Sunday, April 26, 2009

Clogged Drain

A number of months ago, I turned my mind to a developing problem: A slow drain. Not just any slow drain, an incorrigibly slow drain.

The obvious solution was the usual. I released the pop-up drain plug and cleared out all the accumulated hair.

That worked a little, but it was still not the drain of old. I've gotten a lot more tolerant of problems as I've gotten older, so the next effort didn't come for another couple (or more) weeks.

The next solution was to drop the drain trap and give that a go. I cleared out a good bit of accretion, but found to my surprise that the drain was still slow.

As far as I'm concerned, the thoughts I'd devoted to this problem don't constitute i-candy. Half-baked ideas and theories are what I call i-ruminations. (Our instructional technologist called them once ruinations. There may be some truth to that.) These efforts only become i-candy when they've reached the level of revelation.

The question was where did the clog reside? It wasn't in the stopper or the trap. In fact, I removed the drain pipe to the wall and cleared that outflow pipe right to the down pipe. So that meant the blockage had to be in the wall. The next step would have to be a professional plumber with a snake. But I'm as cheap as the next homeowner and didn't want to go that route until I'd exhausted the next easiest options. Short of borrowing a snake from some as-yet-unknown friend, I didn't immediately know what that option was.

In this case, I let the problem persist for a few more weeks as I continued to ruminate. Every time I used the sink, though, I'd devote more mental capital to the problem.

Actually, I did have an idea of the next easiest solution, but had already implemented it without any success. I'd taken a plunger to the drain at least twice, each time with no significant improvement in drainage.

But why hadn't it worked? If the developing blockage was in the wall, perhaps it was farther down the drain. If it was far enough down, the plunger could have failed simply because any change in pressure from the plunging action would have been inadequate so far away from the source. After all, air is a highly compressible substance; gases are like that.

If you blow through a short length of tube, the air coming out the end is pretty close to the pressure of that coming out of your mouth. As the tube increases in length, the pressure drops simply because of the compressive nature of gases. You have to blow much harder for the output pressure to be equal to the output for a shorter tube. The pressure change from a plunger is going to be pretty constant, so the farther away from the plunger the constriction happened to be, the less impact there would be from the plunging.

When the drainage matches the flow from a faucet trickle, desperation sets in. Oddly, the solution still didn't come in the form of a call to the plumber. My willingness to spend money had not increased an iota. So out came the plunger again. I didn't give up so easily this time. I shoofa-shoofaed a score of repetitions.

To my surprise the drainage improved. The flow now matched the flow from a modest faucet stream. It was time to ruminate.

If the septic accretion was further into the wall, why had any more plunging made a difference? (My willingness to try again was a bit less baffling. The cost of plunging is infinitesimal. The cost of a plumber? Shudder.) Repetition can be remarkably effective. The voice of a child asking for a cookie once is irritating. The sound of a child asking for the 100th time is erosive. (We do all know what happens if you give a mouse a cookie don't we?) I think what happened with my drain was that repetition did what just a few plunges failed to do; it gave an opportunity for some of the accretion to become loosened and freed.

I have a theory that plunging the drain for a longer time could make the real difference. I'll probably have to wait for the constriction to increase in order to maximize the pressure and its effectiveness, but if I'm right, I should have a freer drain, my hard-earned cash still in my pocket, and a happier wife.

I'll let you know. There may be some i-candy in it for you.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Twitter and Blogger

I knew a little about the benefit of tweeting from a New York Times article, but I've come to my own conclusions after 3 weeks of tweeting and blogging.

I came to Twitter via the one person that I'm currently following: Joyce Valenza. As an adjunct professor who teaches a course on technology for school library media centers at Arcadia University, I have 2 field trips I take my students on. One to a K-8 school library and one to a 9-12 school library. The latter is where Joyce comes in. She's the school librarian at Springfield Township High School in Montgomery County, PA.

Last year I heard her mention Twitter for the first time. I recognized it for its instant messaging capability then because she tweeted about our imminent arrival and shared the greetings that subsequently arrived from across the Twitterverse.

