The SparkNotes Version of LOEX of the West 2008

You’ve probably had time to develop and create a time machine, go back in time and attend LOTW in the time it’s taken me to put my notes up. Sorry. In case you left your notebook in another temporal plane, here’s what I took away from the sessions I attended:

Keynote Speaker: Greg Niemeyer, Associate Professor for New Media at UC Berkeley. The theme of LOTW was Hit the Jackpot: Successful Experimentation and Innovation in Instruction and many of the sessions were thoroughly “game” related– reminding me at times more of last summer’s Gaming, Learning and Libraries Symposium than any other LOEX I’ve attended. I thinking gaming and its intersections with libraries is pretty fascinating, although it’s not one of my primary focuses. My Small-liberal-arts-college-library envy really kicks in when I hear about the great things that libraries can do with a few video games and a captive audience, so I tend to stay away from gaming sessions. Greg Niemeyer, however, set an interesting tone for the conference by talking generally (and fascinatingly, I thought) about gaming theory and what the LOTW blurb explains as “the mixed-world experience [which] includes informative, performative and transformative elements”. It will take me more than a blog recap to coalesce all of Niemeyer’s ideas in my mind and truly get how they intersect with learning and, more specifically, library instruction, but for those of you for whom gaming is truly your “thing”, I leave you to explore more fully. Oh, one thing I want to share from the Keynote– the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development. As Niemeyer explained it, there’s the Zone of What You Know, the Zone of What You Can Learn with Help and there’s the Zone of What You Couldn’t Possibly Ever Learn No Matter How Awesome Your Teacher Is (those are paraphrased zones, BTW). The Zone of Proximal Development is that always shifting middle one– the area between what you know and what you’ll never know. Pinning that down is the key to excellent games, apparently, but also to learning & teaching in general. Situating yourself solidly in that zone seems to be key to a) not boring the hell out of people and b) not confusing the hell out of people. A good place to be.

Session A: “A Library of Learning Objects: Teaching Tools to Quickly Tailor Instruction and Meet Class Needs” Lori Mardis and Connie Ury, librarians at Northwest Missouri State University, presented on the pretty excellent system they have for stocking their library with small units of reusable information literacy information. They work with student interns from their university’s Interactive Digital Media program to create these great dynamic tutorials, quizzes and more. What I really liked about these learning objects: they’re almost entirely generic– they can be used in any discipline, and because the librarians at Owens Library are awesome and are willing to share their work, they can be used by any library. Something to follow up on: we might not have an interactive digital media program at my college, but we have a lot of talented students and some great programs ourselves here that we could be teaming up with to create content for ourselves and experience for the students.

Session B: “Beating the Odds with the Insider’s Scoop: Tips and Tricks from the Library Secrets! Librarian” My presentation. More on this later. I swear.

Session Q: “Pecha Kuchas” I still have no idea how to pronounce this (though I know it’s not “petcha kootcha”), and neither did anyone I talked to during the conference. Instead, we all just referred to them as the lightning round presentations. This was my first Pecha Kucha experience and it seems to be an excellent replacement for the easily-skipable poster sessions of other conferences–six-plus minutes of trim, slim presentation. I didn’t take notes, but here are the Pecha Kuchas (peh-chak-chas!) I enjoyed:

Session C: “Raising the Stakes: Moving Beyond Discipline-Based Instruction” A great and informative session that featured two of my favorite LOEX themes: the pairing of library and writing center and models of information literacy courses. Catherine Rod and Judith Hunter team-taught an experimental course “How Disciplines Construct Knowledge” at Grinnell College using Janet Giltrow’s Academic Writing as their textbook. What made this session stand out was how different it was from the standard conference presenation. Rod & Hunter really just simply had a conversation with each other and with us about the whole course process (no PowerPoint! Thank you!)– it gave me the sense that they’re just amazing instructors. What I took away: a really excellent model for a class syllabus in table form; the idea of giving students frequent feedback forms throughout the semester; the requirement the students had to go to an academic presentation once a week and bring that experience back to class with them to unpack how different disciplines present, what tools they use, etc.; marketing the writing center by sharing the fact that faculty also (or should) use the writing center as well, really making the point that the writing center is not remedial and that “everyone needs an editor”.

Session D: “Peer Review 2.0: Tomorrow’s Scholarship for Today’s Students” A great, weighty session on scholarly communication which served as an excellent follow-up for me after the think-sessions on the same topic from LOEX earlier this spring. Anne-Marie Deitering and Kate Gronemyer (with whom I had the pleasure of sharing dinner and a Vegas wander) did an amazing job of presenting on what peer-reviewed journals are good at (creating an archive of knowledge and distributing rewards) and how the “2.0” model of scholarly communication better mirrors the way scholars communicate. And did you know about Nature Precedings? I didn’t. Check it out– unlike everything else about Nature, it’s free.

Session E: “A Safe Bet: Teaching Information Literacy Skills to High School Students” This was definitely a niche session and community college librarians like myself were happy to find it. Before the session started, a couple other CC librarians and I grumbled a bit about how frustrating it is to have to discard so much of the great information we get from presentations by librarians at 4-year institutions, so it was exciting to be a part of a session that really focused on things that we can do, tools we can use and information we can act on. So Danielle Winn and Karen Needham from the University of Windsor talked about the completely excellent outreach program their library has with area high schools. The librarians are lucky enough to get their students for an entire day and pretty much run the information literacy gamut with these kids. The upshot: not only are the students getting top-tier IL instruction, they’re getting a preview of college libraries and the college research process. Additionally, the program has served as a recruitment tool for the University– a good number of high school students who went through the library’s session applied solely to the University of Windsor. The students also know a couple friendly faces in the library after these sessions– both Karen and Danielle had great stories about one-on-one student interactions that really made a difference in the students’ lives. Some things I took away: Google Whacking!; Databases! with Richard Sly, Librarian Guy; and the dangers of water (which I had heard of, but then forgotten); Windsor University’s Academic Integrity Office requires their plagiarizing students to write public apologies, which are then published online!

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