Last Winter, I started an embedded librarian program, because I felt that a lot of students were still missing the information I’d provided. I’m embedded in 14 online classrooms and in each of them, I have a discussion board where I can provide instruction and answer research questions at the point of need. I explain to them what resources are available and tell them about the tutorials in their subject area. In the weeks before their paper topic proposal is due, I offer advice on choosing a topic and pre-research, and I offer to help anyone who’s not sure if their topic is appropriate given the available resources. I tell people all the time about how we will e-mail them any journal article they need and will mail books to their home. In some classes, I get a lot of questions; in others, hardly any at all. And yet, at the end, I get feedback via end of semester surveys that some people couldn’t figure out how to use the library. And I’m left to wonder why they didn’t bother asking (if not on the discussion board, than at least via e-mail or phone).
So, when I receive feedback from students that makes it clear that they haven’t looked at any of my instructions, I’m at a loss about what to do. One student who had been in a class I was embedded in last semester was shocked to discover that we could get him journal articles that we didn’t have available online. And ILL is something I talk about on the discussion boards like a broken record. It was obvious he’d never bothered to look. I get feedback that people couldn’t figure out who to contact for help or that they had to buy books because we didn’t have what they wanted online. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes people have legitimate criticisms that I can act on and am grateful for it. I’m happy to make changes. It’s nice to be able to do something about it. I’m just not sure what I can do when I am making all this information available and people simply are choosing not to look at it.
I would love to be able to stand in front of them and give them this information. I’d love to have the opportunity to work with them them in a chat or a webcast, but the programs are strictly asynchronous since so many people work and are scattered all over the place. Barring that, I can only put the information in as many places as possible and constantly suggest to the faculty members that they recommend our services (which I do).
I’m never going to stop trying to make things better, but with some people you have to put up you hands and say “I’ve done enough.” If you’re not willing to look at tutorials, read documentation or contact us, I can’t help you. The student has to take some responsibility for this failure. I can’t make JSTOR easier to use, but I’m happy to teach you how to use it if you ask (or check out my tutorial on it). The majority of complaints we get are things we can’t fix. I can’t make the eBrary reader not suck. I can’t make it so that every database has the same interface. All I can do is make myself as available to help as I can and provide documentation so they can help themselves. And if people aren’t willing to ask for help or look at my instructions, then I can’t beat myself up over it. When someone I remember talking to buys a book instead of requesting it through ILL as I’d suggested, I’m not going to feel badly about it when he later complains. That’s not true. I do feel bad. But I’m trying to recognize when things are beyond my (or the library’s) control.
The feedback we get from the end of semester surveys has definitely gotten better over time, so I know we’re doing a better job, but it seems there will always be those people who don’t want to take responsibility for their own learning. If they can’t figure something out, they won’t look at the help page to find out who to contact. They won’t look at the tutorial. It drives me crazy, because I wish there was something I could do to reach these people. And since they are geographically distant, I can’t do much in the way of outreach (these folks are not of the online social networking generation by and large).
I guess it’s like the whole serenity prayer. I have to learn to accept that sometimes I won’t be able to help people because I can’t control their motivation. It’s a two-way street. And I guess it makes more sense to focus on the things I can change. It made a huge difference when we started offering chat reference. It made a big difference when we started monitoring the library e-mail accounts all weekend. I could spend time continuing to wring my hands over the students who don’t want my help or I could focus on doing a better job for those who do.
Meredith, don’t beat yourself up over this. Where I work, we’ve bought into a CMS run by WhippleHill. Teachers are expected to post assignments in their classroom ‘site’, so parents and students can see what’s going on (and get an overview, since they can also see everything for all classes at once).
Many Middle School teachers also hand out sheets that mimic the on-line information, and write daily assignments (also on-line, also on the sheet) on their boards. And they announce it in class.
Still, there are many students who say “I didn’t know that was due now” or “What quiz/test”?
One teacher it thinking of tatooing the information onto each child’s forehead, but she’s not convinced they’d actually wash their face in order to see it, or that the parent would notice and read it either.
People have to want to be helped, and do something to help themselves. We can’t do it all for them. Fewer ulcers comes in realizing that, and just walking away some times. At some point, a friend/colleague/teacher will tell them “you know, you can find this over at the library/on the website/embedded in the course” and they’ll ‘get it’. Until then, just keep plugging along.
You are absolutely right about the problem of people not taking responsibility of their own learning – as a school librarian and as part of an online MLIS program, I am witnessing this worsening. BUT – being in an online program, I can also say that there is so much stuff in so many places that the interface itself makes me want to give up and complain at the end. If I can’t remember that the resource I need was in week 6 under such and such a thread – phooey. It’s good to put it everywhere, but the more people put stuff everywhere inside the CMS, the more disastrously confusing it gets for me the user. And I am trying desperately to shave seconds off my use of the college – so I skip, or don’t check, anything that seems remotely optional. Don’t give up – online education is here to stay and we (as librarians – not you alone) need to figure this one out. And someday these clunky cms’s will die and we’ll all play in a drupal or moodle like world where one widget in the upper corner of every screen will connect us to a librarian –
Meredith, your frustration is completely understandable. But just like it’s the students’ responsibility to make the effort to learn, it’s our responsibility to ourselves to let go of unrealistic expectations that cause us such grief. I know that that’s exactly what you are doing. I applaud it.
