Thursday, November 15, 2012

The sociology of Sociology 101 (or "Psych 101" 101)

I just had a really great chat with a professor here, and it got me thinking. I've been pondering the idea of doing my PhD  at some point (I will be finishing my third masters this December, and I'm declaring a moratorium on masters degrees after that.) Having taken many of my classes for this past degree online, I'm fascinated by educational technology, but that doesn't quite cover what I want to research. What I'm *really* interested in is the sociology/psychology of learning behavior in college students.

In the last five years or so, I have gotten really passionate about learning. I want to learn. I need to learn. I take classes, and get degrees, not for a line on my CV, but to learn. This is a sharp about face from my undergraduate years, when skipping classes and bullshitting my way through classes was the norm. I'm not proud of it, and I'm sure my feminist card will be revoked for this, but I even cried my way into a passing grade once. OH THE SHAME!

::ahem:: Aaaaanyway. There came a time in my educational career, when the joy of learning hit me hard, and now, I finally *get* it. But that's not to say that I never have classes where it's just too easy to fall back into old habits. Multiple-choice quizzes, required forum posts with extremely restricted topics that are of no interest to me, slides that the professor has copy-pasted from another source, and formulaic group projects (especially when I can't pick the topic *or* my group members) send me reeling back into "just-get-it-the-fuck-over-with-with-a-passing-grade" mode.

So that's what lead to my discussion with the professor this afternoon. We talked about what factors could seemingly change a bright class into a dull one (time of day, class troublemakers, strict lesson plans created by a third party, unclear performance expectations, banning of technology, etc.)

Educational technology is powerful, but it's not a cure-all. You have to be very pragmatic about what tools you use to teach certain curricula, and you have to understand that it's all a work in progress, always. How your students use technology, and what kinds of technology they use are ever-changing things, and the most important aspect of any class is engaging them. Getting them interested, getting them involved in the learning process, getting past remembering and into *understanding*; that is the ultimate goal, and sometimes you have to sacrifice quantity for quality (that's just a fact of life, right?)

Does anyone know of anyone doing research in this area, or any pertinent books or articles on the topic of psychology in post-secondary education?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Bracelets for Breasts Recap

Thank you all so, so much for your amazing support for my little fundraiser. On October 12th I attended a fundraiser for my friend's mom, and was able to give her a check for $500, which made her cry, and made me feel so incredibly wonderful (to give her the check, not to see her cry. For the record, I don't actually enjoy making people cry. But this was crying in a good way, so I guess it's ok. This time.)

::ahem:: Anyway. I just wanted to let everyone know that your donations amounted to $513, which was $494.13 after PayPal took their cut. I ended up not taking anything out for supplies, because the $494 was so close to $500, and I really like nice round numbers. Plus, a mutual friend donated a hundred bucks, so fifty or so dollars in supplies, plus a little time, seemed like the least I could do in terms of my own donation. 

Here are some pictures of my friend and her mom from the fundraiser, the check, and the super-yummy cake that was donated by the Cake Boss:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bracelets for Breasts*

So here's the story: my friend's mom has stage 4 breast cancer. She is currently pursuing non-traditional treatment with a fancy doctor in NYC, because the regular doctors say they can't help her anymore. Her treatment is awesome, and doing wonders for her, but it's not covered by her health insurance. (Don't get me started on this fact. She was a hospital nurse for years and years, and I think nurses should automatically have cadillac health plans.)

My friend is trying to raise money to help defray the costs of her mom's treatment, which is super expensive. I want to help, and you all keep asking me where you can buy my bracelets, soooooooo... BRACELETS FOR BREASTS!*

Here's the deal: I made a bunch of bracelets with various kinds of pink beads/stones. Here's a random sampling:

For $10, you get one of these. I get to choose the design. You get to choose whether you want gold-tone or silver-tone, and also the length (hint: that's how I'm going to choose the design, because I made them in varying lengths.) The lengths are 6 1/2", 7", 7 1/2", and 8".

For $20, I will make you a custom bracelet, in the color(s)/stone(s) you choose, in gold-tone, silver-tone or black metal (\m/) in whatever length you want. Here are some sample bracelets in various styles:

It costs me about $3 to make and send a bracelet, so the rest of the money you donate goes directly to my friend's mom (I think I'll do this for about a month, and at the end of the month I'm going to cut her a check.) This means if you want to send more than $10/$20, you can feel free to do so. Also, if you just want to donate to the cause, obviously the entire amount of your donation will go into the fund. I'm not taking anything out for PayPal costs, because $3 per bracelet should cover that too (and if it doesn't it's such a small amount anyway, who cares?)

To donate, or to request a bracelet, use the following button (I'm using PayPal.) Make sure you tell me what kind of bracelet you want (and the length you need), or if it's simply a donation. Also make sure you give me your correct address if you want a bracelet.

