Category Archives: Talking about Teaching

Before we start class…

There’s so much theatrics in teaching. Some classrooms have literal stages and podiums. There’s a definite feeling of what should be called the Fourth Wall There’s a moment when the teacher stops being whatever they are before they start each class and then they become The Professor. You can feel it like sharp intake of breath: you become the content at that moment. College classes are bound by space (RAWLS 1086, Purdue Campus), but mostly time. If it’s 8:30 on a Monday, you know that you are “in” MGMT 190 and are “listening” to The Professor.

The interesting part of “class” time is that it’s very fragile and very hierarchical. You are in MGMT 190 from 8:30 until 9:20 only if I, The Professor, say you are. I could cancel class. We could end early. Then the time becomes your own again. I remember in college I had a professor who used to joke that if he ended class early that you should take it out of our tuition checks. We decide their grade, we decide when they have met the objectives; they are to whom we deal the precious As and slap down with the dreaded Fs.

As such, the start of class is very interesting, since it’s ultimately up to you (The Professor) when the class starts and you become The Professor. Of course we know as educators this start is a fallacy. Learning doesn’t stop when The Professor says it has to stop. That’s in fact a great crises in high education: we tell the students “now you learn” and somehow that isn’t enough. Learning doesn’t happen on command. But it can be invited in.

It’s something like this:
Before we start class, I want you to think about the last time you had to use information to make a decision. Where did you look? When did you know that you had enough information to decide?”

Sometimes I do this because I know students are going to be late and the start of class actually is postponed. Sometimes it’s because I want students to answer less formally and think about their lives not as students but as people. It’s a little of a trick to create a space for teaching that has is a little disconnected with the formal space of the classroom.

This question situates the learner to act before the formal confines of the “class” where students “learn”. That’s very important, especially in so-called soft skills like information literacy, because often the spaces where students have to use that information are outside the narrow confines of when “official” learning happens in classroom. We care more, possibly the most, about informal learning as librarians. Like most things in a classroom, this is situational. Sometimes you don’t have the rapport with a group of students to create an informal learning space. After all, creating an informal learning space requires trust, sometimes trust that may have been broke already by someone else. But I think it’s important to think of opportunities to invite such learning.

Teaching on Purpose: What would you ask your students to learn if you were not afraid?

It’s January 1, which I think is a day in which a lot of people try to think more intentionally about things in their lives as they start the new calendar year, so I thought I’d use this day to talk a little bit about secret learning objectives. People like to write about learning objectives in teaching. They like to talk about learning objectives very hierarchically or very sequentially. When you have done this and this and this, then we know that you can do this other thing. All very logical and straightforward.

But there’s a secret wild irrational side to learning objectives. Like any form of goal setting, learning objectives are a form of wishing hopefully. These are the type of learning objectives that you sometimes don’t even want to speak out loud. Perhaps what you want sounds a little foolish. Because they sound too simple, or they make it sound like you or someone else you value isn’t doing their job to train the students prior to this point. Maybe you just don’t think it can be done.

At the stroke of midnight, sometimes you want to wish for something grander, something more special, but you don’t know if you want to let yourself down. We all know from psychology it’s much harder to change behavior than just to wish.  There’s a part of you that thinks that maybe, just maybe, what you want is kind of selfish. What you want is maybe for students to finally understand what you want for the students. Maybe you don’t write them down because you are after all a very reasonable person with completely reasonable reasons for wanting what you want. You don’t want people to think less of you.

Sometimes I wish that someone would hold a little more space for those irrational learning objectives, to hold back the floodgates of practicality just a little while longer. So I’ll be your librarian fairy godmother here, and give you this moment to think about what your secret learning objectives are, and in exchange you can be my librarian fairy godmother and I’ll tell you one of mine.

If I could teach students, and not be afraid, I would teach how to think and act with purpose. I would encourage them to live their lives with purpose, hope with purpose, and decide with purpose. If I had a secret objective it would be that the students would learn about purpose. Not just about the purpose of other people, but also that they would learn how purpose affects so many aspects of their lives.

College is a lot about pretending. We talk about practice sets, quizzes on knowledge, about the idea that there’s some sort later time in your life where you would apply all the things that you learn here. It’s more important to teach them that their decisions hold power, even when it feels like everything that around them wants them to believe that their decision are completed without that power. I think that there’s something even more important than the students knowing the difference between right and wrong, or always acting in the way that I instructed them to act. I want them to do things in their life with purpose.

