From time to time I receive faculty feedback that surprises me. There is a contrasting view that occasionally emerges around the notion that learning should be hard: specifically that the process of identifying and locating information sources should be difficult. I’ve encountered this everywhere I’ve worked. We’ve even been called out for making things “too easy for students.”
Our reference and instruction program exists for the purpose of helping people navigate resources and making it easier for them to do research. Our web tools, such as link-resolvers, subject guides, tutorials, and discovery-layers are intended to get people to the content they want as efficiently and seamlessly as possible. I mean, come on, “save the time of the reader” is baked into our DNA. Libraries exist to help make people’s lives easier/better.
Most of the librarians I know believe in reducing the barriers of access and strive to help people acquire the information they seek. I’d much rather “make things easy” on the discovery side so that students, scholars, and researchers can spend more of their time actually using information and building their ideas. Why waste their time feeling frustrated?
I’m all for challenging students and pushing them to think/act differently, but to explicitly aim at making things difficult seems counterproductive. This recent interaction was eye-opening because I was unaware of the severity of these clashing philosophical and pedagogical differences.
SCHOLARLY CONDITIONING? INTELLECTUAL PRISONERS?
A colleague of mine works closely with graduate students, teaching them how to teach. She says that while some of them are open to learning new pedagogical approaches that there are many who resist change. They have come up through a conservative system and they don’t want to rock the boat. The stand-and-deliver method has worked for centuries, why mess with that?
John Gardner, former U.S. Cabinet Secretary offers this insight:
“All too often, on the long road up, young leaders become ‘servants of what is’ rather than ‘shapers of what might be.’ In the long process of learning how the system works, they are rewarded within the intricate structure of existing rules. By the time they reach the top, they are very likely to be trained prisoners of the structure.” Adaptive Leadership
Does a similar transference occur in academia? Does one generation force its difficult experiences on to the next?
SHAPERS OF NEW INTELLECTUAL PATHS
When looking at faculty feedback via LibQUAL+ or other metrics I’ve commonly observed dissatisfaction with collections. Even the big libraries are not immune. It is unfortunate that this is THE TOP THEME that always emerges. Imagine if faculty came to us with something like this instead:
“My course evaluations suggest that all is well; yet I am chronically frustrated by the quality of student work and level of student engagement. I want more. Over the years I have deployed several teaching modalities, including guided discussion, group projects, class conferences, term papers, and even lecturing. Some things work better than others, and some work well most of the time, but promising initial results inevitably fade away. At the end of the term everybody has learned a little, and some have learned a lot, but the majority of final essays are poorly-written, with a mediocre analytical framework based on a fraction of the assigned material. Rather than scaling back expectations (again), and adjusting my teaching style and feedback methods (again), I want to try something new. It might not work, but I think it is worth a try.” Amy Nelson, Virginia Tech
This is a project that I helped fund. It is invigorating when professors recognize that things are not working well and seek to change the way they interact with their students. I wish that more faculty members challenged themselves like Amy is doing. Working with librarians (and others) to design new opportunities to stimulate the intellect, rather than upholding a belief that learning (and library research particularly) should be difficult, because that’s the way it was and always should be.
Note (3/05/2014): Amy Nelson provided this insight. Great for every librarian (and faculty member?) to consider: DO Save the Time of the Reader/ Researcher