I wrapped up this semester by attending a workshop on active learning hosted by NC BIG. It was a great way to reflect on the work I’ve done in the instruction practicum this semester and think about how I’d like to improve my instruction techniques in the future. Here are some of the main ideas I’m taking away:
-Active learning needs to be intentional: It’s easy to get excited about active learning and throw in a bunch of games and activities, but there has to be a clear reason for using these methods. One of the best ways to be intentional is by writing student learning outcomes and connecting activities to them. To be honest, the idea of SLOs kind of rubbed me the wrong way at the beginning of the semester, but I’m on board with them now. They really do help to organize a class and make sure that all the key objectives are met.
-Active learning can take many forms, or, Is there such thing as passive learning, anyway?: Even when a student is sitting silently during lecture or class discussion she can be analyzing ideas and integrating them into her knowledge base–although this isn’t always the case. Library instruction requires some lecture and demonstration, so students can’t all be active all the time. But integrating active learning methods can help students focus their attention and learn more. Activities can be simple, like class discussion questions, or time to work with databases, or more elaborate like a game or group problem solving activity.
-Real-world application can be difficult: In the afternoon we worked in groups to develop SLOs and active learning exercises for a library instruction session. One of our group members suggested we design them for a class he teaches every year at the community college level: a world religion class of students who have to write an annotated bibliography of 10-15 book sources in preparation for writing a research paper. This was a tricky one, because we recognized that these students needed two main skills from the class: narrowing down a topic, and evaluating sources. It was really too much to hope to accomplish in a 50-minute class, and we felt like we would have to choose between talking about how to narrow down a huge topic like Buddhism using background research, or how to have students practice evaluating sources and articulating what makes a source quality. Active learning techniques can help students practice skills and retain information more, but they also take more time.
Overall, it’s been a great semester. I’ve practiced library instruction in my practicum, worked at the reference desk, and learned about web design and library management in my classes. I can’t believe I’ve only got one semester to go!
My latest reading for my practicum has been about Problem-Based Learning (PBL), which involves giving students a real-world problem to solve in groups. It sounds like a great active learning method for library instruction because it can help students take control of their learning and experience first-hand the cyclical, messy nature of research. The “problem” gives the research process a relevant context, which in turn helps students have a “clear sense of purpose” about how library resources can be used (Kenney 386).
The problem can be simple or complex, which makes PBL applicable to a lot of different levels of library instruction. “Revitalizing the One-Shot Instruction Session” gave an example that positioned students in a speech class as advisors to a senator who needed to make a presentation about her views on the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in an hour–but currently didn’t know where she stood on the issue. The students had to find five reliable sources to help the senator form her viewpoint. Scenarios like this one allow students to imagine themselves in a powerful position and think about the implications of research as they work to find good information.
In “Re-framing Information Literacy,” the authors noted that library instruction often proceeds in a linear fashion, emphasizes the searching part of the process, and positions the librarian as a demonstrator. PBL can help librarian instructors take on a role as guide/facilitator as students experience the true interative, cyclical nature of research. When their research inevitably produces more questions, it requires them to recognize that there is no “right answer” and think critically about how they seek information in their daily lives and for school.
Of course, not all students will be fully engaged with PBL methods. “PBL in a Media Ethics Course” discussed how many college students have little experience taking control of their own learning, are uncomfortable with ambiguity, and get frustrated with a lack of structure (189-190). This is all the more reason to use methods like PBL, especially in a one-shot library information session that might be a freshman student’s first contact with the library.
I really like the idea of PBL as a way to give students control over their learning and engage them with the material. The articles I read discussed using PBL with upper-level classes, but I think there is a lot of potential to use it with freshman classes as well, especially those that don’t have a research assignment looming in the near future to scare them into paying attention. For beginning college students, I think a PBL excercise could be an excellent way to get them to experience how the research process can be messy and sometimes frustrating, but also exciting and empowering.
Next week I’m going to use my fellow reference interns as guinea pigs for PBL. We’re all doing a “mini-teach,” and I think that will be a good time to give this a test run before trying it on any real, live freshmen.
Diekema, A. R., Holliday, W., & Leary, H. (2011). Re-framing information literacy: Problem-based learning as informed learning. Library & Information Science Research, 33(4), 261-268. doi: 10.1016/j.lisr.2011.02.002
Karen L, S. (2002). Loyalty, harm and duty: PBL in a media ethics course. Public Relations Review, 28(2), 185-190. doi: 10.1016/s0363-8111(02)00125-x
Kenney, B. F. (2008). Revitalizing the one-shot instruction session using Problem-Based Learning. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 47(4), 386-391.
This week I’m reading articles about active learning. The first one I read, “Is Active Learning Like Broccoli?” discusses the results of a study that found that students who experienced active learning reported increased retention of material and engagement, but actually enjoyed the class less than the non-active control group. The surprising part of this study wasn’t that students learned more–it was that they didn’t have fun once they were engaged with the material. One of the assumptions I have about active learning if we can get students to engage in a meaningful activity that helps them think critically about the material, they will automatically enjoy the learning process. I’m not expecting unrestrained glee in response to a library session, but they should at least enjoy it more than sitting there passively listening…right?
Students in this study were in large lecture Intro to Psychology classes, and those in the active learning groups were required to meet with a group and perform experiments related to the material outside of class, while their non-active counterparts had a workbook they had to fill out individually. I think the outside class group work aspect might have been a major reason for these students reporting less enjoyment of the class, but there are still parallels to library instruction. I took a couple large lecture Intro to Psych classes as an undergrad, and my expectation was to sit anonymously in class and listen to my professor, do some reading at home, and take scantron tests every so often. It wasn’t a revolutionary educational experience, but it was kind of relaxing compared to a lot of my other classes. Similarly for library instruction, I think a lot of students expect to come in, hop on facebook for a little bit, and glean any information that might be useful for an upcoming assignment as they scan their friends’ updates. Library Day means they are temporarily released from the pressures of their “real” class–no reading, no professor staring them down expecting them to say profound things in class discussion. So if they come into the library session and actually have to do stuff and think…that might be a bit of a surprise. But if active learning helps them engage with the material and retain the information, does it really matter if they like it?
To a certain extent, I think the answer is yes. Especially for library instruction. In the practicum this semester, I think one of the best things I’ve seen library classes do is show beginning students that the library is approachable and inviting. So if there’s a mean librarian at the front of the room making them do an activity that’s miserable, that’s not going to help. In most of the classes I’ve observed and taught, though, one of the main activities is having students use the library databases to start their own research, and then report back to the class on a volunteer basis. It gets the students to engage with the material we’ve covered, and it’s not scary or painful. But it also doesn’t have a big glam factor. Students probably won’t leave the library exclaiming about how much fun they had. If they know how to use the resources and feel comfortable returning to the library for help, though, I think that counts as success.
Some of the next articles I plan to read discuss active learning techniques with more “bells and whistles,” which I think can be effective in some cases. More to come soon!
Smith, C. V., & Cardaciotto, L. (2011). Is Active Learning Like Broccoli? Student Perceptions of Active Learning in Large Lecture Classes. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 11(1), 53-61.
Teaching is winding down for the semester, so for my practicum this week I read some articles about library instruction. I picked two fun ones to start out with that deal with using pop culture to teach information literacy skills. “It Came From Hollywood” by Nedra Peterson discusses how popular media clips can get students more emotionally engaged in the library session and thus help them retain more information. “Teaching with The Situation” by Amy Springer and Kathryn Yelinek discusses–you guessed it!–how to use ideas and issues from The Jersey Shore to spice up library instruction. Both of these articles had some excellent examples of activities to structure around a video clip from a movie or TV show.
I think it can be easy to throw a short media clip into a library session as a desperate attempt to prove that the library is “cool.” But Peterson’s article made two good points that show that popular media in library instruction has a deeper significance. For one, what we see in the movies and on TV shapes our ideas about a lot of things, including how we think about research, accessing information, and the library (66). Along those same lines, movies and TV shows can elicit an emotional response from students, and emotional engagement can help students retain more information (67).
