Dr. Jenna Hartel teaching

Jenna Hartel received a Doctorate of Philosophy in Information Studies from the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (2007). As a child, she had an uncommon enjoyment of information, realized in a love of reading, keeping diaries, and writing letters. Today, her research is organized around the question: What is the nature of information in the pleasures of life? She is investigating this matter through the concatenated study of information phenomena in serious leisure -- cherished, information-rich pursuits such as hobbies. Her empirical research explores the content, structure, and use of leisure information on personal and social levels, and her theoretical work aims to characterize the nature of information in leisure realms. She has published on these topics in JASIS&T, Journal of Documentation, Knowledge Organization, and Information Research; and she is the author of the article “Leisure and Hobby Information and its User” for the recent edition of the Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science (2010).

DR. HARTEL, in the nomination, the student states that you "promote a healthy, mindful atmosphere" in your classes. Could you tell us a bit more about how you accomplish this, and why it's an important aspect of your approach to teaching?

For the past two years, I have instituted the practice of mindfulness in the required course, INF1300 – Foundations of Library and Information Science. At the very start of class, lights are dimmed and we together listen to a 2-3 minute mindfulness audio or video. The approach is secular and may include positive affirmations, breathing exercises, or an awareness of the body. In a very intensive academic program, I feel this helps to nurture our students as “whole” beings, that is, people with emotional, physical, and spiritual dimensions. It has been my observations that class then launches with a more positive, relaxed, and humane connection between me, the students, and course concepts. On a course evaluation a student wrote, “Professor Hartel looks not just at our intellectual needs, but she treats us as people with emotions that have to be addressed if we are to have a balanced and successful school/life.”

Discussions about health are often related to concerns about healthy eating, physical activity, managing stress, and sleep. We'd be interested to hear from you, your thoughts on the concept of a "healthy campus" and how it can been integrated into the classroom setting?

I feel a more “healthy campus” would have many in-class opportunities for students to practice and display their personal interests and talents, and to bring these natural abilities into contact with the curriculum of their academic field (for me, Information Studies). All too often, traditional academic essays and written exams are used to evaluate understanding and performance in class, as if that is the only means of measurement. As an alternative, I give students the freedom to demonstrate their learning as a “creative deliverable,” that is, any communications genre or format they choose--so long as they provide evidence of engagement with course concepts and the scholarly literature. Hence, my students have explored the topics of “information,” and “internet,” and “librarian” using the mediums of graphic novels, sculpture, oil painting, poetry, video production, musical composition, and short stories. I’ve even had very sophisticated projects submitted as traditional board games and even dance! [see examples at: http://www.isquares.info/informationinternetlibrarian.html] What this does is leverage the students’ innate abilities and becomes a celebration of their talents, which is very affirming and a positive contribution to well being. Further, projects of this kind prime students to create the breakthrough communications materials sorely needed in the information professions. On a course evaluation one student remarked, “This might have been the first time that I was so excited about an assignment throughout my entire university career. The opportunity to convey an idea through a medium that leaves room for greater creativity and less rigidity than a paper, is definitely something I appreciate…”

In the nomination, the student describes you as "caring" and approachable, and that you "bring an infectious zeal and enthusiasm for the subject matter." Please let us know what this nomination as a Healthy Campus Champion means to you personally and/or professionally?

These kind words from a student and the resulting nomination help to convince me that in the classroom, “hard” qualities (knowledge, intellectualism, authority) can be less important than “soft” qualities (emotional intelligence, caring, enthusiasm, a spirit of collaboration) for success. Over the course of my career I have moved from strengths in the former, to an increasing reliance on the latter—and my experiences with students have grown better and better. This nomination encourages me to keep taking risks and exploring the idea of a teaching philosophy based in these soft qualities.

We would also be interested to hear if you have suggestions about what more could be done to foster campus environments that support the wellbeing of our students?

I will share something I observed at a university in Australia that made a strong positive impression on me. In a lovely, shady, open square of the campus, a “group karaoke” session was in full swing. A large video screen and speaker system blasted the musical tracks and lyrics of popular songs. Ten different microphones were placed across the space and students took turns singing along—as a makeshift chorus. Because there were ten singers, the voices were harmonized and blended in beautiful and sometimes comic ways. Many people stopped, smiled, and listened, and an audience formed on the grass. It was such a collaborative, light-hearted, creative event that lifted one corner of the campus into a party. I would like to see U of T mobilize to stage happenings of this kind that bring hard-working students together in a playful spirit, which will have positive repercussions on the classroom.

Jenna Hartel Sitting