Mary kickham samy reference renaissance conference denver co august 4 2008
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Mary Kickham-Samy Reference Renaissance Conference Denver, CO August 4, 2008. Balance of Power and Negotiation of Meaning in Virtual Reference Learning Environments. Community of Inquiry Model: by Garrison, Anderson,& Archer. Literature Review.

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Balance of Power and Negotiation of Meaning in Virtual Reference Learning Environments

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Mary Kickham-Samy

Reference Renaissance Conference

Denver, CO

August 4, 2008

Balance of Power and Negotiation of Meaning in Virtual Reference Learning Environments

Community of Inquiry Model: by Garrison, Anderson,& Archer

Literature Review

VR Librarian hesitating to instruct (Lee, 2004)

Students willing to be instructed (Desai and Graves, 2006)

92% - receptive

8% - “unreachable”

The Theoretical Framework

  • Critical Literacy Theory

  • Critical Information Literacy

  • Social Constructivist Theory

David Ward measured session completeness by whether the librarian:

  • Asked student about number of sources,

  • Showed student a useful source,

  • Recommended search terms,

  • Checked that the student found the needed information

Summary of the Literature

  • Students are open to instruction.

  • Librarians want to provide instruction.

  • Students want to become independent learners.

  • VR environments are conducive to power-sharing relationships.

The main contribution of this paper is to examine

the activities and behaviors of the student and the librarian in the negotiation of questions and answers in a virtual reference session.

Research Questions in Two Parts

Examination of

  • Balance in Participation and

  • Discourse Models - where they align, diverge and intersect

Questions One

Is there parity of participation on the part of the librarian and the student?

Question Two

Does the number of questions asked during a session by the librarian, the student, or both parties combined affect the length of the transaction?

Question Three

Does the intensity of the student- librarian engagement predict the librarian’s assessment of the quality of the session?

Research Design

  • Data Source – 250 transcripts

  • Sampling – selected based on completeness of the transcripts and the demographics of the participants.

Research Design: Variables

  • Length of each session,

  • Librarian’s session-assessment

  • “Participation” variables, i.e. turns taken, questions asked, emoticons used.

Research Design: Technique

Analyses of descriptive statistics

Scatter plots, and

Tests for correlations and predictions.

Question OneTable 1.Descriptive Statistics for 7 variables

Findings: Question OneTable 2. Number of Instances of Librarian and Student Activities.

Question Two: More questions shorter sessions?

Scatter Plot

Question Three: Parity and Session Assessment

What criteria do librarians use to evaluate a virtual reference session?

  • The amount of time spent?

  • The number of questions asked?

  • Emoticons used?

  • That perfect answer to a question?

  • Something else, not quantitative?

How do the librarian and the student work together to answer research questions in virtual reference environments?

Critical Discourse Analysis

An analysis of the way language confers power on some members of society and controls other members.

James Paul Gee: Critical Discourse Analysis

Two discourses:

  • our native discourse and

  • our acquired discourses

Excerpt #1

Student: ty

Student: Thank you

Transcript #2

Shared Discourse Model, Shared Vocabulary:

  • “user id,”

  • “password,”

  • “access.”

Transcript #3-1

The librarian has an agenda. She tells the student what search terms and what databases to use. She also finds articles for the student.

Transcript 3-2

After the librarian finds the answer, a relevant article, she relinquishes power to the student.

Transcript #4-1

A student asks which term is more correct?

  • Michigander?

  • or Michiganian?

Transcript 4-2

Two Discourse Models:

  • The discourse model of the linguist – How do you say it?

  • The discourse model of the librarian – What do sources say that we say?


Students and librarians aligning their discourse models to create a new dynamic Virtual Reference Discourse Model


Desai, C.M. & Graves, S.J. (2006). Instruction via instant messaging reference: What's happening? The Electronic Library, 24(2), 174-189.

Doherty, J. J. & Ketchner, K. (2005). Empowering the intentional learner: A critical theory for information literacy instruction. Library Philosophy and Practice, 8(1), n.p.

Ellis, L. A. (2004). Approaches to teaching through digital reference. Reference Services Review, 32(2), 103-119.

Bibliography (cont.)

Gee, J.P. (2005). An Introduction to Discourse Analysis (2nd.). New York: Routledge.

Gee, J.P. (2008). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideologies in discourses (3rd.). New York: Routledge.

Lee, I. J. (2004). Do virtual reference librarians dream of digital reference questions?: A qualitative and quantitative analysis of email and chat reference. Australian Academic and Research Libraries, 35(2), 95-110.

Bibliography (continued)

Ward, D. (2003). Measuring the completeness of reference transactions in online chats. Reference and User Services Quarterly, 44(1), 46-52.

Westbrook, L. Virtual reference training: The second generation. College & Research Libraries, 67(3), 249-59.

Woodward, B.S. (2005). One-on-one instruction: from the reference desk to online chat. . Reference and User Services Quarterly, 44(3), 203-209.

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