But even with those ideas in mind and excellent intentions, librarians need to ensure that student are interacting with the ideas presented in the video clip. I thought these two articles had some really creative ideas about how to get students to engage with the clips, beyond just waking up for a couple of minutes to laugh at some antics on Jersey Shore and then tuning out again when the library databases come up.
Peterson’s article suggested that students take notes on what the character does when she is researching–how she started, what keywords she found, how many different sources she used (Google, books, friends, personal experience, maybe even the library!?). The article included an example of a chart that students filled out after watching a clip from The Ring that outlined the keywords, access points, and information formats the character encountered. In several of the freshman-level classes I observed this semester the librarians did a similar excercise with a clip from Twilight that shows Bella doing research to discover that Edward is a vampire. (The clip they use is slightly longer, but this one gives the general idea.) Afterwards the students are prompted to discuss the process Bella went through: starting with a broad search in Google, finding background information on websites that leads her to a book, drawing from personal experience, etc. That usually wakes students up a little bit and is a good lead-in to talking about how research is an iterative process, but the integration into the class ends there.
Springer and Yelinek’s article talks about how to integrate a Jersey Shore theme throughout an entire class. They include several examples, but my favorite is from an Intro to Management class where students have to find articles on management topics and company and industry profiles through library databases. The class starts with a clip where Snooki is complaining about the tanning tax increase, and then the librarian shows how to find articles and profiles about the tanning industry. Then, students choose are divided into three teams: Team Situation, Team Vinny, and Team Pauly D., and they have to find information on an industry related to the character’s interests. What I like about this example is that the popular media source is used throughout the entire class, and there is an activity that requires student engagement in small groups.
While I think this sounds like a very successful class, I have some reservations about not addressing the students’ actual topics in the class. I think it can be very useful to have students talk about the topics they are using and then practice search strategies for those topics, and I’m torn between giving time to that activity (which has varying levels of success based on students’ interest-level in the assignment and/or impending doom of a deadline) and focusing on the popular example (which, when done well, will have a high level of success in engaging students and ensuring that they remember the material). Peterson anticipates this conundrum and argues that it is better to dedicate class time to a media example and have students get more out of the session (69). I think it’s a judgment call based on the type of class and the nature of their assignment. If the assignment is non-existant or in the distant future, heavy reliance on popular media might be an extremely effective teaching tool. But if students have solid topics and a nearby-deadline, the probably won’t need Snooki’s help to get engaged with library resources.
Overall, I really like the idea of using pop culture in library instruction. It’s definitely a hot topic right now–there’s been a thread going on the Information Literacy listserv about “Popular Culture References to Research as Messy and Iterative” that has a lot of good responses. And I found the motherlode at cinfolit, which has examples that address research anxiety, plagiarism, peer review, evaluating sources, and Wikipedia, among others. There are a lot of good ones, but I really liked Colbert’s “Truthiness” to talk about authority of sources, and 30 Rock’s Janis Joplin Wikipedia clip.
Peterson, N. (2010). It came from Hollywood. College & Research Libraries News, 71(2), 66-74.
Springer, A., & Yelinek, K. (2011). Teaching with The Situation. College & Research Libraries News, 72(2), 78-118.
…there’s always another library class to be taught? Last week I taught two of the same instructor’s English 101 classes. It was a tricky situation to begin with: they hadn’t seen the assignment or picked topics, the due date was relatively far-off, and the topic was food politics, which of course ruffles some feathers (no pun intended). Oh, and the first one was at 8 am. It wasn’t a complete disaster, or really even a disaster at all–which I think means I’ve learned something about library instruction this semester! Yea! But, it wasn’t the greatest.
What I really liked about this experience was that I had an immediate chance for a re-do. There was an hour before the next class, so I sipped some coffee, woke up a little, and thought about what might make it better. The assignment was to write a cause and effect analysis based on some aspect of food politics–so, the example we were working with was “The increase in fast food companies marketing to children has led to rising levels of obesity in America.”
One of the first things I did in the first class was to build keywords from this thesis, since it’s a pretty complicated one. I knew that most of the students probably wouldn’t start with this coherent of an argument, though–they would scan down the list of issues provided by the instructor, pick one, and then try to figure out what they could argue about it. But since the students hadn’t even seen the assignment, I thought it would be good to do the keyword-building excercise first, since it would at least give them an idea of what the assignment was asking them to do. And, as I said earlier, it wasn’t a complete disaster. They contributed ideas and I think that excercise can be really helpful. But it seemed like putting the cart before the horse.
Before the second class I asked the instructor if he would like me to do anything differently, and he mentioned I might do that activity later. We also decided that it would be helpful for him to give a brief intro to the assignment at the beginning of the class, which eliminated the need to start with the cause-effect example anyway. Just those two little changes improved the class a lot. We started out just getting background info on the fast food industry, and then built up to what their argument would eventually look like and did the keyword example, and then used those keywords in the library databases. At the end of the class when I gave them time to search on their own I could tell that this class was actually using the resources we had discussed and starting to think about their topics.
I think having experiences like this one can help prepare for improving similar classes in the future. For instance, in this case I probably should have just asked the instructor to intro the assigment at the beginning for both classes. In some cases when the students don’t have topic in mind it’s simply because there’s no assignment, but in this case it was just a matter of timing. The assignment had just come into existence and the instructor hadn’t had time to discuss it yet. All he needed was three minutes of the library session, which I was happy to give. I think it helps to try to think through any possible “quick fix” scenarios like that while planning classes, especially if it’s looking like there are several negative factors.
Last week I also helped Jenny with a 300-level English class. I did an assessment at the beginning where they could use those fancy clicker things (I think it’s called Turning Point?) to respond to questions about what kind of library instruction they’d had in the past and what they already knew about research. There was a bit of technical difficulty, but it’s a cool idea to get them to interact during assessment.
This week I taught four classes and observed three. Especially in the last couple of classes this week, I suddenly felt a lot more confident. I think one of the big things that has helped me be more confident is realizing that things are going to go wrong in a class and that it will all be ok. In fact, I think sometimes demonstrating how things go wrong in the research process can be really beneficial to students. Doing library instruction that’s not canned is nerve-wracking. The way I’ve been learning in this practicum is to have students suggest topics that they’re researching and then to demonstrate how to develop good keywords and construct a good search. My biggest fear is that a student will say a topic and I’ll have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.
In one of the classes I observed this week, Jenny demonstrated a really good way to deal with that. It was an English 102 class and the assignment was for students to research a “moment of apocalyptic fear” in American history. When we were planning for the class Jenny and I were thinking about big ones–the stock market crash, the Cuban Missile Crisis, 9/11–but one of the first students to volunteer a topic gave a really obscure name of a serial killer. When Jenny Googled the name, it turned out that there was recently a movie released about it, so the results were all about that movie. She had to do a few different searches in the New York Times Historical database before she got results that were right. If that had happened when I was teaching, I might have panicked a little bit. But Jenny was very calm, and when search results went awry she was able to effectively explain how that is part of the research process, especially if you have an obscure topic or a weird obstacle like a movie with the same name.
I think I’ve gotten a little better about dealing with unexpected search results and explaining what happened in the search. A couple times in the past week I’ve even purposely constructed bad searches, like putting a complex “Google-esque” phrase into a database, in order to talk about what could be done better. In the beginning I felt like I had to do everything perfectly, like students were sitting there expecting the librarian to magically construct the perfect search and–ta da!–they suddenly have all the perfect resources. Some of them might be expecting that, but I actually think it’s valuable to demonstrate how messy research is. It makes their expectations for themselves more realistic.
Along those same lines of expecting the unexpected, Jenny threw me a class this week that I hadn’t prepared for at all. Fun! And it was a class where the instructor couldn’t be there. Even more fun! She said that those were the two worst-case scenarios: getting a class last-minute and having no instructor there to put “The Fear” in students so that they won’t spend the whole hour on facebook. Library instruction has so many weird variables: you’re coming into a class that already has an established culture and you don’t know what it is, you know what the assignment is but you’re not sure how the students feel about it, and the instructor has certain goals for the library session but temporarily has to relinquish power over the class and let you take the lead. So many things are out of the librarian’s control that there’s a lot of room for things to go wrong and it’s important to be prepared–whether it’s an issue with the class itself or a tricky topic that won’t play nice with the database.
This has been such a busy week! I taught four classes for my teaching practicum: two Foundations for Learning 100′s, a lit freshman seminar, and an intro to comm studies. The first FFL we did as a scavenger hunt because it was one of the dreaded “no paper assigned” classes. I did a really basic intro to evaluating online sources and using a couple databases, and then they worked in groups to find things using the library’s online resources. They were pretty engaged the whole time, and I think the class was successful because it was hands-on and interactive. I’ll definitely keep the scavenger hunt in mind for future classes that don’t have a specific assignment to connect to their library instruction.
The second FFL class had an assignment to do group speeches about extreme sports. I know absolutely nothing about extreme sports, and of course there aren’t a whole lot of scholarly sources on those either. We talked about evaluating online sources, what scholarly and popular means, and practiced using Academic Search Premiere to look for articles. One thing I did that I’ll definitely use again was demonstrating how different a search looks in a database when you use the Google-a-phrase model vs. when you separate terms in each box. The only reason I thought about doing that was because when I was prepping I had so much trouble thinking of a way to demonstrate narrowing down a search. Each extreme sport would only yield about thirty articles or so, and there’s really no reason to narrow that down. So I decided to demonstrate searching for “X-Games” and narrowing that down with terms like “athletes” and “women,” and then realized that it might be fun to show how confused a database gets when you treat it like Google.
The clunkiest one this week was the freshman seminar, which is a whole course themed around disability in literature. FMS classes are tricky, because they need to learn basic research skills just like the FFLs or English 101s, but the research they are doing is actually really specialized. I have an English background so I’m pretty familiar with doing literature research, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is easy to explain. Lit research can be especially messy. I started out doing an excercise that I’ve seen Jenny do a few times, taking a thesis statement and expanding each different idea into as many search terms as possible. One of the thesis statements a student had was something about how a character in a story they read felt like he could still participate in “normal” activities in spite of his disability. We talked about how else to say that, and the students came up with great terms like “agency” and “self-actualization.” I was more or less pleased with how that went, but unfortunately the terms we came up with didn’t yield much in MLA because the story wasn’t that well-known. It’s hard to take that excercise and then also talk about how not everything you come up with will actually yield any results–and how that’s acutally good because you’re saying new things. I think these more specialized types of classes will come more naturally with practice.
My favorite class this week was the intro to comm studies, which was also the first one I’ve done with absolutely no backup in case of emergency. It was an evening class with a lot of “adult” students. I find that students who are older than traditional college age are often a lot more engaged and genuinely interested in learning about library research, which can help increase the energy of the whole class. I did the basic model with that class–start with Google, evaluate a wikipedia page and a website about one of their topics, then move to the library homepage and do some searches in relevant databases. I think one of the reasons this class was successful was because I really took my time. The instructor gave me a whole hour and I met them in their classroom, so they didn’t have computers for me to give them time to search on their own. I did several examples for each section of the lesson and they were really responsive and asked a lot of questions.
Another interesting part of that class was being in their classroom instead of the library. Although they weren’t able to practice, the feeling of the class was a lot different when the students didn’t have a computer in front of them to distract them. I think they were also more comfortable in their own space–and, quite frankly, I think they were relieved to have a little bit of a break in the middle of that three-hour class block.
We did a lot with citations as well because the instructor requested it. Jenny suggested that I have them get into groups, give them an article, and have them cite it and then write it on the board. This made the class more interactive and allowed them to get up and move around. I think they have more of a grasp on citations than other classes usually do when we just do human citations and show them the guides on the library website. That is another activity that I would consider doing again even if the teacher didn’t request it.
All in all, a pretty good week of teaching. The more consistently I do it, the more comfortable I get with it. The biggest things I think I need to work on are slowing down and narrating all the steps I do, as well as just feeling more confident so that I can roll with the punches. The first one is something I can consciously stop and make myself do, the second one I think will get better with time.