This year she asked if I was on Twitter yet. (No.) What tipped the balance in the direction of joining is her comment that she herself does not follow just anyone. She follows people who have something to say. This was interesting. People on Twitter aren't just sharing about what cat food they bought today. Some are sharing about more substantive matters. (Not that tweets about cat food don't matter. Any tweet reveals something significant about the tweeter. I simply wasn't ready to join Twitter to read that type of tweet.)

'Well I have something substantive to say. I'm thinking all the time about a whole boatload of weighty matters.' So I joined Twitter and immediately started following Joyce. I also started a blog because I knew I wouldn't be able to convey everything I wanted to say about a particular piece of i-candy I was enjoying in less than 141 characters. Then I linked Twitter and blog together. And I tweet and blog about matters of substance--to me. I try not to go on about nothing. There is are so many ideas going on in my head about many things, I don't much have to.

So I like Twitter because it does force me to encapsulate a solid idea in a few words. I like Blogger because I can delve into one topic at length. It's 2 great tastes that go great together.

I have had trouble finding people to follow. I've searched academic librarians and instruction librarians, but have found that what they have to say doesn't grab me. (I'm cool. I'll find people eventually.)

I myself have 5 followers on Twitter. None of them Joyce. (Again, I'm cool. I'm just not tweeting her kind of stuff. I am after all an academic librarian.) I have 1 follower on my blog i-candy by wangc. I think she's family (library family, that is).

Perhaps my i-candy is for you. Then join the list. Either one of them.

Works Cited
"Twitter." New York Times. 21 April 2009 <>.

An Older, Less-used Hat

This morning I conducted an online orientation session to our library's resources for a group of 4 clinical instructors in our Physical Therapy department.

Background Info
Our physical therapy program results in a doctor of physical therapy degree. Students go through a hands-on training experience in offices where current professionals are actively seeing patients. This is called a clinical internship. Arcadia University has somewhere in the range of 500 clinical instructors in clinics all over the country. CIs who wish to have access to our library's resources online may request it. The session this morning was the first online orientation to help those CIs become familiar with what we have to offer.

I bring to this position an interest in the health sciences, but I'm a general reference librarian as well, and general reference is what I do for the most part.

Technology Issues
I was using Wimba to conduct the session, an application with which I've had a pinch of experience but not recently. Wimba allows participants to use either a computer headset or a telephone to participate in the session aurally and verbally. It took me 15 minutes of negotiating a computer headset, a telephone handset, and a wicked echo before realizing that all I needed was the telephone. Wimba connects the computer with the telephone through the phone handset. And this was happening AFTER the session started.

I also had 2 people of the 4 unable to follow my computer presentation because I failed to register them. (Fix that quickly.) A 3rd didn't know his password, but obtained a temporary one from the PT staff member helping me to organize the orientation. The first participant got on only because I noticed his voicemail message to me and was able to get him the conference call information before the other issues arose. All this juggling happened because I got into my office 5 minutes before the session was to start. Which itself required me getting the kids to a friend's house 45 minutes early so they could get to the bus stop.

Presentation Issues
Have you ever done a presentation without any visual or aural feedback from your audience? It must be what actors go through when they have to play to the camera. Wimba is like that because everyone is just listening to you. You have to maintain your train of thought, be animated, navigate the website, And sound capable with no audience feedback. Happily, that changed as I proceeded through the session and began inviting participation. I'm not afraid to call on people by name. And with a list of attendees in front of me in Wimba, no one is immune regardless of eye contact or lack.

Instructional Issues
I usually poll students to find out what they already know about using article databases. In the chaos of getting the session running, I never thought to do this with the participating clinical instructors. I learned further in that one of the participants Teaches students how to find clinical evidence. The rest had largely never used article databases.

Another of my practices during library research instruction is to make sure participants know how to limit searches to full-text because that's what so many university students want. If you're looking for one article on abortion, you don't have to be too picky. Limit the search to full-text, find an article, and force your paper to accommodate what the article says.

