Happy new year!

2020 arrived, and after a slightly longer Christmas holiday than usual, it was a little hard to get everything in our daily lives rolling again. But – after a few days we were back on track.

In 2019 I had 11 postings on this blog, and 11 (oddly enough) on my Norwegian blog. I posted my remarks and notes from the excellent LOEX conference I attended in Minneapolis in May, and I wrote a couple of posts about teaching and stuff I read. The frequency of my blogging is a little up and down, but I write when I feel like it and have something to say – not just to keep the number of blog posts up.

I don’t have New Years resolutions, but I believe in small, incremental improvements in life – like reading something new, writing a letter (not just a text) to an old friend, going for a walk more often and being kinder to my self (i.e. not always focussing on all the things I didn’t do that day). This year, I’ll take a credit bearing class for the first time in a few years, and I look forward to it – and dreading it all at once. It looks like a very interesting course, and if I can pull it off I think it will be of use to me. The course is called Science and the media, and is a part of the Master’s program in Journalism at Oslomet university. The course examines the relationship between academia and the media, and it is certainly very relevant to the communications part of my job at the library.

Taking a credit bearing course will give me the opportunity (and mild pressure) to read something new to me, and outside the library field. That also means that I have to put a pin in the rest of my reading this spring. I’ll be lucky to get through the required reading list of my course, and it is with a bit of a heavy heart and a slight sigh that I realise I have no chance of getting through this stuff (see image) this spring. Well – it’ll just have to wait. And it will be all the sweeter when I get to it later. 🙂


Pile of interesting books on teaching that I will have to save for later.

Trusting sources

I have been reading quite a lot of academic texts lately, and I have been thinking and writing about what I have read. For me, writing is a way to think more carefully about what I have read and I guess it also leads to deeper learning. Some of the texts I have been reading needs more time to sink in, others have given me ideas that are more ready to implement.

One of the texts I read last week was Olof Sundin’s “Den pedagogiske bibliotekarien: FrĂĄn källkritik till källtillit” [The pedagogic librarian: from criticism to trust of sources – not the best translation, it is much more catching in Swedish…]. This is a chapter in the book “Bibliotekarier i teori og praktik” [Librarians in theory and practice]. Olof Sundin is a well-known, highly cited author and professor at Lund University in Sweden. I first discovered his research when I did my Master’s many moons ago.

Sundin started by saying that false news have become a democratic problem, and that this gives information literacy a new start or maybe rather a new drive. The libraries are often assigned the role to develop their patrons’ media and information literacy. This is done in public libraries as well as in academic libraries. Still, academic librarians teach more than public librarians, and we are in a position to reach patrons.

Sundin continues by saying that there is a false distinction between theory and practice. In reality they are intertwined and co-dependent of each other. Of course. But librarians have to speak the same language as their partners for collaboration, i.e. the teachers – and this means that librarians need more pedagogic insight.

Sundin explains the basis for constructivism, and how the constructivist theories led to more problem-based learning and project work. Carol Kuhlthau contributed with important insights when she published her Information Search Process (ISP) where she included thoughts and feelings students may have when searching. Kuhlthau’s work is clearly inspired by the constructivist approach.

Socio-cultural theory promoted situated learning, and claimed that learning is not a neutral process. Meaning that if we want to teach students how to find information, they need to learn that in a situation that is relevant and meaningful to the students.

So far in Sundin’s text, I don’t think I came across anything new to me, but then he started to write about socio-material theory. I had never heard of that. Socio-material theory (sociomateriality) is not a learning theory, Sundin explained, but it is an idea on how the social aspects and the material aspects influence each other. This is of interest to librarians because we deal with the intersection of technology and people. You can’t separate information skills from the society, from technology or the material, Sundin claims. It is all connected. Sundin also writes that Kuhlthau ignores these links, and downplays the material side of the matter (e.g. knowledge on the resources as such).

Talking about resources, Sundin explains that the digital sphere changes some things. When everything is searched for and read on the same platform, it is easy to forget the importance of information infrastructure. Many of the digital resources that we use are becoming easier to use, and therefore the infrastructure becomes invisible to us. The more intuitive and seemingly easier to use an information system is, the less control we have. We now less and less about why we find what we find. The algorithms decide for us. One of the library’s tasks is to expose the all the more hidden information structures, Sundin continues.

A common advice concerning source assessment and evaluation is to compare the findings with that you can find in other sources, a kind of horizontal evaluation. But due to the algorithms, we are already in an “echo-chamber” that gives us what it thinks we want. We cannot evaluate one source at a time, as a single unit, but comparing horizontally with other sources is not enough either. We need to also include a wider context and the information infrastructure that have influenced us.

Sundin writes about how we can lose faith in established knowledge. It is possible to find single studies that supports any kind of world view. Established knowledge supported by thousands of studies, like on the effect of vaccines or climate change, can diminish in importance with people. The library can have a role here, because our collections are not algorithm-based, Sundin says. We can become stabilisers in an unstable society. “Source trust” is explained as trusting established methods in knowledge production in society and the sources of information that springs from these methods. This can be a frame of reference, Sundin said.

Well – I think it is interesting about horizontal source evaluation and that the echo-chambers influence this. I hadn’t really thought about that. I am not sure we can really help keeping or re-establishing people’s faith in sources based on our collections, but maybe I am being too pessimistic here. I sure hope Sundin is right.


Thoughts about student success

Happy new year! A new year has begun and I am trying to get my mind in gear after two weeks of Christmas vacation. As part of this effort I am diving into the pile of journal articles and books on my desk.

I just finished Vinent Tinto`s “Taking student success seriously: rethinking the first year of college” from 2005. It is an old article, but it is widely cited and I thought it deserved a read-through. It really did! The article is a “plain spoken” post about what criteria for success we must think about when we talk about student retention.

Tinto mentions six contitions within the institution that are supportive of student success, and they are: commitment, expectations, support, feedback, involvement and learning.

a. Commitment: the schools must make an effort and be willing to invest in stidents, especially in student in so-called risk zones.
b. Expectations: Schools expect too little of their students, and no studen rises to low expectations= they do not study enough
c. Support: Three types of support must be given: academic, social and financial*. Academic support can be in the form of development cources, tutoring, study groups, and academic support programs. Social support can be mentoring and counceling.
d. Feedback: “Students are more likely to succeed in settings that provide faculty, staff, and students frequent feedback aout their performance” (p.4) – such as classroom assessment techniques in the classroom and using portfolios.
e. Involvement: If students are academically and socially involved they are more likely to succeed, and this is especially true during the first year of college. Getting them involved in classroom situations is important because many of them will only meet faculty staff and fellow students there, as many students commute to campus they spend little time there outside their pure academic activities.
f. Learning: This has always been the key to retention. “Students who learn are students who stay” (p.5). This means that the school should always be focussing on understanding what makes students learn and be committed to support these learning factors. The school should also foster peer learning and getting the students actively involved.

* In Norway, financial aid has not been that relevant because few institutions in higher education have tuition fees, but still..

“To sum up, students are more likely to succeed when they find themselves in settings that are committed to their success, hold high expectations for their success, provide needed academic, social, and financial support, frequent feedback, and actively involve them, especially with other students and faculty in learning” (p. 5)

Of course, some of the things Tinto mentions are easier said than done, like getting students involved. Anyone who`s tried to get students involved in groups and commitees knows that it is not always easy – BUT when they do succeed, the students almost always bring a new and valuable perspective into the work.

I think we need to work on several things: academic support programs that prepare students for college (integrated in the academic setting! – not stand-alone courses), thorough feedback and assessment in all courses, trying to get a better link between theory and practice (when possible), and applying active learning techniques where possible. In addition, we could be better at incouraging peer learning (study buddys) etc.

Phuh! There is much to do, and I hope and trust that 2013 will be a good year for student learning, faculty and library collaboration and personal development.

Tinto, V. (2005) Taking student success seriously: Rethinking the first year of college [online] URL: http://fdc.fullerton.edu/events/archives/2005/05-01/acadforum/Taking%20Success%20Seriously.pdf (04.01.2013)