University of Texas at Arlington

2017 STEM South Librarians Conference

Thinking Beyond the Stacks

2017 STEM South Librarians Conference

At last year’s TX STEM Librarians Conference, I introduced UT Arlington Libraries’ Maker Literacies Pilot Program and the Maker Literacies Task Force. That presentation covered the goals and objectives of the Task Force, early-stage work and lessons learned in the research and discovery phase. We have come a long way since then. We have piloted nine undergraduate courses into the Maker Literacies Program, all of which use the UTA FabLab either wholly or in-part for completion of a major assignment. These nine courses include three from English, two from Industrial Engineering, and one each from Art Education, Computer Science, Science Education and Studio Art. At this year's conference (now called STEM Librarians South Conference, held at Baylor University in Waco TX, July 20-21), I provided an update of the Maker Literacies program, showcased some of the undergraduate courses that have participated in the program so far, and discussed the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grant for Libraries (NLG) that we have been awarded for the purpose expanding the program to other universities in 2017-2018.

For a small, regional conference, this one-and-a-half day event was packed full of great activities and conference sessions. The conference kicked off with an awesome field trip to the Waco Mammoth National Monument. I can’t believe I’ve never been to this local treasure, and will definitely be going back when I have more time. Since I didn’t do my research ahead of time, and because of the singular use of “mammoth” in the monument’s name, I initially thought that there was only one mammoth fossil and that there would be dozens of people standing over each other in 100-degree heat trying to get a peak of the thing. Boy was I wrong! The in-situ exhibit is enclosed in an air-conditioned (thank goodness!) atrium with a catwalk allowing visitors to spread out and have spectacular views of the multiple fossils of several different species, including Columbian mammoth, camel, giant turtles and saber toothed cats.

Female Columbian Mammoth Fossil
Female Columbian Mammoth Fossil


Camel Fossil
Camel Fossil

I learned that the camel originated in North America, migrated over the Bering Strait into Asia, and then eventually went extinct in North America. It was common for camels and mammoths to herd together as a defensive team against their common predators. The camels’ shrill screams alerted the herd when danger was near, and the mammoths’ massive strength and enormous tusks protect the herd from attacks. I encourage anyone within a couple hours’ drive of Waco to visit this amazing site for an easy Saturday getaway, which I intend to do soon.

The field trip was followed by a digital scholarship workshop covering an introduction to the major methods of digital scholarship and a hands-on learning opportunity for text mining, data visualization, and GIS. I have to admit that most of this was review for me, since I’ve attended similar workshops in recent past. However, I was introduced to one new tool that I had not seen before, called RAW Graphs. RAW Graphs is a web-based platform for creating pivot tables from spreadsheets, and creating a wide variety of visualizations on-the-fly from the spreadsheet data.

Following the workshop, we wrapped up day one with the opening dinner and reception at the Mayborn Museum on Baylor’s campus. The Mayborn, like the mammoth monument, was too big to fully explore and appreciate in the short amount of time we had, plus, I was exhausted and just wanted to get back to the hotel for a nap. I only visited one of four wings of the museum which housed the natural and cultural history exhibits. The exhibits included more mammoth fossils (of course!) and the even older Pliosaur fossils dating from Texas’ Cretaceous period (when most of Texas was under water!). I plan to revisit the Mayborn again on some weekend adventure.

On Friday, July 21st, the actual conference sessions took place at Baylor’s Jesse H. Jones Library. There were a lot of very good presentations and I’m not about to try to write summaries for all of them. Instead I will write a little something about the session that I got the most out of, and interested readers can visit the conference abstracts for descriptions of the other sessions. For me, the best session was the very first one, Mixed-Methods Assessment of an Information Literacy Exercise Taught by Biology Lab Instructors, delivered by Roxanne Bogucka & Porcia Vaughn from the University of Texas at Austin. This session provided valuable and welcome insight into assessment of textual data. As part of my role as Maker Literacies Librarian, I am tasked with formulating a variety of assessment methods for evaluating student learning in maker literacy courses. One thing I’ve struggled with is translating student feedback, submitted as text entries to open-ended questions, into measures that can be quantified. Bogucka and Vaughn presented a technique for scoring textual data via rubric that I think could be adapted to my own needs. I’m looking forward to discussing this new (to me) method and see what awesome assessment tools we can design for our courses.

I can’t let this report go without at least mentioning the incredible, heartbreaking work of keynote speaker Dr. Lori Baker, a forensic anthropologist who specializes in the molecular and forensic analysis of skeletal remains (see the conference abstracts for her full bio sketch). She spoke to us about her work with the non-profit group Reuniting Families, a program that aids in the recovery, identification and repatriation of undocumented immigrants who perish during migration into the United States. According to Baker, the remains of nearly 7,000 bodies have been recovered from along the US-Mexico border since 2001 (I believe that year is accurate, I’m going by memory here). She says that that is likely to be a very small percentage of the actual number of dead abandoned in these harsh and desolate areas, usually serendipitously discovered by ranchers who happen to wander across their skeletal remains. Sometimes they are found in shallow graves, buried in garbage bags. Her team is tasked with a number of difficult responsibilities. First, they give the bodies dignified burials. Second, they aim to gather DNA from the remains and log them in a database where their distant family members may be able to one-day identify them. Third, they educate local sheriffs and justices of the peace in these remote areas so that they may properly process the remains when found, and fourth, they do advocacy work and lobbying in the migrants’ home-countries to alleviate problems at the source that force these people to flee their homes in the first place. I am very grateful for Dr. Baker’s keynote address, being such a harsh dose of reality that it was, and for having opened my eyes to tragic problem that I didn’t even know existed.

I really didn’t plan or expect to write this much, but there you have it. To wrap up, I’ll just mention the Twitter hashtag #stemlib17 where you can read Tweets from conference-goers.

written by Martin Wallace,

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