Live! Real! Human!
Sarah Crissinger’s recent “Being ‘Human’ in the Classroom: A Case for Personal Testimony in Pedagogy” post at ACRLog does a wonderful job of giving specifics on how librarians can use our personal experiences with the research process while instructing students. Maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to Back to Work episodes on my commute, but Crissinger’s article reminds me a lot of Merlin Mann’s occasional assertion that he’s insightful about productivity not because he’s got a perfect track record with being productive but rather because he’s so intimately familiar with and observant of the struggle with distractions and how we can lose our way during projects. I think we convey our authority as instructors better through discussions of experience than through the talismanic trophies of accomplishments our students might not yet understand. What does having authored a host of peer-reviewed journal articles mean to a first-year student whose mental maps of knowledge, let alone personal life experience, doesn’t involve peer-review yet?
I think it might serve us—and our students/patrons—better when we present ourselves more as process experts than domain experts. By “process expert” I don’t mean that we claim “we do it perfectly” but rather something more akin to “we are familiar with many different approaches & their associated benefits and pitfalls.” Admitting that we too have occasional scholarly difficulties helps us model our critical thinking processes of engaging with information and sources, as well as giving openings for patrons to see us not as stern shushers but rather as willing guides who value sharing our hard-won insights. This is the tack that most Writing Centers I’ve been acquainted with take toward teaching composition. While it can be more nerve-wracking, I do think that sharing our vulnerability leads to a better connection with our students, and therefore better pedagogical potential.
An article on new Boise area code schools by Zach Kyle came out this week, which handily provides local context for the question of what role higher education can play in the lives of local students. Looking at the prices for these programs and weighing them against something like freeCodeCamp recalls the age-old discussion of what mixture of vocational preparation, historical context, and interpersonal contacts higher education “ought” to provide students & society at large.
On a very related note, if you aren’t familiar with the 1960s history of California’s Master Plan for Higher Education, or with what Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron term “The Californian Ideology,” I highly recommend you take the time to read Audrey Watter’s recent keynote “Technology Imperialism, the Californian Ideology, and the Future of Higher Education”.
This week was my first week getting to do reference desk shifts in my new position, which means that I’m getting to meet more of the students at the College of Western Idaho. I’m also getting more ever familiar with the sources we have, which made Barbara Fister’s “Library of Forking Paths” article at Inside Higher Ed resonate even more.