For anyone trying to do a comprehensive topic search, this isn't good enough because only a fraction of the total number of articles you retrieve in a search may have full-text. For students like these, I tell them not to worry initially how they will obtain the article. Find good information first, then use supplemental strategies to obtain the article.

With these CIs, I was in general searcher mode. I showed them how to limit their search results in PubMed. Them not being on campus to get any articles from journals we might have in print, I received a couple murmurs of approval. My experienced searcher interjected that she discourages her student interns from limiting to full-text because the articles might not be comprehensive enough to help make a clinical decision that will benefit patients.

I wholeheartedly concurred with her and offered mea culpa for presenting with the wrong hat on my head. Then I pointed to the supplemental strategies for obtaining articles.

The session ended up serving the purpose, both of educating the CIs about our resources and reminding me that I'm a little out of touch with the needs of health science researchers. No problem. I'm ready now for my next session Thursday night.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Going to a Lot of Trouble to Knockoff

My parents, repatriated American citizens, came to visit from China bearing gifts.

I received a Burberry pullover shirt of which I was immediately suspicious. China is known for being a haven for knockoff products (LaFranier). A look at the quality of the stitching helped to confirm my suspicion, but the clincher was to come only after a look on the Internet and a comparison of the labels. I like how the B for Burberry ended up as an R (for ripoff?).


What was more interesting to me was how the tag was attached to the shirt. Connecting the tag to the label was a plastic ornament injection-molded to nylon cord loops coming out both ends. The ornament was 1 1/4" long and 3/8" wide. The tag was on one loop and the other loop went through the fold of the label.

I could see that the ornament was not simply clamshell-clipped onto the cord. There were no knots of any sort. So how did the garment worker secure the ornament to the label and tag?

A study of the end of the ornament revealed that only one end of the loop of cord was molded into it. The other end looked to be molded into a very small piece of plastic inserted into the larger ornament.

I guessed that miniature piece to be a clip of some sort. It initially seemed like a lot of trouble to secure tag to label; but
if it made the final product more convincing, so much the better. Anyway, the effort would have to be on the mold fabrication side. Once the ornament got molded, slipping the clip into the ornament would be a vast time savings over tying a knot.

I cracked the ornament open and found my suspicion confirmed about the nature of the ornament.

There were several elements I brought to this puzzle. One was curiosity. Another was intuition. And another was experience. (Perhaps you'll identify more.)

Wrapped in the curiosity was observation. I noticed something. I wondered about it.

The intuition about the ornament came partly from a former life as an applied materials research scientist.

The experience came from curiosity about other locking devices like nylon clips on backpacks.

Perhaps the real significance of this event is that those various elements make me a more involved academic librarian.

I wonder.

I intuit.

I draw on experience.

Works Cited
LaFranier, Sharon. "Facing Counterfeiting Crackdown, Beijing Vendors Fight Back." New York Times. 1 March 2009. 19 April 2009 <>.

haganah. "Burberry Prorsum." Weblog comment. 2 April 2009. StyleForum. 19 April 2009 <>.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Handling Bad Assignments from Professors

(Twitter is failing me because I get no input box in which to tweet.)

One of our librarians distributed a web article she came across recently about bad library assignments professors make their students do (Collier). The article is from a second-year librarian. She comments about the difficulty of imagining approaching a faculty member to discuss the assignment. "What moxie!" She says.

I'm now a fourth-year librarian and in many ways I've forgotten about the challenge of approaching faculty. I think this is mostly because (I believe) I've both cultivated a strong relationship with my faculty and learned how to be diplomatic with phrasing concerns. It helps that despite being a fourth-year librarian, I've been in the work world for 20 years and have an easily approachable personality (I've been told!).

Last year I noticed the pattern of students from the same course searching for specific articles on genetic modification every year. The big problem was that the obvious keywords of gene modification weren't yielding good results. Couple that with the problem of the article having to be less than 3 years old and no one being permitted to use an article that someone else found.

I nipped the problem in the bud by immediately getting on the phone and asking the instructor for an opportunity to do a 15-minute instruction. What worked is that I knew the instructor and knew I could approach the subject tactfully by offering to come into the class. But even if I hadn't known the instructor, I'd still have made the call. Just another opportunity to connect with someone!

