Pre-thoughts on SLA2015

So I am reviewing my blog posts from SLA 2014 and thinking about a game plan for Boston and The Revolution and SLA 2015.  Already having studied the schedule of internal conference events, now I am thinking about the outside stuff, the pieces that make the experience complete.

What’s really different this year? Well, last year I was a student, stumbling my way through the newness of everything. This year I am a SLA conference veteran AND a LIS graduate (barely, commencement is May 16th).  So maybe I am a little bit smarter.

Some key takeaways/carryovers from last year: 1) stay at a bed and breakfast some distance away from the conference site – it’s way cheaper and you see more of the city; 2) pay attention to the scheduled events but know that the most interesting conversations take place between meetings, in the hallways, at the coffee line, at free breakfasts, and in the exhibition hall; 3) develop a game plan in advance for meeting and chatting with vendors – they can tell you a lot about how the field is changing and where the industry is headed; 4) be sure to schedule some down time, some “me” time in the middle of the conference – go to a museum, better yet, a library, and catch some live music, at a bar or a pub or a concert hall; 5) take plenty of business cards but more importantly, scribble notes on the cards you receive, something special about the person; 6) make it a point to look up folks you met in Vancouver – need to build on those relationships, maybe even send out emails prior to the conference; and 7) take a deep breath and enjoy the time away from home, or school, or the new job, or whatever the thing is you left behind.

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getting back on the blogging track…

Too much happened in life since my last post and it knocked me off my blogging routine. There was the flight home for a poster presentation at a conference, reunion with family and friends and LIS classmates, three snow storms (two in Cullowhee on either end of the Washington trip, and one in Washington) that were all somewhat disorienting.  Then my car’s alternator died on the way home from the airport two hours away, sparking a week-long sort of obsession/discussion that involved three cars (the old one, the rental, and the eventual new one (it was time, on many levels)).  Still working to resolve disposal of the old car. She served us well for 13 years, and I am not inclined to simply abandon her for blue-book cash without knowing that she will end up in a good home with decent people for her new owner

So I am climbing out of the hole and back to some semblance of normality.  A bit behind on my #MOOCMOOC reading and studies.  Catching up with Seymour Papert today.  I did manage to plow my way through a couple of interesting books while waiting in airports in Greenville, Chicago and Washington, riding on DC subways, and on the actual flights themselves.

Ashley Kahn’s A Love Supreme (Hunter Library) treats/analyses/ explains the John Coltrane Quartet signature piece by the same name, exploring the evolution of the musicians, individually and as a group, and the development of the music, from swing to bebop to avant-garde and presenting a picture, in the process, of the social and cultural turbulence of the period from 1955 to 1965.  (Accompanied by several listenings to the actual music on Youtube).

George Monteiro’s The Presence of Camoes (also borrowed from Hunter Library) was an appropriate choice after reading aloud the Camoes Sonnet #271 at a poetry event a couple of weeks ago on campus.  Monteiro shows direct and indirect influences of the 16th century poet on British, America, South African, and other Portuguese poets.  Most interesting for me were the chapters on Poe, Melville, Dickinson and a series of South African poets.  Will definitely read it again, though my next read in this vein will be The Presence of Pessoa by the same author.

OK, sports fans, that is it for now.  Planning to do some #MOOCMOOC readng at the laundromat this morning, and at home this afternoon.

Peace, y’all.  A luta continua!

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Catch up post for the week – Friday, February 13

Tuesday.  AdobeConnect GoToMeeting with HR mgmt grad students.  Walked them through the HR Libguide, pointing out the research aids and search syntax features that are standard to most of our libguides, but highlighting the special features for their course work, the tab covering case studies, a prospective page on evidence-based HR mgmt, the dynamic news feed of HR news articles.  The students provided good feedback, so I think they were paying attention, but the next time I do an online session I am going to make better use of the built in feedback features, as well as appointing one student as the “skeptic question asker” to keep everybody on their toes.

Wednesday.  The Romance Languages Department had a poetry reading with a slight Valentine’s Day theme.  Students and faculty were invited to read a poem in a Romance language, so of course I signed up to read a poem in Portuguese.  I chose Camoes sonnet 271, and practiced all night Tuesday to get my r’s rolling appropriately!  It was well attended and about 18 people read poems in Spanish (mostly), French (one) and Portuguese (mine!).  It was so much fun!  Glad I participated.