I used to teach pre-school kids… it was a long time ago. But I recognized then and have never forgotten, that if you make a difference to one kid each year, *one,* each year,* you are doing good.
That’s not to say that you don’t try to make a difference to everyone (that is, just do the very best you can), but you have to accept that that’s just not how it works. And there’s nothing you can do about it. You just let go completely of the desire for that unattainable end and accept that the one kid’s mom telling you (years later) what a difference you made — that is really and truly as good as it gets.
You know you have made a tremendous difference. That’s all you get, that’s all you need.
The ones you don’t help? They’ll figure it all out or they won’t.
I say these same things to myself at least once a day. My biggest frustration is that people want to have information spoon fed to them instead of taking some responsibility for finding the answers themselves. I don’t know what the answer is other than changing the entire culture of learning, education, school. I’ve seen some improvement since we did Learning 2.0 and it makes me wonder if we need more of a Montessori approach to educating children. Instead of “teaching” kids to pass a test so a teacher can keep his or her job, we need to be inspiring children to love learning and the process of learning.
I couldn’t agree more, Lori. I worked in a public school system for a while as a therapist, and it was awful to see that everything was focused on preparing students for these stupid state tests. At least when I was in school there were teachers who were more focused on instilling a love of learning, but now, the curriculum is so packed with test prep that I wonder if even the good teachers have time for that.
I think, though, no matter what educational system people go through, there is something in some people that makes them want to go the extra mile and learn on their own, just as there will always be people need things spoonfed to them and look upon their own failures as being someone else’s fault.
I love your 7 1/2 Habits of Highly Effective Learners, Lori. If only everyone took those tips to heart.
I too get frustrated by people who seem unwilling to learn on their own and want to be spoon fed. Sometimes, it is in a limited sphere and it reflects insecurity in that one area. However, others are like this no matter what the topic and where the situation is. I’ve also noticed a profound lack of curiosity in some people. If you put something new in a CMS or on a website, I’m going to check it out. Others seem to need to be told to check something out or they simply ignore it. I wonder if the two things — lack of curiosity and a need to be spoon fed information — tend to go hand in hand. I feel like it shows a lack of self motivation — but am not sure if this is just a personality type rather than a case of not trying.
I feel your pain Meredith, and I agree with Kelly–some people simply are not going to have the motivation, or curiosity, or whatever to go out and find the answers to their questions. It’s not something I understand, but it’s real. I’ve made peace that you simply have to put the best tools out there that you can. make yourself as visible and accessible as possible, and then let go.
No matter how good a job you do, not everyone will get it. If it makes you feel better, reading your blog has helped me institute a lot of great distance librarianship services here at MPOW, and we will soon be rolling out new tutorials and an embedded librarian service that have been inspired by things I’ve read here.
I think most everyone here has said it, and I agree: stop beating yourself over it. When I became a public teacher many years ago, one of the first lessons I learned from a veteran teacher was, “you teach as if you can reach all of them, but accept that you will only reach a few.” It’s pure and simple. It took me a while to accept that, but once I did, things went a bit easier for me as a teacher (less stress too). At the end of the day, some people simply refuse to take responsibility for their actions. If they can’t be bothered to read instructions and so on, then the failure is theirs, not yours. Seems like you have gone above and beyond in serving your users. If they choose not to avail themselves of the resources, even as they are widely disseminated, then it’s their loss. Go on serving better those who want the help.
Meredith, I can only agree with everyone here. There are some people who just won’t pay attention/listen/attempt to try anything, and you can’t have the answer for each one of them without spreading yourself out too thin or going crazy.
I certainly felt that in the public library world, but the corporate side is no different. For every regional Webex demo I do, for every newsfeed I set up, for every website reminder….there are people who just don’t seem to get it. And it’s not even just an online presence. After feeling very good that one of the bigwigs in California asked me to hold a few BI classes all over his region while he stressed the importance of his folks using my resources, I had someone who works on the same floor as me for the past 3 years walk by and say…”Wait, we have a LIBRARY?” Now this person is on newsfeeds I set up, his dept. gets standing order research from me every week, his whole department is one of my biggest clients…he just proved that he doesn’t read anything sent to him. And I can’t sweat that.
Just know that you are doing good and that you’re helping the majority of folks…those that want help.
Some of those complaints that you can’t do anything about are interesting. You defintiely can’t individually do anything about them, but if widespread they are things that the library as an organization could take into account in it’s actions and decision making:
“I can’t make JSTOR easier to use”
But the library can let JSTOR know that users find it too difficult to use.
“I can’t make the eBrary reader not suck.”
But the library can make this known to the vendor; can evaluate other vendors for ease of use; or can tell all vendors that we NEED DRM-less PDFs for e-books, because anything else ends up being too hard to use for our users.
“I can’t make it so that every database has the same interface.”
