Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Librarians from Special Collections led a group of faculty members and librarians through an exercise that could be tailored to the objectives of almost any course at Dartmouth. Jay Satterfield and Peter Carini distributed to the participants a set of documents from special collections and gave us the following very minimal instructions as if we were a group of students.

In groups of two, look over the document and respond to the following prompts:

  1. What is this?
  2. What is its information value?
  3. What questions does it prompt you to ask?

We worked in groups of two for about 15 minutes, then the six groups each reported their responses one at a time. It was difficult for us to refrain from starting discussion and sharing questions right away. It was even more difficult for Jay and Peter to refrain from supplying corrections and special information they had about the documents. They kept this activity focused on the students.

Here’s a list of the documents we looked at in pairs. We did not have this list; each pair had only the primary document before us; we were tasked with making some sense of the document without knowing what it was.

  • A “memorial” of a petition by Dartmouth students addressed to their neighbors asking for permission to undergo inoculation for smallpox in January 1777
  • A recipe for a prescription for smallpox inoculation written by one Dr. Tiffany
  • A letter from Ebenezer Haseltine to his brother, dated February 12, 1777
  • Acts and Laws of the State of New Hampshire promulgated from July-December 1776 and published in 1780
  • Reasons against the Practice of Inoculating the Small-Pox. London 1722
  • A Narrative of the Method and Success of Inoculating the Small Pox in New England. London 1722

As each pair reported, we could not help but learn new things about our document and even start to construct a narrative. When all six pairs had reported, Jay asked several people, in turn, to tell the story they were constructing from all the documents. Not surprisingly each narrative offered was different. Some told a story about the 18th-C controversies about small pox inoculation; another told a story about students responding to a smallpox outbreak at Dartmouth; still others wanted to tell a story about reactions to epidemics.

What’s more, each story needed more information to become truly useful. We were prompted to sort our questions into those that could be answered by further research in secondary sources, those by research in more primary sources, and those that might require careful interpretation and speculation.

Then we stepped back into our roles as teachers to consider how an exercise like this could be useful in one of our own courses and how it might further the learning outcomes we want our students to achieve.

Finally Peter Carini shared with us his list of “Skills for Primary Source Research,” a list of the outcomes he expects students to realize by using primary materials in Special Collections. Everyone started planning such exercises for future courses.

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Rauner Special Collections Library holds many collections that lend themselves to the study of sustainability. The Papers of Donella Meadows and the polar research collections are complemented by smaller collections that can provide a deep historical context to today’s sustainability movement. College Archivist, Peter Carini, and Special Collections Librarian, Jay Satterfield, visited DCAL to lead a discussion of strategies for introducing these resources into the classroom.

Jay began by providing an overview of the strategies the Rauner employs for collecting. Specifically, he says, “In Rauner we aim for curricular support, we want to get our collection into the hands of undergraduates, while not ignoring other research purposes. We want to select materials as ‘teachable packages.’” In some areas, the collection is fairly deeps, such as for Robert Frost, Daniel Webster, and 19th century New Hampshire politics.

Satterfield continued with some show and tell from another deep collection, known as the White Mountain Collection. One table was full of samples from the collection, but Peter took some time to read from three guide books for the area from three moments in time: a guide book from 1851 that reflected a romantic view of nature; a 1912 guide that begins with a “road trip” view, alluding to the changing options for transportation; and a 1973 guide that warns of the threats of nature from overuse.

Peter Carini then took over to give an overview of the “college grants,” which were established at different times in the College’s past to provide a financial sustainability option for its ongoing needs. The first was supposed to setup a system for tenant farmers to bring income through agriculture, while the third was to provide income through logging leases to the timber industry. From records in the collection, we know when Dartmouth hired its first manager of the logging operations, who also became the first to head up the Outdoor Club.

Thirty-eight years later, in the late 1960s, we start to see documentation about conservation for recreational use in College Forester’s Records. Not long after, in 1970, Dartmouth established its Environmental Studies Program. Now, in 2012, we are seeing new plans for the College take shape in which “sustainability” will be part of the core that defines Dartmouth for the future.

The audience seemed quite interested to know how Rauner can play a larger role in helping faculty to visualize the collections for specific purposes. There were others, too, who wondered if an advisory board could be assembled to discuss how to further develop a “sustainability collection” at Dartmouth.

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Laura Braunstein (Library), and Karen Gocsik (Institute for Writing and Rhetoric) facilitated this session on focusing our students’ research processes. At the start, everyone present introduced themselves and shared a question about or challenge they’ve encountered in teaching students research. Those topics/challenges included helping students develop questions of an appropriate scope, finding a balance between instructing students on the writing process and giving them time to practice their writing, and guiding our students in identifying topics that are of interest to readers (not just of personal interest to the writer).

We then divided into pairs and, with Laura Braunstein’s guidance, worked through a very effective activity based on one developed by Aimee Bahng, Assistant Professor of English. This activity, “Levels of Questions,” provides a scale by which to rate “levels of arguability” of research questions.

  • Level 1: Questions that can be answered with knowledge you have right now.
  • Level 2: Questions that can be definitively answered with scholarly research.
  • Level 3: Open-ended quesions to which an answer can be proposed based on scholarly research but that cannot be answered definitively.
  • Level 4: Questions that cannot be addressed with scholarly research, either because of lack of evidence or because they ask something that cannot be answered by citing evidence.

