Adjust Accordingly

Remember Marie Kondo? I don’t know about you, but it seems like a lifetime ago when I watched her Netflix series and then bought her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and then actually tried to KonMari my life. I think fondly back to that pile of clothes I collected, holding up each item waiting to determine if this sweater or that pair of pants “sparked joy” and boy, in retrospect, the days when those were my biggest concerns seems unrecognizable. Even my husband got into the act, and we spent several days embracing our clothing, blissfully unaware of what the future held for all of us. 

Adjust Accordingly

Some of you may be familiar with the author and illustrator Dallas Clayton—he’s a big hit with the elementary school crowd—his biggest super-power seeming to be the ability to affirm children and spark joy during school visits.

I came to know about him from my days as an elementary school librarian and while I’m a good number of years and several thousand teens away from the lovely Shepaug River Valley and Rumsey Hall School, I still have a poster of his on my wall with this simple message. I believe I’m pretty good at the first three parts—it’s the adjust accordingly that I still need to work on.

Farewell to the 2021 School Year

Due to a fortuitous decision by our Head of School to power through Winter and Spring terms without any breaks, our school year is over, our seniors have graduated, our end-of-year meetings are complete, and most of our faculty have headed off for a well-deserved break. I have several more weeks of work before my summer vacation starts and will spend some of that in housekeeping activities—the behind-the-scenes tasks that might not spark joy, but are necessary to keep a library running smoothly and ensure a smooth opening in the fall: shelving books, cleaning study carrels, removing old signage, doing inventory. 

Once these tasks are finished, I’ll turn my attention to thinking about what I consider the heart of my work here as a librarian and that I personally get the most satisfaction from: how might I connect more fully with my community, what lessons can I change or adapt to make my New Student Seminar (NSS) more relevant to and meaningful for my students, and how can I create and nurture collaborative relationships with our faculty?

“Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”

From emails on our listserv and posts on our blog, plus conversations with AISL colleagues, I’ve realized most of us expend a good deal of our time and energy strategizing how to forge connections with our faculty, especially those of us in middle and secondary schools where formally scheduled visits to the library are no longer part of the academic day. We middle and secondary school librarians need to make connections with faculty who are willing to collaborate with us on projects big and small and who allow us the opportunity to work with their students on critical thinking skills and the nuances of research. 

Although “show don’t tell” is frequently associated with writing, I see its application in the teacher/librarian relationship. There’s a distinct difference, I believe, between teachers telling their students to come see us vs. showing students our value by inviting us into the classroom. Without an invitation, we must rely on students reaching out to us for support on their own or planning optional programming that we know will not reach every student—and often not reach the students who need us the most. I recognize that the ability to self-advocate is an important skill for our students to develop, but I believe that sometimes students don’t know what they don’t know, especially in regards to understanding the myriad types of information they encounter on the internet. Management consultant Peter Drucker posits that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” and from my vantage point this highlights precisely why we need to incorporate embedded librarians into the culture of the school as one of the best ways to support the mastery of core competencies associated with information literacy and research skills. 

What Sparked Joy?

Now that my school year is over, I’m starting the process of looking back, seeing what I accomplished, what I didn’t accomplish that I wanted to, what I’m willing to let go of, and what I would like to hold onto as we reset for the fall.

Curating new resources to support our DEI initiatives
I am fortunate to have been able to work closely with our Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on a number of initiatives and resources to support social justice. This work and my relationship with our DEI Director cemented my belief that while much of the work of the library happens within its four walls, we also need to reach beyond those walls if we want to be relevant in the life of the school. The resources in our LibGuide on Race, Racism, and Anti-Racism are used as a shared foundation for discussion on race in our Courageous Conversations among faculty and staff. As a living document, additional resources were added in response to the violence against the AAPI community. There is a tremendous value in this resource to our community as its pages have been accessed over 14,000 times since it was published last summer. I’m a numbers geek, so for me I see a great return on the investment I and two of my colleagues put into the creation of this guide. The Lunar New Year guide was created to support the joyful aspects of AAPI culture and the Black American Studies guide provides useful links to resource for a new course offering.

Working with our peer tutors
A value-added program that isn’t directly library related but is sponsored by our library is Peer Tutoring. Normally our 30+ peer tutors work out of the library during the 8-10PM study hall block Sunday – Friday evening. Due to COVID restrictions limiting one student per table, we had to completely rethink how we would offer tutoring. Student-driven suggestions resulted in a successful program offered over Zoom, in dorm common rooms, and toward the end of the year once again in the library when a change in restrictions allowed two students per table. Peer tutors who were studying remotely joined on Zoom from as far afield as China, Egypt, and South Korea. It was a wild year and scheduling was a challenge, but one the tutors met with grace and enthusiasm. It was an honor to coordinate the program and work with this committed group of young people to meet the challenges presented by COVID. Each week they collectively devoted over 50 hours in service to their peers and the school while juggling their own school work, sports, and other commitments. Three cheers for youthful energy and their ability and willingness to think outside the box!

Our Spring Peer Tutoring Schedule, a combination of online, in-library, and in-dorm locations.

Teaching New Student Seminar to a cohort of 4th Formers (10th grade)
Over the summer I took the Design Bootcamp course at Global Online Academy and adapted the curriculum of my NSS course to accommodate our newly hybrid learning environment. I designed as many lessons as I could to be self-paced with choice boards that encouraged engagement and student agency – a kinder, gentler curriculum. Using a combination of traditional formats and ed tech tools for assessment, I discovered my students were more engaged with the material and enjoyed sharing their thoughts and ideas with each other. Moving forward my focus will be on the social and emotional well-being of my students as they learn the skills this course covers to help them get off to a solid start.

A Choice Board for students to explore resources on time management prior to posting on a discussion board.

Supporting U.S. History Research
This is one of my favorite activities—collaborating with teachers to support our 5th Formers as they do a deep dive into a topic of their choosing for their long-form research paper. This year I worked with a number of U.S. History teachers and provided a range of instruction. Often I’m asked to meet with a class once at the start of a research project to cover the resources and skills students need to write this graduation requirement. These one-shot lessons—or research bootcamp as I have come to think of them—generally provide the least return on investment. I feel pressured to cover too much information in too short of a time and end up feeling that I have overwhelmed students. I’m sure they’re overwhelmed—I’m overwhelmed just thinking about it. I recall reading a post by Dave Wee where he wrote about no longer offering this as an option to teachers and I believe that if I “adjust accordingly” that’s where I’m headed next year.

On the opposite end of the spectrum I also teach the research process by scaffolding multiple lessons. This year I was fortunate to work with two teachers who chose to use this approach. One teacher brought both of his U.S. History classes in for 5-6 sessions over the course of the Winter Term affording me the time to break down the research process into manageable chunks. For these I gave a quick instructional session at the start of class and worked individually with students for the remainder of the block. Students had a week or more between each session giving them enough time to complete tasks and come for additional help if needed.

I’m also fortunate to have worked with one of our APUSH teachers on a fairly consistent basis throughout my three years at Kent, and we frequently collaborate on unique project-based assignments which are great fun for me and engaging for his students. This year we collaborated on three projects: for the first project, students focused on mining a bibliography to determine the author’s bias and present their findings that they supported with additional research; for the second project I joined the two APUSH sections he taught each day they met during our two week remote period in December. I followed the same scaffolded approach described above—the main difference being this was accomplished remotely on Zoom and was the only project the students worked on for that two-week period. Again, this allowed for in-depth instruction introducing more nuanced skills required for advanced research; for the third project students chose images from nine distinct eras aligning with those on the AP U.S. History exam that reflected a self-selected theme. I love this project as students learned how to analyze, interpret, and think deeply and expansively about primary source images. Plus, it culminated in terrific end-of-term presentations using Adobe Spark, which are alway great to explore. Needless to say, the return on investment for these types of projects is high, not only for the skills students are able to master and the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of their topic, but also for the solid relationships I’m able to develop with students that only comes from actively engaging with them.