*The bracelets are actually for your wrist, not for your breasts, because I don't know how breast bracelets would actually work and I'm too lazy to figure out the logistics. 

9/19/2012 - We are now over $200!!! Thank you SO SO SO much to everyone who donated, reposted, shared, and encouraged! Enjoy your bracelets, and enjoy some DANCING VAL!!!!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hit the Ground Running: Some (Simple) Advice for Job-Hunters

(Note: this is cross-posted at Letters to a Young LibrarianJessica Olin's blog, which is amazeballs and you should totally read it. -vf)

Last month at the New Jersey Library Association conference I volunteered for a resume-review service. The session was run speed-dating-style, where a job-seeker could bring their resume, and sit down for five minutes each with about 8 different librarians, who each gave comments and critiques.

The session turned out to be incredibly popular, and I ended up staying for an extra hour. It was fun to do for networking's-sake, but it was also very insightful regarding my own resume. I am by no means an expert on the topic, but I have served on a few search committees for academic library positions, so I felt comfortable making some pretty basic observations, which I am about to share with you lucky readers:
  1. Stop putting "objective" at the top of your resume. Your objective is obviously to get the job you're applying for. This is assumed.

  2. Don't hurt my eyes. Seriously. This should be a given, and not that hard to accomplish given the availability of templates and such. But apparently it is *not*, in fact, a given at all. Everything should line up. Indents should be equal. Random things should not be bold or italicized. There should not be random font switching. Every person who sat down across from me that had a well-formatted, eye-pleasing resume made me happy. If I'm about to decide if you go in the "yes," "no," or "maybe" pile, you should want me to be happy.

  3. Show me your education, experience, and skills, but don't waste my time with minutia. I actually had to tell a few people to take "internet" out of their skills section. "Internet" is not a skill, and you saying it is makes me think you're either padding your skills section because it's lackluster, or that you think I'm a luddite. While we're at it, unless the job advertisement specifically requests that you have experience with certain operating systems, please don't list "Windows XP" as a skill. (No, not even Windows Vista. #rimshot) While we're at it, I noticed that the hot new trend is starting your resume off with a bullet-point list of items summarizing your skills and qualifications. I, personally, don't think this is necessary for academic library jobs, but it doesn't bother me if you include it, as long as you abide by the above-mentioned rule: don't waste my time. It seems like a lot of people are using this resume section to say generic, incredibly unhelpful things like "good communicator," and "can work independently or in team." For goodness sake, can we stop putting that in every single job ad AND cover letter AND resume? I'm not saying you are not those things, I'm just saying that everybody *says* they are those things. If the job ad asks for them (and they will, because they *always* do) put those statements in your cover letter, backed up by actual examples of *how* you are good at them. Did you work on a successful team project? Did you start a regularly-scheduled meeting or work wiki? Did you co-write a paper? (Interdisciplinary cooperation is particularly hot right now. If you worked on a project with a non-librarian, in-school or out, highlight this.)

  4. Find someone to critique your resume, but don't take that criticism personally. A resume or cover letter is not a reflection of your writing skills in general. They're each a unique beast that is hard to explain, but easy to critique. It's hard to say what makes a great resume, but it's extremely easy to recognize a crappy one. So just get started, make sure all the formatting and spelling is correct, and get it in front of as many eyes as possible. Be open to what people say, especially people who have hired or been on search committees for the specific type of job you want. I noticed from this workshop that the public librarians differed slightly from the academic librarians in how they liked a resume to look. I'm sure corporate or school librarians are a whole different kettle of fish.

  5. Finally, if possible, don't just have people read your resume, but stage a little mock-interview, like this session. When you are speaking to someone in person, you get an idea of their immediate impressions of your resume, experience, and education, not just their thought-over, carefully formatted edits. Looking at one person's resume, I was prompted to ask them questions about their previous careers/degrees, if they had them, or about what they focused on in school, and why. This is extremely useful information to have for if (when) you get the interview, because it helps you identify and prepare for any concerns interviewers might have. It also helps you your experience in the best light. Learning what prospective employers value will make it so you don't waste your time in your interview talking about what might be insignificant details.
Here are some excellent job resources you should know about, as a bonus to this version of the post, because I'm nice like that:
What about you? What job-hunting advice would you give recent graduates? Have any terrible resume horror stories to share?

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Joy of Learning, part deux

Conveniently enough, right after the first of this series of blog posts, I came across another inspiring article, this one about the use of mobile media in the classroom (and on campus). This wasn't 100% the direction I was going in with this topic, but the way this professor has used technology to engage his students is inspiring. I love, love, LOVE his use of location-aware apps to have students explore their campus. Could you imagine a professor sending you outside on a lovely day like today during class? (And the possibilities for having the library be part[s] of this assignment?!)

