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Better Conference Presentations

So as a tenure-track newly tenured library person, I tend to think a lot about how to present better. I would never say I am an expert presenter, but if you combine my teaching with my presenting of my findings, you would see that I do quite a bit of presenting.

Here are my tips for conference presentations.

  • Test, test, test again. If you plan on playing any sort of video, make sure that you test the sound. Test any graphics that you are going to use. Test your Powerpoint to make sure all the fonts have come over. Over time I’ve been less and less reliant on internet widgets.
  • Back things up. I tend to bring my laptop to presentations (in case there isn’t a laptop in the room) with my presentation downloaded onto the desktop. I save my presentation onto Dropbox, and email it myself. I also bring it on a flash drive. I also save my presentation in both ppt and pdf form in case the formatting gets messed up.
  • Keep it simple, or have a backup plan. Videos sometimes don’t work. Internet is spotty in conferences. I like to keep things simple. Versus using something like Poll everywhere, just have participants raise their hands, or vote via thumbs up and thumbs down. If you want people to respond, put the prompt up on the board and have them do so via worksheet.
  • Remember that your audience is TIRED and OVERLOADED. I want to imagine that conference participants are more attentive, but that’s a lie. I’ve learned the hard way that if you want people to remember something, you need to say it more than once. As part of a recent conference I even said it three times. If you have a complicated idea, make sure to slow down and explain it.
  • Watch your breath and volume. I first started presenting as a Girl Scout camp counselor so I would call my presentation style “VERY EXCITED TO BE HERE” When you are very excited you tend to speak very fast. Speaking very fast is not a good way to confirm that people have heard what you have to say. So try to take breaks, try not to fill every moment, and try to find a balance between talking loud and fast.
  • Bring your business cards. I think that this is great way to connect with people. Sure, they could probably find all of the same information online since when you present they do know your name, but I find that giving someone your card is a great way of making a little to-do task that they should contact you. People assume that just because people have a lot of questions for you that many people will follow up with you about collaborations, questions, sharing, but it’s really not the case. You want to try to find some way to encourage them.
  • On your last slide put a question for your audience. Often people have their own questions, but having a question can help center the conversation on things that you might be interested in exploring further.

Some more specific tips and hacks:

  • You can embedded animated GIFs into Powerpoint presentations. It makes the Powerpoint very large, but it often a great effect.
  • You can embed a timer into Powerpoint. I only recently found out about this! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuB4YrxWvLQ What if you could start a timer without leaving Powerpoint? How awesome is that?
  • Slideshare is great way to share slides. Often in the past I’ve posted my slides on slide share and had them tweet out as my conference ends.
  • Twitter is a great way to get conference feedback. At larger conferences, I try to pay attention the tweets. Sometimes people will ask you questions, but it’s also interested to see what sorts of conversations grows as you continue your presentation. I do not recommend having a Twitter feed going behind presenters, I find that very distracting because you don’t really have much control that and more specifically it is very hard to respond in real time while presenting.
  • Buy a slide advancer. Most slides advancers work with all sorts of presentation systems. They really allow you to move around. Put it in your purse. Bring it with you. It really makes a difference.

 

Teaching, Talking, and Talking about Teaching

Talking, teaching, and talking about teaching are all very different activities.

When I was in grad school at the University of Michigan I had a chance to work for the New York Public Library as part of their Alternative Spring Break program. The program was wonderful. University of Michigan provided the housing and gas money. I wasn’t paid for the week but I did get to work with such a cool group as the New York Public Library.

I worked for the Bronx branch, which has a beautiful building. The project that I worked in was called “Demonstrating a Dozen Databases”. The idea was that you would learn as much as you could about their library databases and then run a workshop on the databases for paraprofessionals. This was a perfect blending of my interests as a budding business librarian. I got to play around with a bunch of different databases and then tell people about them. There was a pretty clear deliverable. I could say at the end that I had presented to a whole room of people about something that I was relatively knowledgeable about. The workshop was one hour. One hour, 12 databases. I ended up picking 13 databases to trial because I wanted to be thorough. The picture is of me in 2013, but I probably looked pretty similar in 2011.

Thirteen databases, one hour, you can tell where this is going. I wanted to be thorough, so I decided as opposed to doing live demonstrations I would make screenshots. In the end my perfectly crafted presentation was over 120 slides long.