So, it’s Friday night, and I just got home from the WCU candlelight vigil for the three students who were killed in Chapel Hill a couple of days ago.  Sad event.  Folks are saying that the Muslims have had their Trayvon Martin moment. We are all Trayvon Martin. Thinking people need to think about what’s going on. It may be just a matter of time before domestic terrorists and domestic terror criminals set their aims on targets that look more like themselves.  Good piece by Philip Gourevitch in the New Yorker

At the Grammy’s, Prince said “Albums—you remember those? They still matter. Like books and black lives, they still matter.” Happy he included books.

#MOOCMOOC Google hangout tonight on anarchist pedagogies.

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Conservative journalist attacks MOOCs – ModPo Army circles the wagons

One Carol Iannone of the National Review took it upon herself to launch a poorly researched attack on MOOCs, entitled, “MOOCs Can’t Teach.”  We heard about it and, well, you know, we couldn’t just let it stand.  Here is my contribution to the fray:

rdmaxwell • 15 hours ago
Dear Ms. Iannone: I haven’t read all the comments, so please forgive me if I mention something that has already been mentioned. I am struck by your title” MOOCs Can’t Teach.” It suggests that somehow, non-MOOC courses do teach and that therefore, MOOC’s are somehow defective or inferior to non-MOOC courses. But as anyone who has ever taught a course (or imparted any type of information) can attest, courses and course delivery systems do not teach, teachers teach, and even more significantly, the most recent research suggests that learners, properly motivated, teach themselves. Others have dealt with the internal points of your argument. I challenge you to enroll in a well-run and carefully designed MOOC course, like ModPo (Modern and Contemporary American Poetry). If you are in close proximity to others taking the course, and if you attend the weekly meet-ups, and if you are near enough to catch a live webcast or two in Philadelphia, and if you participate in the twitter chats accompanying the weekly live broadcasts, and if you write your essays and participate in the peer review of at least four other essays by your colleagues, and if you watch the videos and participate in the forum discussions, then, by the end of the tenth week, Ms. Iannone, I predict even you will learn more than you previously knew about poetry. And you will be a better person for it. So I join the chorus in inviting you to sign up for ModPo. Then you can write an article about MOOCs with some degree of authority.
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Week four of #MOOCMOOC – A librarian reads anarchist pedagogies

Listen.  Week four of #moocmooc is a real doozy!  Let me confess that I had to look up Hakim Bey, Max Stirner, Francisco Ferrer, Paul Goodman, and the Free Space/Free Skool.  But I knew exactly what heterotopia was as I had created several of them over the past several decades – it was the only way I was able to survive in a hostile world. In fact, I am in a heterotopia as we speak, my refuge in the North Carolina mountains…

I had read Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience as a somewhat precocious teenager and it inspired me to write a piece for the high school newspaper on student rights, entitled “The Student is the New Nigger,” which did not make many of my teachers happy though my father found it quite entertaining.  It was, after all, the Watergate years.  Needless to say, the re-reading of Thoreau’s masterful essay brought back warm memories of those years of my youth…(who knew that was all it took?)…

But let’s get down to brass tacks. I had never really thought of Thoreau (and, by extension, his intellectual lineage, Gandhi and King) as an anarchist, but in close proximity to the Shantz article, it all becomes somewhat clear.  “Anarchists seek freedom from internalized authority and ideological domination,” sounds very similar, to me, to “The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right.”  The sentence “This American government – what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity” resonates as truthfully today as it did in 1849.  And the classic, oft-quoted lines, “Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?” have launched many a protest movement since being prophetically penned on the eve of the American Civil War and brings to mind the haunting Herman Melville poem about, perhaps, America’s greatest anarchist:

The Portent

Hanging from the beam,
Slowly swaying (such the law),
Gaunt the shadow on your green,
The cut is on the crown
(Lo, John Brown)
And the stabs shall heal no more.

Hidden in the cap
Is the anguish none can draw;
So your future veils its face,

But the streaming beard is shown
(Weird John Brown),
The meteor of the war.

But back to critical pedagogy (oh must we?).  There are surely shades of Freire and hooks in the sentiments that “learning should contribute to independence of thought and action and contribute to capacities for self-determination” and that traditional teacher/student relationships “can inhibit students and reinforce authority structures of command and obedience.” But we also see where The Free Skool’s adherence to anarchist principles, simply stated, resulted in the loss of administrative power to accomplish political or even cultural goals.  At one point in the reading I scribbled in the margin, “are anarchist pedagogies only for spoiled rich kids?”

