Academic Monthly

Emphasizing Relevance

By Treva Clark

As educators, we all crave those days when the wisdom we have to impart is greeted with an open willingness to learn … to understand … to grasp the fullness of exposure to a world beyond these campus walls and to, in turn, light some spark in our students.  That spark, I believe, is curiosity and its elusiveness is something I struggle with regularly as I aspire to craft classroom experiences filled not with the dissemination of information but the achievement of genuine learning.

I have a quotation posted on my office bulletin board from the American journalist, philosopher and social critic Margaret Fuller which states, “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it” (1852).  I’m inspired by this quotation, primarily because too often my approach can drift to one whereby I attempt to (figuratively, thank goodness!) set my students on fire with a blow-torch rather than trust them to come toward the ‘light’ in their own time and in their own way, to light their candles intentionally and in meaningful ways.  Pedagogically speaking, perhaps the spark of curiosity which moves our students forward into seeking understanding can best be ignited with deliberate relevance and the mutual answering  of the “So What” question that can plague educators of all disciplines.

I recently had the opportunity to put this pedagogical approach into practice with my International Business Management students.  Responding to a report from the National Geographic Society (2012) that young Americans (ages 18-24) demonstrate a “limited understanding of the world beyond their country’s borders, and they place insufficient importance on the basic geographic skills that might enhance their knowledge” (p. 6), I requested approval from the NGS to have my students take the basic geographic literacy quiz used to inform the survey results, and to compare my students’ performance with those collected in the study.  While I hoped for better, I found my students (remember, these are INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS students) near the survey norm in “Basic Geographic Skills”, yet well below average in “Knowledge About the World”, with a distressing 31% responding it is “not at all important” to know where countries in the news are located.  My task, as I accept it with the findings of this limited assessment, is to lead this group of students who are clearly disengaged from what’s happening “out there” to not only an understanding of current events shaping our world, but to apply why it is relevant and important to them and what they hope to achieve in life after LVC.

Instead of presenting information to fills gaps of what they don’t know, I’ve re-worked the course material to first emphasize why a particular event or location or region or alliance is important to understand, what businesses in our region are affected by it, and who stands to gain or lose by particular outcomes.  In developing the concept of exports, for example, as a method of market entry used by many business for international expansion, instead of focusing on the impact of exports on balance of trade data I am instead focusing on individual local businesses who export, plotting and mapping the locations of their export partners, and calculating the per capita contribution of export revenues to populations in local counties or the state … in other words, presenting the data from a perspective of relevance rather than concept definition.

Perhaps the biggest challenge I faced and needed to overcome in my attempt to apply this modified pedagogy was how best to efficiently and effectively cover all necessary fundamental and principles inherent to an understanding of International Business Management practices while, at the same time, incorporating the above noted specific points of relevance.  Candidly, some topics lend easily to relevance application, and others do not.  I have taken the initial approach to convert some, but not all, assignments, discussion topics, and assessment tools to incorporate the practical application of relevance in those topical areas where it makes the most sense; to, in essence, fix the ‘most broken’ wheel first and learn from those experiences where and how to make the next set of assignment modifications.  One rather immediate outcome from this shift to focused relevance has been a determination that the textbook I had been using for several years simply did not incorporate the kind of experiential learning to my classroom that I felt was possible and necessary, so I’ve taken the steps to utilize a customized textbook with the assistance of a publisher more keen to adaptive instructional resource development.  The time I invest now in this adjustment to more applicable and easily adapted instructional support materials will, in the end, reflect in higher levels of student engagement and improved performance on future assessments in this course.

I intend, at the end of the semester, to have students complete another survey providing me with both pre- and post-instructional data to begin tracking the effectiveness of this modified approach, albeit with somewhat limited evidence and an admittedly small sample size.  NGS has agreed to allow me to use their model survey in order to maintain consistency with the national study, and the post-data will reflect current issues and timely events realized during the course of this term of study.  I can say at this point, empirically speaking, that students seem more engaged and the level of unstructured conversation has improved in this particular class.  While it’s too early to claim victory, early evidence appears to suggest the results are worth the effort.