I practiced it. I know how to present in an engaging way. I added jokes. I had lots of outlines. I think I made a handout. I gave my presentation. It fell completely flat. Even I got a little bored listening to myself. It was at that point that I realized that teaching wasn’t the same talking. It was also about considering where your users were, what they could listen to, how you provide that information them. You could be really good at one but not as good at the other. That’s when I discovered a new respect for teachers.

Talking about teaching is its own skill. For a year I was an IMPACT consultant and I spent one day each week talking about teaching, and then going and teaching. I was very surprised to find that talking about teaching is very different from actually teaching. In fact, that’s some of my impetus for doing this blog. I also talk about teaching quite a bit as part of my job.

Talking is about preparation. As long as you are prepared you should be able to talk. Teaching is very contextual to your students and where you are at. As long as you general understand where they are and where they need to be, then you should be able to be successful at teaching. But talking about teaching is all about story telling. The person to which you are explaining the teaching is by definition not in the class where you are teaching. So they need to understand where you are coming from.

 

 

Do I Library?

While this blog is mostly about teaching, I am also a librarian, though I’m not really sure about whether I am a librarian. I went to school and got a degree that is accredited by the American Library Association at a school that is listed one of the top library schools. And I needed an ALA degree to get my job, or a doctorate in a related discipline. There actually isn’t “Librarian” in my title at all. I’m an Assistant Professor of Library Science as my academic title and my other title is “Business Information Specialist”.

I don’t catalog books, I don’t usually buy books for my library. We buy databases, and I don’t even really have much control over that, as I think people would prefer that I just focus on my teaching and my research.

I like to think of myself as a librarian. I went to school to become a librarian.

My office is not technically in the library. It’s the floor above the library. I sometimes make a concerted effort to walk through the library floor versus take the elevator just so I can feel a little bit more like my job is connected to that space. I teach mostly in other departments. We don’t have a library school so I don’t actually teach students to become librarians either.

I have some colleagues who tell me that they don’t really think of themselves as being librarians, but rather as professors who research and teach.

I remember a senior official introducing me at an event to a newer person and saying that I was lucky that I had started in librarianship now because I didn’t have to relearn things. It’s actually a little concerning that I play the role of the librarian though I do very little that could be accepted as librarianship in my own work. I think it feeds my imposter syndrome. People sometimes offer me up as a “model” for how librarians should look and act in the future, which also feeds my imposter syndrome because I am not really sure that librarian is the right way to describe what I do. One of the benefits of being a picture person is that I can see the connection between my work, the overarching values of librarianship, and the objectives of my university library.

I imagine that others might feel similarly to me. I can think of all the times I’ve talked to other librarians, very resentfully, about how non-librarian folk think that every person that they meet in the library is a librarian. But I also feel a little jealous. It would seem as though “person who works in a library” would be a pretty good description for a librarian, and I wish sometimes that things were that simple.

Do I library? Does it matter if I library? For my institution, it probably doesn’t matter as long as I am valuable. I think it’s important to wonder, but to also question the boundaries of a professor, teacher and librarian. It’s our responsibility as libraries to find ways to make information and libraries valuable to the university, and our privilege to try to convince people of that role.

Teaching While Weird

I had a student once who was responding to a question about how he had selected his major within the school of management. He wrote a story about how when he was a kid, he built himself a little tiny cubicle with little office equipment. That’s how he knew that someday he would be an accountant. That’s how I know that students were not the same as me.

As teachers we often tend to lean on our own educational experiences. In order empathize properly with my students, I often try to understand how I experienced things when I was in school. My experience of school was deeply reliant on my experiences as a sort of weird creative kid.

As previously mentioned in this blog, I was mostly a weird human. This is me pictured. I’m hanging upside down on a tree outside my parents’ house (as a kid I spent a lot of time in trees, which is something that happens when you grow up in the Pacific Northwest). I like this picture of me, because it’s a good description of how I feel most of the time; I feel like I just see things differently than other people. Perhaps a little weirder than other people. As example, walking around campus, I often imagine people what kind of pirate people would be.

At an earlier stage in my life, I accepted the moniker of “nerd” and just went with it, but I think nerd doesn’t really describe it. I’m just a really weird person.  I eventually came to realize that the way I see things just isn’t the way that other people see the world. I spent a surprising amount of my time as a teenager trying to prove I didn’t care what people thought of me.

All things considered, now is really a great time to be weird. When you don’t see things like everyone else, sometimes you have ideas that other people don’t know to have. You get branded as a “disruptor” and a “next gen thinker”. At an earlier time in in life, people who were weird probably would not have been very successful, but increasingly weird people end up leading.

My students are often the type of people who care about what other people think. In business that is a really good attribute. If you care about what other people think, then you can do things like better serve people, better understand what they need and design products accordingly. That’s what business is – caring about what other people think.

I’m trying to figure out what it means to teach while weird, and here’s some thoughts

  • Being your weird self helps other people feel comfortable being their normal weird self
  • Being weird does not necessarily mean that you can’t teach well. You have the same skills as other nonweird people.
  • Weird teacher are out of the box thinkers, and we need more out of the box thinkers.

What does it mean for my students who grew up not seeing things weird? The kid who dreamed as a kindergartner of someday having his own cubicle? Weird people will find that they have more skills for compassion than they think. It turns out lots of students have experiences differences than you. As a weird person, you already spend a lot of time trying to think like other people. How can you be yourself as a weird person and also imagine what’s important to these cubicle loving students? What do these nonweird people need? I think you can. Because we need weird people like you.

 

Sugar and Caffeine (and Active Learning)

A student once said to me “Professor Stonebraker, I like your class, but I also feel like I need to take a nap after it.”

As previously mentioned, I really enjoy teaching in an active learning classroom. But I am also aware that active learning is often more challenging than we give it credit for. What we are asking students to do is often to do more cognitively challenging things often in ways that they have not done them before. That takes labor.

The problem with active learning in academia is that we expect the highest most productive output during the times in which students are the least likely to be ready to perform. I teach a class that meets at 8:30 in the morning on a Wednesday. I can tell you for a fact that I’m not at my best at that time of the day, and I go to bed at 9pm like an old person.

There’s a reason why professors focused on papers and take home exams for so long. That meant that students could do the “hard” more cognitively challenging parts of learning at their own leisure. Even if you think you weren’t ready to learn during the traditional lecture all you really needed to do was soak up what was said, write down as much of what was said in hopes that later you would be better able to understand what was said. In that classroom universe, we really aren’t expecting that much more out of our students really data entry during class time. Any more would just be asking for trouble.

Imagine if there was  some of device that would make sure that the students stayed focused and also kept them awake at 8:30 in the morning? Wouldn’t we want that in all of our classrooms?

I keep a candy basket in my office. I fill it mostly with stocked Halloween and Valentines day candy. At times I’ve also used some extra Starbucks stars and gotten one of those cardboard boxes of coffee. You would be amazed how much more awake those students are when they have had a bit of coffee. You would be amazed at how much better they are at doing the “hard stuff” of active learning when they are more ready to learn.

Is this overkill? Should I be encouraging sugar and caffeine in a society where we already have too much sugar and caffeine? Maybe. But the thing about my class is that it exists in one space, not throughout all different times, and I think it’s a little unfair to depend on students to come prepared for before each and every class for a new and challenging learning environment. We ask students to spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks, what’s wrong with buying them a little candy to help them make it through?

 

Spring Break Cognitive Bias Assignment

I’m really interested in how people make decisions, and I think it’s very applicable to information literacy. I wrote this article about it. It’s kinda my thing.

It’s spring break here at Purdue this week. The Purdue academic calendar is really mean to second half semester classes in spring. You start the eight weeks, then immediately go on Spring Break the next week. After the break, I have honestly had multiple students who actually forgot that they are taking my class and forget to show up. The assignment can’t be too much of a burden, since I have only instructed these students for a week and don’t know what they are capable of. This assignment acts as a bit of an introduction among students and also a way for students to apply the concept of bias.

For this lesson sequence, students read the Harvard Business Review Article “Before You Make that Big Decision”. This article is really great summary of lots of different cognitive biases that might happen. Student then select a decision they made as a group that may have been affected one of the biases. The group aspect is really important because I think that decisions are more interesting when you make them as a group. It also allows them to not have to take blame if the outcome was bad.

I like this assignment because I have found that students make all sort of decisions as a group. It usually gets pretty silly and I think the conversations students have are often very frank with each other. It usually builds community while bringing home the idea of thinking through your decisions.

The debrief after break is especially interesting. When students come back, we talk about the outcomes of the decision. Students are asked whether or not they think their decision was good or bad and why. The ‘why’ is interesting because student usually end up in two camps: people who think a decision is good because the outcome is good, and people who think that a decision was good because the process was good. This is actually a big schism in decision science between the two. Often students will ask which the best way is, and the answer is that you need both ways. The decisions-that-are-good-because-the-outcome-is-good people tend to be more scientific, in that they observe what happened and try again, and again and again. That’s how new knowledge gets discovered. On the other side, you would not like to have an accountant, for example, who was an outcome-best decision maker. For those decisions, you want someone who consider all outcomes, crosses every T. Imagine is your accountant would consider your taxes filed if no one sent you to jail for tax fraud. That would not end well for you.

This assignment also a great way to get students to think through their decisions without telling them their way of making decisions might be misguided. That’s not exactly the point. We all make decisions in different ways and in different contexts. Thinking about thinking is crucial.

Assignment Description: Spring Break

The reading “Before You Make that Big Decision” is all about checking biases and pitfalls when making business decisions. But it applies to every day decisions as well.

Pick a type of bias mentioned in the article (self-interested bias, affect heuristic, groupthink, cost fallacy, endowment effect, disaster effect, loss aversion, overconfidence, planning fallacy, optimistic bias, competitor neglect, etc).

Over the next week, look for a time in which you made a decision AS A PART OF A GROUP that may have been affected by this bias. Describe that that situation below, and how that bias affected that decision (minimum 150 words)

 

Leaving space by being my usual not-fitting-in self

Very early in my career, I started thinking about the people who will come after me. I think a lot about how I impact the environment in which I work. I care about leaving that environment better than I found it. I have been blessed by knowing all sorts of really great people who have made the environment better and they inspire me.

Fitting in is hard. Even now in 2018, I found myself sometimes entering all white all male rooms or all baby-boomer rooms and it’s surreal for someone like me who entered a deeply feminized and increasingly millennial profession. In these positions I feel a great pressure to emulate women that came before me. I can feel the woman-shaped shadow that they have left.

Sometimes I can fit into that shadow, sometimes I just can’t. It’s not other women’s fault that I am not them. The legacy left behind can feel as if difference is frozen in glass, like being in this space means you can only be a specific type of person or as a specific type of worker from specific time or place, because great incredible people who look like you were a specific type of person or from a specific type of place.

When you are the first in an environment, the most important part is sometimes making sure that there is still a spot for those people who come after you. In these environments, I think the part where I can be my most effective is if I be my usual weird self. You know, the normal person that I am. With my sarcastic sense of humor. With my own bad handwriting. And my love of pictures of guinea pigs in cups.

I think that being weird is the most responsible thing I can do. Because in the end, it’s the most I can do. I just try to bring my whole self to work, because I hope that if I am as much of my whole self as I can be, then I will encourage others to be themselves as well, or at least the best versions of themselves that they can bring to work. They won’t spend all their time trying to fit into the leader shaped shadows that others have left before them.

Really Excellent People I have met: Betty Nelson

I work at Purdue University, and I think one of the greatest gifts of working at Purdue University is all the great people I get to meet, specifically the great women that I get to meet. I hope that people don’t mind me talking good about them behind their back.

Betty Nelson is the first person I have met who I would describe as larger than life. She’s a giant in this community. There are a few people out there who just have an amazing presence that at once asserts that this person is important but also that this person is very kind and supportive. Betty Nelson was Purdue’s third dean of students in 1987-1995, after 20 years as an assistant and an associate dean. After she retired, she continued to be active in the community. Her nickname at Purdue was the iron fist in a velvet glove.

I first met Betty Nelson through another excellent person I met at Purdue, Mike Piggott. Mike was interested in talking to me because he worked with another group, the Greater Lafayette Quality of Life Council, on which I now sit. At that time, Betty Nelson chaired the committee. I met with Mike and I expressed my desire through the course to make the community better. He said something like “You’ve got to meet Betty Nelson.” He suggested I meet up with her and the impressive Tetia Lee. The meeting was really validating for me to discuss many issues in the community. Betty Nelson was, and is, a tireless advocate for women. One of the first thing she said to me when I said I was teaching a course in Honors was how she was so impressed all the Deans and Associate Deans were women.

I could talk to Betty Nelson all day. Betty is the sort of person with an eye toward implementation. She makes you feel supportive even when she is being critical because sometimes the best support is to help refine and strengthen your ideas. Betty told me of teaching that “rivers need banks” which I think is going to change the way that I structure final projects. Betty and I are both really interested in the Greater Lafayette. I think one of the amazing parts of Betty is how open she is to students. She really is always trying to understand young people and how to help them. Betty is an inspiration to me because she’s very good at directing the energy of others without really taking ownership or responsibility over their projects. This is something I have realized is very important as I increasingly move into the part of my career that is most focused on mentorship.

In meeting Betty Nelson, I knew I had met a legend, even when I didn’t know as much about her story. She’s the impetus for this blog series of really excellent people. I met her and I just felt immediately so grateful for being at Purdue and having the chance to meet her. I hope someday I have half the passion and drive that she has!

 

Really Excellent People I have met: Mike Piggott

I work at Purdue University, and I think one of the greatest gifts of working at Purdue University is all the great people I get to meet. Betty Nelson refers to Mike Piggott (Community Relations Director at Purdue) as the living embodiment of the Connector Bus – that the bus which runs from Lafayette to West Lafayette, connecting people together. It seems peculiar to refer to a person as some form of idea transportation, but I think in this case it works.

Mike Piggott does not have to be as nice to me as he is. The first time I was aware of Mike Piggott was when I was working on a library committee for an event called Boiler Gold Rush. I was putting together a presentation that needed to be funny to 3000 freshmen crowded into the Elliot Hall of Music on a Friday morning. I needed a “game show” personality. Since what we were talking about did not really need library skills, I thought back to the person that I had heard at faculty orientation a couple of year before. I remember being really impressed by Mike’s understanding of Purdue lore and also how much confidence and personality made him engaging and dynamic at faculty orientation. It turns out that was because he was a television personality, he was a retired reporter and anchor. I reached out to him and asked if he would be interested in hosting this event.

Mike Piggott did not have to say yes, but Mike said yes. To speaking in front of 3000 students. In a program that he did not have control over. That takes a very special person to agree to a random email. I think that even now I would probably not sign up for something like that. I don’t think that I would have the guts. Or the trust. In the end, we couldn’t do the game show due to other factors, but what an incredible person to just be willing to jump on to such a crazy plan. He didn’t have to do that, he could have said no, but he didn’t.

A couple years later, he cold-emailed me. He had been talking to Greater Lafayette Commerce, who had been one of the first groups that I had gotten to come talk to my Greater Lafayette Greater class. It turned out that he sat on the Quality of Life Council, which he was very interested in getting involved in the class. It turned out to be a great fit and the class benefited from interaction.

Mike reached out and found ways to get involved. He also went one step further, introducing me to other people in the community who could help me teach my class. He told me about events. He also linked me to a video of the totally amazing “Lafayette’s Great” theme song. This type of emotional labor is really something I’m used to only seeing in women on campus, but it’s by no means something that only women can do. He has a way of making you feel like you are very valuable to the whole organization, but also that there are ways that you could serve the organization better.

The thing I like the most about Mike is also how genuinely nice he is. What does it mean to be a nice person, even when you don’t need to be? It’s more than just showing people the door.  I am trying more and more to figure out what habits of niceness might look like, that sort of seemingly effortless way that you bring people into something.  Without him, I don’t think I would know where to go around Purdue. And I’m very grateful for that. Mike Piggott is making Lafayette great.

Really Excellent People I have met: Joy Dietz

For February, I am focusing on really excellent people. Call it the nice version of talking about people behind their back. I work at Purdue University, and I think one of the greatest gifts of working at Purdue University is all the great people I get to meet, specifically the great women that I get to meet. I like to highlight those people because I feel really lucky to know so many really excellent people. One who I really only got to know as she was retiring is the incredible Joy Dietz.

In academia, people like to talk a lot about coaching versus teaching or advising. Coaching drives us to direct our attention to the individual’s strengths and encourage people to achieve greater things. It’s really tough, but if I were to look at a model of effective coaching I would look to Joy Dietz. She’s the real deal.

Joy was Director of the Women in Management Center when I first met her, but she also ran the Leadership Communication Center during the same period. Her work involves incredible amounts of individual development. I have never met someone who is as good at encouraging people as Joy. Every conversation I have had, every project I have considering, no matter how big small or otherwise, Joy has found a way to encourage me. I like to think I am special (we are all above average after all) but I see this with students as well. Students and staff light up when she see her. I can tell why she was drawn the Women in Management project. There’s no better mentor in Krannert, especially for women.

It can be very scary to imagine a better future. One of Joy’s strengths is how much she makes people feel valued and how she really does believe we can make the world a better place. She is very interested in seeing everyone succeed in the community. Work in people-development positions can often be draining. It’s often very hard to see the forest for the trees. But Joy really has the vision see what things can be, versus what things always are. She can look at a group of services and see a center, or a group of people and see a movement. The world of work can be a challenge, especially for women, but she’s not afraid to imagine that better future.

I have benefit ted direct from her leadership and I feel very lucky to have her in my community.