Conclusion:  I have a lot of reading to do.  Good thing I’m retired.  Except I do have this new day job that I love.  So I guess I’ll be phoning my local independent bookseller in the morning.

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taking a break from academic stuff and posting to the blog about other things…

So, I went this morning to a meeting of the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE) at the Cullowhee Cafe.  Without planning, I ran into two librarian colleagues (librarians are so multidisciplinary!) and my newest friend from the Cullowhee Community Garden. CuRvE is planning some good stuff for the neighborhood, highlighted by a proposed river park as a stimulus for economic development.  I am all for it!

Speaking of which, I made a stop at the community garden last week to get a plot for the spring.  I think we’ll start with 15′ x 15′, plant some greens (25%), some vegetables and vine melons (50%), and some wildflowers (25%).  Went to Lowe’s after the CuRvE meeting to pick up some fencing material and some seeds (plus already had some heirloom seeds I picked up several weeks ago on my maiden journey to Cherokee.

Speaking of which, you KNOW I spoke to the guy about feasibility of setting up a couple of beehives in the vicinity of the gardens.  To my surprise and delight, he was all for it, and in fact, already had offers of hives and whole colonies, but didn’t know anybody who wanted to be the beekeeper.  Estamos combinados!

p.s. Let me add.  Made a crock pot deer stew last weekend that was sooo yummy and tasty! Lasted all week and I have had my fill of it but there are two serving left.  Taking one for the team…

So, for next week, a sonnet by Luis de Camoes, Sonnet #271:

A formosura desta fresca serra,
E a sombra dos verdes castanheiros,
O manso caminhar destes ribeiros,
Donde toda a tristeza se desterra;

O rouco som do mar, a estranha terra,
O esconder do sol pelos outeiros,
O recolher dos gados derradeiros,
Das nuvens pelo ar a branda guerra;

Enfim, tudo o que a rara natureza
Com tanta variedade nos oferece,
Me está (se não te vejo) magoando.

Sem ti tudo me enoja, e me aborrece;
Sem ti perpetuamente estou passando,
Nas mores alegrias, mor tristeza.

And the translation:

nature camoes

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…and this one ain’t too shabby (I say in my native vernacular for effect)….

….’cause poets are the original critical pedagogs…

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Love this article, both for its relevance to my work and for its pertinence to #MOOCMOOC

Service Learning as a Transgressive Pedagogy, Angela Leonard

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More to come: a librarian reads Giroux…#MOOCMOOC

I plowed through the Giroux chapter last night and it made my knees hurt, as they always do when I walk in an ever-tightening circle. Reading Maha Bali’s cliff notes this morning was refreshing, however, and my knees are feeling better already.

Thank you. I found the Freire and hooks readings a lot more revealing, a lot more enlightening, but that is surely attributable to my lusophone and African-American heritage. Maha Bali’s mention at the end of her notes on the “multiplicity of views” challenging the grand narrative brought to mind an essay I once read on multiple working hypotheses, which can be found here: Hope to blog more in the next couple of days.

more later (including an after-action report on my morning library instruction workshop)…

Workshop went well.  Sophomores.  10 minutes of instruction and 45 minutes in the stacks carrying out assigned tasks.  I didn’t force them to form groups as with the freshmen, but definitely firmly suggested it, empowering them to make the decision.  Most saw the utility of working in groups but we did have one “lone wolf.”  Further, each team was assigned the complete list of scenarios.

For most, the content of the exercises was as interesting as the process of conducting the search.  Students were creative, in fact, innovative in their execution.  I encouraged teams to exchange information with other teams when they found themselves “lost,” and to cross check their searches with Google searches to uncover additional search terms (pearl- growing method).

Moving from group to group, I stressed to students the several aspects of the scenarios, for example, that the A&T Four were all freshmen, or that North Carolina’s education system was ranked near the best of the nation following the Sanford reforms.  It clicked with them at various levels, which was “self-actualizing” for them as well as for me.

It was also interesting the way the groups did or did not implement a division of labor to cover all six scenarios.  The class required that each person post a summary to findings to Blackboard, and in retrospect, it may have worked better had we required each team to post summaries, as a group.  At a minimum it would have avoided the mad rush of students copying notes from teammates at the end of class.