I consider teaching a compromise activity, and I know to live on purpose is a lot to ask of my student. I know that this is one class and one semester, and people have to go through the rest of their lives. But that’s my selfish wish. I want students to think on purpose, research on purpose. In exchange I try to teach on purpose.

In 2018, let’s teeter on the edge a little more. Let’s imagine new worlds, see new possibilities, and give us all permission to dream with purpose. Happy New Year!

Press: Krannert Video about Leveraging the 21st Century Library

I made this short video during fall break for Krannert’s Deans Advisory Board. The Libraries have a really good relationship with Krannert School of Management, which is where my liaison areas are and where I do the bulk of my teaching. The impetus for this video was the opening of the Wilmeth Active Learning Center.This is the first time I’ve made a video about the libraries at a large level, and it was interesting trying to describe very succinctly the larger scale vision of the Parrish Libraries, and maybe even modern Libraries as a whole.
The activity the students are working on in the video (where my colleague Heather Howard is teaching) is the reverse logistics assignment I posted last week.

Recall, Reverse Logistics, and Ethics: an active learning assignment

I get very frustrated with assignment repositories. One reason why is that just putting an assignment up in a document repository really doesn’t tell you the whole story. Why did the instructor choose to do this assignment? Why do they think it works well? What types of students does that university have and are they similar to my students? It’s also very frustrating to me because as far as I can tell, the assignment repositories do not have good SEO and they don’t show up in Google searches. From time to time, I’d like to talk about an assignment that I use and why I use it.

I first thought of this assignment when I was in graduate school and the University of Michigan. While there, I worked at the business library at the reference desk and I had many opportunities to look up many different types of reference questions. One of the questions that I looked up was about recalls. There was a student who wanted to know what made recalls successful. After searching around, I found that recalls in the databases were more likely to be referred to as “reverse logistics”, both because that was a much more encompassing terms (it included things like recycling programs) but also because it was much more polite and didn’t bring to mind scandals.

I like to teach on purpose and one way that I exert effort in this direction is to try to make students understand how their decisions might affect other people. One way to make students think about how their decisions hold value is to confront them with ethical scenarios, and in these scenarios give them the opportunity to act ethically and in the best interest of the community. In this Group Challenge, the students are a crib manufacturer and their cribs have been found to be unsafe. Their goal is try to get the cribs off the market as quickly as possible. Their company was in the wrong, but now they have decided to do what’s right. It is in their business’ best interest to now be good logistics business people.

In the interest of acting most ethically, the student must consider how to get the information out. In this case they have the chance to help as many people as possible which will allow them to think differently about the role they might have. I don’t think that problems in business are always public versus business, but they are actually more nuance. You can find ways to do what’s best for the business while also doing what’s best for the community. Or maybe you don’t. But whatever you do, you want to make sure that you base your decisions on the information that you found, and back that up with solid reasoning and thinking.

In librarianship there is also great discussion about scholarly versus public sources. In my area of librarianship (business), there is a greater amount of discussion about scholarly versus trade sources. The good thing about recalls is that they are public events so there are often many  examples of what happened.  What companies are doing can be found in trade articles, which could be (depending on who you ask) newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, but also things like Fortune magazine or Grocery Review. If you were looking for trade articles on a recall you would search “recall”. You search “recall” because you were looking for specific company examples of when recalls were done.  If you are looking for scholarly journal, you will most likely want to use the term “reverse logistics” because recalls are but one part of an overall structure of approaching the details of getting things that were on the market off the market. Scholarly articles in management are very much about models and processes.

Group Challenge : Operations

DUE: End of class today, to Blackboard. This is a group project that will be graded for overall accuracy, following directions and completion. Put the name of your group members present in the comment box when you submit to Blackboard. Problems submitting to Blackboard? Email it to your instructor.

This is a group assignment that will be graded on its merits. Points will be award for accuracy, ability to follow directions, for the quality of the recommendation using the information, for grammar and spelling, and for clarity.