As students we see professors as paragons of intellect and wisdom that we must uphold with high regard and can approach only with temerity and humility. They are people, too, with their own personalities, weaknesses, and insecurities! So much can be accomplished by approaching them with due respect, tact, and empathy, but with candor.

Not to say there aren't profs who are full of themselves. At least at Arcadia University, I don't see much of them. There will be situations in which problems are irresolvable. Nobody wins all the time.

Works Cited
Collier, Ellie. "Stepping on Toes: The Delicate Art of Talking to Faculty about Questionable Assignments." In the Library with the Lead Pipe. 18 March 2009. 17 April 2009 <>.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Troubleshooting technology

At Arcadia University, reference librarians work with instructional technologists in a unit within the Library Department called Instructional Technology and Library Research Services. The details of why this is and why it's a good idea are for another post. The significance is that besides being the Sciences Librarian, I'm also the student supervisor for instructional technology.

With final presentations fast arriving (it's Week 13 of 14), we're actively managing poster printing. These posters are the big ones you see at professional meetings that students have prepared based on their research.

The lab where the padawans work (read padawan as student apprentices--only the Sith have apprentices) is in the library physically. The large format printer is in Information Technology in a neighboring building. This makes life interesting because we have to monitor the progress of printing remotely. Although you can see from the printer window if a print job has failed, you don't necessarily know exactly why. So far the only causes I've known of are empty ink cartridges or a spent paper roll. I haven't known of more causes because this year is the first that I've done this supervision and, thus, been involved with the printing process.

One phenomenon that I did notice as we monitored printing remotely is that there are other users printing other projects that aren't posters. You can see them interspersed with the presentation poster print jobs we send.

Here's the lesson. It is important to get to know the relevant processes before giving full control to a padawan--or anyone else for that matter. After all, knowledge is power.

I'm sitting next to the printer now because there are no padawans on duty. Normally I'd be in the library but the printer report indicated that there was a failure. I could have called an IT student apprentice (they must be Sith over in IT) to check on the printer status, but I figured I'd just look myself.

What I found was a lab full of design students. My poster print job was failing because the design students were trading out paper rolls from poster paper to drawing vellum. I watched a student change the paper back but still had the poster print job I was handling fail twice more. I looked at the printer and noticed it querying for the user to load the paper even though she already had and had then left for the day. I removed the poster paper and reloaded it. Then I realized that she had never changed the printer's paper setting. She had changed the paper to poster paper, but the setting was still for vellum.

If I had been sitting in the library, I would never have realized that the other print jobs I was seeing in the queue could be contributing to failed print jobs. So now I know of 3 possible reasons why a print job can fail that I can notify the padawans to be aware of.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rubric, what rubric?

One of the challenges of the Tech for School Library Media Centers I teach has been determining what my rubric should be for grading assignments. Originally (last year, that is), it started as a simple 33%-33%-33%. 33% of the grade would be synopsis of the article selected for the assignment, 33% would be reflection on some aspect of the article, and 33% would be for describing application of some element of the technology featured in the article. That seemed pretty straightforward to me. I just needed to help the students understand what I meant by application: It was to be an explanation of how they would use what they had learned from the article. Since few of the students were practicing school librarians, I told them to imagine how they would apply the technology, recognizing that there was at least value in that exercise.

After the first paper last year, I realized that I wanted more in that rubric. I wanted to see something extra that they were doing to enhance the learning in the assignment. If the article was about a web technology, then that extra effort needed to be consultation of another article or perhaps of a website or even a person. Somehow that effort needed to distinguish the work from one fulfilling the basic requirements of the assignment. So the rubric was now 30/30/30/10 for synopsis, reflection, application, and effort. (Effort would eventually become Value Added to avoid the confusion that arose from people who thought they had put a lot of hard work into their assignments--not the same thing.)

This rubric seemed to serve the assignments well the first year. This year, though, I spent a lot of time getting the students to devote 1/3 of their writing efforts to each part. Students were tending to spend more time on synopsis and less on application. So I kept telling them that if approximately 1/3 of the grade was for each part, then they should be devoting 1/3 of the length of the paper to each of those parts.

