better reader/better writer

I have been reading a lot about writing, largely out of fear. I have a lot of writing to do in the next few years and I feel like I don’t have a handle on my habits yet. I just finished Air & Light & Time & Space by Helen Sword and my biggest take-away from the text is that I need to be a better reader first. I think the two are linked and one follows from the other.

I read a lot. But I don’t necessarily read deeply. I have learned to read academic articles in pieces: abstract, results, discussion, maybe methodology, maybe literature review. To be a better academic writer I have to start to read articles in more depth. I need to be able to see the structure of the literature review. I need to be able to analyze the methodology. The results and discussion are meaningless if I can’t form my own opinion about the process.

Literature reviews can be surprisingly interesting and occasionally dramatic. The more I read them, the more I think it is an art I must master. I am definitely not there yet, but since finishing the book mentioned above, I have started paying more attention to the structure of the reviews and I think it is paying off.

making connections in research

I started thinking about my dislike of “text-to-self” reading exercises in elementary school. I always felt like my kids naturally experienced text-to-self without needing more concentrated effort. I wished that the teacher spent more time with text-to-world. Children don’t really need a push to think about themselves.

Then I started thinking about all the recent articles about Gen Z in college in the post-pandemic world.

The authors of those articles are telling us we need to help the Gen Z students (and parents) make connections. The school who makes the connection gets the enrollment.

It seems that we are living in a text-to-self world. If the school cannot convince students that they are central to the experience, those students won’t enroll. How do you convince students that often they will not be in the center. Often, in school and in life, other people are the protagonists. If we gave students more of a grounding in text-to-world when they were young, maybe we would have young adults who understood that.

writing blocks

I’ve been reading a lot about writing, trying to figure out how to write more. I often feel that I am full of things to say and have no way of getting them out of my head. My personal bug-a-boo is a concern that I have nothing new to add. All thoughts and words have been thought and said, and anything I add will be redundant.

Another concern is that I don’t know enough to write. I need to finish reading EVERYTHING before I can start writing.

Both of those feelings are pretty common. And neither is true. So how does one overcome such a block.

Write often. Plan your writing like you plan other life events, if that is what works for you. Write a few minutes, every few hours, if that is what works for you. Write in the morning. Write in the evening. Pick your time stick with it.

Write a lot. Put words on paper and don’t worry about perfection. Let your ideas flow. Let your nonsense flow too.

Write when you don’t feel like writing. That’s me, right there. I rarely feel like writing. I want to write, but it just doesn’t feel like the right time. Just like having kids, if you wait for the right time, it will never happen.

Art does not begin and end in the studio

Just as research is not limited to the library, the creation of art is not limited to the studio.

This is, perhaps, easier for students to understand. They know that art making can take many forms; can be digital or not; time based or not; conceptual or not. What is harder for many students to comprehend is the importance of the liberal arts and the library and other supplemental resources to their art making. Local galleries and museums, books, history are essential to the fully formed realization of the creative process.

Diversity of thought is found in general education. A successful art practice needs diversity of thought and idea.

Weak ties in the classroom

Mark Granovetter studied the strength of weak social ties in 1973. Weak social ties are those relationships that are not central to your life, but still essential and important.

I contend that classroom interactions are an example of the strength of those weak ties. Teacher/student relationships are rarely deep. Though students are often affected by those relationships, what remains over time is what is learned, not the relationship. The strength comes from the information shared in the relationship. These relationships don’t typically last past the classroom.

This is not to say that those relationships never continue, but that is part of the strength of weak ties. The teacher student relationship extends as a network. The ties remain, but they are nodes on that network. How does this benefit the student? Maintaining those nodes provides links to opportunities, jobs, events and more.

Research does not begin and end in the library

I just finished reading an article in the most recent Art Documentation. The authors talk about the many and varied sources of information that artists use in their practice. It is a mistake for librarians to ever believe otherwise. I think it is a mistake to believe any researcher stops at proquest or ebsco and is just done.

Maybe research in other professions is narrower or more proscribed, however, and that leads information professionals to expect research to be more discrete. Artists, students or otherwise, find information everywhere. I have been thinking about how the basic studio critique (the dreaded crit!) is often where students start developing the research skills that will take them into the profession. Critiques are a time to discuss and bring new ideas to a work.

An artist-teacher recently had me show students where to find information about non-art topics. I showed them how to follow subject headings for subjects they were not familiar with. I encouraged them to follow up by searching the internet for the terms that were in the subject headings. I pointed out some potential archives they might find useful.

Any information professional who isn’t looking beyond the library is going to lose students and faculty.

Hunt, C. and Jennings M., “My Work Is Work”: Artistic Research Practice and Knowledge Creation in the Work of Carmen Winant and Tomashi Jackson. Art Documentation 33

A digital divide

There are all kinds of ways to examine the digital divide in modern life. Among college students the divide can be seen across age, gender, socioeconomic status, and previous education. One of the more interesting cases of a digital divide is that of a student who has spent their lives on their phone, but cannot understand how to use a computer. That student is often perceived as a digital native, but in truth, they lack even the most basic understanding of file structure and application management.

To cross that divide, care must be taken not to make assumptions about student abilities. Instructions in an online classroom must be explicit where any technology is introduced. A more advanced student can skim such instructions, but the student who needs detailed instructions will have them.

I know experienced students with technological skills who have trouble navigating an unfamiliar platform. When teachers provide an excess of information, nobody loses.

Weak Ties

In considering personal information sharing, I am reminded of the strength in weak ties. Weak ties are those relationships you have with people not directly in your personal network. I think back to dance clubs in the 80s. We would often hang out in the lady’s room and talk to whomever happened in. Those were weak ties. Those relationships can be extremely important. Another way to think of weak ties is as boundary objects. These relationships are gateways to other worlds.

Weak ties are important because they open up opportunities for you to reach networks beyond your usual milieu. You, in turn, can act as a weak tie for someone else. Did you meet your husband through a friend of a friend of a friend? That is a weak tie at play.

In personal information sharing in the classroom, the instructor might act as a weak tie to other opportunities for a student. Instructors and students can definitely develop strong ties, but not always. Rather, the instructor opens doors for students. As each party in the relationship shares something about themselves, the other party can recognize what might be useful. For example, an art instructor shares that they are exhibiting in such-and-such gallery. The student attends the showing and in doing so finds information about a student exhibition in which they can participate.

Information sharing and use in higher education does not need to be merely curricular. When participants step outside of the usual discourse, there is room for personal growth.

personal information sharing

Personal information has a bad reputation currently. We hear those words and think of privacy concerns and social media. But the very heart of human connection is the sharing of personal information. This is how we make friends. This is how we learn.

In the online classroom, sharing of personal information is a way to develop the social presence necessary for engagment and motivation. Discussion board introductions are de rigueur. Unfortunately, the prompts for these introductions are rarely unique and students get tired of saying the same things. Faculty have their standard bios and don’t stray from them. Introductions become rote and dull.

Increasing faculty student interactions by changing the discussion prompts would help. Responding to the discussion board would encourage students to respond to others. Faculty who let a little of themselves out each week, would provide an atmosphere more like a face-to-face class.

We look at online learning through such a constructivist lens that we forget about social constructionism and how important relationships are to the learning experience. Instructors must model proper behavior and interaction online, just as they do in person.

Does “personal” matter?

Information sharing in an academic setting does not have to be personal, but is it important to have something personal somewhere? In face-to-face classrooms, personal sharing is common between student and teacher. Things leak out. In the online environment, is there room for the personal? Teachers typically present a bio or background note at the beginning, but does there need to be room for a greater personal presence?

The Social Presence in the Community of Inquiry framework does not directly suggest teacher/student interaction. The social presence considers the social role of the student. But I suggest that the social presence of the instructor may be uniquely important for student engagement. I am looking through the art school lens, which offers a special circumstance. Most art instructors are artists and provide a necessary insight into the profession. Social sharing is an informal way of sharing professional practice.

Personal information sharing in an academic setting gives students insight into how one works in a nebulous field. It can also be a way of encouraging students to improve those skills they otherwise neglect, such as writing and research. Too many online classes are designed to be cookie cutter in nature, which is a way to guarantee quality across many sections, but cuts down on personal connection. Personal information sharing could be built into a classroom by giving instructors more places and ways of connecting.