My AISL Colleagues
I would be remiss if I didn’t include being part of this wonderfully knowledgeable group of AISL librarians. This group has been a life-saver: from our first Zoom sessions in March and throughout the summer where we shared our lemons and lemonade (thank you to Claire for your calm presence and tech abilities) to our annual conference to our book groups. We learned to be as kind to ourselves as we were to each other. We kept reminding each other of how hard it was to deal with shifting spaces, quarantining books, keeping programs going, and students coming to the library. Amazingly, with Past President Christina Pommer’s guidance we were able to pull off our first virtual conference – no small accomplishment in a year filled with firsts. I can’t stress enough, AISL has been a life-saver.

Final Thoughts

It’s going to take quite some time to process all of the mixed emotions and experiences I’ve had over the past nine months that we’ve been back at school. When I look back on all that we’ve been through and all that we’ve accomplished, when I put all of these experiences in a pile and hold each one up to see if it sparks joy, it’s hard to believe all of this was possible while living through a pandemic. I admit, I was terrified about returning to school in-person, but the view from the other side gives me an incredible sense of accomplishment and feelings of gratitude for everyone who worked tirelessly to make it happen. At the end of the day, when comparing the lists of things that are under my control, I must say there aren’t too many things I need to adjust accordingly. Oh, and yes, when holding them up to see how they make me feel, most of them have sparked joy!

Staying Centered in Trying Times

Some of you may know that I’m a potter by avocation. I’ve been making pottery longer than I’ve done anything else in my life, including my 20+ years as a librarian. While I occasionally hand-build—my real passion is throwing on the wheel. There is something soothing and Zen-like about turning a lump of clay into functional pieces for everyday use. Throwing on the wheel requires me to be present with the clay and the wheel and the tools. No matter how much effort I put into throwing a pot, if I don’t center the clay to begin with, there’s little chance I’ll end up with a finished piece I want to keep. The act of being focused on what I’m doing has a restorative effect in and of itself on my well-being, and in these trying times, I find I need that now more than ever.

Librarian vs. Entropy

Every year at this time I’m happy to be back at school with students after Winter Break. This year, however, I’m back but our students and faculty aren’t. Even though we did have a long Winter Break, somehow I feel more drained and less rested than before it started. I’m sure the fact that it’s lonely without our students, who won’t return to campus until the first week in February, doesn’t help. So my return to a mostly empty campus amid the more contagious variant of COVID-19 and the violent insurgence at our nation’s Capitol and the aftermath has made it difficult to focus on projects generally reserved for those times when students aren’t on campus. I’ll be spending the next month completing behind-the-scenes work necessary for the smooth running of any K-12 library—weeding, checking digital resources for currency and accuracy, reviewing lesson plans, and developing new instructional material for research classes. Necessary yes, but restorative? I’m not so sure. From my point of view, a majority of our time and energy as librarians is spent trying to counteract the effects of entropy—the tendency of systems to devolve into randomness and disorder. Take your eye off any part of your library for too long and things quickly fall apart.

LibGuides
The first thing I tackled was checking and updating my guides with new information (when relevant). I just finished working with two of our APUSH classes on their long form research paper, so that guide is in good shape for the next classes I’ll work with during the remaining weeks of our Winter term. We have a new Black American Studies class so I’ve been working to add as many resources as possible to a new LibGuide to support the curriculum. Once I’ve finished that, I’ll check for broken links. Broken links can undermine a user’s confidence in the usefulness of your guides, so every few months I run a report through the Link Checker function. There are frequently a large percentage of false positives, but I don’t mind checking each link as it gives me a chance to review it for relevancy to the guide it’s on. This can be a time-consuming task so this is a good time to work through them. The most recent report had roughly100 broken links, the majority of those checked so far being false positives, so the guides will be in good shape once they’ve all been resolved.

Weeding

Weeding is one of my least favorite tasks: it’s just so final. Before I started work on our reference collection, I reviewed the CREW manual from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

This manual was clearly written by working professionals and is full of helpful and down-to-earth advice to help you organize your thoughts and prioritize your goals for weeding. Your print reference collection may be similar to ours—taking up prime shelf space yet rarely, if ever, used. A decision was made to interfile these titles with the circulating collection, making this the ideal time to weed. Ultimately I used the following criteria as a guideline and eventually found I was able to get into the “weeding zone” where I wasn’t so stressed about what I was getting rid of, but instead focused on what remained and the value it added to our collection:
1. Age and condition of book
2. Is it relevant to the curriculum or our community?
3. Is it unique in any way?
4. Does it add to the diversity of the circulating collection?
5. Do we have other books on this topic/ subject area?
6. Do we have databases that provide tertiary/ reference information similar to this title?

This ultimately meant that a number of our general and subject-specific encyclopedias were removed from the collection and will find new homes if the information isn’t currently inaccurate (think science) or dated (think current history topics and the language of older publications). Since many of our faculty only allow the use of tertiary sources for background information when writing research papers and much of the general information provided in these sources can be found freely online or in our databases, these titles were easy to cull. You know when your Oxford Companion to (insert random topic here) was published 30 years ago but has an unbroken spine, it’s time for it to go. We are, however, going to keep a small ready reference collection at the front desk, although that’s more for our benefit than our students who rarely, if ever, consult handbooks, dictionaries, and almanacs in print.

In the next week, I will be turning my attention to our Professional Development section, one area I am looking forward to weeding and possibly organizing by topic in more of a bookstore format. I would really like to move the collection to an area with a bit of privacy and a comfy chair where faculty could put their feet up, relax, and browse a while. We’ll see how the weeding goes first, though.

Final Thoughts

Although I’m not sure I experience the same sense of Zen when working on these tasks that I experience when throwing on the wheel, I do feel that same sense of calm when I look at a well-organized shelf or visually pleasing LibGuide—the feeling of accomplishment for a job well-done. These are a few of the things that I hold onto in turbulent times and hope they’ll make a difference in some small way.

Join the Mask Maker Movement

I had the good fortune to have a mother who was an excellent seamstress. She made most of the clothes my sister and I wore through middle school, back in the dark ages when girls were forbidden to wear pants to school (can you imagine!) and the length of your skirt was closely monitored. Lucky for me, my mom patiently taught me everything she knew about sewing. By the time I was in high school, dress codes eventually relaxed and I was soon making the obligatory dirndl skirt in Home Ec, but on my own time I also made mini skirts and granny gowns—quite the dichotomy—but that was the 70s for you. Exploring the internet in search of the perfect mask, I was thrilled to discover an amazing array of DIY mask tutorials from a wide array of sewists—including Marcy Harriell of Broadway fame who starred in In the Heights and Rent. Her tutorial on 3D masks is the uplifting video you didn’t know you needed.

Masks Required

My school requires everyone to wear masks all the time except when eating or in a dorm room (for students) or a private office (for faculty and staff). That means when it comes to masks, I’ve pretty much tried them all looking for a style that offers protection from COVID-19, doesn’t hinder my ability to breathe during normal activity, and allows others to understand me whether I’m teaching in front of a socially distanced classroom or helping a patron at the front desk. As our understanding of how the COVID-19 virus spreads has changed over time, I have found my requirements for my masks has changed with it. At the beginning of the year I felt fairly confident that sanitizing surfaces, washing my hands or using a hand-sanitizer religiously after touching any surface, and maintaining a social distance of six feet would keep me as safe as possible when we returned to on ground classes. I worked hard to keep my hands off my mask, remove it by the ear straps, and wash it as soon as I got home. I carried a couple spare masks and my biggest concern then was foggy glasses and a muffled voice.