But the library can purchase a metasearch product, to provide a single same interface that can be used to search multiple databases. (Certainly such a product brings it’s own challengse too).
None of these are things you can do something about individually, but they are all complaints that need to filter up to library actors and decision makers who CAN—and in many of our library organizations, they seldom do.
This, and that most of our students (In my department at least) are fairly computer illiterate, which doesn’t help things at all when you’re trying to get them to function within the classroom. They’re just relieved to get the basics, before they go onto things such as the library, which is weird for me, as I’ve grown up using computers – it just comes as second nature to me. Plus, WebCT isn’t the world’s greatest platform…
Andrew, I totally agree in the case of your program (most programs have slightly more tech-savvy students). And I can’t disagree with you about WebCT either; I hate trying to do anything inside that beast.
I’m wondering… if students don’t have the basic computer skills they need to do an online course, should we be providing them with additional training on that? For them to be coming into an online program without those skills puts them at a serious disadvantage. It would be nice to have something like the pre-MBA seminar (but maybe only a few weeks long) where they learn the basics of using the Internet, using WebCT, using the online library, etc. Then they’d come into the class ready to learn the material, instead of learning the systems.
Unfortunately, web literacy is NOT a requirement for people who apply to and enroll in distance education programs. If it was, that might solve part of the ‘unmotivated learner’ problem. I suspect that the reason many people do online classes is because they think it’s easier and more convenient than going to in-person classes. They underestimate the time it takes to navigate through clunky WebCT and Blackboard interfaces, and they have little idea of how to do research besides typing a bunch of stuff into Google. Folks like this come into my public library all the time asking for help with their college homework. I wonder how they can justify their online Bachelors or Masters degree when they can’t even cite an article to save their lives. Case in point: a customer I helped last month who bragged that he had a 4.0 GPA in his online MBA program, but who didn’t have a clue how to search a database or conduct ANY kind of research! Makes you wonder about the standards of his online program, as well as his post-degree career prospects.
Meredith, it sounds like you’ve done an incredible job of putting the info where people can get to it. I wish all DE librarians were as thorough as you! If students choose not to take advantage of the information you’ve seeded your school’s DE site with, you can’t kick yourself too hard over it. The pursuit of an education is the STUDENT’S responsibility. The school, its staff and its library resources are meant to supplement a student’s pursuit of knowledge, but they can’t replace an individual’s motivation or override a student’s desire to be spoon-fed instead of taking the initiative in helping him-/herself. The problem with distance education is that there’s too much “get your degree in your pajamas” hype and too little attention to building web interfaces that are user-friendly, especially to those who have low levels of computer literacy.
We just implemented the embedded librarian into many of our Blackboard classes this past semester and are now running into the same survey frustrations you are. I certainly feel better knowing that it’s not just me banging my head against a wall.
And I feel the same way that Georgia does. As long as my services were able to reach at least one new student each semester, I feel that it was a success. Of course, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to reach *all* of the students. And thus the frustration begins. 🙂
Yes, if we can reach at least a few students, we can feel good about the work we do. We should always strive to do better and to respond to feedback that we can act on, but yes, we should be happy when we have helped some of our students.
Hi, Meredith (and all)!
Reading this post really reminded me a lesson I learnt from one of my lectures in a free-course-course I once had. He was a philosopher and the course was bout politics and ideology.
The one rule I remember, and I see it everytime I talk with people or hear people discussing is that: people don’t listen to the second part of a sentence; politicians don’t listen to the first part.
From my experience with people, I now know that this lecture was really optimistic about the people, and they often don’t listen even to the first part…
In regards to additional training, we do have an orientation classroom that’ll get people oriented with the basics, which seems to help, but the biggest thing that I’ve noticed is the age gap between people.
I think that people my generation who’ve used the internet extensively will intuitively follow up on links and recognize things for what they are without a whole lot of guidance.
I’ve had other students who are seemingly unable to follow directions and lead me to wonder why they’re picking a computer only course.
One thing’s for sure, the online experience will teach them about computers. It’s almost a trial by fire, because after a couple of weeks, they’ll start getting used to things within the classroom and the internet. But there are things, like not reading directions, that doesn’t really go along. I think that this system works pretty well, because the calls for help to my desk drop off after a couple weeks for most people.
I really like your statement “I’m never going to stop trying to make things better,” a lot. I hope we all live by that rule. Thanks for the inspiration.
Once upon a time I used to worry about students not realising all the wonderful things we were providing them. Even worse they didn’t come to my Information Literacy sessions! Then I realised that they didn’t go lectures or seminars either..so I felt better. I’ve been in this “business” in academia over 30 years now and I can’t think of a better example than all the services and outreach you have provided for your students! So don’t worry so much! Some people just don’t seem to read what we tell them, and even if we were able to get them in a room and address them they have different learning styles and wouldn’t all grasp the relevant points.
Only this morning I overheard one of my colleagues who deals with DL students say “she just rung me up and I had to go over it all again- shows that even an e-mail doesn’t work”.
By the way, it was really good being able to see your presentation at Berkeley on YouTube!Thank you!
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