Presentation: Engaging Undergraduates

On Friday, August 10, 2012, I appeared on the “Engaging Undergraduates, Advancing Archives: Innovative Approaches for a ‘Forgotten’ User Group” panel at the Society of American Archivists’ 2012 Annual Meeting in San Diego, CA.

SLIDE ONE
Hi everyone, I am Robin Katz, Outreach + Public Services Archivist

SLIDE TWO
at Brooklyn Historical Society and along with our Public Historian,

SLIDE THREE
I co-direct a program called Students and Faculty in the Archives, or SAFA for short.

SLIDE FOUR
SAFA is an innovative, robust postsecondary education program which uses primary sources

SLIDE FIVE
to build document analysis, information literacy, and critical thinking skills in first-year undergraduates.

SLIDE SIX
SAFA was really designed with the intention of reaching this often-overlooked audience.

SLIDE SEVEN
Before we were hired, BHS received a 3 year

SLIDE EIGHT
$750,000 grant from the US DOE FIPSE

SLIDE NINE
to work with 3 schools:

SLIDE TEN
3 important characteristics about these schools:

All of these schools are within walking distance. LIU is the farthest away – it’s a 20 minute walk, or two stops on the subway.

They don’t have Special Collections in their own libraries

They are committed to serving minority, first-generation, non-traditional, and non-native English speaking students.

SLIDE ELEVEN
-We work with 18 partner faculty who were selected before we started through existing relationships

-If I were to design SAFA from scratch, I would institute an application process with selection criteria around how well a course fits with our collections, a professor’s availability, and their teaching strengths or interests.
-I should also point out that our faculty received $1250 in honoraria per academic year

SLIDE TWELVE
Our faculty are tenured, junior faculty, and adjuncts.
They teach History, English, American Studies, Religious Studies, Art History, Photography, and Architectural Technology.

-Our faculty did come in with varying levels of experiences in archives. Most of our historians were very comfortable w archival research, but some of our faculty had never seen a finding aid before.

SLIDE THIRTEEN
SAFA is centered around class visits to the archives, but BHS staff also go to campuses for workshops or presentations and we lead walking tours around Downtown BK / BK Hts… In fact, we went to Green-wood Cemetery with a photography class

SLIDE FOURTEEN
So we are about halfway through our grant right now, we had the spring of 2011 to start planning, and we taught our first academic year from fall 2011 – spring 2012. And over the past year, we really honed our teaching philosophy

SLIDE FIFTEEN
We believe our faculty should come to the archive for a reason – in addition to lofty goals about knowledge, skills, and attitudes (such as: I want students to learn what it historians do) professors should also have concrete, measurable learning objectives (Students should be able to identify three ways the Civil Rights struggle in the north differed from that of the South).

SLIDE SIXTEEN
*We are not a treasure room, we do not do show and tells where people just ooh and ahh over beautiful or valuable items.
*Although we are also a museum at BHS, a SAFA class visit is not an exhibit, where the materials just “illustrate” concepts. SAFA students come to the archives to actively DO something.

SLIDE SEVENTEEN
We also dont throw stuff on a table. One of our mantras is that “LESS IS MORE” and that’s because we focus on…..

SLIDE EIGHTEEN
Document Analysis
That means item level: we usually pull a single item, maybe a folder, from a collection. We do NOT set a record carton down in front of a student

Unlike other information literacy instruction, we also really don’t start off with formulating a research Q and identifying/finding sources.

So we don’t search the library catalog, we don’t search the finding aid portal, we dont even really look at / talk about the finding aid much.

Students come in and docs are pre-selected. On practical level, this means faculty ID matl ahead of time and submit item level call slips 3 weeks ahead of time

SLIDE NINETEEN
On a pedagogical level, this means faculty are really thinking UP FRONT abt what document their students are using and why. So for faculty: Researching for a CLASS is way diff than your won research. not comprehesinve, you just need to find something that works, think abt how students will aproach.

SLIDE TWENTY
So how do we do it?

SLIDE TWENTY ONE
Before, the semester we meet with each professor individually. We discuss their goals and the shape of their class. After we provide research consultations and they have a chance to do research, we roughly determine what they will use and how. We also schedule class visits at this point.

Each course we work with is required to have a blog, so we set up a networked installation of WordPress sites and we have trained our faculty. Before the semester, we also want to see the blog up and running and ready for the students.

SLIDE TWENTY TWO
3 weeks before a class visit, professor submit item-level call slips. We use a Google form which populates a spreadsheet that we use to track locations and pulling.

SLIDE TWENTY THREE
Professors also send us an agenda for their class visit, which includes a time breakdown, what they want from us, info on groupings or set up, as well as their learning objectives.

SLIDE TWENTY FOUR
We have a PT Stack Assistant who pulls all the documents. Bc it is at the item level, we use a lot of out cards and we put everything into a new acid-free folder. All documents for a class go into a document box labeled with the professor name, class visit, and time, so that other staff can find materials for themselves or for researchers in the meantime.

SLIDE TWENTY FIVE
Our Stack Assistant also gets citations ready for each document. I review these and send faculty a complete list one week ahead of time. We spend the time and effort to do this to maintain consistent, correct citations among our professors and students. It takes a bit of time, but make everything easier for us.

I also research rights information for every document that we pull. That way, when students walk in the door, we can tell them whether or not they can take a picture of something and post it online.

We encourage the use of digital cameras (we teach it as a research skill), and we have students blog, so again – this up front effort is worth it. We want students putitng our stuff out there when they can.

Citations also include any document-specific special care and handling information.

SLIDE TWENTY SIX
right before (or at) each class visit, we have professors send us their prompts or handouts. It’s not realistic to expect this too much ahead of time, and the truth is that we really don’t need it well in advance of the visit.

SLIDE TWENTY SEVEN
Each class visit to BHS takes roughly the same shape, although these can be as wuick as 40 minutes or as long as three hours. All courses come in at least once, most come in 2 or 3 times, and we like up to 5 or 6 visits. The one time we had 7 visits (which is basically every other class period), we didn’t think students were learning enough content to use the archives successfully.

SLIDE TWENTY EIGHT
We start with an introduction – who we are, what a historical society is, what makes our library different.

Every class goes through the reading room rules out loud, we discuss these in terms of preservations and security so as not to seem punitive. stress equalitarian.

We go over care and handling, we sign copyright statements, next year we will ahve them sign a photo waiver so we can publicize the program a little better. There’s a lot of ground to ocver -even this list is getting long!

SLIDE TWENTY NINE
When students are sitting in this beautiful library, they are itching to look at the documents.

So this coming year we are also experimenting with an on campus pre-visit. We hope this will
-waste less time in the archives, get them started sooner

-let the ideas marinate – so we get the really good Qs abt provenance or collecting

-allow time for more citation instruction and education (for us – it’s not abt plagarism, it is about finding a unique item again!)

SLIDE THIRTY
We help our professors think about how to provide context before coming to BHS through lectures, readings, or other activities – but we often give in-archives talks about anything from the history of yellow fever to the changes in photography over time.

SLIDE THIRTY ONE
Almost all of our courses work in small groups around one document, a pair, or sometimes a suite of documents.

Things to consider when planning this: how much time do you have? how long will it take students to read and analyze a document? (Longer than you think) Will students rotate at stations, or stick in different groups?

We find that 3 or 4 students are an ideal size group for most documents. More than 2 ppl allows for conversation, extra eyes. More than 4 is often unwieldy, but again you have to think about your space and the kind of document you are looking at.

SLIDE THIRTY TWO
Now When I said we do “document analysis” many of you may be thinking of those generic handouts that ask: when was it created? who is the audience? Over the past year, we have actually come to find these kinds of prompts… well, weak? ineffective? too vague? How do you answer “what type of document is this?” We prefer specific, directed prompts.

If faculty have concrete learning objectives, they usually have a reading in mind. Specific prompts systematically get all students to the right point.

Ex: What ist he date of the letter? Where was Alfred from when he wrote it?

Ex: How does Baxter describe his runaway slaves? What change occurs in the number of entries he makes in his journal over time?

That isn’t to say we don’t do a LOT of facilitation – but we think of the handout that our faculty are crafting as a baseline. Students should be able to operate without any of us, but we are there to coach, to challenge, to give hints, to asnwer Qs.

SLIDE THIRTY THREE
Just some interesting notes from the classroom:

-our most-used Care and Handling motto is “point with your finger not your pencil.” It’s easy not to!

-When we started, lots of educators told us “kids can’t read cursive anymore. How will they read 19th century hand?” Let me tell you – they acn. We work with students of all levels – from remedial to honors.
They are intimidated, for sure, but if you just stop and focus with them, point at a word, ask them to read aloud, soon enough they are zipping along and doing paleagrphy. It often requires a quick demonstration fothe F/S or lower case p problems, but then they are off and running.

SLIDE THIRTY FOUR
Across the board, we find wrap ups essential. Most of our faculty need to work on making these better – more interactions, more thoughtful. They can be report backs, they can be reflective or reactions. They can be task oriented, they can even be a short little one-way talk by ht eprof around a bigger theme or goal, a take-away idea.

SLIDE THIRTY FIVE
The way we serve things up in a really ready-to-go, digestible way is not the way an archies works. So if professors want to leave documents out so that students can return on their own, we have learned to REQUIRE this. It is too confusing for staff and other researchers to leave documents out like that, and sometimes it really poses a threat to the condiiton of documents. Instead, we have started to just stress that students can come back, to tell them how to contact us, to pep them that some things require appts, and to give them a general sense of why they might return (the image db perhaps). I’ve also been pithing the idea of ref Qs bc I am sure that our students do not realize that is a service we provide. We will soon analyze whether any of them have actually asked Ref Qs.

SLIDE THIRTY SIX
The good news also is that small changes

SLIDE THIRTY SEVEN
can make a big impact. I have a ton of examples, but I will just say:
If you are planning on teaching at all, plan on teaching twice. You will learn an incredible amount, and those little tweaks are what make all the difference.

SLIDE THIRTY EIGHT
In the fall, you can see we had over 40 visits to the archives, and we used over 400 documents.

