How far should we go to help students?

This post raises some very interesting and important questions about the extent to which faculty members should allow students to experience failure.  The author asks: “How many of us—as college or university faculty—take on …. “hovering parent” traits and strive to make paths smooth for our students instead of teaching them how to navigate a rough path themselves?”  Examples of such behaviour include:

  • Remind students again and again to turn in their homework or assignments
  • Call a student if he or she has missed a few classes
  • Provide extra credit to raise students’ grades in a course
  • Grade on a curve
  • Change course requirements mid-way through a semester because students complain the work is too hard or that there’s too much of it
  • Place all lecture notes and relevant information on a Course Management System so students don’t have to take notes or even attend class

I have certainly done the items in the first two and the last bullet.  I often find myself struggling with this very question:  My instinct is to treat my graduate students as adults, which means expecting them to take responsibility for their actions and behaviours; on the other hand, I want to help them avoid pitfalls, if possible.  I think there is increasing pressure on faculty to not let students experience failures or obstacles.  I’ve always believed that however painful, failure is a learning experience and an opportunity for growth; more importantly, that we must accept responsibility for our actions, or lack of action. I am increasingly concerned about what I see as a growing societal intolerance towards criticism and complaint, even if constructive, and labelling them as negative and therefore inappropriate, even if valid points are made.  But that’s another matter.

In response to this post, a person said that he/she would be having a discussion with students on the first day with respect to expectations on the part of both students and faculty, which is an approach I try to take, but which I will be sure to spend more time on.

Apostrophe Abuse

This blog, devoted to the abuse of the apostrophe, makes me laugh and clench my jaw at the same time.  Having been educated in the fine points of grammar, I am what my students fondly (or not) refer to as a pedant, particularly when it comes to the apostrophe.  This blog will be required reading for my students this term; perhaps if I ask them to contribute content, they will give the humble apostrophe the respect it so richly deserves. I live in hope.


Digital readers are changing the traditional library system

Digital readers are changing the traditional library system – The Globe and Mail.

This article discusses the increased popularity of e-book downloads at the Vancouver Public Library.  One of the challenging aspects, I imagine,when it comes to public perception, is why it’s necessary to place a hold on a digital copy of a book, since it does not occupy any physical space.  There has been much press lately about the high cost of e-books to libraries; it’s doubtful that the average library client realizes that in many cases, libraries can allow only one person to borrow an e-book at a time, and the fact that libraries have to keep paying publishers to make these items available, since they don’t permanently own them.  It will be interesting to see the changes in the proportion of library holdings with respect to print versus digital collections over the next 2-3 years.

What Students Don’t Know

This article discusses the ERIAL (Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries) project, a series of ethnographic studies conducted by five U.S. universities, to examine how students view and use their campus libraries.  The study suggests that “students rarely ask librarians for help, even when they need it. The idea of a librarian as an academic expert who is available to talk about assignments and hold their hands through the research process is, in fact, foreign to most students. Those who even have the word “librarian” in their vocabularies often think library staff are only good for pointing to different sections of the stacks.”

The study suggests that librarians and faculty may contribute to this perception: “librarians tend to overestimate the research skills of some of their students, which can result in interactions that leave students feeling intimidated and alienated …Some professors make similar assumptions, and fail to require that their students visit with a librarian before embarking on research projects. And both professors and librarians are liable to project an idealistic view of the research process onto students who often are not willing or able to fulfill it.” The article discusses how students tend to turn to their professors for help with searching and evaluating resources; the problem is that professors themselves are “necessarily any more knowledgeable about library resources than their students are.”

The study makes an interesting argument about the need to practice “librarian idealism” with “librarian pragmatism” when it comes to having a clear understanding of the knowledge and skill sets of students (and, perhaps, faculty). Faculty members also have an obligation to be more realistic in their expectations, such as not assuming that students understand what is meant by “scholarly resource” in the creation of their assignments.

The study is based on a small sample, so its general applicability is limited.  The academic librarians I speak to appear to have a very clear and realistic understanding of the research skills of undergraduate (at least) students, so I’m not sure I agree entirely with the notion of “librarian idealism” in this regard.  I can certainly see where professors’ perceptions of students’ research skills may not reflect reality; how well do the professors’  personal search skills stack up in comparison? I frequently encounter cases where professors search only a very limited set of resources for their research and are unaware of other possibilities and new resources available to them.  It’s unfortunate that this post does not provide more tangible recommendations for what librarians and faculty can do to address this situation; I hope that the final report, when released, will provide more specific guidelines.





New visualization tool from WorldCat

WorldCat has launched a new visual way of searching that allows you to show connections amongst related concepts.  This tool is restricted to names at the moment.  Below is a graphical representation for Nietzsche:


This is a particularly new approach, since similar visually-based search engines have been around for a while (e.g., LivePlasma and TouchGraph), but it has the added benefit of precision with the use of its name authority files.  I’ll certainly be demonstrating this tool in my cataloguing classes.