Teaching Like a Ninja!

1 Oct

Massachusetts Health Sciences Library (1)I attended a really terrific continuing education event last Friday, co-hosted by the Massachusetts Health Sciences Library Network (MAHSLIN) and the Western Massachusetts Health Information Consortium (WHMIC). It featured two excellent speakers and a “sold-out” crowd.

First, Rebecca Blanchard, PhD, MEd, from Baystate Health, Academic Affairs Division, led us through a session focusing on the idea of “stealth teaching,” i.e. teaching people without them knowing that they are being taught. This is a great approach to education and one particularly suited for those of us who work in harried environments and with people who generally have little time or attention to give towards learning something new. From one-on-one encounters to small group instruction to formal classroom teaching, we learned and practiced ways of moving people from the place where they don’t know and/or don’t even know that they don’t know, to a place of knowledge, all by ways that facilitate learning. Dr. Blanchard has coined her approach, “ninja teaching” and by the time the session was over, we’d all earned our white belts in ninja school! 

After learning about teaching, we enjoyed a time of stress reduction – a perfect thing for a Friday! Donna Zucker, RN, PhD, FAAN, from University of Massachusetts, School of Nursing taught us all about the use of labyrinths in stress reduction. We learned about the very long history of labyrinths and the practice of walking them, including their modern day use in clinical settings, health care, and rehabilitation. We got to see a short video about a project that Dr. Zucker is involved with at a county correctional facility, where the inmates built a labyrinth and use it for improving their own stress management skills, something that benefits them greatly when they return to society.

Perhaps the coolest thing … We learned about the use of labyrinths in libraries! Sparq Meditation Labyrinth is a portable, projected labyrinth that was developed by Matt Cook who works at the University of Oklahoma’s library. His project has been installed in his library, as well as at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst’s, W.E.B. DuBois Library. I found this FASCINATING! The science behind labyrinth walking and stress reduction abounds and it was really great to see libraries and librarians aware of the anxieties students face and using this incredibly unique tool to help them manage their stress. I’m going to keep up with this project. Who knows? Maybe we’ll get to install it in my own library one day.

Big thanks to Margot Malachowski of Bay State Hospital’s (Springfield, MA) library for arranging this event for her colleagues, and to MAHSLIN and WMHIC for supporting it!

Here are my sketchnotes from the day:

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FlipQuiz: A Great New Teaching Tool

24 Sep

I’m teaching Health Sciences Librarianship for the University of Rhode Island’s Library and Information Studies graduate program this semester. Sometimes, I think we can learn as much being a teacher as we do being a student. In this case, I’ve been learning to use a number of new tools, new concepts, and new ways to teach online, and for distance learners. I’ve had to read a lot of theory and try out a bunch of resources and it’s still only September!  Fortunately, I think my students are both patient and open to the trial and error of my learning. 

This week, I discovered a terrific new tool that I want to share via this blog. I think others will find it pretty useful, too. If you’re a fan of learning via games (as I am), give FlipQuiz a try!

NCBI Game

Feel free to click on the game board and play, but don’t share answers with my students! :)

Follow the Leader

17 Sep

I read a really interesting post on the Harvard Business Review’s blog yesterday titled, “Convincing Employees to Use New Technology.” Any regular reader of my blog knows that I’m fascinated with new technologies, behavior change, and the intersection of the two. I’m particularly interested in how they come into play in science and in libraries, the two places where I spend my working hours. For all that technology has done to reshape both of these areas, I continue to be amazed at how reluctant many scientists and librarians are to try new things and adopt them into their work habits and processes. Despite a growing body of evidence that helps us see which tools work well and which don’t, what behavior changes improve efficiency and which create distraction, and how we can more effectively advance our information dissemination, sharing, and networking, many still say, “No thank you!

The post from HBR hits on several reasons that might explain the reluctance, not the least of which is the lack of investment companies or organizations or institutions place upon adoption of these tools. 