Aerosol Transmission

Now that transmission of the virus through aerosols in closed spaces without adequate ventilation has been documented (see the recent editorial in The Lancet), I decided to see what I could do to improve or replace the masks I was using to protect myself from aerosol transmission. In the early months of mask wearing when we weren’t aware of this risk, I bought several brands trying to find the one that I could wear comfortably for a solid eight hours. Probably one of the biggest problems with trying out masks is that they understandably aren’t returnable—so I ultimately ended up buying quite a few that I never used and turned to sewing several different styles in my quest for the perfect fit: pleated, Olson, and 3D. I now wear all three and have found each has their positive points. And as with everything related to the pandemic, I try not to focus on the negative but look for solutions for the problem at hand.

Pleated Masks

For everyday wear, the pleated mask is my favorite: it’s comfortable, provides full coverage from the bridge of my nose to under my chin and most importantly, doesn’t slip as I talk, and can be sewn to include a filter pocket. A nose wire helps to secure the mask, but the real game changer is the addition of an inverted pleat at the top that makes foggy glasses a thing of the past. I came across this mask hack on UK artist Sophie Passmore’s YouTube channel and for those of you working with young children or others who need to lip read or see facial expressions, she has a tutorial for a fantastic 3D window mask. There are an unlimited number of mask tutorials on YouTube, you only have to search to find the one that suits your learning style. If you aren’t a sewist, there are also tutorials on sewing masks by hand, so don’t be deterred if you don’t have a sewing machine and are interested in creating your own.

Fit Over the Nose

Probably the most important thing I’m looking for is a secure fit of the mask around the bridge of my nose. I want a tight fit—the object being to block airborne particles. I find having an adjustable metal bar allows me to shape the mask to the contours of my face ensuring as snug a fit as possible. While I know this fit isn’t as secure as that of an N95 mask, I’m not working in a medical setting that requires an air-tight fit. Any flexible wire can be used, but I prefer to use aluminum nose wires that I purchase through Amazon. If you’re making your own mask, create a tube, insert the wire, then sew closed. I recommend using clips in place of pins to avoid making holes in your mask. You can also add nose wires to any masks you currently use as they have an adhesive back and will stick to your mask so you can get the fit you want.

Olson Masks

The Olson mask was designed by Clayton Skousen & Rose Hedgesand, clinicians at Unity Point Health, and donated masks of this style are frequently used by hospital personnel as a protective barrier over their N95 masks. I usually need to make some adjustment to get this style pattern to fit properly as it doesn’t have the extra fabric afforded by the pleated style to accommodate variations in individual faces. The Olson mask is comfortable once you get the fit right (I added a side tuck) and is much easier to insert filters into than the pleated style.

3D Masks

If you teach or do any amount of public speaking, then you’re probably familiar with the sensation of eating the fabric of your face mask while gasping for air so you can project your muffled voice. Just think of all the new teaching skills we’ve learned in 2020! I tried various silicone mask brackets and they were effective at keeping the mask out of my mouth, but I found they made my voice sound even more muffled. Enter the 3D mask. This mask reminds me of origami in that the dimension is created by folding and sewing the fabric. I like this mask especially for teaching and found it the best one for creating some space between my mask and my face. But, it still wasn’t great and it moved in and out with each breath I took. Enter the 3D mask hack by Sophie Passmore. She posted a video using cable ties to create a permanent 3D area (see the link to her YouTube channel above). You create a channel at the top and bottom of the front of the mask and insert the cable tie. The tension on the ties results in them bowing out and is created when you fold the top and bottom to make the mask. It sounds more complicated than it is – watch the tutorial and see for yourself!

Filti Face Mask Filter

I came across the Filti site while looking for an an effective filter material to use that offered the best protection against aerosol transmission. Tests by an engineering team at Washington University found Filti to be 85% effective at filtering 300-nanometer particles. In comparison, N95 filters are 95% effective. I use Filti for the filters in my face masks and also make disposable-type masks for quick trips out using it in place of material. Instead of tossing it after use, I quarantine the filters and masks for seven days in a paper bag and reuse. After several uses, I also sterilize them in the oven following the instructions on the Filti site. I haven’t thrown any away yet, but when I do, I’ll remove the ear cords and reuse.

Disclaimer: I am not recommending that you use Filti, just sharing my experience with the product.

Stay Safe and Healthy

So whether you are a member of the DIY mask maker movement, support one of the many DIY mask makers on Etsy, or have found your perfect fit from a commercially made mask, stay safe and healthy, and please share your experience with masks as we’re all in this together and it looks like we’ll be wearing them for quite some time.

Links to Information and Material for Face Masks

The Use of Batik for Face Masks
Original Olson Mask Pattern link
Hospital Approved Mask Patterns
Batik Fat Quarters on Etsy (I usually can get three masks from one fat quarter)
Video by Lorri Nunemaker (with Olson and pleated mask patterns plus a 25% off coupon for Filti Face Mask Products)

The Right Tool for the Right Job

Saturday is the last day of fall term. I’m teaching two sections of New Student Seminar (NSS)—a semester-long signature program covering academic orientation and study and research skills here at Kent. Due to our new block rotation schedule, yesterday was the last day one of my classes met, and although I gave my students the option of going to the library and studying for finals or working on projects for other classes, all but one chose to stay in the classroom. We’re a cozy group—quite comfortable with each other. Like with most teens this age, quite a bit of joking and good-natured razzing goes on during unstructured (sometimes even structured) time. Today was no exception. Talk turned to travels home and the anticipation of life without masks, surrounded by family and friends most haven’t seen in person since school started due to COVID-19 restrictions.

I don’t know how it is for you, but I have a hard time letting go at the end of a term, especially with a class that clicks and is just genuinely fun to be around. So instead of getting melancholy, I’ll use the next few days to look over my curriculum and make notes on lessons I think I should expand upon, and those I should streamline or get rid of altogether. This year, with the move to a hybrid teaching model, just about every lesson incorporated an element to encourage engagement or reflection prior to practice and demonstration of mastery. I’ll save what I’d like to streamline for another time and focus on a few things that worked well this term.

Screencasting is Key to Remote Learning:

Repeat after me: “Screencasting is my friend!” Although I used the Swivl robot, iPad, laptop, Zoom combination every class, it mostly benefited my in-person and remote students joining synchronously so they could connect with me and each other. When reviewing the recordings, I often found conversations weren’t loud enough or clear enough for my asynchronous students to hear what was going on. When I asked my remote students, they shared that discussions were hard to understand, even when four remote mics were placed around the room. Following that feedback, I started importing the Zoom recording into iMovie and slogged through 45 minutes of video—an uplifting experience if ever there was one—increasing the volume of student comments and discussion. My voice was fine since I wore a mic, but even when I amplified students’ voices 400%, you could barely hear what was being said. The best solution I was able to come up with was to record a separate lesson using Screencastify to post on PowerSchool, our LMS. This was a much better solution and took less than half the time I spent editing the Zoom recording, especially after I made peace with imperfect videos. In addition to the overview screencasts, I created videos introducing each unit to explain what would be covered in the next few lessons. Tutorials were recorded to explain individual skills and paired with an activity to practice/ master the skill. Below you’ll see the unit introduction and a tutorial and activity for finding an eBook on EBSCO or ProQuest Ebook Central and adding it to NoodleTools.