As each assignment passed this year, I also began noticing other elements that were important that students needed guidance on. I started grading on the quality of the writing, the adherence to MLA's citation style, good grammar, and good punctuation.

Another element that became more prominent was the length of the papers. Although I had set page limits and font style and size, a fair number of students were ignoring those requirements. One kept generating papers 20% shorter than everyone else and a couple were writing ones up to 50% longer.

About halfway into the course one of my students complained about the rubric being too general. I couldn't understand what she meant
at the time, so I decided I wouldn't make any changes. I did start comparing notes with other professors.

What became increasingly clear was that quality writing was not as implicit as I thought--neither was following certain assignment requirements. Suddenly, the need for a more specific rubric became clear. I decided not to rewrite the rubric for this year since all the writing was now done. Any changes I could add to the syllabus for next year.

In my class today, however, a student asked for a detailed rubric for the final project. Not a written paper, but a library and technology website, I admitted I didn't have one. This time I was more ready to put something together. As each of 4 groups of students worked together during our class lab time, I collected notes on what I noticed I was liking and not liking. I immediately began making comments and suggestions. Based on my observations and those about the writing assignments, I began formulating hard numbers. I have yet to assign weights. I'll get the actual percentages in place this week and will have the rubric done in time for everyone to use. In this case, better late than never. And next year's class will be none the wiser.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What is I-candy?

Flashback: A few months ago, I was chatting with an education professor. Our conversation turned to the issue of how to evaluate the graduate students I teach in my Technology for School Library Media Centers class. I wanted to get the students to think more about ideas we discussed in class. Since she knew I required weekly journal postings of my students, she suggested I assign a topic for them to journal on rather than leave it open-ended. This idea was brilliance and after our conversation was done, I rushed up to share it with the director of the library, my boss. In the last year since she joined Arcadia University from Delaware County Community College, Jeanne had been (and continues to be) an enthusiastic ear to any thoughts I had to share. I perched myself in her office and said, "I have a piece of i-candy--intellectual candy--to share with you." This was the first time I uttered the word that had been bouncing around my head for a few weeks even before that. The day was Friday, 1/23/09.

Jeanne loved the term; so I started using it in other conversations I had with people about ideas I was ruminating on. And no one else has failed to appreciate the serendipity of double entendre and mental imagery.

Now: Here's what I mean when I use the term. I-candy is a choice combination of conceptual ingredients and cogitation that results in something worth sharing with someone else.

In the context of the university library and teaching library research instruction, i-candy usually has to do with some realization I've made about what we librarians teach, how we teach it, and how the students we teach receive it. In this case the i-candy comes under the librarians' topic of Information Literacy. But as you'll notice in my previous post on Circles of Knowledge, i-candy isn't limited to library research instruction. In the case of that model, it had to do with teaching in general. I plan to share my Model of Professional Interaction that is i-candy about constructive workplaces. And there'll be i-candy about thoughts that have nothing to do with libraries or teaching at all. Whatever I happen to be thinking about that I think you might be interested in reading is fair game.

To get a feel for what some of those topics could be, read my tweets at

Who are you, then? Well, I suspect most of you are librarians. (At the time of this writing, actually, there's only one of you actually following me. If it's who I think it is, she's our Circulation Librarian.) But eventually, I hope, my following will be an eclectic mish-mosh of people who are wondering what a particular academic librarian might be pondering.

Know this, though, I'll try never to get too trivial. There's already too much of that.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Technologization of Life or Just Making of Unexpected Connections...or Both

Occasionally I find some unexpected connections between unrelated events. During Easter celebration this morning, the worship leader announced the name of the next song we would be singing. No problem. But it was the name of the song we had just finished singing. It startled me because I wasn't sure what had just happened. Yes; he said the name of that song a few minutes before. And, yes, he just said it again, didn't he? As the leader corrected himself, my father-in-law stated the obvious to my mother-in-law: "He just said the name of the same song." With a split-second to think, I turned around and said, "The CD player was set on track repeat."

