Smashing the Gates of Academic Discourse: Part 1

Can you just show them the databases?  This is a phrase I’ve heard a lot as an instruction librarian.

I’ve thought about it, and the answer is no.  I cannot just show them the databases.

Entering the Databases

Figure 1: An uncertain student encounters the magnitude of academic discourse through a library database.

I cannot “just” show them the databases because there are so many layers of destruction inherent in my process of pointing, clicking, and narrating.  I am not demonstrating how students can find a scholarly article, I am demonstrating how profoundly students are marginalized from academic knowledge production.  I am not identifying aspects of peer review, I am silencing all non-academic voices–including the students’.  I am not modeling good search strategies, I am erasing myself as a teacher.

Databases embody the exclusionary nature of academic discourse.  Students are on the outside, in search boxes, using natural language that the database most likely won’t understand.  On the inside of the databases are millions of articles written by experts.  Undergraduates cannot even begin to fathom their own ideas and writing being on the inside of a database.  With search boxes and keywords as their only entry point, they are left to slog through vast amounts of information.  The information they need is troublesome to locate because of language–both the language used to describe the articles themselves, and the academic insider language (jargon + argumentative structure) in which the articles are written.

The database demo–just showing them the databases–has bothered me for the entire time I’ve been a librarian.  Lately I’ve been using James Gee’s ideas about Discourses to understand my angst.  Basically, Gee says that we all receive at least one primary Discourse naturally as we grow up through socialization in the home and a peer group.  This is our original sense of identity.  From there, we can acquire secondary Discourses throughout our lives.  There are many types of secondary Discourses, but what I’m addressing here are school-based academic Discourses.  In higher education there are many different academic Discourses, usually based in disciplines, but there are also Discourses based in theoretical approaches that can be applied across disciplines.

Here is Gee’s helpful definition of what a Discourse (primary or secondary) entails:

Discourse definition

Figure 2: Gee’s definition of a Discourse.

Discourses are not just ways of thinking, they are ways of existing.  Our Discourses define our social position and allow (or deny) us social power.

Continue reading

A Dear John Letter to the Standards

Dear Standards,

I will never forget the day we met, in one of my favorite library school classes.  You were a little standoffish, a little cold.  It took some time to really get to know you, but once I did, I loved you.

Remember my library instruction practicum?  I would write out lesson plans so carefully, and you would help me develop student learning outcomes that made sense for each class.  You gave me confidence as I faced those first classes, still a student myself, and taught them about research.  You helped me realize how important it was to give students quality, intentional information literacy instruction.  You helped me choose this as my life’s work.

When I started my first library job, you challenged me.  I had freedom to be creative in the classroom, so I tried to develop instruction that kept students active and encouraged them to envision themselves as capable researchers.  You were there for me, reminding me to ground my creative methods in student learning outcomes that I could assess and use to show the worth of my classroom practices.  I think that is what I loved most about you, that you were always so focused on the students.  You truly wanted them to be information literate, and you were so thorough in the ways you thought about skills that would help them get there.

There was always something new to discover about you.  On the surface, you seemed so no-nonsense, so straightforward, but underneath there was so much more.  You cared about the social implications of information use, and you wanted to explore ways of thinking, researching, and creating that went beyond what’s traditionally accepted in academia.

But it seemed like there was never enough time.  You were so intent on skills, and so intent on order.  I felt like you were holding me back.  I felt like your insistence on skills-based instruction made it hard for subject faculty to see me as a real teacher or want to collaborate.  I felt like the language you used to describe information literacy instruction put extreme limits on my ability to make any kind of meaningful impact on student learning and curriculum development.  And it was so frustrating, because I knew that deep down, you cared about more than just skills.

Despite all of that, I thought we could still make it work, even though I knew things would never be perfect.  Reading about critical information literacy helped me see how I could actually use your shortcomings to strengthen and invigorate my teaching.  I started engaging in conversations about feminist and critical pedagogies in library instruction.  I developed classroom methods that destabilized the power relationship between me as a teacher and my students.  I taught in ways that foregrounded students’ voices and experiences, encouraging them to recognize the value of what they already knew and apply it to the new realm of academic conversations.  I asked students to engage with social justice topics and create new information for a broad online audience.