Flipgrid for Engagement, Student Voice, and Assessment

Flipgrid is such a versatile tool that I found myself turning to it often as it is easy to use and gives students a number of options for recording responses that takes their personal comfort level into consideration. For my introductory lesson, I used one of the conversations in the Discovery section asking students to share five items that showcase who they are. This was a great icebreaker—not too intrusive—and was fun to see what items each person chose that reflected who they were. There was a dog pillow and Shakespeare, hockey and lax sticks, a digital camera and a cheeseburger, a copy of Catcher in the Rye and a pair of Vans to name just a few. I wish I could list everything because they’re completely smile-worthy.

What’s in Your Bag?

When we started our unit on Growth Mindset, I asked my students to share something they worked really hard to master. Their responses were fascinating to watch as they shared everything from mastering Latin to a tennis backhand to performing card tricks and overcoming laziness. I loved that overcoming laziness was viewed as a skill that could be mastered—see, there is hope for all you parents with children with messy rooms! Nestled in their dorm rooms, my students shared their pride in an accomplishment—something they may not have felt comfortable doing in person or over Zoom. This platform also leveled the playing field and offered an equitable assignment for all of my students regardless of how they were attending class.

Keeping a Growth Mindset

Finally, when I introduced NoodleTools and asked them to find a source and add it to their project, I used Flipgrid to assess their understanding of the process by asking them to use the screen share feature to record their screen and walk through the steps to find and add a source to NoodleTools. It was really interesting to see how each student interpreted the instructions – I got everything from students looking directly into the camera and telling me how they did it step-by-step, to the silent film version accompanied by exaggerated clicking to a tutorial that I would have been proud to claim as my own!

NoodleTools Tutorial

Padlet for Playlists, Brainstorming, Critical Thinking

Padlets are interactive bulletin boards that can be used for a variety of activities. I used them frequently as they are simple to create, encourage collaboration, and are easily embedded in my LMS. For my unit on time management, I created a playlist and students chose one video, one article written by a Kent graduate, and one additional article or video. I then asked them to add a discussion post with this prompt: Thinking about the articles/ blog post that you read and the video you watched, what are three things that impressed you or stood out about the author’s approach to time management and how might you work that into your own time management routine? For annotation and note taking, I provided samples and students were then asked to choose one system, use it for a week, and post a picture of their best work. Finally, when a college counselor visited to talk about the college application process, he brought along cards of the factors colleges use to evaluate applicants. Students then discussed and rank ordered them in terms of importance. Since my remote students wouldn’t be able to read the cards, I needed to ensure an equitable learning environment for them. I created a Padlet with the 13 items and shared my screen over Zoom so they were able to take part in the discussion as the cards were moved into the order discussed.

Our students are leaving campus on Monday and all of us are looking forward to a well-deserved rest. Following Thanksgiving Break, we enter our remote learning stretch, then break again and return to campus in early February, starting classes remotely until everyone quarantines to ensure a safe return to life on campus. During the remote period, I look forward to collaborating on research projects with our APUSH classes and an opportunity to work with students to hone their research skills. Whether we are planning lessons for remote, in-person, or asynchronous learning, the right tech tool for the right job increases the opportunity for engagement and gives students a platform to share their voice with others.

Online Learning: My life in the HyFlex Lane

I recently came across the episode of I Love Lucy where she and Ethel have just gotten jobs in a chocolate factory. It seems simple enough—wrapping chocolates as they move past on a conveyor belt. The conveyor belt moves slowly at first, and Lucy and Ethel do a fine job of keeping up with the candy moving along in front of them, feeling quite pleased with themselves. Before long, however, the belt speeds up and things quickly go sideways, the chocolates speed by, and Ethel and Lucy are reduced to scooping them off the belt and stuffing them … well, you get the picture and if you’re in need of a good laugh these days, I highly recommend this clip. 

Since we all understand the concept of foreshadowing, I imagine as soon as you hear Lucy and Ethel say “Well this is easy, we can handle this okay,” you know things are definitely not going to be okay. 

At this point, you may be wondering what this has to do with online learning or even librarianship. A post on the AISL listserv recently asked the question, “What IS a school librarian?” For me, defining what it means to be a school librarian used to be easy. But with all the changes that COVID-19 has thrown at us and how quickly our lives have changed, it isn’t as clear-cut as it used to be. It still means having a physical presence in the library, providing readers’ advisory, designing LibGuides, keeping our library website current, and collaborating with faculty on research projects. But now, for me it also includes designing lessons and teaching based on the HyFlex model my school adopted for this year (and truth be told, probably parts of it for years to come).

It’s a Strange, New World

I have to say, Kent has done a remarkable job of creating as safe an environment as possible for faculty, staff, and students. We started bringing students back at the end of August to provide enough time for testing and quarantining to ensure we were creating a bubble that allowed us to start school September 9 with over 450 students boarding on campus. An additional 100+ students are attending class synchronously and/or asynchronously depending on time zone restrictions. I’m happy to say we’ve just successfully finished week three of our fall term and I know it’s because of all the ways COVID-19 protocol makes teaching and living harder: masks, de-densified classrooms, one-way traffic patterns, testing, staggered meals and outdoor dining, campus visitor restrictions, and social distancing to name but a few.

In addition to my regular duties as the research librarian, I teach two sections of New Student Seminar (NSS), a graduation requirement completed in a student’s third or fourth form year. NSS covers everything from active study and time management to information literacy and research skills. This year, both of my sections have 15 students total—12 and 13 students respectively boarding and attending class on campus and two-three remote students that join via Zoom, time zone differences permitting. Armed with two years of teaching the course under my belt and time spent this summer at Global Online Academy, in PD with Dr. Joshua Eyler on Resilient Pedagogy, collaborating on a Hybrid Learning Guide for our faculty, and re-designing my PowerSchool LMS pages, I felt pretty well-prepared and thought “I can handle this.” Well, to be honest, I really wasn’t prepared for how many things I did previously that now need adaptation: talking clearly with a mask so I can be understood, listening carefully to an answer so I don’t have to ask a shy student with a quiet voice behind a mask to repeat themselves, any pair-share or small group discussion that requires close contact—the list goes on. Here are some of the challenges so far teaching during COVID-19, opportunities they’ve provided for growth, and a few of the lessons I’ve learned.

Lesson 1 | Technology is My Frenemy

On any given day I might have thirteen students physically in the classroom face-to-face (F2F) and two students joining synchronously—OR—I might have twelve F2F students, two synchronous and one asynchronous student—OR—I might have seven F2F, and six synchronous and two asynchronous students—OR… You get the picture—the possibilities are endless depending on factors beyond my control that impact my classroom and my teaching. The Hyflex model is designed to allow you to quickly pivot from one mode of delivery to another with the least amount of friction. This model relies heavily on technology and right now I’m using a witches brew of hardware and software that frequently seems to have a mind of its own: a Swivl robot, an iPad, a laptop, and finally Zoom combined to create as close as possible a true classroom experience. Because one of my main goals for each class is that my students will be actively engaged with the lesson, I add live group discussion, large and small group discussion boards on our LMS, Padlets, and Zoom breakout rooms to the mix. I travel to my classroom with everything except the Swivl, so now in the ten minute break between the last person teaching and the start of my class I need to get the Swivl positioned in the room, turned on, the iPad inserted and connected, remember to take the marker that controls the Swivl out of the charger, put it in a lanyard that I wear on my lapel (and try not to leave the classroom with it still attached stranding the next person teaching), place four additional audio markers throughout the room to capture class discussions, return to my laptop and start a Zoom session, return to the Swivl and join the Zoom from the iPad that’s in the Swivl, place the audio markers around the room to capture class discussions, and begin recording the lesson all while students are wandering in and the bell to start the class is minutes away. Oh, did I mention I need to make sure I don’t forget about admitting my remote students in the Zoom waiting room? Or take attendance and submit it before class starts? Instead of starting class feeling centered and focused, those chocolates are already flying off the conveyor belt and I’m working as quickly as I can to wrap them all. Needless to say, three weeks in and it’s exhausting. I can see it on the faces of my colleagues and on my own. I mostly get it right, but I’ve made more mistakes than I like to admit, and many more than I’m comfortable with.