Another moment later I had a chance to process what I just said. I hadn't simply described an event in technological terms. I had made an understandable connection between two unrelated events.

This event accentuated another event that I experienced at my brother-in-law's house yesterday. I was shooting some pool with my sister-in-law's husband when he made a dramatic, though unplanned, shot that I happened to catch only out of the corner of my eye. I said then, "I need to see that on instant replay."

If I were assessing the quality of my life based on the ability to experience one-time events again, I suppose one would have to say that I'd become pathetic. Unrequited YouTuber. But I wasn't. I saw enough of the shot to appreciate it for what it was. I didn't really have to capture it. (Now, maybe if it had been a cooler shot...)

What was interesting was that two events exemplified how technological life had become. And not simply for me. Both of the comments I made over two different days made perfect sense to the people who heard it. We've all become more technological.

There is another part to this that isn't about technology. You'll find that I can make some unexpected connections in other ways. This is what makes me the person I am.

I was in London in the middle of March. Arcadia University is known for its study abroad opportunities. I was with 25 other faculty and staff members leading 300 students on an annual Spring Break chance for first-year students to decide if they might want to study abroad for an entire term. I was with some students tromping up the steps of St. Paul's cathedral. One particular gal was ready to bail out of the vertical trek to meet up with us again on the way down. I goaded, taunted, and cajoled her successfully. And as she continued the marathon with much whining and complaining, I motivated her with the words: "Come on. It's no worse than an eight-page paper."

I see myself as a big-picture thinker. Perhaps the endpoint of this post is not the technologization of life, but really the making of unexpected connections. Keep an eye out in subsequent posts and see if you agree.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Circles of Knowledge Model

This is the 2nd year I'm teaching my Technology for School Library Media Centers class at Arcadia University. The students this spring were noteworthy because so many had only rudimentary technology skills. The first day of class was a day full of apprehension for them about what would be coming throughout the term.

The first technology I showed them was blogging (Google to read some of their posts: ED566e I wanted them to journal what they were processing from each week. It was an obvious connection to merge that with journaling technology like blogging.

With each passing week, you could see their confidence level was increasing. So much of technology is being willing to try something new out. (Having a controlled environment and someone to walk through with you helps.)

Somewhere around the 4th week of class I was struck with the idea of a model about what I was seeing with regard to their increasing confidence. (Aside: I get these kinds of ideas; hence this blog. "I've got a piece of i-candy that I want to share with you.") The terms came a little later.

My students came in with a certain sense of what they knew about technology: Perceived Status. A small circle (very small for some) represents this status. There is another circle in which Perceived Status sits called Perceived Need.

(Incidentally, I'm working on a graphic for this that I'll share hopefully before too long, but understand that I diagram mentally first. This is both nature and nurture, which I'll share about in a later post about my background. Note also that I digress easily which makes for a lot of parenthetical writing.)

Perceived Need is a larger circle. For students that had some technology aptitude coming in, Perceived Status is larger than for those with nominal skills. For both sets of students, Perceived Need does not have to be terribly much larger for the student to be overwhelmed.

Some geometry here: The area of a circle is pi-r-squared. (You remember this don't your?) If a circle increases in radius by 2 times, it might seem to be 2x larger. Because of the square of the r in the area equation, however, the area increases by a square of the radius. So the radius may double, but the area increases by 2-squared, i.e., 4x. That may not seem like much, but if the circle increases in radius by 4x, the area increase is 16x. The area of the circle gets larger very quickly.

My point is that Perceived Status doesn't have to be much bigger than Perceived Need for the effect to become substantial. If students' perceived need is much larger than their perceived status then it isn't difficult to imagine how overwhelmed they must actually be.

Well the more students learn, the larger the circle of their perceived status becomes. These students only have to look at the syllabus to understand how big Perceived Need is relative to the class. It's finite. Doesn't change over the course of the class; but Perceived Status does. It actually gets closer and closer in size to Perceived Need as the class approaches its end. (April 30 is final presentations!)