The real return on digital transformation comes from embedding new work practices into the processes, work flows, and ultimately the culture of organizations. But even in cases where the value of adoption is understood, cost containment often takes over. Faced with limited budgets, companies focus on the most tangible part first – deploying the technology. Adoption is left for later, and often “later” never comes. (Didier Bonnet)

I’ve observed this pattern on multiple occasions, but one of the clearest was when I was working on a study involving the use of Twitter to help people lose weight. The idea was that the microblogging service could be used to develop a free, easy to access, online support group that could supplement in-person meetings of people in a weight loss group. What we learned, though, is that unless people are already active users of Twitter, we needed to build in time and effort to help participants develop behavior patterns around communication that involved Twitter. Without this, we were really seeking two behavior changes instead of one, i.e. behavior changes around diet and exercise, as intended, but also the adoption of a social media tool. (See “Tweeting it off: characteristics of adults who tweet about a weight loss attempt,” Pagoto et al, Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 2014 Jun 13.)

I’m sure that you can think of your own experiences where your organization or department or library or university implemented a new intranet or new personal profile pages or a blog. “It’s a GREAT IDEA!,” everyone thinks, but then lacking much motivation or incentive to contribute to it, the new, great idea slowly finds its way to the big cloud of wikis that went nowhere. Over time, we become jaded and cynical and whenever we hear someone suggest the next newfangled new idea, we immediately think, “Yeah, right. Like that ever works.

Yet, recognizing this, I think the HBR post hits on a fact that can, in time, truly make a difference in the adoption of tools:

Lead by example. You can influence the transition to new digital ways of working by modeling the change you want to see happen – and by encouraging your colleagues to do so. For instance, actively participating on digital platforms and experimenting with new ways of communicating, collaborating, and connecting with employees. It is the first important step to earning the right to engage your organization. Coca-Cola faced huge challenges when it deployed its internal social collaboration platform. Only when Coca-Cola’s senior executives became engaged on the platform did the community become active. As the implementation leader put it, “With executive engagement, you don’t have to mandate activity.” (Didier Bonnet)

From the Journal of Cell Biology. Used with permission https://www.flickr.com/photos/thejcb/4117496025/

From the Journal of Cell Biology. Used with permission https://www.flickr.com/photos/thejcb/4117496025/

One of the scientific communities doing a lot of leading here is the neuroscience community. When I began working on the neuroimaging project, I was thrilled to see how active this community is online. They have well-developed data repositories, online journals, information portals, and resources for cloud computing. (See NITRC, as an example.) They have an awareness of and openness to the ideas of sharing; to moving their science forward by using the tools that make sharing so much easier today. Indeed, I was brought on to the neuroimaging project to help improve a few processes along these lines.

And then this morning, I saw an announcement of another new online tool launched for the neuroscience community, this one an extension of the Public Library of Science’s (PloS) Neuro Community, a site on the platform, Medium*, “created as a collaborative workspace for reporting news and discussion coming out of this year’s Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting on November 15–20, 2014.” Moving past “simply” tweeting a meeting, the Society instead is thinking ahead and building a place for openly sharing, contributing, and reflecting before the meeting happens. And it will be successful. You know why? Because those who initiate these tools in the neuroscience community are the leaders of the community. They have been a part of their past investments, seen the pay off, and thus continue to invest more for the future.

We need this same kind of leadership in libraries, in the Academy, and in other areas of science. Those of us who see and/or have experienced the value of implementing new technologies into our work need to be fairly tireless in banging the can for them. We need to continue to lead by example and hopefully, in time, we will all reap the rewards.

*I’ve become a big fan of Medium over the past months as a place to keep up with a lot of interesting stories on the Web.

An Infectious Dialogue

16 Sep

Science Cafe Woo, September 15, 2014

Nu Cafe, Worcester, MA

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ACCESSories

12 Sep

For years, I lived on Lower Flying Point in Freeport, Maine, one of those fingers of land that stretches out into Casco Bay. You can get to Lower Flying Point one of two ways; Flying Point Road off of Bow Street, which is off of Main Street in Freeport (turn right at L.L. Bean) or Flying Point Road by way of Pleasant Hill Road by way of Highland Road by way of Maine Street in Brunswick, ME. You can probably tell, just by the description, that the former is the fastest, straightest route.

One summer, Mill Stream, which ultimately flows into and becomes the Harraseeket River, flooded. REALLY flooded. Over the banks and over the surrounding fields and over Bow Street/Flying Point Road. In its flooding, it took with it the very large culvert that ran underneath the road and, with the culvert also went the road itself. For weeks after, the only way to get to and from home was the very round-about and out-of-the way route through Brunswick. People were good sports about it, even though it was a major inconvenience and added as much as a half-hour to one’s commute, and when the road was finally re-opened, we hung balloons and had a party. Access restored.

