ITW Faculty Dinner: 11 February 2010

In Attendance:  Kathleen Halverson, Peg Barrett, Jennifer Ditkoff, Joleen Westerdale, Kara Young, Sherry Bossov, Lois Merry (Library); Phyllis Benay (Interdisciplinary Studies); Linda Aldrich, Tracy Botting, John Hitchner, Steve Kessler, Beth Stickney, Kate Tirabassi (English); Ellen Moynihan (English and Communications); Tony Dubois, Mark Long, Robert Rubin (English and American Studies); Tatiana Schreiber (Sociology); Len Fleisher (Education)


Mark thanked everyone for their help in identifying students to profile for the ITW web site. Students have already begun composing brief narratives about what they believe to be the most important outcome of the ITW course. Mark also thanked everyone for their interest in the course profile project, and reminded the group of the suggested deadline. A profile of Tracy Botting’s course, Angels and Fallen Women, is posted at The course profiles will be organized under a course profile category on the web site and will offer a more illuminating picture of our sections than the brief course descriptions. Thank you for forwarding the 500 word narratives and any images to Mark.

Phyllis announced the series of spring talks on the writing process, “The Writing Life,” sponsored by the Task Force on Writing, and the scheduled visit by Ronald T. Kellogg, who will present from his research on the writing process using cognitive psychology, neuroscience and neuroimaging on Thursday April 29th. (A flyer for the series is attached to this message.) All events are open to faculty, staff and students.

Library Partnership

Our dinner meeting was devoted to the library partnership and the opportunities and inevitable challenges of this ongoing collaborative work. Before the meeting, Mark asked everyone to review the information literacy outcomes and the ITW principles and to forward comments on the class sessions.

Our dinner discussion focused on three questions:

How do we integrate the information literacy competencies with student work on the semester-long writing project?

What pedagogical strategies have worked especially well to engage students with the kinds of intellectual skills and habits ITW seeks to develop?

How might we make these sessions most productive for our-first-year students?

Mark suggested that the goal of the discussion might be developing a set of best practices for faculty.

The library and ITW faculty opened the discussion with praise for one another’s work. Students are on the whole very positive about the sessions and there is evidence that our first-year students are leaving ITW with demonstrable skills. The conversation then unfolded around four general areas: the library tour, the number of library sessions, pedagogy and communication.

Library tours: ITW faculty differed on the value of the library tour. Some felt that the tours helped students become more comfortable in the physical space of the library; others felt that the time it takes to familiarize students with the physical layout, resources and staff would be better spent doing what they will come to the library for: accessing, retrieving, critically assessing and interpreting information in print journals and books as well as electronic databases. Might this kind of a tour be part of the academic orientation program? Is this the best use of our time given limited time? There was general agreement that the most important thing to remember about the library sessions is atmosphere: students respond positively to a welcoming environment and to faculty (both Library and ITW) who are enthusiastic about the library resources.

Number of Library Sessions: We discussed the pros and cons of two vs. three sessions. On the one hand, students need more support as they begin and move deeper into their projects. On the other hand, some felt, two sessions might be all that is required, especially if faculty are continuing to reinforce and teach research methods and information literacy. One member of the group asked about the possibility of a separate ISP course in information literacy. But as soon as that idea surfaced it became evident that isolating intellectual skills runs contrary to the very idea of ITW, a course predicated on teaching academic writing in intellectual contexts that invite students to engage in genuine research. There was general agreement that when a student is in a real situation where information literacy skills are required, then that student will necessarily be more engaged than when a skill or skill set is taught out of context.

It became clear in the conversation that library sessions are used in specific ways, and at differing points in the course. Some scheduled sessions early in the course, others later; some used two consecutive sessions during a week of the course; some wanted the sessions to help students go wide and develop a sense of the range of resources on any one topic; others described the sessions as helping students narrow or focus topics. There is no one template for scheduling library sessions.

Pedagogy: How these sessions are conducted seemed to be the most salient issue for ITW and Library faculty. We need to create an environment in each section of the class where student motivation and inspiration is at the heart of what we are doing. To create this kind of a learning environment, a number of faculty suggested, requires us to resist isolating skills from the intellectual processes in which those skills are being used. Members of the group argued that you can present students with rubrics and tell them about discrete skill sets but it is not until students are actually doing something in which those skills become necessary that they will begin to see why they might be important.

Communication: While there are common goals and practices across all sections of ITW it is also the case that creating a supportive initiation into a scholarly community is among the shared values of those who teach ITW. And the success of the library sessions has much to do with the partnership that is created by the faculty working together in the course. Talking before the semester, exploring alternative modes of delivery, integrating teaching styles and in-class, hands-on activities, improvising and creatively addressing the needs of each group of students, and debriefing what went well and what could be improved—these are among the ways communication can improve the partnership and student learning.

Based on these threads of conversation, and the wisdom of our common work, Mark will work on a list of “best practices” for the ITW-Library collaboration and will circulate at a later date.

Other notes:

Peg suggested that a library faculty member be appointed to the ITW sub-committee to facilitate communication; Mark will follow up;

How can we advocate for more computer classrooms, or wireless access in learning spaces, to teach sections of ITW? These learning environments can help create the kinds of pedagogies we are seeking to develop. Having a library faculty come to a classroom with computers, and having the option of doing on-line research and in-class writing is very helpful.

Our second spring meeting is scheduled for Thursday, 8 April from 5:30-7 in Room 309 of the Student Center. An agenda for that gathering will be forthcoming.

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