sessions lay the foundation for the more detailed, step-by-step introductions to finding specific resources that we do in other courses.

The challenge in lesson planning is cutting down the large number of things we could “cover” and prioritizing as to what makes the most sense to begin with and relate to first-semester students.  Janet Valeski, Matt Flaherty and I located two short videos, “Infowhelm” and “What's the difference between academic andpublic libraries?” and chose three of the threshold concepts from the proposed Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.  Matt developed an activity asking students to list factors of interest in choosing a college and the sources, including visits and talking to people, that they consulted.  We introduce the academic library by staring with the mission of libraries in general to provide equitable access to information with a variety of viewpoints to support critical thinking, decision-making, and citizenship.  The short video describes how an academic library may be different from public libraries that some of the students re used to, and then we focus on ABL and how we are there to consult with and guide students through a huge, complex, and interacting information ecosystem.  A later addition is to close with our “virtual location” – how to find the OneSearch page, then let everyone explore from there.  A survey to assess the effects of these sessions is almost ready to distribute to the early sections.

OK, so that’s what it is, how did it go?  It went with all the variations of a fairly structured QU 101 class. I asked questions and split up the lecture parts into smaller bits.  Participation is spotty the first weeks of class, and better with a Peer Catalyst and/or instructor present.  Students take well to the choosing a College exercise, naming all kinds of sources from the official university website, to Naviance (a subscription database of college information offered by many school districts for high school students), to College Prowler for student reviews of various factors, to friends, visits and calling Admissions with questions.  These sources allow us to talk about the process that goes into creating or collecting information, the economic value of information and why some is protected by copyright and costs money, and the way different communities consider sources of information for different purposes authoritative.

Some highlights so far –

  • Discussion and debate sparked by this Ray Bradbury quote: “Without the library, you have no civilization.”
  • An OT student who checked up on the program’s accreditation
  • A question about how public libraries are funded
  • A student who asked seniors he knew about research opportunities
  • PCs stepping in to expand on questions I ask and get more discussion going