You work for a successful furniture manufacturer located in the Midwest. You have recently found out that 14,000 of the baby cribs you manufacture were deemed unsafe by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. There is a risk of an entrapment hazard, meaning babies can fall becoming entrapped in the crib bars, or suffer cuts. You need to issue a voluntary recall so that you can give your customers a free (safer) replacement mattress support with newer brackets. In order to avoid large publicity issues, you need to recall these baby cribs in a short amount of time.

You are on the team to research potential solutions for implementing the recall in the short amount of time. Your team has decided to research two forms of evidence to help decide how to recall the cribs in the fastest manner. First you are going to research two companies (IKEA and Bexco) who have done recent recalls. Second, you will located scholarly approaches to reverse logistics, recall management or product recalls for best practices. For this case, you are most interested in doing the recall most efficiently and effectively.

Suggested way of breaking the project up:

8:30-9: One group member works on finding the scholarly journal article. Three student work on locating the three recent events and writing up the paragraph summary. As the Question 1 students finish they check each other’s work. You may also want to put an additional person on finding/reading the scholarly article.
9:05-9:10: Bring all information together and discuss what you think the company should do.
9:10-9:20: Write up two paragraph response. Submit.

Questions to answer as a team:

1) Use either ABInform Collection or Business Source Premier Complete to locate three recent articles (since 2008) describing recall events involving IKEA, Bexco. Summarize them briefly (1-2 sentences each) and then describe how all of them would affect your recall (1 paragraph).

2) Use either ABInform Collection or Business Source Premier Complete to locate one scholarly (peer reviewed) article which might be a good model for you to consider when implementing the recall.

It does not need to be about baby cribs or furniture but does need to be written in the last 12 years. This article could answer any (but does not need to answer all) of the following questions:

  •  How do companies maximize the efficiency of their supply chains when implementing reverse logistics? (more questions on back)
  • What are the most effective reverse logistics systems?
  • How do you write the most effective product recall message to get people to participate?
  • How does someone plan and implement a successful product recall?
  • What are factors affecting implementation of reverse logistics?
  • What frameworks do scholars use when they study reverse logistics?

Summarize your article briefly and how they might help you in your decision (1 paragraph)

3) Based on your answers above, what do you think your company should do? Were any of the two companies using a model you would follow? Did your scholarly article point to any specific things your group should consider when implementing the recall? Support your decision with information from your articles and summaries (2 paragraphs)

4) In all, you will have located four articles. Please give the citations for the articles.

 

Active Learning: What to do With Yourself

Active learning is amazing in many ways. One of the ways that it is amazing is that it allows the professor to fine tune the brick-and-mortar classroom experiences to really focus on the muddiest, trickiest part of the learning process in a way that you could not before. Student centered teaching shifts the focus of the classroom from the instructor. Students can grapple with the most challenging part of the assignment together, with your help, so that you can really find that spot where student keep getting tripped up and adjust their conceptions, which leads to better outcomes on course deliverables.

The reason it’s so tricky is because sometimes that also means you spend less time lecturing, which being a university instructor, is probably something you are pretty good at. When I stopped lecturing as much in classes, I had even more time to engage with students and make those direct contacts that are so satisfying to you as a teacher. But I also noticed you need to be careful to make sure to design activities for yourself.

I get very bored easily. When your teaching is reactive to learning, sometimes there’s a period where one is pedagogically “waiting for the water to boil”. Waiting for students to learn so I can teach is very challenging. I imagine it might also be challenging for other people. So here are some of things that I do instead in a flipped environment when I might have to spend 5-10 minutes not being the object of attention to get the most of the active learning environment.

  • Do informal assessment. Get out a pen, look around, and observe your students. What are they discussing? What is tripping them up the most? I find this helpful because I often forget as an expert all the things I do easily that my students might not be as good at. I try to use the extra time to assess student learning so I can see overall how the class is doing. I find recording this information makes it more functional to you in the future.
  • Observe inter-group dynamics. My students work with the same group all semester, and I really pay attention to how each of the group is working. Are all students working together, or in two pairs? Is there one student who seemed to be doing all the work and not letting the other students get involved? Is there a student who is on their phone and not helping? Alternately is there a student who might be struggling with the material and therefore left out of the group as they move forward on the assignment? Any of these dynamics might affect the performance of the group and are important to keep track of. Extra bonus is that this was something that you could never observe first hand before active learning; you just had to sort of guess what was happening in the groups or rely on accounts of different students. In class activities gives you a real chance to observe up close what is happening inside the group.
  • Learn student names. Our Blackboard has a feature called “Photo Roster” which allows you print out a picture of all your students. I use this as I quiz myself on their names. It’s a wonderful feeling when you can surprise a student by calling them by name in class. You can do that more often if you take the time learn the students’ names. If you don’t have photo roster, you can also use name tags. This also makes it easier to start associating names with faces, so that when students email you, you know which student is which. I have between 80 and 116 students each semester, so this can be a real help.
  • Prepare the next activity. The more you prep your activities, the faster you can get to them. Enough said.
  • Join in. It’s always good to join a group and actually do the activities that you devise, though I will say that you tend to be faster at them then your students. This does seem to be logical first step, but you also might freak them out a little depending on the activity. But sometimes you can learn new things about your activity and do more in-depth assessment. Or sometimes you can focus your participation in a group where a student might be struggling and help that student keep on task. Also you plan really fun activities, right?

The objective of this post isn’t to say you can’t lecture. Sometimes the best way to tell people is to tell them something all at the same time. Also, sometimes to create a good learning environment, there is some need for storytelling and theatrics. But I think I’ve learn a lot of things by shutting up and watching my student work, and I think this greatly improves the classroom for everyone involved.

No-No-November: What Can You Say NO to in Your Teaching?

My excellent colleague Dr. Julia Kalish has been running something she calls No-No-No-November this past month. The concept, per Kalish’s blog post: “reduce, remove, quit, stop, and minimize as many nonessential tasks, belongings, activities, people, habits, and projects”. I love this idea, even though if there’s something about me you should know it’s that I am constantly saying yes to things. I do not consider the two to be mutually exclusive: you can say no in order to say yes to other things.

November is a great time to say NO to things in teaching, as you head into finals season and are probably thinking about what will go into your next syllabus. It’s been my goal since around early October to quit something every two weeks or so, or at least resolve to quit it. So far, I’ve resigned at least unofficially from my post as an editor of a column. I moved meetings with my supervisor from every two weeks to monthly. At first it’s really scary to quit things, because I often wonder that if I quit something if I am ever going to be able to get to that thing again. But then I remember all of things that I get to say yes to because I said no.

I love Julia’s idea, and I’m trying to extend the idea of NO to my own teaching. Here are some things I plan to say no to in the coming year:

  • NO to student emails. This next year when I teach my 120-student course, I’m going to have my Graduate Assistant answer all of my student emails in my large class. This is mainly for mostly practical reasons, since currently half of the students email the GA and the other half email the instructor. Why not simplify? Half of the time, I end up forwarding the email to the GA anyway.
  • NO to students turning things in on paper. It’s 2017, folks. You shouldn’t need to hand anything out. I’m resolving in the future as much as possible to only use paper when I need students to look at multiple things at the same time (the two monitor problem). And a definite NO to returning things to student on paper.
  • NO to database/Google comparison. This is more librarian focused, but I just hate it when people do this comparison. There’s no situation in the real world where you would try multiple different databases and just compare the results. That’s not a thing that real people do. More specifically, the results from one large database doesn’t reflect the total of databases..
  • NO to 5 minute guest lectures. If I’m there for less than 20 minutes, it’s like I wasn’t there at all. I don’t do many of these, but I am resolving in the future to do even less of these, maybe even none.
  • NO to internalizing my student’s performance as my performance as a professor. This is a tricky one, but I’m going to commit to saying NO. Students are adults, they can choose not to learn. I’m very critical of myself, I want to do well, but doing well isn’t putting too much stake on the performance of my students.

What can you say NO to in your teaching?

Motown, Dubstep and Classical: Using Background Music in Class

Learning is a five senses experience. Playing music is an easy way of throwing sound around as if to say “This is who I am, this is the type of learning environment that I’m trying to create”. Moving around chairs takes time or setting up things, but just by playing music you can create an entirely different environment.

Background music can cause what is called cognitive arousal, which improves mood. Music has been previously explored in the information literacy classroom and has positive correlations between background music and student comfort, retention, and confidence. Music can also increase certain type of perception as documented in the famous Mozart effect. At the same time, listeners should not doubt the fact that they are multitasking and can in some cases harm cognitive performance on tasks.