When I was teaching like this, I was so happy.  I could see students light up in ways I never had before.  But you were always there, telling me to be neutral.  Telling me I shouldn’t do anything more than show students where to point and click.  And it was the way you told me these things that was so crippling.  You wouldn’t actually say it yourself, you would have others say it for you.  Subject faculty, administrators, even other librarians.  Subject faculty would say it for you with the types of class requests they made.  Or with the round of lackluster applause they led at the end of class, clammy claps telling me I was a performer, not a teacher.  Administrators would say it for you with red tape around proposals for credit-bearing IL classes, or with weak justifications for a low salary.  But when you had other librarians say it, that was the worst.  You know what they said, I don’t have to repeat it.

This went on for a long time.  You made me question the worth of my chosen profession, you made me doubt myself as an educator.  You made me wonder if I should bail before it was too late.  I don’t deserve to feel like this.

So what I want to tell you, Standards, is that we’re through.  I’ve found something new.  It’s called the Framework.

I’m leaving you for the Framework because it’s flexible.  It doesn’t insist on teaching information literacy as a linear series of steps.  It realizes that learners enter the process of research at different points, depending on their past experiences and the type of questions they’re asking.  And it leaves room for change and growth, both in terms of emerging technologies and student needs.  You wanted so badly for everything to stay the same.

The Framework isn’t afraid to shout from the rooftops that it is absolutely imperative to engage with information that’s produced collaboratively in online spaces–information that refuses to mirror traditional academic sources.  This is the type of information that students have been using and creating in their everyday lives for awhile now, and there is so much power in helping them see an academic application for it.  I never understood why it was so hard for you to see that.

The Framework imagines teaching information literacy as leading students through a doorway.  That sounds a lot nicer than the assembly line you had them on.  I bet this really stings, too, because you were so concerned with student learning.  The big difference with the Framework is that once students cross the threshold, they can never go back.  They’ve learned a big concept, like how scholarship is like a conversation, or how the authority of a source is always different based on what they’re going to use it for.  That’s a lot more valuable than teaching students to revere the authority of an academic journal article, or showing them the steps to go through to locate an article citation from a bibliography.  Students still have to learn specific skills, of course, but these skills are much more likely to be remembered and practiced when they’re learned in the context of thinking critically about a meaningful concept.

I know things won’t be perfect with the Framework, either.  I know things won’t change overnight.  But I also know that things will be a lot better, because the Framework inspires me.  It’s been a really long time since I was inspired by you, Standards.  Most of all, the Framework gives me language to express the potential for information literacy instruction to subject faculty, administrators, and my fellow librarians–language I hope will help me make a positive, large-scale impact on student learning throughout my career.

I will think of you often, Standards.  I will remember the ways you inspired me and built my confidence when I was just starting out.  I will use innovative teaching methods forged through my frustration with you.  I might hear your whispers when I develop learning outcomes geared toward the unique attributes of students where I teach.  But I will not go back.

Love always,

Scholarly Conversation Maps

I’ve been really inspired by the new Framework for Information Literacy.  It’s given me the language–and the validation–for the kind of active learning, feminist/critical pedagogy-based teaching that I’ve always tried to do.  This kind of teaching seems inevitable to me now.

So, yesterday I taught my first class of the semester (a communication studies senior research seminar), and I planned a slightly complex maneuver in which the students perused articles and then mapped them together on shared Google slides.  The activity was based on the threshold concept, “Scholarship is a Conversation,” and I actually told students that was the theme of the class and had us read aloud the famous Burkean Parlor passage at the beginning of class.

Take a look at the maps students produced:

Here’s the basic lesson plan:

  • (Before class, students are assigned to watch a series of videos about research tools and mindsets.)
  1. Introduce idea of “Scholarship as a Conversation” and read aloud about the Burkean Parlor. Tell students we’re going to do an activity to practice mapping academic conversations.
  2. Give pairs of students a slip of paper with an article citation in APA style and ask them to find the full text.  Have a couple students demonstrate how they found their articles.
  3. Direct students to class libguide with links to openly-editable Google Docs (example) for each group to write notes about their article (also provide students with a hard copy of the article).
  4. Have each group briefly report on their article to the class
  5. Have each group map the conversations between the articles on an openly-editable Google Slide (example).  Demonstrate how to draw lines and move the article boxes around. Encourage students to be creative as they represent connections between the articles.
  6. Discuss the article maps students have made, noting different types of connections that exist between articles.

The students and the professor responded well to this activity.  They are getting ready to write a literature review, so I think this was a great way to help them conceptualize academic conversations.

This was a labor-intensive class prep for me, but I think it was absolutely worth it.  Creating all the Google Docs is time-consuming, but the trickiest part was finding articles that related to each other and would demonstrate different types of connections (cited, related to the same seminal thinker, dealing with similar texts, using related methods, etc).

I’m looking forward to developing more creative approaches to teaching IL with the Framework this semester.

(And may I just rant, this whole petition to keep the Standards that’s going on is absolutely ridiculous and represents everything I hate about the library profession.  Passive aggression, resistance to change/new technology, fear of innovative teaching methods.  Blerg.  That is all.)

Teaching with the Lonely Tablet

Recently I set out to design some information literacy lesson plans for a classroom scenario where the instructor has an iPad (and a way to project it) and students have a variety of their own devices–mostly laptops with a sprinkling of tablets. I wanted to create lessons that ran smoothly in a BYOD classroom (or a traditional library desktop/laptop classroom), while also:

  • Engaging students and encouraging active learning
  • Using the iPad differently than a regular instructor computer, as opposed to just reproducing browser-based instruction.

tabletAs we all know, the thing about using any kind of technology in library instruction (especially of the one- or few-shot variety) is that tech hiccups can cost you valuable time and shatter your attempts at creating a quick rapport with students.  Most of what I’ve been reading about BYOD classrooms is geared toward (K-12) teachers who have the same students for a semester or a year.  They can ask students to download apps, and ten minutes of tech meltdown, while not great, doesn’t rob them of twenty percent of their total time with students.  So, as usual, library instruction adds a level of complication to the teaching scenario.  All of the activities I share in the post are designed so that students can participate instantly, without having to download an app or sign up for an account.  At most all they have to do is click a link.

I designed the following activities for a “guinea pig” session with my colleagues (except for #5, which I thought up after the session).  I haven’t tried them out with actual students, but they worked with a roomful of librarians.  I’ll provide more details and discussion below (as well at the libguide I made for the librarian session)  But if you’d like a quick glance, here is a slideshow that outlines each type of activity:

Continue reading

Tracking Scholarly Conversations with a Lit Review Map

Part 1: Scholarship is a Conversation that Many Students Can’t Hear

Earlier this week I was skulking through my Feedly and ran across an LJ Infodocket post about Spotify’s new Artist Explorer.  The program allows you to start with one artist or genre and create a web of related artists and bands.  (It’s fun, go ahead and try it!)  I guess I had the Framework for Information Literacy threshold concepts on the brain, because as I explored connections between artists, my first thought was, “OMG! Scholarship is a Conversation!”

Artist Web Starting with Taylor Swift

I made a T-Swift web because she is fierce as hell in her new video!


Here’s where that thought came from: When I help students at the reference desk or in class, I often notice that they see finding articles for a paper simply as a chore.  They aren’t engaged with scholarly conversations.  They are focused on finding a certain number of sources, and then pulling out some quotes to plop into their papers.  In fact, students are sometimes quite open with this strategy when they talk to me at the reference desk.  I’ve heard many versions of, “I have my paper written, I just need to find some articles and put some quotes in.”  (There’s actually a recent-ish article with almost this exact phrase in its title).

In the new Framework for Information Literacy, Scholarship is a Conversation is one of six thresholds that represent major concepts in IL.  This concept addresses scholarly conversations as sustained discourses in communities of researchers, involving different ideas and schools of thought that are sometimes at odds, and resulting in the production of new ideas over time.  Each threshold concept includes key knowledge practices that students engage in as they explore the concept, as well as dispositions that speak to the affective experience of research.  For Scholarship is a Conversation, some of the knowledge practices include recognizing the place of a particular piece of scholarship in the body of disciplinary knowledge and being able to summarize how perspectives have changed over time in relation to a particular topic.  Dispositions include understanding the responsibility inherent in participating in scholarly conversations, and valuing the contributions of others.  Threshold concepts as a whole deal with troublesome knowledge–concepts that are not straightforward.  They are also transformative and irreversible, meaning that they change a student’s entire outlook so that after the threshold is crossed, there is no un-learning or forgetting it.

Continue reading

Yik Yak and Metaliteracy

yik-yak-web-logoOne of the reasons I’ve been excited about metaliteracy is because it foregrounds the need for students to be producers of information rather than simply consumers.  It makes direct reference to social media as a legitimate source for research and as an effective way to communicate inside and outside of an academic context.  It validates many of the information practices in which students are already engaged, even though social media and other participatory online environments don’t look like sources that would traditionally be highly-valued in the academy.

Yik Yak is a new(ish) social media mobile app that students of traditional college age are using to share information.  It allows users to post “yaks” anonymously and then upvote, downvote, or comment on other users’ yaks.  If a yak gets five downvotes it is automatically deleted.  Yik Yak’s main difference from Whisper is that it uses geolocation technology, only allowing users to interact with yaks within about a 1.5 mile radius.  It’s possible to “peek” at Yik Yak feeds from different colleges, but a user can only post to a feed in her own location.  Users get “Yakarma” points for posting yaks and for commenting and voting on other users’ yaks.

A colleague told me about Yik Yak and I downloaded it, thinking it would give me some candid information about the students at the new school where I’m working.  And that it did!  Students post yaks about everything from the cafeteria food, to how much they miss their dogs at home, to intellectual questions about their course content, to confessions about fears and insecurities.  I learned what a “basic white girl” is and what Vineyard Vines and duck boots are.  I watched a post unfold in which students discussed the meaning of LGBTQ and the resources for these students on campus.  I even learned a little bit about how they use the library (mostly that they’re frustrated with the printers and don’t like it when the sorority study groups are loud at night).

yikyakexampleAs I’ve observed CNU’s Yik Yak feed over the past couple of months, it’s become clear that it’s not just random, anonymous posting–it’s actually an ongoing conversation based in our community.  Yaks that get a lot of upvotes tend to be clever and insightful, while users will often downvote yaks that are repetitive or boring.  And right now, as students are returning to campus from Fall Break, there are many yaks about how happy they are to be back–not just in terms of being back on campus, but also of being on their “home” Yik Yak.  As one user wrote, “It’s good to have everyone back.”

A lot of the time in IL instruction we’re trying to help students as they create information in formats that feel unnatural (argumentative research papers in Standard English) about topics they’re not necessarily interested in (especially in lower-level classes) for a one-member audience (the professor).  It can be a painful process for many students (and, by extension, sometimes for librarians).  I’m interested in social media like Yik Yak and Instagram because students are choosing to use them to write and create, and because they represent an involved conversation between users.  Users have to know the norms and nuances of creating information, produce content that will be interesting to others, and evaluate the usefulness of information created by others–even if, in the case of Yik Yak, they have no idea who the other users are.

Right there, we’ve got several tie-ins to the new Framework for Information Literacy, which revises the IL Standards to focus on students as creators of information.  There are connections to the general idea of a conversation within a community (Frame 1), to the slippery nature of authority in an online environment (Frame 3), and to the notion that information can be valuable even if it doesn’t come in a traditionally-accepted package (Frames 4 and 6).

I see potential for using the example of Yik Yak as a starting point for talking about scholarly conversations and evaluating online information.  With little more than an HDMI cord, smartphone, and projector, one could pull up the school’s Yik Yak feed and find examples of yaks that were upvoted a lot because they shared useful information, or comments on a yak that require nuanced evaluation.  I’m all about starting from what students know in the classroom, and their use of Yik Yak shows that they know a lot about creating and evaluating information that’s meant for an audience of their fellow students.  Students can be prompted to recognize similarities between information practices they’re comfortable with (like Yik Yak) and new information practices in an academic context (that can involve both traditional sources and online content).

