June 27, 2017

Dispositions for Librarianship (or, why I can’t weed students for you)

Posted in Job Success, School Success at 12:33 pm by melissaautumn

Been thinking about professional things, post ALA Annual . . .

During a panel on the skills library school graduates need, an audience member suggested library schools should weed out applicants who don’t have the necessary dispositions for librarianship. I understand the sentiment that there are characteristics that make for a good librarian – commitment to service, valuing intellectual freedom, curiosity, creativity, and more. But, here are reasons why we should not try to screen for those dispositions in library schools.

On a practical level, not all our students are going to be librarians. As a library administrator (and I’ve been one), it can be easy to fall into the trap of assuming the purpose of library schools is to train librarians, but we educate people for all kinds of information related jobs. Even if we asked applicants about their intended career path, those plans can and will change as applicants become students and learn more about the wide variety of jobs available to information professionals.

In addition, not all librarian positions are the same. The needed dispositions for a children’s librarian and an archivist are very different. Likewise, not all libraries are the same. More than once I’ve worked with a librarian who wasn’t well suited to our library, left for a library that was a better fit, and thrived. There’s a place for everyone in librarianship.

More importantly, as panelist Aisha Conner-Gaten pointed out, valued dispositions and how those are displayed are culturally determined. Excluding people based on certain behaviors (or assumptions about the meaning behind those behaviors) has long been used to exclude the “other.” What do we lose in our profession when we exclude people who hold different values and ways of being than we do?

Finally, we need to be open to the possibility of growth and change. I’m a better librarian today than I was at 23, when I started my first professional job. I’m also a better teacher, a better parent, and a better friend, among other things. And hopefully in ten years, I’ll be better yet. Yes, some students will come without the necessary dispositions for the career they want. They also come without the necessary skills and knowledge to be librarians. In fact, that’s why they come to library school – to gain the necessary skills and knowledge. The same is true of dispositions. We can make it clear what dispositions are needed and offer opportunities to develop those dispositions, both in school and in the workplace, but we shouldn’t use them as a basis for turning away people who want to join our profession.


August 18, 2016

Never Miss an Assignment Again!

Posted in School Success at 3:47 pm by melissaautumn

I love the start of a new semester. It is a fresh chance to set personal and professional goals, get organized, and see what I can accomplish in a short period of time. It’s like New Year’s Day comes twice a year (three times if you count summer session, which of course I do!).

I’ve decided to start off the school year by writing up some advice for my students on how to do well in school, particularly in a distance education program. My hope is that you’ll pick up some useful tips and get your academic year off to a strong start.

Today’s tip relates to remembering due dates. Meeting deadlines for assignments is fundamental to being a good student, for a variety of reasons:

  • In almost every class, late work will cost you points and missing a lot of deadlines will pull down your final grade. If grades are important to you, then it is silly to lose unnecessary points.
  • Organizing your work and meeting deadlines is a core professional competency. Developing an organizational system now sets you up for success after graduation.
  • Related to the above, repeatedly turning in late work doesn’t reflect well on your ability to be a successful professional and therefore affects my willingness to write a positive letter of reference or connect you to my professional network later.
  • Missing deadlines causes unnecessary stress. School is stressful enough (so much to do, so much to learn) without adding to it with a last minute rush to finish something on time or waking up to the sinking feeling that something was due the night before.

At the same time, I get it that you are really busy. Believe me, I get it. Between teaching three classes, raising kids, writing professionally, and volunteering, I have trouble remembering deadlines, too. Seriously, I will forget to grade assignments without an organizational system for remembering due dates (the due dates I assigned).

So here’s my system:

  1. Get a calendar, ideally one that lets you see a month at a time. I prefer a printed calendar, since online ones often obscure all but a few appointments in the monthly view (ultimately, I have two calendars, an online one that is more effective for day-to-day appointments and a printed one for tracking due dates).
  2. Gather up pens or markers, one color for each class or major commitment in your life. If you are using an online calendar, you should be able to change the color of appointments and tasks – assign a color to each class or commitment.
  3. Starting with your first class, take the syllabus and put every class meeting and due date on your calendar. You don’t need to have a lot of detail, since these are just reminders. For example, if my 567 class has a forum post for Professional Reading 3 due on Friday, my calendar says, “567 PR3.”
  4. Next, read every assignment sheet and add any additional due dates to your calendar, then look at the course website for any additional dates. Some instructors get all the due dates in the syllabus, but not all do, so the goal here is to be as thorough as possible.
  5. Switch colors and do the same thing for the rest of the classes you are taking.
  6. Switch colors again and add any major non-class commitments. I define major as things that will interfere with my normal work routine (weekend travel, an all-day commitment) or that require a lot of prep work on my part (a big party, photo day at my daughter’s ballet company).

Yay! You now have your due dates organized! My September calendar looks like this:

Calendar with due dates written on it.

September’s due dates.

Of course, now you have to work the system.

  1. Once a day, look at your calendar. Take note of what is due tomorrow (last chance to not miss that deadline!) and what is coming for the next few days (to avoid unpleasant surprises).
  2. Once a week, look ahead for at least a week or two. I use Friday afternoon as a planning day to block out my upcoming week and create a to-do list for the weekend. This is also a good time to break down large assignments into smaller tasks and put them on your calendar as weekly goals.
  3. Cross off assignments as you complete them. This has two benefits – it feels good to see what you’ve accomplished (all those lovely crossed out things!) and creates a visual reminder of what you still need to do. (Note: for weekly meetings, I make a check after the reminder when I’ve completed the readings and course prep and then cross it off when class is over.)
A calendar with due dates that have been crossed off.

June’s due dates, all crossed off!

I hope the above helps you get organized to meet all your due dates this fall!

January 26, 2011


Posted in Professional Success, School Success at 4:38 pm by melissaautumn

This video should remind us all of the importance of proofreading.

January 12, 2011

My Grading Process

Posted in School Success at 3:10 pm by melissaautumn

A ProfHacker column challenged readers to share their grading process with students, so here it goes.

Scheduling Grading

Yes, I schedule time to grade. One of the potential pitfalls of online teaching is that my classes are always “meeting” – even if I work all day answering emails, grading assignments and responding to forum posts, by that evening, there will be more emails, assignments and forum posts that require my attention. In order to set some boundaries between my work and personal lives, I try to do the work for a course only once a day – so if I read forums and grade assignments for my instruction course in the morning, I usually won’t work on that class again in the evening (although I might be working on another course during that time, since I devote time to each course almost every day).

I also set boundaries by scheduling time off from work. I try to take one day off each weekend to do things I enjoy and I reserve weekday afternoons and early evenings to focus on my family. Both of these practices prevent burnout and contribute to a good quality of life for me and my family. But, they also mean I’m not necessarily grading assignments as soon as they are submitted.

Finally, my days can be very uneven, with some days providing long hours of uninterrupted work time and other days providing much less time due to family and volunteer commitments. Smaller assignments may not take as much time to grade and as a result, I usually tackle them every day to stay on top of what is coming in. However, larger assignments can take 20-30 minutes each to grade and require more sustained concentration. As a result, I schedule time a 3-5 days a week to grade large assignments.

Like ProfHacker, if I have a lot of grading, I will set a daily quota for myself – this helps me be realistic about how much I need to accomplish and gives me a manageable goal for the day. At the end of the semester when I have a lot to grade, I grade all the assignments in one course before moving on to the next course. This allows me to concentrate on the course content, rather than trying to switch gears to a different set of assignments every few hours.

The Process

The process for larger assignments like LibGuides and Instruction Design Projects:

  1. Create or locate the folder on my laptop where I save all the assignment feedback for that particular course.
  2. Locate the assignment sheet and make a clean copy of the rubric. Save this rubric in the appropriate feedback folder with a generic heading like “LibGuide Rubic.”
  3. Navigate the course management system to locate ungraded assignments. Open the next ungraded assignment. Open the rubric and resave it under the student’s name (e.g., “IDP Rubric – Sally Smith”).
  4. As I read the assignment, I’ll make notes in the appropriate section of the rubric. Once I’ve read the entire assignment, I’ll revise those notes into full sentences and paragraphs of comments. I typically reread all or part of the assignment as I’m making comments, in order to verify that I correctly understood the student’s work. The larger the assignment the more back and forth I might need to do. I generally write all my comments on the rubric, although if there are a lot of problems or I want to respond to very specific sections, I might save a copy and put additional comments directly in the assignment.
  5. Rubrics and experience with a particular assignment generally help me stay consistent in grading, but I will go back and review other students’ rubrics to see how many points I deducted for a particular error or problem. If I’m grading a brand new assignment, I will read a bunch of assignments to get a feel for student work before I start any formal grading.
  6. Next I assign a grade, recording it on both the rubric and in the course management system.
  7. Finally, I send the grade and rubric back to the student, along with a general comment like “I’ve attached a rubric with a grade; if you have questions please feel free to contact me.” In addition to entering the message, I need to upload the rubric – sometimes a multi-step process that needs to be performed in a specific order (for example, in Moodle I work from the bottom of the screen up since I need to attach the rubric before writing the message or the attachment process will erase any message and grade that have been entered).
  8. Once I’ve graded all the assignments, I review the grades in the course management system to ensure I haven’t skipped anyone or neglected to upload a rubric. I also check to be sure everyone turned in the assignment and if an assignment is missing, contact the student to inquire.

And by the time all that is done, it is generally time to start the process over with another assignment in another course.

The Little Stuff

I do play music when I grade, usually a variety of tunes from my iPod. Rock and hip hop are favorites – I need upbeat music to keep me going.

I usually sit in my bedroom since it gets a lot of sun. If I need a break and as the sun moves during the day, I will move to the dining room or living room.

I tend to complain about my grading on Facebook where my faculty colleagues will commiserate and say encouraging things. I also give myself little rewards when I have a lot of grading – like allowing myself to check email or get a snack if I grade two more assignments.

So there it is! I’m interested in hearing from my students – is it helpful to see the process I go through? Mildly amusing? Humanizing?

September 15, 2010

Rhythm of Online Learning?

Posted in School Success at 12:31 pm by melissaautumn

Joshua Kim writes really interesting stuff about technology and online learning for Inside Higher Ed (he also addresses library issues from time to time).

Yesterday he posed a model outline for online learning. Since his outline follows what I do – organizing the course into weekly blocks with due dates for participation and assignments spread out across the week, I like this outline.

But, I’m curious what students think? So, students and former students, what do you think?

August 22, 2010

Keeping Up with Forum Posting

Posted in School Success at 4:40 pm by melissaautumn

All of my courses require students to contribute to discussions in course forums. I firmly believe these discussions push us all to engage more deeply and critically with the course materials and are an essential part of the learning process. Forum discussions are also an opportunity for students to direct some of the course content – while I might have primary control over what we cover in the weekly lessons, students get to start and develop forum threads on the issues that are most interesting to them.

In my opinion, forum posting is easy points – either you do it or you don’t. When students keep up with forum posting, they rarely post such drivel that they lose points (you all care enough about libraries to have something interesting to say). If student lose points for participation, it is because they just did not post.

Since not keeping up with forum postings is enough to drop you an entire letter grade in many courses, including mine, here are a few ideas for keeping up with forum posts:

  • My best advice, which I got from a student, is to add “forum post” to your to do list for the week. This makes posting something you have to consciously do and check off. If you are taking multiple classes, you could organize your efforts around posting in each class on a particular day of the week (Monday post for course 1, Tuesday post for course 2, etc.).
  • Post immediately after doing the week’s reading for a class when ideas
    and questions are still fresh in your mind.
  • Only read forums when you are relaxed and have enough time to write responses. If I read forums late at night, I’ll be too tired to respond to students – I simply don’t want to write. Therefore, I try to set aside time every morning or afternoon just to read forums and respond. Your “peak time” may be different than mine, but the point is to allow yourself enough time to engage with course discussions in a meaningful, professionally satisfying way.

September 27, 2009

Tips for Success in Distance Education

Posted in School Success, Uncategorized at 9:03 pm by melissaautumn

Last fall I had a group of new students struggling to adjust to the unique demands of online education. Since fall is here again and I have a lot of new students, I thought I’d post some basic tips for success.

The most important thing is to have self-discipline. Since you aren’t “going” to class every week, it may feel like nobody will know if you don’t keep up and it becomes very tempting to fall behind. But, if you fall behind, you hurt your own learning and cause yourself even more stress. You must have the discipline to keep yourself on track.

  • Set a schedule for schoolwork and stick to it. Most students are balancing multiple responsibilities, including work, family and school. You need to be sure school doesn’t become your last priority and that you are realistic about setting aside the time needed to do well in your studies. In addition, setting a predictable schedule can help you manage the expectations of your family. For example, I try not to work on Saturdays, which is a day to rest, run errands and spend time with family. But, I do work much of Sunday, something my family knows to expect.
  • Devote two or three big chunks of time every week for concentrated study – reading, working on assignments, etc.
  • Put all your school-related due dates on your main calendar – you want all your important dates in one place. Having assignment due dates on your calendar will also keep you from making mistakes like volunteering to chaperone a school event the day before a big paper is due.
  • I find it helpful to print syllabi and schedules and check things off as I get them done – it is an easy way to keep myself organized and not miss anything, plus I have a visible reminder of what I am accomplishing. A former student created a weekly “to do” list of readings and assignments, including an item for mandatory forum participation – this ensured she kept up with participation, since she had to check it off each week after she posted a contribution.

 I invite those of you who are more seasoned distance education students to share your ideas as well. Just as someone helped you, this is your chance to help someone else!

September 12, 2009

Managing Forum Posts

Posted in School Success at 6:43 pm by melissaautumn

Course discussions are an essential part of the learning experience. In distance education, these conversations may happen primarily or exclusively in the forums. This makes forum reading an important part of your coursework. 

  • Read forums at least every other day, if not daily. If you read forums frequently, they stay manageable (and you’ll have an ongoing feeling of being “connected” to your classmates).
  • Figure out if there is a pattern to posts. In my classes, there’s usually a pattern of when people post the most (often near the end of the weekend, when they’ve been reading course materials and are ready to discuss them). This can let you know what to expect in terms of reading load on a given night, and can also be a great time for you to post and get a response.
  • Prioritize forums like “news and announcements” where you would expect to see posts from the instructor. These are essential reading and instructors will assume you’ve seen them.
  • Subscribe to important forums, such as “news and announcements” or one for your project team, to be sure you see any new messages.
  • Look for ways to manage your reading, such as options to mark posts as read, flag important posts, etc.  

August 27, 2009

Broken Links in the Syllabus?

Posted in School Success at 10:33 pm by melissaautumn

As the semester starts, I thought I’d offer some practical advice on locating a website when the link you have doesn’t work. Many faculty ask students to read articles or other items from websites. Although we may provide a working link on the syllabus, URLs do change and the link you have may not work by the time you need to read the material. So, what to do? Before you contact the faculty member for an updated link, try the following:

  • Search the sponsoring organization’s website by the title of the document (e.g., if you need to read ALA’s “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education,” you can go to the ALA website and search for the document).
  • Use the link to work back to the sponsoring organization or author (e.g., Christine Bruce’s “Seven Faces of Information Literacy in Higher Education” was at http://sky.fit.qut.edu.au/~bruce/inflit/faces/faces1.htm; if I cut the URL back to her personal page at http://sky.fit.qut.edu.au/~bruce I see a link to the document, which is now at http://sky.fit.qut.edu.au/~bruce/il/faces.jsp).
  • Search Google by the title of the document. Google may provide you an updated link. In addition, Google “caches” images of websites, so if a document has actually been removed from the web, you may be able to see an archived image.

Broken links in a syllabus can be frustrating, but are often beyond the instructor’s control. Use this as an opportunity to practice your web searching skills – after all, one day you want to get paid to do this at a reference desk, right?

August 10, 2009

Rethink Your Use of PowerPoint

Posted in Job Success, Professional Success, School Success at 8:30 pm by melissaautumn

The most recent issue of Reference & User Services Quarterly has an excellent article that is ostensibly about the use of PowerPoint, but is really about good presenting, and by extension, good teaching.

Brier, David J. and Vickery Kaye Lebbin. “Perception and Use of PowerPoint at Library Instruction Conferences.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 48.4 (Summer 2009): 352-61.

The first half of the article documents how librarians use PowerPoint at instruction-related conferences (the conclusion: probably not well). The second half of the article gives recommendations on how to use PowerPoint to create “colleague-centered presentations” – presentations that engage the audience and create a learning environment, rather than just a lecture. The authors’ ideas are applicable not only to professional conferences, but also to in-house and student presentations, as well as instructional settings. This article is really about much more than just PowerPoint and I hope it gets the attention it deserves, given the misleading title. Highly recommended!

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