In her book, Access to Medical Knowledge: Libraries, Digitization, and the Public Good, Frances Groen identifies three values that lie at the foundation of professional librarianship:

  • Providing access to information
  • Preserving the accumulated knowledge of the past
  • Helping the public understand how to use information

(Read a review of the book by Janice Kaplan in the July 2007 issue of JMLA.)

I’ve required the students in my Health Sciences Librarianship course at the University of Rhode Island to take part in one of the Thursday night #medlibs Twitter chats. Last night was an option and several were there, asking great questions and sharing in the discussion. The topic centered on the role of librarians in the clinical setting and was led by Julia Esparza, a Clinical Medical Librarian from LSU Health in Shreveport, LA. Julie asked some really pertinent questions around what it takes to have confidence in this role, what people most enjoy about it, and what some of the unique challenges to it are. My students expressed real surprise at how much clinical medical librarians can be involved in the hospital setting, particularly when it came to thinking about them being part of rounds, i.e. being at the patient’s bedside with the rest of the clinical team. To paraphrase… “What do patients think about that?” “How would I feel about it, if I was a patient?” “How does that make a patient feel, that a doctor has to look to a librarian for help finding information?”

Great questions, every last one of them! 

The medical profession is layered (and layered and layered) with levels of myth and entitlement and very entrenched beliefs about the respective roles of doctors and patients. Given our incredibly complex healthcare environment and the limitations of physicians in terms of how much time they have to spend with patients, there’s been a push for patients to become educated about their health, diseases, care, etc. Patients need advocates, be they a family member, friend, or stranger. It’s simply unwise to step into a situation involving yours or a loved one’s health, knowing little to nothing of what’s going on. But it happens all the time. Medical librarians, particularly those focused on consumer health resources, are tasked with providing access to the information that the public needs to be better prepared here. From the admonishment, “Don’t Google for Health Information!” to showcasing sites likes MedlinePlus to attending health fairs… medical librarians (and public librarians) are busy here, staying true to the values “Providing access to information” and “Helping the public understand how to use information.”

So how does this fit with librarians being a part of teams in the clinical setting? I argue that it’s merely an extension of the same. They are there to make sure that the doctors AND the patients have access to the information that they need, and they are there to make sure that everyone knows how to use it. But what does that mean? Providing access is one thing, but what does it mean to help someone understand how to use information? Doctors are there to diagnose, we all agree with this, but for the patient who doesn’t understand the information presented to them, does the librarian, perhaps, have a role in helping them understand it? After all, doesn’t understanding how to use information depend upon understanding what the information means in the first place?

Not being a clinical librarian, I really only have opinions here – not much actual experience or evidence to fall back upon. However, if I translate this setting to my own, i.e. the research team, and think of my role as a librarian there, are there any parallels? I think so.

There’s a debate among those who take part in systematic reviews and in-depth searches regarding how much a librarian should do. Do we simply develop and execute the search strategy, and then pass off the results to the rest of the team for review? Are we breaking some rule if we review the articles, too? Is it taboo for us to write synopses of papers, evaluations of them, or give our own thoughts upon whether or not they are worthy of inclusion in the study? Can we take the lead in writing more than the methodology of a systematic review? Can we make suggestions, share informed opinions, and discuss the topics at hand that extend beyond the subject of librarianship? 

For me, the answer to these questions lies at the heart of what it means to truly be embedded in the setting, be it research or clinical. It’s about being an equal part of the team and while each member has his/her level and/or area of expertise, to be more than an accessory, you need to step up and be equal – equally responsible, equally accountable, and equally invested. If I can explain some information to someone, to me that is part of helping someone understand how to use it. It’s a core value. To stop short of this because I believe that it’s not my role or not my responsibility, that’s falling short of what I believe is my professional place. 

I was in the hospital last month and while there, I overheard my medical team (just docs, no librarian) in the hallway talking about my EKG. The resident and attending doc were explaining to the medical student about the length of my QT segment and what my R wave progression might be telling them. I wanted to yell out into the hallway and tell them that I’d had a couple of semesters of cardiac electrophysiology as an undergrad and grad student, and ask if they might wish to come in the room and talk to me about it. But I didn’t. I listened to what they said about me in the hallway and then listened to what they said to me when they came to my bedside. And they were, as you can imagine, quite different.