Lesson 2 | Watching Myself Make Mistakes is Humbling

On the plus side, watching the recordings that I will post for my asynchronous students and any students attending class who would like to review the day’s lesson has been a truly enlightening and humbling learning experience for me. Reviewing my classes has helped me identify mistakes I make most frequently and see first-hand how they impact the remote student experience. That’s the good news. No really, that’s as good as it gets watching yourself teach on Zoom. The bad news is there have been many cringe-worthy moments I’ve had to relive: listening to audio describing my projected screen when I actually forgot to share the screen with my remote students, watching video where I did successfully share my screen, yet my marker was placed in the lanyard in such a way that the audio was muffled—and so on. This experience has been humbling, but back to the plus side, it’s forced me to let go of my perfectionist tendencies and be kinder to myself. I’m making an effort to learn from my mistakes then let them go and really focus on my main goal—to plan lessons that allow my students to engage with the material and each other. It’s all a bit chaotic, but I’m making headway and every class runs smoother than the last, giving me lots of opportunities to practice my new mantra: Celebrate every success—even the smallest ones! 

Lesson 3 | Keep Course Goals Front and Center

One of my main social/ emotional course goals is to help my students develop into a strong cohort group. Since all of my students are new to Kent, NSS provides a unique opportunity for them to develop a sense of belonging among a smaller group with the same shared experience. This is even more crucial for my remote students, many of whom will be joining us on campus when we return in January. I don’t want my remote students to have simply been observers of the shared experience of my F2F students—I want them to be actively engaged and involved with their classmates and to feel connected. This means everyone works together—in live group discussions when possible, in large and small group discussion threads, in small groups in Zoom breakout rooms, on collaborative digital platforms like Padlet, Google Slides, Adobe Spark, and through student-created videos. My goal is to incorporate interactive elements at least once a week when our time zones reasonably align, i.e. a student in China joins a 9:45AM class at 9:45PM. I admire the dedication and commitment my remote students make to show up, even when they could just as easily watch the recordings. This reinforces my belief that they value forming a strong cohort group as much as I do.

Lesson 4 | Slow Down Time

One way to think of last spring is that we all learned how slow learning really is. To address this new reality, our Scheduling Committee designed a new block schedule: within the weekly schedule each class meets three times (two 45 minute blocks and one 90 minute block) and within the daily schedule three classes meet Monday, Thursday, Saturday and four the remaining three days. This schedule slows down the student experience and removes much of the friction or stress of moving through eight class periods per day that we had in our schedule last year. The reality is that you will in no way have the same class time of previous years and something has to give.

Lesson 5 | Plan The Year: One Step At A Time

In our Hybrid Learning Guide, we recommended looking at your course in the following way:

1. Look at the course in its entirety:

2. Build your first unit (account for the spring+summer slide in cumulative disciplines):

3. Plan your lesson:

Following the above recommendations, this is my lesson on plagiarism in the planning stage:

How This Translates to My LMS:

The following images are from my LMS to give a sense of how the lesson plan above translates to my course site.

I make my learning outcomes visible to my students under Key Points:

I start by engaging my students in the first step of active learning, which is to identify prior knowledge. The Padlet allows all students, F2F, synchronous, and asynchronous, to engage with the prompt and to work on a common interactive element.

I make sure that quizzes and tests are low stakes. This activity is a structured pre-test and students are allowed to demonstrate mastery of the questions missed if they aren’t happy with their score. My goal is always mastery of the skill, not assessment based on a moment in time.

I provide relevant additional information for them to explore.

The engagement activity begins by dividing them into five groups of three. Each group has a private discussion thread where they will respond to the prompt and comment on each other’s posts around two academic integrity scenarios. The groups do this in a breakout room if a member is remote. Each group is tasked with creating a PSA slide or any other media they choose. Small groups allow my remote learners an opportunity to get to know classmates on an individual basis and foster stronger personal connections.

For an assessment, I provide a single point rubric and ask each student to evaluate their own PSA and the PSA of two other groups. I give them the option of doing a third group for extra credit.

Lesson 6 | Celebrate Every Success—Even the Smallest Ones!

As much as time slows down in learning, I feel like it speeds up in the planning stages. While we have only been back for three weeks, at times it feels like three months. That conveyor belt seems to be delivering my lessons at an accelerated speed. But there are hidden gems in all of this. A valuable one is it has leveled the playing field a bit between us and our students. It’s been an opportunity for them to watch us learn something new, something we struggle with daily and (hopefully) don’t give up on. It has been an opportunity for them to offer words of kindness and reassurance, “Don’t worry, that happens all the time in my other classes” and for us to be the grateful recipients—another reminder of what it feels like to be offered kindness in a difficult moment. So as I continue to adapt my lessons, I’m trying to keep in mind my new mantra: Celebrate every success—even the smallest ones! 

EBSCO’s Export to NoodleTools

I’ll admit, it’s been a struggle lately finding inspiration to write. I usually have a number of ideas floating around, but lately, nothing really came to mind. This did not bode well for getting this month’s post written. I’m beginning to wonder if lack of inspiration and inability to focus and finish projects is a COVID-19 social-distancing side effect. So when I opened my email this morning there was good news. Hold on, not just good news—GREAT NEWS—the kind of news that elicits joy from librarians that are, as Alyssa Mandel calls us on Twitter, BIBLIONERDS! In the time of COVID-19, when days seems to blend into each other, good news is often hard to come by—that is if you even know what day it is. So perhaps knowing what day it is (Friday) and getting a task completed even if it’s not your best work is enough for now. Here’s hoping it is.

In the summer of 2019, I was watching a NoodleTools webinar, and at the very end Damon Abilock shared that EBSCO was working on an export to NoodleTools feature that was planned to be integrated by November 2019. I waited patiently and shared with anyone in earshot that export to NoodleTools was coming in November. The months passed—November 2019, December 2019, January 2020, February 2020—well by then I had more important things on my mind (didn’t we all?) and had completely forgotten about the release. Which made the news this morning that it was finally here that much more exciting. I was looking forward to doing a couple searches to see if the export function worked as well as I hoped.

Information is Exported, NOT Copied

An important thing to keep in mind is that when a citation is exported into NoodleTools, it isn’t simply copied and pasted. The information that is imported into the sources page comes from a file that operates much like a spreadsheet with a tag (think named row) that then aligns with the same tag on the source page interface. So, even if the pre-formatted citation from a database is incorrect—and many are—the folks at NoodleTools are wizards on properly formatting MLA, APA, and Chicago style. I don’t generally trust pre-formatted database citations, but I DO trust the folks at NoodleTools to get it right. We all know that the end citation is only as good as the data provided, so as Alyssa Mandel stated in her comment, be aware that your students need to check citations and edit as needed. Following Alyssa’s comment and an email from another AISL librarian on this topic, I’ve added this section and thank both of them for the helpful feedback. Here’s an example of the edit interface for the citation imported from EBSCO—all of the information is in the corresponding field—not copied and pasted in whole.

To Export or Not to Export

Ask any group of librarians how they feel about students exporting citations and you’ll get varied responses ranging from the belief that students should be creating their citations manually so they really understand the source they are using (true) to others who couldn’t live without bibliographic software like NoodleTools because it allows students to properly cite sources with the least amount of friction (also true). I know that I appreciate having the time to teach students how to identify the parts of a citation, but that doesn’t always happen. I also appreciate having students respond in a positive, sometimes even cheerful way when they realize how easy it is to keep their sources organized and properly cited. It’s definitely a two-edged sword, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say for most research, I’m onboard with students exporting citations. I have limited time with students and would rather work with them on mastering higher order thinking skills such as lateral fact checking and understanding how to evaluate their sources and search results.

A Trial Run

I decided to try the export function to see if it was as seamless as the ones on Gale databases and JSTOR. I searched from our EBSCO EDS search box on our library website, and in keeping with most student search behavior, chose the first article in the results list, “New Investigation …” I opened the article and you can see it in PDF format viewed on EBSCO in the third slide below.`

The Export Function is Format Agnostic

This journal article had two options for viewing: HTML and PDF Full Text. When I clicked on the Export link on the right hand side, the option for Direct Export to NoodleTools was at the bottom of the options on the Export Manager for both formats. The first image is the PDF format. Scroll through the slides to see the progression from the Export Manager to the NoodleTools interface. As always on the NoodleTools interface, there is a text box where you can submit corrections to them if you find any errors. The final two slides in this section show the bibliographic citation and the footnote pop-up window. I did a test with the HTML format and found the export worked regardless of the format. So far, so good.

Database Export vs. EBSCO Export

Next I chose an article from JSTOR (first slide), which has its own citation export to NoodleTools (second slide). I wanted to see if the citations exported were identical and found there were two differences (third slide). The article exported from EBSCO did not list the primary author’s name in last name, first name order, while the citation from JSTOR only listed the first page in the page range. As an aside, JSTOR often exports the title in all caps, which can be avoided with an EBSCO export. I guess it’s a trade-off and you’ll have to make your own decision after trying it out. A note on the Detailed Record: there are thirteen (13) authors! This is probably one of those articles students would pass over when creating a citation manually.

Tracking Down Errors

In trying to figure out the EBSCO author/ name error, I found the answer by returning to the Detailed Record. Note on the Detailed Record (second slide) all of the authors are listed first name/ last name order. This isn’t a problem as long as the names have their own unique tag that will populate in the correct field when exporting. When I opened the JSTOR export citation, the author names were correctly listed (third slide). But when I opened the EBSCO export citation (fourth slide), I discovered the first name/ last name combination was in the last name text field, leading to the error. It was easily corrected (fifth slide), but I’m not sure our students would catch this without a checklist or prompting from us. Likewise, the page range can also be corrected from the edit page.

First Impressions

So, is it love at first site? Yes, mostly. I’ll need to do a bit more testing on our various databases including Gale that currently export to NoodleTools before I can make a truly informed decision. During the end of last school year, as we pivoted to emergency remote teaching, I found I was much more lenient with students when it came to creating citations manually. I made concessions in that I allowed and even encouraged them to copy and paste citations from databases and sites like the Digital Public Library of America when I knew they were close, but not 100% correct. Does that make me a bad librarian? I hope not. Based on the disruption my students were experiencing, the fidelity of citations seems not as important to me as it did when they were working on pre-COVID projects. As we move into a new school year that feels very tenuous and uncertain, I will be thinking hard about how to maintain the academic rigor our students deserve while keeping their social and emotional well-being a priority.

Oh, Jane Eyre

I read and fell in love with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë when I was in seventh grade and it’s been one of those books I return to again and again. It seems there are many people who agree that “Reader, I married him” is one of the most satisfying quotes in the book—one has only to look to Twitter or Pinterest to find many threads dedicated to this very quote.

My goals this summer—after a hectic spring term and the stress and uncertainty of emergency remote learning—focused on self-care. I planned to take time to relax, spend more time in my pottery studio, garden, exercise.

If Jane Eyre were to evaluate how I’m doing, I’m sure she would say,
“Reader, she failed.”

On my behalf, I will say that I have not failed completely. I’ve spent some time this summer fending off a family of groundhogs gardening, swimming, reading, watching our hummingbirds, and even getting back on the pottery wheel. What I have also done, though, is complete a week-long Global Online Academy Design Bootcamp course, serve on our Hybrid Learning Committee, and start to redesign the New Student Seminar (NSS) course I teach.

So at this point, it’s more a case of:
“Reader, I married my work.”

REDESIGNING FOR HYBRID LEARNING

One of the highlights of my job as the research librarian at Kent School is the opportunity to teach two sections of NSS, a signature program required of all our new incoming 3rd and 4th formers. This fall will be my third year teaching the course, but since it is only offered in the fall term, it will be my first year teaching it in a hybrid setting. This means if I want to be ready for the fall term, I need to rework (or begin reworking) my course over the summer. I know from prior experience that designing and teaching a hybrid course is A LOT of work. Much as we need to recognize it will probably take our students two to three times as long to complete work in an online classroom, we also need to accept it will probably take us that long to create student-centered lessons that can quickly pivot from an on-ground to an online modality with the least amount of friction or disruption for our students.

In my work on the Hybrid Learning Committee (comprised of faculty, Department Chairs, the Director of Information Technology, and Director of Studies), the twelve of us have met weekly to create a framework for our teachers to address working with students who might be on ground or learning remotely, whether synchronous or asynchronously. One of the areas we discussed and worked on outside of our meetings and that will inform much of our teaching moving forward was to identify and expand on a set of guiding principles listed here:

  1. Relationships are key to creating an equitable learning environment.
  2. Process takes precedence over content.
  3. Student agency and independent learning are central to engagement and a positive outcome in an online/ hybrid learning environment.
  4. Flexibility and innovation are required for the creation and assessment of equitable learning experiences.

So my challenge this summer is to really think about how I might re-design my current course to:

  1. Encourage the development of strong, positive relationships with my students and among my students.
  2. Focus on the most important goals or competencies.
  3. Provide opportunities for voice and choice in every lesson.
  4. Incorporate what I’ve learned through professional development courses and reading.

WELCOME PAGE WITH BASIC ELEMENTS

I started by redesigning the welcome page on my LMS to set the tone for the course. Previously my landing page—not really a welcome page—consisted of an image. One of the challenges at the GOA Design Bootcamp was to create a welcome page that was, well, welcoming. Here are their criteria:

1. Create and Add Welcome Video
This video was a quick introduction to the course—simple, informal, and personal. I talked about the course briefly, how much I was looking forward to meeting them, and that I would touch base with them prior to the start of the course. This last part of the message is especially important for our remote learners.

2. Add Contact Information
Although I am basically camera shy, I did add a photo of myself and my contact information: email, Zoom room link, and link to my Calendly. In the spring when I was collaborating with other teachers, students loved that they could check my Calendly and see when I was free to meet and schedule a time to Zoom.

3. Add a Course Description
I added a description of the course under Key Points and also a link to the syllabus in the right column.

4. Add Navigation Information
PowerSchool isn’t the most user-friendly LMS—it’s actually quite clunky so a “How to Use PowerSchool” video that shows students where they will find lessons, assignments, and how to submit assignments will be especially helpful to my remote learners.

5. Add Information on Tasks to do Before Class Starts
I let my students know I wanted them to read about the course and watch the navigation video prior to the first day of class.

WELCOME PAGE WITH OPTIONAL ELEMENTS

While the five elements above are the basics that GOA recommended, I ended up adding a couple of optional elements that would help my students navigate my course through visual thinking (course icons) and give them an opportunity to connect with their classmates before the start of school. Since my students are new 4th formers, it’s important for me to help them develop into a strong cohort group providing a supportive base from which they can join the larger school community. You’ll see descriptions for the elements I added on the right with corresponding numbers on the screenshot on the left.

Next on the agenda, redesigning Unit 1: Academic Orientation. Now, enough of work—I’m off to check on my groundhogs garden …

Who Mentored You into Being?

Over the past few months so much that has defined us as librarians has changed: we’re away from our beloved libraries and schools; we’ve been placed in awkward digital spaces with our students and faculty or we’ve struggled to even find a place in the academic life of our schools; we won’t be able to have all those small conversations with our seniors to wish them well as they graduate and move on. These are just a few of the changes—large and small—in our professional lives. Lately, I’ve been spending time thinking about what makes a librarian a librarian and what exactly is at the heart of librarianship. I’m not sure I would be where I am right now, trying to make the best of my professional life in the midst of a global pandemic, without the support of my fellow librarians. The blog posts, the tweets, the advice and support on the Listserv, the shared documents, shared links, shared resources—they have all made a difference. Each and every day I find something that I’m grateful for as my AISL friends and other librarians think deeply about our profession and so willingly share their thoughts.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m feeling quite emotional and sentimental these days. I find myself thinking about mentors that I’ve had over the years that I want to reach out to and thank—not just for the practical skills I learned from them, but to let them know how important it was to me that they believed in me, and nurtured me, and inspired my own passion for the field of librarianship. In his acceptance speech for the 1997 Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award, Fred Rogers shared “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being.” These days I find myself thinking that we have all had those special people in our professional lives who have mentored us into being as librarians and for them, I am grateful.

In the first year of my MLS program at Southern Connecticut State University, Dr. Mary Brown and Debbie Herman, MLS were those people. In the mostly online program at Southern, Mary showed great compassion toward all of us and was one of the few faculty who took the time to make sure we understood program requirements. She stepped in as our de facto advisor—she just cared about us—and to say it made a difference would be an understatement. Many people in the program were able to walk at graduation because she posted deadlines on the Listserv reminding us to file paperwork and order our regalia. Even though we were all adults nearing graduation, I’m thankful someone more experienced was looking out for us, offering guidance, and making sure we made it to the finish line.

Mary did many small things that had a big impact on me as I juggled classes, a full-time job, and a family that included a college student and two high schoolers. She was an exacting professor who encouraged me to think about the courses in my plan of study, and when a paid internship to work with VOICES of 9/11 opened up, encouraged me to apply. She saw my interest in digital archiving and mentored me into positions that allowed me to grow personally and professionally. Most importantly, when an adjunct faculty position opened up to teach the Cultural Memorials and Digital Archives course, she was right there with a recommendation.    

When I was looking for an independent study placement the first summer I was in the program, Debbie Herman, Head of Electronic Resources and Information Systems (ERIS) at Central Connecticut State University, took me onboard even though her work space was being renovated. The department offices were in various stages of reconstruction, but she made a space for me when she could just as easily have said no. She put me to work on the Veterans History Project, then encouraged me to pick a special project to work on. That project, digitizing CCSU’s earliest yearbooks, was the beginning of their archival yearbook collection and my passion for making archives accessible.

Debbie had the vision to see something in me and mentored me in experiences that nurtured those interests. She trusted me enough that over the course of the next year, I was able to work with Wit Meesangnil (currently Digital Services Manager at Fordham University and one of the architects of LibWizard v2!) redesigning and conducting usability testing on CCSU’s library website. I mention these projects not to draw attention to myself, but to stress how willing Mary and Debbie were to mentor me, to make space for me to work on real-life projects and to grow into the profession. I think back to how insecure I was around people who did their jobs with ease, about my own ability to do any of these jobs well, and how crucial their belief in me was to my development as a librarian: they mentored me into being the librarian I am today and I am thankful to them both. 

So as this wild ride of a school year comes to a close, I hope we all take a few minutes to think of and perhaps reach out to those who have mentored us into being as librarians and to continue the wonderful work we all do as AISL librarians mentoring others.

Small Changes, Big Results …

Yesterday, my Sched app reminded me that I’d be presenting “Not Just Bells and Whistles: Ed Tech Tools that Really Work” at the AISL annual conference in Houston. I was saddened because connecting with everyone in person has become an important part for me of belonging to the AISL community. As busy as I was preparing for AISL—I was mostly looking forward to making connections with friends and colleagues with a shared passion for the field of librarianship.

My April 1, 2020 Sched notification

When I think about what it means to be a librarian, I see our work as a series of small connections that we make every day: connections with our students, our coworkers, our faculty. We connect our students with a source they need for their paper, connect them with a good book, or provide them with a quiet place to work. We connect with colleagues, with books we love and want to share, with changes in our field. Most of these things we do quietly as we go about our day, small action upon small action that forms the foundation of our work. But what happens when things change almost overnight, as is the case with our current situation? Over the past few weeks, I’ve been struck by our ability as a profession to maintain and strengthen our connections to each other and our school communities. In the midst of these sweeping changes, I see people I admire and respect keep adapting to change and making changes, however small, that add up to our ability to address the real-world problem facing school libraries and librarians everywhere—how to support our communities as we transition to online learning.

Communication is Key

These past few weeks, it’s become increasingly clear that an effective communication channel is key when you can no longer answer a colleague’s question over lunch or help them when they drop by the library to run an idea by you. I’ve been asked questions as varied as who to contact for help with copyright questions or how to find an online version of a text being used. The library is often the informational hub of the school, so what can we do to let our community know that we’re still there for them aside from sending another email to an already overburdened account? Emails and newsletters are great for quickly getting the word out, but how often have you scrolled through your own email searching for a needed link that’s gotten buried in your inbox? Adopting a “show don’t tell” approach to school-wide communication can be that one small change we offer on our resources.

Highlight Your Most Valuable Resources

If you have LibGuides CMS, then your library website is probably on that platform. Our library team took a close look at our website to see what small changes we might make to support our newly-online learning community. Since finding out we would be moving our classes online, we created two LibGuides specifically for online learning: the first was structured with tutorials around the tools faculty would need to get started such as PowerSchool, Zoom, and Screencastify, while the second organized ed-tech tools by specific tasks. We wanted those guides and the one for our Academic Resource Center easily accessed, so we placed them front and center in our tabbed box. Although I’m a proponent of flat design, I used a drop shadow to make their appearance pop, along with a prompt to “Click” for each guide, again something not normally included—but these are not normal times. Prior to COVID-19 social distancing directives, educators had the option to use technology, or not. Now, there is no option; so our job as librarians, as I see it, is to do everything possible to make our resources user-friendly for every level of user. Since March 9th, the three featured guides have gotten a total of just under 3,000 hits. Small changes, big results.

Our online learning guides featured front and center

Add Help at the Point of Need

If you’re like us, I imagine your community will be spending most of their time accessing content for courses through your school’s LMS, library website, and LibGuides. Common sense—and usability studies—tell us that help, like information, should be offered when and where it’s needed, in the format that’s most helpful to the user. Both of our new guides provide our teachers with the tools and information they need to create content and teach in ways that may be foreign or difficult. This transition is stressful enough; offering help on the three guides featured on the library website, in addition to the website itself, was another small change we could make that just made sense.

LibWizard Magic

Enter LibWizard Lite, a LibGuides module that comes free with LibGuides CMS. Although it’s not as robust as the subscription level LibWizard Full, it allows you to create forms and surveys, which are a perfect way to increase your visibility and make it easy for your users to contact you at their point of need. Although I have been a LibGuides enthusiast for close to 15 years, I have never fully explored or mastered LibWizard. At a time when we are asking everyone to move out of their comfort zone and try something new, it made sense for me to do the same. So I watched a few tutorials, made a few test forms, and finally came up with a help desk tab that was added to both of the new online teaching guides, in addition to our library website and course guides with current research projects. The tab was styled bright red with all caps reading HELP DESK. We tried different wording but ultimately felt everyone was familiar with that term. When clicked, the pop-up window contained information on who to reach out to for specific questions and included links to our Calendly pages for scheduling appointments and email for simpler questions. Again, help was there where it was needed.

Help Desk ticket for our online learning guide

Small Changes, Big Results

I absolutely love this one small change we made to our guides which made a big difference for our users. The tab is anchored, visible on each page of the guide, and moves as the user scrolls. Excuse me while I geek out—but what is not to love about my new favorite tech tool? Below you can see some of the ways we customized the help desk pop-up depending on the purpose and audience for the guide.

User-friendly Design

Like LibGuides, the LibWizard module is pretty user-friendly on the backend. There are drag and drop options with fields that allow you to customize your form, as well as a question bank to save and reuse common fields. You’re able to gather the information that will allow you to better meet the need of your user. Simple to use, easy to duplicate, multi-use functions make using LibWizard a winning situation for our users and for us. Now excuse me while I find another guide that could use a help desk tab.

Ah, Research Season …

This week, our 5th formers will be completing their U.S. History research papers in lieu of a mid-term exam. As they scramble to finish their product—find one last piece of evidence to support a claim, format their manuscript in Chicago Style, insert footnotes, polish their thesis statement—I find myself with the opportunity to look back over these past two months and reflect on the process. While it takes a village to shepherd and support our students through the process, our work moves them toward what is ultimately a uniquely solitary activity, the act of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, one that requires they bring together all of the skills and pieces of information covered over the course of this semester that hopefully will result in one cohesive work.

“It’s only a high school research paper.”
—astute APUSH student

In much the same way my students need to grapple with and master the specific skills research requires of them, it’s also necessary for me to think about how I can help them with that process. As educators of secondary school students, I don’t think many of us are under the illusion that our students are truly finding a research gap and entering into the scholarly conversation in a way that will be acknowledged by the academic community at large. This is in no way discounting the fine work many of our students do in their research/writing, but as one of my APUSH students so aptly stated when a colleague was doing the classic deep dive we all do when creating a properly formatted citation, “it’s only a high school research paper.” Yes, yes it is. Somehow looking at it from that perspective has been wonderfully liberating. While my students may not have their work published in peer-reviewed journals (yet!), they do need to be able to read and think deeply and critically about any number of issues throughout their academic career and in their personal life. So, how do we maintain high standards yet keep the paper in its proper perspective and what exactly does keep me up at night thinking about all things research?

Make the Process Visible

Image Credit: University Library System, University of Pittsburgh

The Research Process is one that’s familiar to us all—an iterative process with students moving through the steps on the infographic above until they (finally!) reach the citing, reviewing, and editing finish line. If you’re like me, you probably see at least six or more points when it would be helpful to meet with a class to provide instruction. Depending on a myriad of factors unique to each school, we might have one “boot camp” style instructional session or we might be fortunate enough to meet on a regular basis with a given class.

Flip the Class

Regardless of how much instructional time we have with students, it’s never enough. Our general research LibGuide establishes a common language for students and faculty and provides a general overview of the research process. With links to available resources and the flexibility to embed these in our PowerSchool LMS, flipping lessons can make the instructional time I do have more productive.

The Class-Specific LibGuide

This year I worked with five sections of U.S. History and two sections of APUSH, all writing a long-form paper. My collaboration with these classes ranged from an average of two-three instructional sessions to a high of ten. While more is always better from my vantage point, I work hard to be flexible and adapt to the needs of each faculty. This means I have to plan well in advance to cover essential skills during my face-to-face instructional time. For each research project I collaborate on, I create a unique guide that serves as a home base for students and supports what I cover in class. The U.S. History guide has subject-specific curated resources for primary, secondary, and tertiary sources and additional information on writing process skills. I’m also working on an exciting new project with the AP AB Calculus class on symmetry in nature and their guide supports the exploration of academic as well as online sources. These guides make it possible to curate available resources that help our students develop familiarity with scholarly and trustworthy sources.

Embrace the Basics

Although our incoming 3rd and 4th formers take a semester-long New Student Seminar course which covers study and research skills, I find I still need to stress the basics to our 5th and 6th formers. What is a tertiary source and why can you use it for background information but not quote it or include it in the bibliography? How can a book and journal both be secondary sources, but only one is peer-reviewed? How do you use social media in a scholarly paper? How are we to think about an author’s bias/ point-of-view or their authority? I do use handouts that when finished resemble an annotated bibliography and find they help students record basic bibliographic information with space for relevant quotes and why they support their claims. I try to not overestimate their ability to locate and evaluate information and plan lessons that focus on meta-cognition—encouraging them to think about thinking.

NoodleTools

Oh, where would we be without NoodleTools? Even my most reluctant students eventually come to see the benefit of organizing their research on this platform. The inbox feature allows me to have access to all my students’ projects and be able to work side-by-side with them as they add or evaluate sources. While students love the export to NoodleTools feature on most databases, I see great value in thinking about what goes into the creation of a citation: what type of source is it, where was it found, who is the author, what is the title of the journal, when was it published, etc.—all the questions students need to answer as they add sources manually. With the notecard feature, I see a range of requirements from faculty for students to create notecards on NoodleTools, but I find those students who use the notecard feature generally have a much easier time organizing their outline and keeping quotes and paraphrases attributed to the proper source. Whether required by their teacher or not, I encourage all my students to use the notecard and outline features.

Images showing a student’s exemplary use of the notecard feature

Make Personal Connections

One of the best changes to this year’s instruction has been the addition of conferencing thanks to two faculty who required their students meet with me to discuss their papers. To organize this as simply as possible, students signed up “old school” for a time to meet via a clipboard at the front desk. We have other sign-up clipboards, so this made the most sense for the sake of consistency. These reference interviews were an opportunity for me to connect with students on a personal basis, ask questions that encouraged critical thinking and helped them to clarify their topic or thesis. It was also a time to offer them support on anything they requested from finding sources to formatting their manuscript. Asking students how I might help them encourages them to think more critically about where they are in the process and identify what they need to move forward. I see these conversations as a way to model how they might enter into the larger research conversation.

Our “old school” sign-up sheet gets the job done!

The Research Process is Messy

Another benefit of these one-on-one sessions is for me to be able to share the messiness of the whole process. Whether searching for sources, developing a thesis, or finding that right piece of evidence to support a claim, my experience has been that students generally believe research is a librarian’s superpower, not something we ever fail at or struggle with. So when I meet with students, it’s not to impress them with finding the “just right” source, it’s to show them the search process can be totally frustrating and you constantly have to regroup and refine search terms. To help them develop their search muscle, we identify basic search terms together and then brainstorm how to expand or limit our search depending on the results. Because I have a large monitor, these one-on-one sessions allow students to easily see and follow along as we work through advanced search strategies – something not easily accomplished with group instruction. Since mid-December, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with over 70 students, many of those repeat visits with no mandate from the teacher. Connecting with students at this level has enriched my experience as their research librarian and I hope it has enriched their research experience, as well.