Teaching (and Marketing) with Student-Generated Content

ChristenBuzzfeedThis semester I’ve been experimenting with student-generated social media content in the classroom, and, as it turns out, also for marketing and outreach.  I’ve been thinking for awhile now about the value of social media in the classroom, but it always seemed like something that would only work in a traditional semester long class where students were engaging in an extended conversation on a class blog or Twitter.  How could students engage meaningfully in creating social media content in the confines of a single 50 or 75 minute class session?

I’ve got at least one scenario that answers this question now!  Instagram-a-rama, a session for English 101 classes who have no research assignments and whose instructors request the dreaded “library tour.”  I did this session with 15 of the 22 English 101 sections last fall.  Here’s how it goes:

  • I put students in small groups and give each group an iPad loaded with the Instagram app and already logged in to the umlibrary account.
  • Students have about 35 minutes to explore the library and respond to six open-ended prompts with pictures, captions, and descriptive hashtags.
  • We reconvene and the students show the class their pictures and explain what they found.
  • I show students the relationship between the hashtags we created and the controlled vocabulary in the library catalog.

I found that these sessions energized the students, encouraged creative interpretations of the library, and helped them explore library resources they might otherwise not have discovered until well into their time at Montevallo.  Take a look at the @umlibrary Instagram feed here and a presentation with more details here.

I designed this session with a couple ideas in mind: combating library anxiety (students are nervous about the library, think they’re alone in being confused about it, don’t want to look stupid by asking questions) and using critical pedagogy (decentering power between teacher and student, valuing students’ experiences).  I also had a vague inkling about the value of user-generated content and a feeling that social media had a lot of connections to IL skills.

When I was researching for my presentations on Instagram, I finally got around to reading the draft of the new Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (part 1, part 2).  I was excited to find a term that spoke to these vague ideas I had about social media and information literacy: metaliteracy.

Metaliteracy addresses how students can engage information literacy skills in participatory online environments such as social media platforms.  It’s meant to be in terms of subject research and participation in scholarly conversations–like being able to tell that a blog post by a little-known author could be considered credible (and maybe an acceptable source to use) if it’s getting lots of comments, likes, and shares.  Or knowing that different participatory online environments have different contexts in which content is created–that Wikipedia is edited by many people (maybe some experts), or that finding the right Twitter hashtag could lead to a whole community of people interested in a specific subject or issue.

So, what I had the students do with Instagram–creating information about the library for the immediate audience of their classmates and the extended audience of anyone online–was perhaps a bit of a stretch of the meaning of metaliteracy.  But I think it’s an effective stretch.  They aren’t doing research in a traditional sense, but they are exploring the physical space of the library and sharing pieces of information they think will be useful or entertaining for their classmates, all while following the conventions of an online social media image platform.

The other foray I’ve made with student-generated content is a Buzzfeed Article created by a student who participated in the Library Liaisons program this past academic year.  She wanted to make something that would be accessible for incoming freshmen to learn about the library from someone who had just finished being a freshman.  Of course I was pleased as punch about that, and we discussed it and decided she should do it in the form of a Buzzfeed Article.  I love how it turned out!  Right now it’s being featured on our library homepage and Facebook.  It’s one of our best performing Facebook posts ever–it’s been up for about 24 hours and the Facebook stats tell me it’s already been seen by 1,257 people!  And the Buzzfeed article itself has 440 views.  I would love to continue to do this kind of outreach generated by students.


Teaching a Credit-Bearing Class

Authorize this

Our zine “textbook”

This semester I’ve been co-teaching a credit-bearing class called The Politics of Information.  The class is about how gender, race, class, and other subject positions relate to information, and we’ve been talking a lot about the idea of authority–what authorizes someone to access, use, or create information?

I’m teaching the class with my fellow instruction librarian, Andrew Battista, and we themed each week around a different issue: social media and political activism, the digital divide, the cycle of power/publication in academia, government surveillance, and more.  It’s been a great experience so far–we have complete creative freedom with the course, it’s helped us engage that elusive fifth ACRL IL Standard, and I’ve found that the ongoing discussion in this class has informed and enhanced my traditional library instruction.