SLIDE THIRTY NINE
In the second term, we had the classes come in fewer times, and use less stuff. This made a huge difference in the quality of teaching and of student learning. It made all the different – Less it more!

SLIDE FORTY
We are lucky with SAFA that we have built an entire community around teaching with primary sources.

SLIDE FORT ONE
Each June, we have hosted a week long summer institute for our faculty. Int he first year, there was a lot of research time, and a lot of explroing. By the second year, we were refining the use of the blogs, the big picture course design, the individual assignments, the actual handouts. We are also thinking about dissemination and products and the future.

SLIDE FORTY TWO
This year, national partners joined us at hte end of the week. Staff from repositoroies and teaching faculty from Burlington, VT; New Bedford, MA; Providence, RI; and Philadelphia, PA joined us in Brooklyn to learn about our models and think about how to foster similar collaborations back home.

SAFA’s funders were concerned that it be replicable, but we know that it just isn’t. Unless you get the same amt of money or more, an dthe staff, you can’t do exactly what we did. Eahc repository and campus have different needs, too. So there may be pieces that can pulled out, and lessons learned – so we are going to focus on that.

SLIDE FORTY THREE
Our main goals are to:

SLIDE FORTY FOUR
Establish a collaborative network in Brooklyn and beyond around teafching w primary sources

SLIDE FORTY FIVE
Provide faculty w prof dev opportunities that helps them become better teachers

SLIDE FORTY SIX
We want to engage students

SLIDE FORTY SEVEN
So that they learn more and do better in school

SLIDE FORTY EIGHT
And maybe – just maybe – they will stay in school. We won’t have any data for that until next year, and I’m not really sure what we will find – but that was the big gamble that I think FIPSE was most interested in.

SLIDE FORTY NINE
The good news is that we are seeing a lot of evidence that what we are doing is having a positive impact.

And I will be honest – the assessment plan for SAFA is one of the reasons I took the job. We are getting some really good information about the relevance and the importance of archives.

SLIDE FIFTY
Through pre- and post- survey monkey exercises, our independent evaluators saw that students improved their close looking and document analysis skills.

There was not clear evidence of interpretation or context : making inferences about creators, audiences, or purpose.

SLIDE FIFTY ONE
SLIDE FIFTY TWO

SLIDE FIFTY THREE
By comparing SAFA students with similar cohorts who did not come to the archives, we saw that SAFA students performed better than their non SAFA peers.

Those peers are sometimes a diff section by the same prof, the same class taught by a diff prof, or similar classes.

SLIDE FIFTY FOUR
This is just one class at LIU – we have data on all the cohorts
Of course, it may not just be the primary osurce or archives piece

SAFA employs a lot of high impact learning as well (learning communities, extra support for 1st years, writing intensive, hands-on work, undergrad research) hard to separate out why we see this change, but there is a correlation.

And there may just be grade inflation by SAFA professors who are also more engaged and excited by the archives – but across the board we are seeing im[provements at every school, w every cohort.

SLIFE FIFTY FIVE
Our evaluators also conducted interviews w students, and coded their blogs.

SLIDE FIFTY SIX
To read it all, see our 2012 Eval Report at this URL.

SLIDE FIFTY SEVEN

Now I must admit that as fun as it is to be in San Diego, I am really missing the 13 undergraduate fellows that we have back at BHS. They’re in the third week of a month long experience and its hard to be away.

All students who came to BHS last year thru SAFA had the change to apply for this fellowship which pays $1000 for a commitment of 15 hrs per week. We get direct access to the students, and boy are they doing fun stuff!

SLIDE FIFTY EIGHT
They all looked at a collection of 19th century journals by a crazy fascinating guy who covered every topic from cholera to banking.

The students are helping us curate a very small exhibit, and they are each doing an independent scholarly or creative project based on their research in the collection.

SLIDE FIFTY NINE
SLIDE SIXTY

SLIDE SIXTY ONE

SLIDE SIXTY TWO
So if you happen to be in BK on Wed, Aug 22 – please stop by for the exhibit opening. The fellows will be presenting their projects, as well, and it is sure to be a wonderful evening.

SLIDE SIXTY THREE
As you can imagine,

SLIDE SIXTY FOUR
We have a lot of Qs about how ot expand or sustain this program. New people want to join, and our current faculty won’t want to stop bringing their classes in. We are thinking of ideas and looking for the funding

SLIDE SIXTY FIVE
but on this grant, we will be sure to share as much information as possible. All of us (faculty and students includeD) will present and publish in a lot of venues

SLIDE SIXTY SIX
And we at BHS will focus a lot of energy on our website, where we want to put not just syllabi and handouts and links to class blogs, but articles on pedagogy and course design.

SLIDE SIXTY SEVEN
So in the meantime, please please let me know what SAFA can do for you, the archivists out there!!!!

Katz, Robin M. “Engaging Undergraduates, Advancing Archives: Innovative Approaches for a ‘Forgotten’ User Group.” Society of American Archivists (SAA) Annual Meeting. San Diego, CA. August 10, 2012. Panelist.

ContactNeed a recommendation?
website design by Josh Shayne Design