Mackey on Partnerships (dissertation)

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Tonja Mackey: Photo courtesy of Texarkana College 

Mackey, Tonja R. Academic Libraries and Writing Programs: Partnering for Student Success, Diss. Texas A&M University. Ann Arbor: UMI, 2013. Web. 28 February 2016.

Using her unique blend of credentials, Tonja Mackey approaches her dissertation as both a librarian and composition instructor at a medium-sized community college in Texas (13), and she argues that writing departments and academic libraries, working in collaboration (she cites theories of Dewey, Bruffee, and Vygotsky, among others, here) could serve as “the portal through which students achieve twenty-first century communication and lifelong learning skills” (4).  To that end, she posits that first-year composition should focus on information literacy as content and provide “seamless integration of research methods into the composition course, not unlike a graduate research methods course, albeit on a lower level” (8).  With that in mind, Mackey carries out her mixed-methods study to garner evidence about information literacy practices and challenges within a population that has been relatively ignored on this subject: community college students, which “pose unique situations because of [their] widespread differences” (58).

Mackey’s methods include the deployment and analysis of student pre-and-post-course surveys and three-to-four-page information literacy narrative essays from Composition I students.  Her study also establishes and analyzes comparison groups of Composition I students, where the experimental group received six separate mini-lessons in information literacy instruction in twenty-to-thirty-minute intervals at predetermined times during the semester, while those in the control group received one, fifty-minute session. To measure the two groups’ successes, Mackey performed a content analysis of sixty-one citation pages, requiring five sources, as part of the research project for which the information literacy instruction aimed to benefit.

To speak directly to the measurement of these tests and tools, interestingly Mackey initially reports measurement on the surveys of only four questions, although the instrument totals thirteen in number.  These four questions, geared toward attitudinal shifts from before instruction to afterwards, are either multiple choice or polar in nature, making them more quantifiable, and she provides statistics to show the calculations.  On the contrary, Mackey does not attempt to code and quantify the remaining nine, short-answer questions, but she weaves some responses throughout her qualitative descriptions. In addition to the survey, Mackey formed a rubric for the information literacy narratives, which can be viewed here.  The rubric for the narratives consists of three levels: beginning, developing, or achieving.  The criteria are fivefold and based on the guidelines of ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards.   Finally with regards to measurement, she measures the citation pages based on type and quality of source.

Collectively, Mackey’s work compares to Shields’ (reviewed earlier this term) with regards to the integration of information literacy instruction modules at High Point University.  The difference, of course, is the population: one being mostly traditional students while Mackey’s population varies from digital natives, to laid-off fifty-year-olds looking to update their skills.  Coming from the community college model myself, Mackey’s study resonates with me; however, while it encourages librarians to move away from tool-based, one-shot instructional sessions and toward iterative and collaborative pedagogy, it does not re-invent the role as much as it could toward writing partner, rather than solely research partner.

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Article Review of “Librarians as Writing Instructors”

Bronshteyn, Karen, and Rita Baladad. “Librarians as Writing Instructors: Using Paraphrasing Exercises To Teach Beginning Information Literacy Students.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 32.5 (2006): 533-536. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

Based on classroom assessments of graduating students within English composition and their low level of information literacy skills specific to source integration and citation at Rasmussen College (before its significant expansion), Bronshteyn and Baladad report their pedagogical and programmatic changes that lead to better results in students’ use of sources in their writing, mainly the development of a fifteen-minute paraphrasing workshop, performed by a librarian, that teaches students “summarizing and synthesizing the ideas of subject experts in their own voice, and with the convention of parenthetical citation” (533).

According to the authors, teaching citation within the realm of information literacy (i.e., by librarians) and in writing across the curriculum (WAC) efforts have historically been mostly about teaching anti-plagiarism strategies and not focused on “developing composition or critical thinking skills” (534).  The authors argue, however, that with the overlapping skills between librarians’ information literacy instruction and English faculty’s writing instruction, “it becomes necessary for librarians to either work in cooperation with composition instructors, or tailor their workshops to include some degree of composition instruction” (534).   While they provide other examples for teaching paraphrasing in and outside the English composition classroom, the authors rely on the fifteen-minute, five-part, interactive workshop, taught by librarians, because it can be applied across the curriculum with readings specific to the disciplines.  As an aid to future purveyors of such a strategy, the article provides the five-step paraphrasing exercise as well as assessment of the sources used.  It also offers results of student perceptions of their own ability to cite before and after the information literacy paraphrasing workshop.

To critique, this article describes assessment techniques and provides their results, but it does not spell out all of its methods. Its real strength is in its approach that pushes the argument that librarians’ work overlaps with that of the English instructor, and because of that notion, the article coincides with my own research question about the expansion of writing instruction outside the realm of the composition classroom.  That said, the nature of teaching paraphrasing, especially as described here, seems more like a technical act, similar to demonstrating search techniques or citation generation often taught by librarians. Therefore, I have to ask if a type of dichotomy forms here in the delivery of writing instruction: are English faculty more deft at teaching cohesion and coherence and librarians more skilled at teaching source discovery and integration? Does a relegation exist here, or does the article’s undertone just move English faculty and librarians toward a particular specialty? Either way, this article, in my review, is one of the only that moves into the territory of librarians stepping further into the aspects of teaching composition, and for that reason, it is worth the read, but it could benefit from less implication of its methods.

Introduction to ENGL840 Micro-Study

Academic librarians hold a unique position; they, at once, help students become better researchers and serve as an integral part in the writing process. To flesh out that latter claim, I would argue that most of the research librarians perform, or teach students to perform, is applied directly to writing assignments. Despite such benefit in the writing process, librarians’ work is often treated as an add-on function.  Faculty frequently request a library instruction only at one “magical” point in a course, and students oftentimes select their topics and even write their essays before consulting with a librarian.  In addition, Todorinova (2010) reports that 26% of libraries collaborate with writing centers, and 74% express a willingness to do so in the future, meaning librarians are gaining greater opportunities to participate in the writing process.  For instance, at my current institution, a Florida community college, librarians and writing tutors share a public work space, providing writing and research assistance across the disciplines.

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Librarians and writing tutors share a public work space together called Writing Studio.

Couple this new way of collaboration with their traditional teaching methods, and librarians are positioned at the center of the writing process, but questions loom about librarians’ self-perceptions of their roles as (pre)writing instructors of sorts: How much do they know about or feel part of the process? How much do they knowingly work with rhetorical strategies? And in what aspects of writing do librarians feel comfortable in assisting students? These questions, among others, I wish to explore in my micro-study for ENGL840.