I have many opinions on music that I play in class. I typically play music in the classroom as students arrive. I teach in an active learning environment, so there’s lots of small tasks, bringing things together, talked about what you should do in small group type of work. I do this firstly because it allows me to check the sound in the classroom.  I then play music often when the students are working on a project, I think it makes clear when one task ends and another begins.

When I first started teaching I used to play music I like. Since I am from Seattle, that is mostly Indie Rock from the early 2000s, but I found that this was kind of really depressing. Also it is surprisingly discouraging when students make fun of the music and it is music that you like. This is also why you should not play music from your childhood.

I switched to Pandora station with a Stevie Wonder seed. I have carefully cultivated this Pandora station for the majority of the rest of my teaching career. I like Motown because it’s almost always easy to listen to and always a little upbeat without being too sickly sweet. It makes good background music that perks you up just a little bit.

The link to that Pandora Station: https://www.pandora.com/station/972927259948434106

My students make fun of me using Pandora, and I can see that Spotify is probably a superior product, but I have so many year of cultivation for the Pandora station I don’t really feel like I can leave it. I mean, it needs me, you know?

I play dubstep/electronica in other people’s classes, or during freshmen orientation, when I was trying to create an environment that says “look guys there’s a different teacher up here today you can tell because I am playing Dubstep” My favorite song to play is Space Monkeys from the Fight Club Soundtrack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrReKwwtdsM&t=204s Another professor I know played Linkin Park for similar reasons.

I have also found that my international students actually prefer to listen to classical music. I’ve seen studies that show that music without lyrics is actually better for studying because then your mind isn’t microtasking as much. This is especially true for international students, where playing a bunch of English language over everything else is likely to give a lot of cognitive challenges. I created another Pandora station, based on Lord of the Rings. I like it, but I also think it can get a little Overly Dramatic Let’s Go to Mordor, so I only play it when there’s like an extra special or important assignment.

Link to Lord of the Rings Station: https://www.pandora.com/station/2363995905025458874

More information:

Lifehacker- The Best Sounds for Getting Work Done: https://lifehacker.com/5365012/the-best-sounds-for-getting-work-done

Why Teaching on Purpose

In my professional life I have a lot of doorway conversations with other academics, in an almost lewd manner, discussing what we do when we teach. I don’t mean like the large stuff. I’m talking about the small, everyday, boring dumb stuff that you don’t think about. Like the type of music they play in class or what they wear to work.

I started teaching by accident.  I found myself teaching mostly because I wanted as a librarian to help people, and in academia that means helping students, and the best way to help students is to teach them. After a certain point of doing things accidentally, it’s important to think about doing things on purpose, moving in a specific direction with specific intent. It’s important not to sneak, but to stride.

This blog is called Teaching On Purpose. It is a double meaning: one meaning is the need for more responsible teaching and learning, meaning ethical, sustainable, and purpose-driving teaching. But it also reflects an intent. Too often librarians end up teaching on accident. At some point in the information instruction game, we knew we wanted a seat at the table, and we wanted students to become more information literate, and the most logical way was for us to get into the classrooms and make it happen. We’re not unique in this. I think many academics didn’t plan to teach, but found that teaching was the best way to impact lives, to do life-giving research, to find their intellectual niche.

If we want to make real impacts through our teaching, we have to do it on purpose. Teaching purpose isn’t all the high things, it can also be the small things, the thing that you don’t do on purpose at first but then you stumble on it after a while and it just makes sense. It’s important that we find ourselves here. It’s the series of practices that makes us whole. To teach on purpose is the easiest method to a means. It’s not just because it seemed like a good idea at the time, but because it’s important, we’re important, and our students are important.

I don’t want to do things on accident so I have conversations in the hallways. I already write quite a bit for librarians, but I feel like most of my writing is often at the end of projects, and includes large, more serious questions. These aren’t conversations that are fully formed enough that you could “discover” them and publish in a scholarly journal. And they don’t really carry meaning that I would feel comfortable traveling to a conference just to share them. When I talk about teaching, I talk a lot about those things, but those conversations, because they are spoken, are often very ethereal. So I decided to start this blog. This blog is about the small little bits of intentional teaching that happen every day.