Creative Freedom, or, Sneaking in the Back Door

In order to get this class on the books, we had to teach it as a one-credit 300-level honors course.  There was nowhere else where the weirdo librarians would fit!  Because of this, we didn’t get many students–a lot of students don’t want to take a one credit course, we have a pretty hefty gen ed curriculum that limits non-major electives, and we were limited to a small pool of honors students.  But, now that we’re in the door, it might lead to bigger things.  My institution is in the process of revising its gen ed curriculum, and they created a new category where an IL course (and other random things like exercise-based kinesiology classes and personal finance classes) would fit.  To me it’s not ideal that we’re in the “random” category  (they’re calling it “life skills”), but hey–A) what’s in a name, and B) Gen Ed is power.  Like we’ve been talking about in class, sometimes there’s power in sneaking into the mainstream (And then subverting it.  And then starting the revolution).  Now we have an example we can point to when it comes time to put IL classes on the books in future semesters.

I’m glad that we’re developing a class that isn’t your classic “research skills” credit-bearing class.  While students are practicing research skills using both library and non-library resources, they are first and foremost critically engaging with what it means to create and access information in society today.

Continue reading

Keyword Hot Potato, or, The Show Must Go On

Earlier this week when I was planning for a Communications 101 class I taught yesterday, I put together an activity I oh-so-cutely named “Keyword Hot Potato.”

But when I got to work this morning, for some reason I felt like this:


I had the major grump, and I was worried it was going to effect my teaching mojo.  I was definitely worried I wasn’t going to have the pizzazz required to sell Keyword Hot Potato.

But the library instruction goddesses smiled upon me, and the students ate it up.  Not only did the activity go well, their enthusiasm turned my grumpiness right around. It was a really nice moment that reminded me why I like doing what I’m doing.

Here’s the (very simple) gist of Keyword Hot Potato: Students are in pairs or groups, and each group is given a sheet of paper with a research topic.  Groups have one minute to write as many keywords as they can think of related to the topic, and then they have to pass their sheet to the next group.  Every group gets one minute with each topic, but it gets more difficult as they go along.

And here’s more info in the form of my favorite thing, a Slideshare:

It’s great when the stars align in a library instruction session.  Especially when it cures the grump.

Let them play games!

Games-based learning is all the rage in academia/libraryland right now.  There’s a part of me that wants to have a curmudgeon explosion about it.  “Back in my day, when I was only a wee sixth grader, I sat in a cubicle at the public library for six hours straight reading books about Queen Hatshepsut and writing notes on notecards with my bare hands!  And then!  Then!  I walked home uphill both ways, where I proceeded to render a bust of Hatshepsut out of play dough.”

But last Thursday, I caved:

The Game is Born

Earlier in the week when I sat down to plan the instruction session for this English 101 class, I had one of those terrible snowballing revelations about how tricky the class was going to be.

“Blerg, this assignment doesn’t actually have a research component.”

“…Hmm, didn’t these classes have a major ‘tude when they came in for the intro session at the beginning of the semester?”

“They won’t have topics picked yet, the instructor just wants me to help them find background information about the texts…”

I had to do something to light a fire under these classes.  And then I read a Tweet from @ProjectSAILS about an online game created by librarians at UW Oshkosh.  A trivia game to teach and assess information literacy skills?  Yes!  All of the things!

I had been thinking about some kind of setup where groups rotated through stations and looked at print/digital encyclopedias to find background information about the historical events in the texts, the author and director, and the texts themselves.  After a little self-directed active learning, maybe groups could “teach” the rest of the class one thing they learned?  I could just hear the crickets when I tried to get groups to come up and do demos…but trivia!?  This could be something!

The Game is Played

I ended up keeping the rotating station idea, but I added a board game component.  Here’s what the students did.

When students came in, they sat at one of five tables, thus naturally arranging themselves into five groups.  Bwahaha!  My plan was coming together.

Each table contained: a “board game” that walked through the steps of using a resource, two or three Chromebooks, and a few books that they would need.