In Parker Palmer’s classic text The Courage to Teach (2007), he urges educators to not be afraid to try something new.  Palmer reminds us “Each time I walk into a classroom, I can choose the place within myself from which my teaching will come, just as I can choose the place within my students toward which my teaching will be aimed.  I need not teach from a fearful place: I can teach from curiosity or hope to empathy or honesty, places that are just as real” (p. 58).  I am working to teach from relevance, in a deliberate effort to find that place of curiosity in my students.  We will all be better for it in the end.

Sharing the Scholarly Experience with Students

By Grant Taylor

Developing strong relationships with students are the norm here at LVC. It is something we pride ourselves on. But falling in love with the student and the student’s dog, now that seems rare!

We have all seen Diana Hoffman and her service dog Emmy on campus. Emmy, a big docile labra-doddle, likes to sniff her way around campus with Diana closely in tow. Last summer I asked Dianna, an art and art history major, to work with me on the final stages of my book When the Machine Made Art (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014). Her role would be more than just a research assistance—she would be involved with key aspects of the publishing process. She relished the opportunity to experience some of the elements of being a practicing art historian. When summer came, Dianna was on campus three days a week working relatively autonomously in the library. Dutifully, Emmy was always at her side. As I was making final additions to my manuscript, Dianna was tracing some of the most obscure writings. Her tenaciousness led her to finding a popular science article from the 1950s that had remained elusive to me for more than 2 years. Together, not unlike Holmes and Watson, we eventually solved many other reference puzzles by methodically eliminating all other possibilities. Often we would compare notes in the Art and Art History department’s seminar room, a room that now resembled a hoarder’s attic. Piled high with books and photocopies, Emmy the dog had difficulty finding a place on the floor to sleep. Emmy quite happily slept while we toiled away.

Diana’s commitment to my project was touching. She continually thanked me for asking her to be involved. For me, she was just as valuable. She made those often frantic summer months—with its impending deadline casting its deep shadow—very enjoyable. What made such a deep impression on me was Dianna’s commitment to the project. She was totally invested. But Dianna is just one student of many who have shown a steadfast pledge to my creative and scholarly pursuits.

During the spring semester of last year, prior to working on the manuscript, I had a very challenging art project to complete. It was an art installation to celebrate the inauguration of President Thayne. While the artwork Shadow of Odysseus – Call of Ismael was technically difficult, requiring a complex integration of LED lighting technology and an arena sound system, it was student involvement that was vital to the success of the project. My plan was to have LVC students identify a literary narrative and write a personal story that would become the vocal tracks for the project. Thankfully faculty members provided me with the names of some our best students. Reflecting the international scope of our students, the literature would be recorded in the language of origin, which includes English, Middle English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Nepali, and Arabic. Once recorded, these voices would be audible during the day and then at night the voice track would activate a light display that engages the architecture of the Neidig-Garber Science Center. Because of time limitations, the deadline for picking the literary works was swift, yet all the students responded with imaginative and personally touching stories. Even more problematic was the night of the sound recording. The entire project hinged on the students’ participation. Would they all show up? With great relief, they all did. Jeff Bates, Christina Belousov, Charelle Bryant, Noemi Carrera, Jenna Dutton, Ashley Ferrari, Carlos A. Garcia, Haisam Hassanein, Ciera Kalnoski, Nahed Khalil, Keifer Kemmerly, Daniel J. Kimmel, Isaac Lu, Alyssa Mitchell, Tara Thapaliya, and My Dung Tran completed superb recordings. The students’ engagement was the element that brought my artwork to life—they provided the all-important verve.

In this week of the Faculty Scholarship Celebration it is appropriate for us to reflect on how students have impacted our research in ways that range from providing assistance to key collaborators. Students enrich and bring dynamism to our research agenda. Thus, it is perhaps worth recognizing how the once separate worlds of scholarship and teaching have increasingly aligned in new and exciting ways and how this faculty-student alliance continues to shape the unique character of LVC.

Information Literacy Assessment

Information Literacy Assessment

Marianne Goodfellow

There may be a tendency to assume that because students are adept at using the latest technology tools like the iPhone and/or iPad, they also possess the skills needed to be critical consumers of the wealth of information they have literally at their fingertips. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact,  is has the been the experience of members of the Sociology and Criminal Justice department that first year college students especially are woefully illiterate when it comes to acquiring high-quality information for scholarly pursuits. Consequently, information literacy has become a core objective of this department.

Information Literacy (IL) is defined as “the ability to know when there is a need for information, to be able to locate, evaluate, and effectively and responsibly use and share that information for the problem at hand” (Adopted form the National Forum on Information literacy). Five dimensions of information literacy (IL) include: determine the extent of information needed, access the needed information, evaluate information and its sources critically, use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose, and access and use information ethically and legally.

Based on prior assessment completed from 2007-2008, it was apparent that “students in the 200-level classes appear to lack the skill for critically reading scholarly materials for the methodological design and substantive findings and are therefore unable to communicate (written) the results of the research process in an articulate manner”. In this same report, the department  recommended the following curriculum changes: “Employ modules and/or exercises that expose students to research methods. Provide repeated experiences to engage in research throughout the curriculum” and to “Employ modules and/or exercises that expose students to data and critical evaluation of data. Provide repeated experiences to work with data and data sets throughout the curriculum”. Upon implementation of these recommendations, the need for information literacy skill development at the earliest stages of the curriculum was apparent.

To that end, it was determined that a laddered approach to IL was needed. The first step was to increase information literacy skill among all first-level sociology and criminal justice majors.  The element of IL identified as essential for first-year sociology and criminal justice majors taking Soc 110 Introduction to Sociology, as well as those enrolled for General Education credit, was skill to access needed information—specifically skill in locating high quality scholarly resources from appropriate sociology and criminal justices databases. Starting in 2008-2007 department faculty teaching Soc 110 Introduction to Sociology implemented the information literacy assignment coupled with a bibliographic instruction session.

Sample

Four sections of Soc 110 Introduction to Sociology were assessed for IL. Each section was assigned the task of having one Bibliographic Instruction session with a librarian. Faculty was provided with options for implementing the IL assignment but all were asked to employ the same measurement rubric (see measurement).

Measurement

The Sociology and Criminal Justice Department adopted the Information Literacy Value Rubric developed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (see attached). These value rubrics were developed by faculty experts and ”articulate fundamental criteria for each learning outcome, with performance descriptors demonstrating progressively more sophisticated levels of attainment” (Association of American Colleges and Universities). As per AACU guidelines, core expectations are translated to the language of the discipline and the course.

Accessing needed information skill was measure as follows:

0=Work did not meet benchmark level of performance

1=Benchmark- Accesses information randomly, retrieves information that lacks relevance and quality=low competence

2= Milestone- Accesses information using simple search strategies, retrieves information from limited and similar sources=modest competence

3=Milestone- Accesses information using variety of search strategies and some relevant information sources. Demonstrates ability to refine search=strong competence

4= Capstone-Accesses information using effective, well-designed search strategies and most appropriate information sources=very strong competence

Results

The mean scores for IL are as follows:

Faculty 1         2.9

Faculty 2         3.5

Faculty 3         2.8

Faulty 4          3.4

Discussion

It is apparent that the sample of students assessed in Soc 110 Introduction to Sociology are able to access needed information in the range of Capstone ability or high Milestone ability. This suggests that bibliographic instruction coupled with a graded class assignment is an effective means of introducing students to scholarly work in the discipline. It is the intention of the department to continue implementation of bibliographic instruction.

Future assessment will focus on transfer of information literacy skill to required assignments in higher level courses.

Limitations of Assessment

All faculty were asked to provide bibliographic instruction and all complied. Faculty were given some leeway in the assignment selected (2 options) so there is low reliability in scores between sections.

Summary

It is the intention of the department to continue implementation of bibliographic instruction in Soc110 Introduction to Sociology. Future assessment will focus on transfer of information literacy skill to required assignments in higher level courses.

Students who are information literate become active, independent learners and possess a distinct skill set necessary for social and economic well-being in our information-centric society. Producing information literate students should be one of our core objectives as an institution.

 

Breivik, P.S. (1997). Student Learning in the Information Age. American Council on Education Series on Higher Education. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers