Civics · Reflections · Teaching

My Intellectual Genealogy: Part 4

I have been extraordinarily fortunate to find myself surrounded by top caliber students during my stint at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois.  Students regularly have provided solid suggestions on how to improve my classes, both directly and through the end-of-semester Instructional Course Evaluation Survey comments.  I am the first to admit that sometimes these are rather painful to bear initially, for they may cut away at cherished methods I use for teaching something, or even of teaching a particular concept that I think is central but ultimately is a pet sidetrack.  Or they may hit a nerve when they point out that what I thought worked brilliantly really was a flop from the students’ perspective.  But with time, usually several weeks or a month after the end of the semester, I begin to see their wisdom and appreciate their courage to speak up and let me know that I was wrong.

Beyond course feedback, however, I have had the opportunity, particularly as supervisor for practicum and independent study projects along with grant-funded work, to collaborate more closely with various students.  I can’t imagine the lost opportunities if I had seen students merely as empty vessels awaiting my erudite illumination!  I am so glad my mentors had helped me recognize the great value in engaging students as co-explorers working to tackle my latest opportunity or challenge.  They have challenged my thinking and helped me to constantly move outside my limited understanding of the situation and to see creative new solutions.  It would be very hard to reliably manage to name every one of these collaborators in the problem-based learning environments that bridge class and real world.  But as many of the faces dance across my mind’s eye right now I tip my hat to each of you.  Thanks so much!

I would like to especially recognize my teaching assistants throughout the years.  They have often served as co-teachers bringing fresh perspectives and ideas to my courses.  Most recently Dinesh Rathi, Beth Ruane, Chris Ritzo, Ethan Henderson, Walker Weyerhauser, Fiona Griswold and for a wonderful 5 semester period Adam Kehoe have helped craft a constant set of refinements of my courses, taking my wild ideas and making them practical, but also providing their own unique and exciting twists to help provide an ever-improved learning environment for the students.  In some cases, my TA’s and some dear students have confronted inconsistencies in my philosophies and practices that have proven to be especially challenging for me to come to terms with.  I recognize and value that in some cases students have had to slowly, patiently help me to overcome my own biases and shortcomings to appreciate the gift of insight they hold out for me.  At other times, their patient discourse has helped me uncover and strengthen core parts of my own philosophy, albeit different from their own, so as to better give voice to those philosophies and to help others situate what I present as my understanding of how things work.  Thank-you!

I can’t think of anything more remarkable than to have created a course that is deemed worthy of study as a doctoral dissertation case study.  Well, perhaps the only thing more remarkable is that two students found it a worthy case study.  I so appreciate Muzghan Nazarova’s insights into the value of service-learning as used in my course on the career development of master’s students in her 2007 dissertation “SERVICE LEARNING AND CAREER DEVELOPMENT: A CASE STUDY IN LIBRARY AND INFORMATION SCIENCE.”  By having students refurbish and network computers which they then customize and install on behalf of community organizations serving marginalized communities, the students found they learned almost as much about leadership, teamwork, working with not-for-profit organizations, communication, and thinking about the LIS profession more generally as they did about technology.  Given I strongly believe effective use of technology is more a social problem than a technical problem, I am so pleased to have confirmation that this teaching strategy is proving of value.

I found the results of Junghyun An’s 2007 dissertation, ” SERVICE LEARNING IN POSTSECONDARY TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: EDUCATIONAL PROMISES AND CHALLENGES IN STUDENT VALUES DEVELOPMENT”, to be more of a challenge as it did a wonderful job of pointing out how my personal philosophy of technology and what I was teaching students was often at odds.  From Dr. An’s introduction:

The case shows a student practice of technology from a pragmatic perspective, emphasizing the importance of understanding the user sphere for designing and building technology. However, in the specific course design and implementation, I also discover some limitations, in terms of creating a holistic praxis of technology education to foster critical and responsible social agents.

In describing the value of this dissertation to a new PhD student recently, he was quick to point out that there are many things that I was doing right as well.  My response was that learning about the things I do wrong is really more helpful: I’d probably keep doing the things I do well anyway since I do them specifically because I think they are right.  Confirmation of that doesn’t help me change.  Learning where I am not doing things right, especially in a case like this when I thought I was providing a more holistic learning environment, serves as a solid point of reflection from which I can begin to reform.  My thanks to both Drs. Navarova and An!

I return once again to the consideration that we cannot live as individuals, but only as individual representations of one facet of our rich communities past and present from which we come.  And so it is difficult to know who has been impacted more because of our interactions, my students or I.  I am humbled that a group of students chose to nominate me as Library Journal magazine’s Teacher of the Year, but it reflects in large part the quality of student that has helped me learn, do, and be who I am.

0 thoughts on “My Intellectual Genealogy: Part 4

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *