Dear cataloging teachers,
I'm interested in hearing from you about your use and perception of student
participation on professional discussion lists.
From time to time students post to discussion lists, usually asking for
help. In my experience, listmembers tend to be helpful and civil in their
answers, often going out of their way to provide information or opinion. I
suspect that for the most part, listmembers on professional discussion lists
welcome student participation. From time to time, however, a message
appears that may give us pause. For example, a message was posted to
AUTOCAT recently, saying "I am a student and I am having problems
understanding what MARC records are. Could you please explain them to me?"
(a direct quote of the entire content of the message ... minus the
I responded as follows:
"My apologies if this response sounds a little snippy. It's not intended to
be. First, I have to assume that you are a student in an LIS program.
Secondly, since you are on AUTOCAT, I am assuming that you are in a class on
cataloging, or on the organization of information.
If those two things are true, then the first person to ask is your
professor, because if your professor has not succeeded in making it clear
what a MARC record is, s/he needs to know. Chances are good that you are
not the only person in the class who is confused.
Sometimes people who are well acquainted with some arcane field of knowledge
get so comfortable with it that they forget how mysterious it all was to
them once, and that THEY had to have it explained to them in clear language
and little bits. And so they forget to explain it to others, or they
explain it in a way that is not at all clear.
I understand that it is difficult to speak up in a class to say that
something isn't clear (and it's difficult even to make an appointment to
speak to a professor privately), and that this is true whether the class is
virtual or physical. But if you don't speak up, you encourage a pattern of
insufficient explanation begin given and accepted, and you don't give the
professor any indication that s/he needs to alter her/his approach. And the
upshot is that you will not get what you need from the class."
Others tried their best actually to answer the question. Within the space
of a few days AUTOCAT received a few other questions from students, asking
about things that seemed terribly open-ended or basic. And I can recall
other instances in which students have posted questions that were incredibly
general, and thus not really susceptible to being answered. Normally, I
try to be helpful, and try to answer questions posed, if I can, but this one
message really concerned me. Was the student not getting adequate
instruction? Was the student not communicating with the professor about
things that confused her/him? Was this just an example of naivte (thinking
that it was in fact a reasonable and intelligent question)? Was the student
simply fulfilling a class assignment to "ask something?" Was the student
trying to use AUTOCAT members as a substitute for the education s/he was
PAYING for? Did it occur to the student that the answer s/he might get
might not actually be accurate/correct/complete/unbiased?
So here's what I'm interested in hearing about:
How do you use AUTOCAT or similar discussion lists in your classes? Do you
suggest or require students to subscribe to some such list? Do you send
them there with a particular assignment (such as, ask a question; respond to
a thread, etc.)? What do you hope/expect students to get out of their
participation? Do you give them any introductory information about
formulating messages or participating? What do you hope that regular
listmembers will do (or not do) in answering student questions? Do you
monitor the lists that students join, so as to "keep tabs" on their
Janet Swan Hill, Professor
Associate Director for Technical Services
University of Colorado Libraries, CB184
Boulder, CO 80309
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Tradition is the handing-on of Fire, and not the worship of Ashes.
- Gustav Mahler