When the session started (after the zombie-like students turned in papers that they had presumably worked on all night), I explained that we were going to play a giant board game to learn about different kinds of resources they could use to find background information about the texts for their next paper.  I explained that the game would have two parts: first, each team would rotate through five stations, where the game pieces on the table would walk them through how to use a resource.  Next, we would play trivia, which would include questions about the information they found and the research methods they used.  I gave each team a sheet for notes and we started the first part of the game.  The groups rotated through these game stations:

  • Background on Vietnam War – They used a print encyclopedia about the Vietnam War and Credo Reference to find digital encyclopedias.
  • Background on the Belgian Congo – They used a print encyclopedia about African History and Credo Reference to find digital encyclopedias.
  • WorldCat Local Catalog and LC Classification – I pulled several books about the two historical events, had students look up the titles in the catalog, identify LC Subject Headings, and then look at the call number to figure out the book’s “big subject” in LC Classification.
  • Background on Joseph Conrad and Francis Ford Coppola – Students used a film encyclopedia for Coppola, Literature Resource Center for a bio of Conrad, and also looked up Coppola on Wikipedia and identified parts of the entry that might be useful for research.
  • Academic Search Premier and MLA International Bibliography – Students practiced searching for articles related to the book and movie.

The first part of the game felt a little more like “work” than I would have liked, but when I looked at the students’ note sheets I could tell they had indeed worked their way through the game pieces and gotten a lot out of actually having to use the sources.  The second part, the trivia, was actually…fun!  The groups got competitive about answering the questions, although they were much more sure of themselves when answering questions about “facts” they found as opposed to the research methods they used to find them.  After groups answered questions, I found that I could sometimes add to their answer in order to extend how they were thinking about the resource they used or the research method they used.  I hadn’t actually planned on doing this, but it felt natural so I went with it.

The last question of the game (worth double bonus points!) asked for a team to come up and demonstrate a search they had done in Academic Search Premier.  In both classes, students were a little reluctant to come up, but eventually a team decided they wanted the points enough to brave the database in front of the whole class.

The Gamemaker Reflects

This was the kind of session that I felt could go one way or the other: Absolute Flop or Library Instruction Triumph. In reality, it was somewhere in between (although it leaned in the Triumph direction!).  Here’s what I think/learned/want to do in future:

  • Students were a little wary at first.  Especially in the first class, students just had this look on their faces like: What is this crazy library lady gonna do to us now?  I can actually relate to that.  It’s a little unsettling to come to “Library Day” (I wish that term would die a thousand deaths) and sit down at a table with a giant, colorful board game on it.
  • Most students eventually “got into it.”  One student asked me why they didn’t have giant game pieces to move along the board as they went.  When we played the trivia part, students were loud, engaged, and even got a little angry when another team beat them out answering a question.
  • Student engagement is high-stakes in this type of environment.  In a “normal” library instruction session if there are a couple students refusing to engage it’s not a huge deal.  It’s annoying, distressing, and can sometimes disrupt the mojo of the entire class, but for the most part it won’t destroy the experience for everyone.  For this game, though, I knew I needed students to be into it.  A couple groups had a student who was bent on complaining: “Are we getting a grade for this?  I can’t read this upside down.”  Those students made it a lot harder for their groups to be successful.
  • It’s great when you have excellent classroom technology and space!  This year we got supplies for a “mobile classroom”: a projector and screen, along with 40 Chromebooks.  These supplies have made so much difference in how I do instruction!  Sometimes I set up the space in “coffeeshop chill vibe” mode, with lots of big comfy(ish) chairs and little tables.  For this class, the five tables worked perfectly.
  • Assessment!  The trivia game itself was an assessment, but I didn’t actually get any hard data from it.  If I do this type of game again, I want to think of a way to generate data (but without being clunky and interrupting the flow of the game).  I also collected the note sheets for each group.  I can definitely use those to assess what types of information and skills students found important, but since they’re for entire groups (and usually the designated note taker is highly motivated), it won’t necessarily be a reflection of the class as a whole.
  • Overall, success.  I think this activity surprised students, helped them learn skills to locate and use a variety of print and online library resources for background research, and positioned the library as a friendly, fun, welcoming place.