After last night’s chat and then thinking about the questions and observations of my students, I wondered how this experience might have gone differently if a medical librarian was there. And then I realized that a medical librarian WAS there. Granted, I was the patient and really in no mood to make it a teachable moment, but that’s what it was. I could have talked to the doctors and let them know that I knew how to use the information they weren’t sharing with me. I could have said that as a medical librarian, it’s my job to make sure people know how to use the information they have. It’s not just my job to provide access to it. If this means explaining something – or making sure the clinician explains something – in a way that the patient understands it, then that’s what I do. I like to think that our role is a heckuva lot more than simply being a culvert.

 

 

Old Brains, New Tricks

5 Sep

ShallowsI recently had a very odd health scare that landed me in the hospital for a couple of days. That was a first. Lots of tests later, I’m pronounced A-OK. Hooray! One of the tests I had was an MRI of my brain. In his notes back to me via my health record, my doc told me that I have a very young brain for my age and ever since, my mantra has been, “I’m young at brain.”

Our brains are fascinating things, aren’t they? I’ve been reading Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, this week. A neuroscience page-turner, I tell you, as well as a great social critique of our techno-centric world. Our brains’ feature of plasticity is amazing. It ability to change and adapt and mold its neural pathways into all sorts of routes is amazing. I highlighted the following passage, thinking of how true it is both literally and metaphorically:

The adult brain, it turns out, is not just plastic but, as James Olds, a professor or neuroscience who directs the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, put it, “very plastic.” Or, as Merzenich himself says, “massively plastic.” The plasticity diminishes as we get older – brains do get stuck in their ways – but it never goes away. Our neurons are always breaking old connections and forming new ones, and brand-new nerve cells are always being created. “The brain,” observes Olds, “has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.”

It seems like we’re hardwired for flexibility and change, despite how much we tend to not like it. Sometimes I reflect on a decade of being a librarian and it seems like one big change. Very little has stayed constant, aside from my physical location. I’ve remained in my same cubicle since the day that I arrived here, not something that everyone in my Library can say. But my job, focus, skill set, projects, responsibilities, colleagues… these have all changed, and generally more than once. Being a librarian is, in some ways, like being a brain. And plasticity best be a part of it. We’d better be able to reprogram and alter ourselves on the fly, too, if we want to be successful and/or remain relevant. 

Yesterday, I went to a lunchtime talk on campus. It was in the Faculty Conference Room, a large room with many round tables set up around the room. I saw a table of my colleagues across the way, but after I picked up my lunch, I sat the table next to them. I didn’t really even think about it. It’s become my “neural pathway” to mix and mingle at these events. It’s become my habit to meet new people and strike up conversations with them about what they do, wherever I go on campus. My empty table soon became filled up with 7 people that I’d never met before. They included the Associate Vice Chancellor for HR Diversity Management, someone from our Office of Communications, a recruiter for a research study, two lab researchers, and a student. I learned that our Associate Vice Chancellor studied engineering, of all things. “How did you get from engineering to human resources and diversity?” I asked her. “It’s all about solving problems,” she replied. 

I learned that we have a relatively new Vice Chancellor of Communications. I learned that one of our large, multi-site research studies that I know about is drawing to a close. I learned that people are curious about social media and how to use it in their jobs. All at my one table. And… everyone at my table met a librarian that they didn’t know before that lunch. And they learned a bit about the Library, too. We all made connections. 

This isn’t the way that I used to do my job. It’s not how I used to view and think about people throughout the Medical School, i.e. constantly making connections, both in my mind and in person. My “young for my age” brain has changed over time and I’ve learned to do these things almost second nature. And I’m sure that over more time, I’ll continue to let the plasticity of my brain do it’s thing. I’m willing to bet that old brains doing new tricks will keep ourselves, and our profession, healthy.

Postscript: After publishing this, I happened to see a tweet that said Nicholas Carr will  be a speaker at this year’s Boston Book Festival. I’ll be sure to try and catch him, if I’m not dressed up as a book character when he’s speaking!

Labor Today, Rest on Monday!

29 Aug

Happy Labor Day, everyone! Follow the most excellent advice found in this NY Times Op-Ed piece by Clive Thompson and take some time for yourself! 

Labor-Day

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