I have been thinking a lot recently about the research paper as academic conversation. Conversation is where ideas form and are honed and exchanged–and this is what good academic research papers do. To me, this is both a very simple and very important concept necessary to academic pursuit as well as to life. I think it is an important thing to teach in our present (and hopefully future) climate of transliterate library instruction, where many different types of media are used to not only join in on the conversation but to create conversational opportunities. But how do we teach it and its importance? Conversation and idea exchange can be such ephemeral concepts. Not only that, many students (and, let’s admit it, people in general) want the ultimate truth: the final, correct, black or white answer, not the greys of the back-and-forth of discourse. But sometimes this isn’t possible in academia. Isn’t this the whole point of academic research? To advance further? To keep questioning and “conversing” with the discoveries and ideas that have come before yours?
What began my train of thought on conversation? Twitter. Twitter itself can create a visual of conversation and that’s what it did for me. Last Fall there was a (admittedly small) firestorm of conversation on Twitter about Malcolm Gladwell’s article on social networking’s lack of effect on social justice. I know I saw plenty of response in mine. People were also posting response articles they had seen to the Gladwell such as Maria Popova’s. Perhaps, then, Twitter is one way to teach and describe academic conversation: the back and forth; point and counterpoint; original thought and “retweets”–aka the thoughts of others with credited attribution (and hopefully one’s own commentary to build upon others’ thoughts). It seems to me there’s something about Twitter and the way it’s used as conversation in text that could help librarians and other academics teach about academic conversation–but I’ve not yet worked out how. If anyone has any thoughts or current uses along these lines, I’d appreciate your comments!
Speaking of Twitter and conversation, you might also check out this excellent and insightful article about Twitter’s interesting mix of orality and literacy from “Technosociology” .
I noticed a bit of Twitter buzz this week about a recent article on “The Creativity Crisis” in Newsweek. As so often happens, the article pulls you in with a scary research finding: “research shows that American creativity is declining”. (!!!) If that’s true, of course it’s unsettling, though one must always regard such research results with a critical eye. But what is more interesting to me about this article is what some educators are doing to nurture creativity. And, as I read the creativity-fostering examples in the article, I began to think about how library instructors, whether in K-12 schools or universities, might do the same.
For example, the European Union has apparently been trying to institute “problem-based learning programs—curricula driven by real-world inquiry—for both children and adults”. That phrase “real-world inquiry” particularly caught my eye. I realized such inquiry is as important to consider in library instruction (whether “formal” or at the reference desk) as it is anywhere else. It seems to me that our job as reference/library instructors is to guide patrons and/or students as they try to solve their “real-world inquiries”. And when a patron has a question they are personally invested in finding out the answer to, something that is really relevant to them, they are going to go to more lengths to find out the answer—and they might be open to creative ways of doing so. Therefore, it behooves us to connect our library instruction sessions to students’/patrons’ assignments or “real-world inquiries”—or at least as close as we can get to their “real-world inquiries”. Basically, this article reminded me of the importance of embedding library instruction in the school or university setting. Show the relevance of the research and information gathering process at the point of need and give students the tools, guidance, and skills they need to get creative in answering their research question or solving their problem. Yes, the research process can be quite creative! Perhaps we librarians should be sure to point that out and talk about the ways we’ve gotten creative in finding information for our own lines of inquiry.
I encourage you to read the article. Once you get past the fear-of-creativity-decline stuff, pay attention to those “real-world inquiry” curricula I mentioned earlier. I particularly loved the story about the “National Inventors Hall of Fame School” in Akron, OH. Notice that the first creative activity the fifth graders engage in is what creativity theorist Donald Treffinger calls “fact-finding”—sound familiar? It seems to me there might be a role for librarians in helping nuture creativity at all levels of the research process.