Back to Giroux.  I underlined (in pencil) passages I wanted to recall, but I put check marks in the margins of passages I definitely wanted to remember.  What follows are paraphrased summaries of the margin-checked ideas:

1.  Critical pedagogy is only relevant if it addresses “real social needs,” is “imbued with a passion for democracy,” and “provides the conditions for expanding democratic forms of political and social agency.” p.74

2.  Critical pedagogy requires “an ongoing indictment ‘of those forms of truth-seeking which imagined themselves to be and placelessly valid'” (Gilroy, 2000). p. 75

3.  Critical educators should be aware of and “attentive to the ethical dimensions of their own practice,” especially regarding their encouragement of critical reflection and moral and civic agency. p. 76

4.  “Rather than providing students with an opportunity to learn how to shape and govern public life, education is increasingly being vocationalized, reduced to a commodity that provides privileges for a few students and industrial training for the service sector for the rest, especially those who are marginalized by reason of their class or race.’  p. 78

5.  Educators should 1) resist “attempts on the part of liberals or conservatives to reduce the role of teacher to that of either technicians or corporate pawns,” and 2) refuse “attempts to reduce classroom teaching exclusively to matters of technique and method.”

6.  “Critical pedagogy must: 1) be interdisciplinary and radically contextual, 2) engage the complex relationships between power and knowledge, 3) critically address the institutional constraints under which teaching takes place, and 4) focus on how students can engage the imperatives of critical social citizenship.”

Well, as you can imagine, there are plenty opportunities for this level of critical pedagogy in information literacy and library instruction.  Content hand in hand with process and method, variety and diversity in examples, cognitively and culturally, and providing students the option to make their own decisions, hew their own paths, and respond responsibly to the outcomes.

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Whoops! The accidental critical pedagogist…it just dawned on me…

…during the Midwinter Radical Conversation webinar today that I have been on this track for longer than I had imagined.  Below is the text of a paper I did for my information literacy and instructional design course…

Constructivism, Accountable Talk, Conversation Theory, and Information Literacy Instruction


This paper sets forth constructivism and a constructive approach as the best solution for information literacy instruction. Many have already made that argument and made it convincingly. What is different in this paper is my attempt to make the case that using deliberative discourse, also called accountable talk (pioneered at University of Pittsburg), as an excellent way to move forward the constructivist paradigm for learning. Briefly, I will put a sharper point on the case I have made with a review of Pask’s conversation theory, and its latest disciple, David Lankes. Finally, I will use two examples not related to information literacy instruction to illustrate the potential comprehensiveness of this approach.

A Constructivist Approach

Cooperstein and Kocevar-Weidinger (2003) convincingly explain the generally agreed upon elements of constructivist learning, i.e., learners “construct” meaning by making a deliberate attempt at sense-making of incoming information; learners “build” new information on top of old information, finding connections between the two; learners share and compare ideas and learn through the resolution of conflicting ideas; and learning happens through classroom activities that imitate and emulate activities in the real world (Cooperstein & Kocevar, p. 142). The first two elements operate inside the learner and occur inside the mind. Of the second two elements, the third is more socially oriented, i.e., accomplished through interactions with others, and thus, within our power to control, and the fourth is pretty much dependent on the strength and creativity of the teacher or instructor. My focus, then, is on the third element.

Vygotsky (1966) describes how a child reaches his hand out to grasp an object that he sees but that is beyond his reach. That reaching appears to surrounding people to be a pointing, though it may not be, it may just be a hand “hanging in the air.” But the nature of the thing changes, from being an extended reach, to becoming a signal to surrounding people. Vygotsky says the “child is the last to realize his own gesture” and concludes that “we become ourselves through others” (Vygotsky, p. 39). This begins a very social way of interacting with and learning from others. Expanded, Cooperstein and Kocevar-Weidinger claim that “an important aspect of constructivism is the need for social interaction” and that “group activity increases discussion, experimentation, enthusiasm, and participation (Cooperstein and Kocevar-Weidinger, p. 144).”

Constructivism works well in information literacy instruction settings for several reasons. Grassian (2009) explains that the cognitive/constructivist model helps the learner “own” the material through active involvement, emphasizes collaborative learning, and allows for differing hypotheses that encourages development of a learning community (Grassian, p. 50-51). Information literacy skills, like conducting searches or evaluating web documents, all lend themselves to learning that depends on cognitive activity, on thinking about discrete steps in a process, on brainstorming trial answers to a series of questions, and on sharing and comparing those trial answers to discover the best outcome or the most satisfactory information solution.

Accountable Talk/Deliberative Discourse

Accountable Talk, a conversation methodology pioneered at the University of Pittsburg, focuses on establishing group norms that simultaneously support rigorous inquiry and promote equity and access (Michaels, O’Connor & Resnick, 2007). Most experiments in Accountable Talk have occurred with children, but information literacy instruction groups at high school or college age would make a good experimentation model. The authors at Pitt developed Accountable Talk from a Vygotskian theoretical framework emphasizing the importance of social interaction in developing thought processes that raise the level of discourse (Michaels, O’Connor & Resnick, p. 285). By asking for clarification, through polite challenges, and by encouraging participation by all participants, the conversation itself spurs students to think more deeply, more carefully and more critically.
The “accountable” of Accountable Talk refers to levels or areas of accountability to which students (participants) are held. While involved in conversations, students are held accountable to the learning community of which each is a part. They must listen to each other, both to show respect, and to carefully assess what is being said so they can use and build on it. Students are held accountable to accurate knowledge, i.e., they are responsible for their claims’ accuracy and truth. Finally, students are held responsible to standards of rigorous and critical thinking. These levels of accountability, along with the other group norms, would combine together to create a rich and creative environment for students in an interdisciplinary information literacy course.

Conversation Theory

Conversation Theory is in large part an extension and an amplification of Accountable Talk, although it predates Accountable Talk. At the least, both derive from similar roots in the Vygotskian approach mentioned earlier in this paper. Gordon Pask first developed it. I will present below David Lankes’ moderated interpretation.

Lankes (2011) says a conversation has four parts: conversants, either people, or political parties, or even countries; a language, a set of meanings going back and forth; agreements, shared understandings between the conversants, arrived at through the language; and an entailment mesh, a collection and relation of the agreements (Lankes, p. 221). Conversation may begin in a basic way, as a series of directions or instructions, simple exchanges. One conversant may be a lot less knowledgeable than the other, but the exchange of these basic instructional directions builds a shared framework of common understanding. Gordon Pask identified this stage as the initial stage of conversation (Lankes, p. 221). After numerous exchanges at this level, if one of the conversants makes assertions that the other must agree to, over several iterations several agreements (or agreements not to agree) will be established, which may spawn different conversations. This would be the second level (Lankes, p. 221). Both conversants are now involved in learning, about each other, about their respective tastes and preferences and interests. Third level (Lankes, p. 222). Once a collection of these agreements is established and stored in a memory file or a book, it will achieve what Pask and Lankes would call the fourth level, or entailment mesh (Lankes, p. 222). At each level, new knowledge and new information are being formed and developed, in a constructivist way.

Last year I took a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, also called ModPo. There were over 40,000 students in the course. It was hosted by University of Pennsylvania, and live webcasts were broadcasted once a week, to which all participants were invited. The professor used a team-teaching approach, and several videos each week featured close reads of poems with the professor at a table conversing with six teaching assistants. The conversation was led by various team members at various times. Each lecture was a conversation between the seven of them, piped out to over 40,000 students around the world. The course was a grand success. We learned the material, and a large percentage actually got certificates of completion. In Washington, a dozen or so of us formed a weekly study group that met on Sundays at Politics and Prose Bookstore. This year the course is being taught with the addition of some twenty community teaching assistants, embedded throughout the population of online students. Perhaps such a model of conversation- and team-led instruction might be conceivable for information literacy instruction on a smaller level.

The final example is an information interview I conducted with Max McClellan, one of the producers of the highly regarded, award-winning news program, 60 Minutes. One thing that the producer said made a very strong impression on me. He said all interviews on 60 Minutes are conversations, the kind of conversation that anyone could imagine having in his/her own living room. He said it was through conversations, going back and forth, that new information was developed, and it was through conversation that new knowledge was best imparted (M. McClellan, personal communication, August 16, 2013).

Both examples highlight the use of conversation as an instructional vehicle/mechanism. Information literacy instruction might be ripe for the inclusion of more talk in the various methodologies already in use to convey and impart knowledge.


Cooperstein, S. E., & Kocevar-Weidinger, E. (2004). Beyond active learning: A constructivist approach to learning. Reference Services Review, 32(2), 141-148.

Grassian, E. S., & Kaplowitz, J. R. (2009). Information literacy instruction. Theory and Practice, Neal-Schuman Publishers, New York.

Lankes, R. D. (2011). The atlas of new librarianship MIT Press Cambridge, MA.

Michaels, S., O’Connor, C., & Resnick, L. B. (2008). Deliberative discourse idealized and realized: Accountable talk in the classroom and in civic life. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 27(4), 283-297.

Vygotsky, L. (1991). 3 genesis of the higher mental functions. Learning to Think, 2, 32.

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