In our pairs, we used the scale to rate a list of sample questions we had been given. As level 3 questions are the ideal level for student papers, being that they are debatable, we rewrote all the level 1, 2, and 4 questions to meet level 3 criteria.

When we reported out, we found that many of us had rated our questions differently. Some of these discrepancies were due to disciplinary differences. “How did language evolve?” is a level 2 question in some disciplines, while in others it may be a level 3 question (and perhaps even a level 3 question that needs to be narrower in scope, depending on the course.) We noticed that sometimes subtle changes in vocabulary moved a question from one level to the next. Some rated the question “Should parents be worried about giving their children too many vaccines?” as a level 2, while some rated it a level 4 due to the use of the word “worried”.

The discussion was lively and interesting. All present seemed to be in agreement that the activity is a valuable tool to use in classroom instruction.

After completing this activity, we looked at a student paper on “The Great Gatsby” from a past WRI2-3 class. Karen Gocsik introduced us to a strategy for helping students hone their research questions in their writing. Referencing Aristotle’s topoi, she explained to us how she aided a student by asking her “What question is each of your paragraph’s answering?” By doing this, we (as had her student) saw that some whole paragraphs answered level 1 questions such as “What are the personal attributes of the female characters in the Great Gatsby?” By reading the paper in this way, we saw that each paragraph of the student’s paper addressed a level 1 question….until the very end. The student’s closing sentence was, in fact, a level 3 question. Her conclusion was actually the ideal starting point for her paper.

In summary, this was an engaging, thought-provoking, hands-on session–the kind I like best. I encourage you to look at the adaptation of Aimee Bahng’s assignment, and considering using it, or modifying it, in your classes.

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Faculty, students, and staff met today to discuss open courseware and copyright.  This session was led by Barbara DeFelice, director of the Dartmouth College Library’s Digital Resources Program, who gave an overview of open course materials at Dartmouth.  Next,  Film and Media Studies professor Mark Williams shared his work on the Media Ecology Project, including some of his favorite media resources including Critical Commons.

The participants then each shared their interests in and experiences with open courseware.  One participant described the Kahn Academy and commented that this resource should serve to challenge Dartmouth to publicly share educational materials, perhaps by creating a repository to which interested faculty can contribute.  In response, some participants described the ways their departments already are sharing course and research materials online, such as the electronic teaching materials page on the Math department’s website.

Faculty from the sciences and social sciences had an interesting discussion about the ways open access publishing of research helps or hinders them in the promotion and tenure processes.

The session concluded with agreement on these points/next steps:

  • Participants want to hear more about the details of one another’s work in these areas.
  • Participants want to hear from their colleagues at other campuses on these topics.
  • A series of workshops and events around open courseware and copyright is of interest and could help accomplish the two points listed above.

Check the DCAL events and our quarterly newsletter for more on these topics.

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A panel of three librarians presented at this session that was co-hosted by the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric and the Dartmouth College Library: Laura Braunstein, English Language and Literature Librarian, Noah Lowenstein, Physics and Astronomy Librarian, and Fran Oscadal, History and Government Librarian.

Laura, Noah, and Fran each shared experiences they had working with faculty and students on research assignments. The classes they worked with included Writing 5, First Year Seminars, and the History Foreign Study Program. I won’t detail each of their experiences here, but instead will share the common threads to which each attributed their success and comments from the faculty on the benefits of collaborating with librarians.

Tips for successful faculty/librarian collaborations:

  • The earlier you begin working with your librarian, the better your students’ experience (and learning!) will be.  Get in touch with your librarian well in advance of the term, if possible.  This will give the librarian a chance to create support materials (such as a course webpage), to order any books needed that the library does not already own, and for the two of you to collaborate on the design of and librarian support for your assignment(s).
  • Strategically time the librarian’s visit(s) to your class at key points in the assignment.  By aiming for “point of need” instruction, students will be more engaged and will learn more from the session.
  • With your librarian, create diagnostic assignments that will help you both assess what students know and don’t know about library research so you can design a session targeted at their needs.  In Bill Nichols Writing 5 class, Fran attended a session during which the students shared their research interests.  Fran was able to respond in real-time to their ideas, giving suggestions for resources such as Rauner Library, the Planning Office, archives of the D, and more.  Noah created a survey for students in Physics 7 to complete before his first class visit.  The survey asked the students to identify a source type from a citation, to determine if a certain journal article was available in the Library, and to do some scripted catalog searches and reflect on the experience.  Noah used the survey results to design a class session that was much better suited for their needs than a general “library basics” session would have been.

Faculty feedback on collaborations with librarians:

  • By working with a librarian, the students are introduced to both the faculty member’s expertise in her/his own research area and to research tools that cover a broader spectrum of topics and disciplines that are relevant to the students’ work.
  • Librarians help both faculty and students create order from the “messy, unorderly” resources on unfamiliar topics.  It is our job, as librarians, to be aware of and familiar with a broad range of research tools and to act as a “research coach” for you and your students.
  • By working with multiple people (your librarian, a writing assistant, RWIT tutors, etc.) the faculty and students benefit from a team of experts who are engaged with the course and are available to support the students throughout the research and writing processes.

In short, working with a librarian early (and often!) will benefit your students and will result in a successful, collaborative teaching experience for you.

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yeah, it's long -- I didn't have time to make it shorter

Feral Librarian

Research libraries & higher education. Sometimes music, sports, & other stuff.