(By the way, the idea of Perceived Need relative to the class being finite because the syllabus is fixed came to me as I drafted this posting. Before this moment, I had a sense of Perceived Need having only an undefined size.)

Well no wonder students become more confident; Perceived Status is slowly reaching Perceived Need in size. They are slowly grasping more and more of what they need to know so they are rapidly becoming less overwhelmed.

What they will need to realize is that Perceived Need is actually a smaller circle within yet a larger circle called Actual Need. I'm realizing (again as I write) that syllabuses are extremely important because they keep students' brains from exploding. Picture how small Perceived Status would be if they could picture it within the circle of Actual Need. After all, Actual Need can represent everything they need to learn as university students (yikes-squared) or everything they need to know as school library media specialists (rapid-expansion-of-volatile-gases-leading-to-catastrophic-redistribution-of-brain-matter: yucks-squared).

Circles of Knowledge Model will come back again in subsequent posts. It's an important model to me.

Last digression: You can read my tweet on Twitter about former Arcadia student Ben Scheinfeld's visit to me in which I shared about him expanding on the model. (Obviously the tweet is short; less than 141 characters long. It's just a red herring to get you to follow me on Twitter.) I shared it with him because he was dissatisfied with the current research he's doing on plants at Academy of Natural Sciences. He shooting for medical research at Jefferson University I told him that I wanted to talk to him again in a few years because I knew what he was learning would eventually enter the circle of actual need. He pictured several circles of perceived status from different areas slowly reaching out to each other as they grew in size and began to overlap within the circle of actual need.

As I tweeted earlier, people make life interesting!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What does the grade mean?

I teach a class for Education grad students in our School Library Certification program called Technology for School Library Media Centers (SLMC). You can read my tweets about grading final papers on Twitter.

Here are some i-ruminations.

I have 2 students who are particularly good writers. They are engaging. They're thoughtful. They know how to follow my rubric.

(Synopsis of an article, 30%; reflection on the article or its topic, 30%; application of a related idea to current or future practice as a School Library Media Specialist; value added, i.e., some identifiable extra bit of work that a peer might not be doing such as researching the topic online, 10%.)

Every year I can recommend students for Pennsylvania School Library Association's Outstanding Student Librarian Award. Here are the qualifications:

  • Maintains a 3.0 GPA (or equivalent) in their major.
  • Displays outstanding leadership qualities and has potential to be a future leader in PSLA.
  • Demonstrates an interest in professional action.
  • Dedication to the school library field as a profession.

In preparation for doing this next Spring, I've been paying close attention to all of my students and these 2 excellent have risen to the top.

I have several other students who are not such good writers. A couple I've even referred to our writing center for help with grammar, punctuation, idea development, etc. One student whom I referred did not impress me at all with her first paper
(of 4) . By the 2nd paper, it was clear that she needed a referral. She took my suggestion gamely and sought help for the last 2 papers. Last night I did a once-over of the final paper and I was thrilled. Something worked. Yet when I think about students whom I'd like to commend for this PSLA award, she doesn't come first to mind.

Why not? After talking to her about her earlier papers, I knew that writing was not something she considered herself to be good at. But she is a practicing school librarian who just needs a master's degree to her name. She claims she's a doer not a writer, so she taught herself how to use her new SMART Board. Well that's good, isn't it? Show's potential? Writing skills shouldn't limit her. Indeed, the fact that she took my suggestion to get tutoring help sets her even further apart as an achiever than natural writers.

What may be related (or not) is that she came into the class with few technology skills. Students like her tend to write about topics that, though fascinating, have gotten a lot of attention already and hence can become trite for a professor to read: blogs, wikis, social networking.

Naturally, I can't ethically and don't grade students based on what they bring into the class technologically. I grade them on the rubric which deals with the topics; both basic and advanced. But if more novice students with weaker writing skills write about subject matter that can seem trite to me, how will they stand out as potential award recipients? This student wrote her last paper on website evaluation. Those excellent writers wrote on open source applications and smartphones for accessing web content, respectively. The latter topics are atypical and they wrote insightfully. The former topic is more basic but her writing improved drastically. So who gets a commendation? Beats me.