Also, I've long been a proponent of the idea of actually ::gasp:: *encouraging* a Twitter backchannel during presentations. (See:!/val_forrestal/statuses/127455465339752448, for how I feel about the matter.) I do agree that students with their heads buried in their laptop/tablet/phone can be distracting and off-putting for a presenter, so you may have to set some ground rules, or intervene if you feel that they are *never* looking up, but banning mobile devices from all classrooms is not the answer, imho.

The truth is, information without context is dull, and can be confusing. Allowing students to go outside the classroom to find that context will help them engage with the information. This doesn't always have to include technology. For example, I love when a professor asks me to read an article or book chapter, and then, instead of summarizing it, asks for my thoughts/impressions/insights on the topic. This allows me to interact with the information presented, beyond just reading enough of it to paraphrase the gist of the article. You can also do this in classroom discussions; (especially on a graduate level, quizzing students to see if they did the reading is a little insulting. Class/forum discussions on the reading helps you asses whether they've done the reading, and gives students the benefit of each other's understanding of the material.)

With online classes (which I've done most of my current degree program though) use of technology becomes increasingly important for fostering this kind of discussion. CMS forums, wikis, twitter hashtags, blogs, facebook pages, and even pinterest boards can all help professors and students link what they are learning, with what they already know, and this is a vital step for fostering knowledge.

Anyway, if you are doing anything cool with technology in the classroom (especially, but not limited to, library and info lit training), let me know in the comments. I'd love to steal... ::ahem:: borrow your ideas!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

On curiosity and the joy of learning

I love learning. I find it to be a truly joyous experience. I wasn't always this way though. If you ask my friends from college, they will laugh, and tell you what a miracle it is that I managed to graduate (cum laude, no less) while attending so few classes, and doing so little work. So what changed? Obviously I'd like to think I just got older and wiser, but evidence suggests otherwise. Personally, I think what happened to me was the internet.

The internet has obviously drastically changed the way we interact with information, by making so very much accessible to us, almost anytime, almost anywhere. But that, in itself, is not enough to make us *want* to seek out that information. To read it, to synthesize it into knowledge, into our world-view.

Working in the realm of education (and being a pretty much life-long student who is almost done with her third masters degree), the answer to this little riddle is of vital importance to me. I feel we're on the cusp of an educational revolution, and I want to help shape it. I want to help us storm the right castles, and march on in the right direction.

I recently read an article about Michael Wesch, a professor at Kansas State University, where he talks about fostering a sense of curiosity in students. Let's skip over the part where he coins the term "knowledge-able", which, while cute and fitting, brings back library school nightmares of reading article after article from researchers using quirky acronyms to build their personal brand. (Just "ask" Nick Belkin about "ASK". UGH.)

Aaaaanyway, this article really struck a chord with me.

"It's just not enough anymore to know a bunch of stuff... Instead, we should be concentrating on making them truly knowledge-able. Imagination and curiosity are the heart of that idea; if we have those qualities, learning becomes joyous."

Right? RIGHT?! Many teachers fought (and still fight) the use of calculators in math classes. But others saw this as an opportunity. If students spend less time doing simple calculations (after they truly understand *how* to do them, of course), there's more time to delve into more complex problems and ideas. Graphing calculators especially, can allow for more creative and imaginative assignments, assignments that might actually grab the students attention.

So back to the internet, and why it helped me learn to love learning. Social networks have added something into the information mix, something that is vital to a lot of people: context. Instead of information existing in a void, we can now see who's reading what, and what they think of it. The information now has a personal aspect for us. And also, there's the joy of finding something on our own that we know our networks will enjoy. We like seeing our content shared by others. And it's exciting when discussions happen around that content.

I have so much more to say about this, but I think I may save that for part two, where I can get into what I think the implications of all this are for education. I have thoughts, people. Copious amounts of thoughts. I'm excited for all of us in academia. Things are about to get SO COOL.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Twitter RSS Feed Cheat Sheet (Redux)

Some notes on constructing searches that I've learned the hard way, but you don't have to:
  • Find a handy url-encoding cheat-sheet, like this one: You will have to replace special characters  (@, #, :, etc.) with their url-encoded version.

  • + and %20 (a url-encoded space) seem to be interchangeable when constructing complex search queries. If one doesn't work in between each search parameter, try the other. (Replace the "+" with OR for searches that return any of the keywords/search parameters, as opposed to all the keywords/search parameters.)

  • To see how Twitter itself is constructing a query, do the search in their advanced search (!/search-advanced), then follow this formula to construct your feed:

    Take the url that is produced from your search and replace the first part (!/search/) with the rss version (

    You will go from this:!/search/librarian%20tattoo
    to this: librarian%20tattoo

  • You can probably replace the ".atom" with ".rss" if you prefer. (As pointed out by @calimae.)


Here are some pre-constructed feeds, where you just replace the bold info with the info you want to use:

Hashtag search:

User mention search:

Specific user's entire timeline:

Keyword search:

Location + keyword search:

User mention + hashtag:

User + hashtag:

Hashtag + date:

*For the original version of this post, with more details, see: