TLS Tips: Building an Arsenal of Active Learning Activities (and alliteration)

A few weeks ago,  about 30 staff from across the UT Libraries got together to give TLS input to help us plan the classroom teaching series.  This is a series of workshops to be held this spring and next fall to support people as classroom teachers in all types of classrooms, from the traditional auditorium classroom to the technology-rich active learning classrooms we are planning for the Learning Commons.  The common theme of the input was active learning.  In fact, our first workshop on March 10 from 1-2pm will be about getting started with active learning for people new to it and those who want a refresher.   If you are interested, you can RSVP here and also see and RSVP for other workshops planned for the spring.

I thought I would get the conversation started by asking you to share what you do and sharing something I am doing.   First, you!   Please take a moment to fill out this GoogleForm with something you do in class that you think works well.  If you want to share more than one thing, fill it out multiple times.  I’ll compile the results and share them so we can begin to build a bank of activities we can all use.  Since most of what we do in TLS is focused on the non-major freshman, it would be especially fantastic to get examples of what you like to do with your majors and your upper division students.  So, let me just thank you in advance for sharing!

Ok, now me.  Today I had a class of freshmen who had to use 10-12 peer-reviewed articles for their research paper.  Although they’ve read a few for their course this semester, they didn’t know it and hadn’t discussed what one is and why people write and read them.  I decided to  start out with an activity where they would discover for themselves what a peer-reviewed article is and why all their professors want them to read them.  That would inform everything else in the class from brainstorming keywords to choosing a database and searching.  Here was my plan:

-          Select one popular and one scholarly source on the same topic and link them from the SubjectsPlus course guide as Article 1 and Article 2.  (It would also be great to find a scholarly article and then a popular one reporting about the scholarly article, but that didn’t work out for this class topic.)

-          Break the students into groups and ask them to review both articles and answer a series of questions.  You could do this in a GoogleForm or give them these questions in paper. Give them about 15-20 minutes to do this.

-          Have groups report out and use what they say to facilitate a conversation about the differences between scholarly and popular sources and when you might want to use one or the other.  As you take notes on what they say on a white board or a document on your computer, you could build a popular versus scholarly grid.

Due to the power outage causing us to get a late start, I wasn’t able to do this full exercise as planned  but I did have them look at the scholarly article and, as a group, we figured out the characteristics together and I wrote them on the board.  This worked pretty well and one girl even took a picture of the board.   That never happens and it made me really happy.

I hope you will take a moment to share what you do or try out the above exercise in full and let me know how it went.

TLS Tips: Designing Meaningful Archives-based Assignments

Some of us are lucky to work with faculty or staff who incorporate our campus’s fantastic special collections into their work. And some of us wish our students worked with these collections more and wonder what we can do to encourage curiosity for these one of a kind objects. Seeking a richer dialog surrounding archives and special collections based assignments for undergraduates, I co-developed, with a then-lecturer in English, a half-day workshop for faculty in spring 2014. Too often archive and special collection based assignments result in tours or show and tell affairs. As librarians and archivists, we recognize that archives offer rich possibilities for undergraduate teaching and learning and want to encourage faculty using archives in their classes to create meaningful assignments that support course objectives.

My involvement in this conversation came about because of the Gem requirement for UGS classes. We in TLS and other librarians with whom we collaborate wanted to find a way to link the information literacy requirement with the Gem requirement. As a preliminary step, I sought out partnerships across campus to learn more about what a fruitful engagement with an archive or special collection can look like. This included joining a campus-wide archives working group (co-chaired by T-Kay) and building deeper partnerships with campus archives and special collections in order to facilitate the exchange of ideas surrounding this topic.  All across campus and disciplines, I found individuals who were excited about getting undergraduates in the archives.

The resulting workshop was designed for faculty wishing to integrate the use of archives and special collections into their undergraduate courses either in a short term manner or in a semester long engagement. We communicated useful information about how faculty can work with archivists and librarians on archives-based assignments and projects, the logistics and preparation required for bringing students into archives, working with archivists and incorporating their expertise into the engagement, and integrating the use of digital archives into the classroom. We also shared examples of archives-based assignments that could be adapted into their courses.

There is still so much work to be done around this topic! I’m excited to be presenting at ACRL this spring, in poster format, some of the work I did. I hope to meet people from other institutions who have thought creatively about this issue.

Here is the guide we made for faculty attending the workshop. Would you guys like to see this workshop adapted for librarians? What would you like to know? What would you like to share? Email me!

TIS Sandbox: Guide on the Side

A brainchild of Technology Integration Services (TIS)’s Jennifer Hecker, the experimental spirit of the online Sandbox has been brought to life by providing a time and place for their staff to meet and test out new technologies. Rather than a structured training session, an in-person Sandbox is an opportunity for all attendees to hang out and geek out while messing around with new tech. In last Friday’s TIS Sandbox, the department allowed Cindy Fisher and me (Grace Atkins, TLS GRA) to host a Sandbox for experimenting with Guide on the Side tutorial building software.

What is Guide on the Side?
It’s a software created by the University of Arizona Libraries that allows you to place a frame over almost any webpage or database. The frame is located on the side of the screen and contains a click through tutorial and/or quiz that guides the user through read-then-do activities. Guide on the Side tutorials can be created quickly and shared easily. These tutorials can provide librarians with another option for teaching users how to approach research and navigate complex databases. Guide on the Side or GotS has the potential to replace and/or reinforce step­by­step demonstrations, online video tutorials, or static text­based webpages.

How did the GotS Sandbox work?
Last Friday’s TIS Sandbox attendees extended beyond the TIS department to include librarians who instruct users about how to research (the RIOT and Lib-Instr mailing lists). We had 12 participants including subject specialists, reference librarians, instruction librarians, and TIS members. The Sandbox consisted of introductions, a brief presentation with background information on Guide on the Side and examples of tutorials made by other libraries, account creation for all participants, free time to create tutorials individually and as a group, and a short feedback session as a conclusion.

What did we learn about GotS after experimenting with it during the Sandbox?
Like all technology, there is a learning curve, but not a very steep one—everyone was able to create a tutorial during our session without having ever used the software before. We tested GotS on mobile devices, tablets, and laptops, where it seemed to function well across the board. We discovered that GotS doesn’t necessarily play nice with all databases and websites, and Aaron Choate explained how sites like Google are deliberately designed to not play nice with webframes. We discussed how read-then-do learners would enjoy the tutorials whereas other users may find the tutorials to be akin to annoying popups. Participants raised big questions about customization and curation: Could all tutorials automatically feature a UT Libraries logo? Where would the published tutorials live?

So what happens now with Guide on the Side?
The Sandbox experience was extremely helpful to Cindy and me as we move forward with exploring GotS as an option for UT-Libraries. As a GRA in my final semester at the iSchool, working with GotS is part of my capstone project, “Implementing Teaching Technology at UT Libraries.” If GotS proves to be a useful tool for UT librarians, Cindy, our Learning Technologies Librarian, will ensure its sustainability beyond the completion of my capstone project. Based on the enthusiasm we experienced in the Sandbox, you can expect a more structured training session for interested librarians this semester!

All in all, the TIS Sandbox was a fun, non-frustrating, collaborative way to try out new tech. A big thank you to TIS and I hope to see more Sandboxes in the future!

Would you like to try out Guide on the Side? Send me an email request at and I’ll set you up with a free account. Check out these links to get started!

GotS Sandbox Resources
University of Arizona help pages:
• Creators Guide (help):
• Style Guide (best practices):

GotS made by other libraries that we looked at during the Sandbox:

Individual account access
To login to your GotS account:

TLS TIPS: Invite a GRA to Observe Your Teaching

As the TLS GRA, I’ve spent the fall semester co-teaching UGS courses with everyone in the TLS department. The insight I’ve gained from observing and practicing different teaching styles and techniques has been invaluable. For this TLS Tip, I suggest that librarians who teach offer observational opportunities to other GRAs working in the libraries. Having a GRA observe your teaching can benefit both the GRA and yourself.

Most library jobs in Research and Instruction Services require a certain amount of teaching, but it’s difficult for new grads to make the leap from instruction theories learned in class to practical application. As one new librarian phrased it, “understanding pedagogical principles is one thing, applying them in front of thirty intimidating freshmen is quite another.”[1] For students in library school, opportunities to actively observe library instruction sessions are difficult to come by.

When approached using PROT methodology, having a GRA observe your teaching can benefit you as an instructor. Peer Review of Teaching involves having a short meeting before the classroom observation to communicate your learning outcomes, and then having a debrief meeting after the classroom observation to discuss how those learning outcomes were reached.[2] Having these dialogues with a GRA during planning and assessment can provide you with a fresh perspective and insight on your tried-and-true teaching methods.

To ensure that the GRA takes an active role in this observational process, I recommend providing your GRA with some points for him or her to focus on during observation that you can later discuss during your post-teaching meeting. Examples from Mentoring in Librarianship include:

  • A recounting of what took place, a simple observation
  • Which teaching proficiencies is the librarian is adept or excels at?
  • How is the teaching reflective of your beliefs about librarianship and teaching, and where, if at all, does it conflict?
  • Where in the session did students seem engaged, and to what does the GRA attribute their interest?
  • Did the GRA observe any activities he or she would like to recreate in his or her own teaching? Why?[3]

Remember that the purpose isn’t to evaluate your teaching, but to have a formative discussion about how and why you teach the way you do. My mentors and I have had many beneficial post-teaching discussions and it would be great for more GRAs to have that experience.

Enjoy the new semester!

[1] Aldridge, Emily Rae. “What they didn’t tell me in library school is that my colleagues would be my biggest asset.” from “What They Didn’t Tell Me (or what I didn’t hear) in Library School: Perspectives from New Library Instruction Professionals.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 52, no. 1 (2012) 28-29.
[2] Alabi, Jaena, and Weare, William H. “The Power of Observation: How Librarians can Benefit from the Peer Review of Teaching Even Without a Formal PROT Program” (presentation, Georgia International Conference on Information Literacy, Savannah, 23 Aug 2013).
[3] Smallwood, Carol and Tolley-Stokes, Rebecca.Mentoring in Librarianship: Essays on Working with Adults and Students to Further the Profession (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2011) 210.

Our Partnership with the School of Undergraduate Studies

We have been working closely with the School of Undergraduate Studies (UGS) since it was formed in 2006 and I frequently get questions about our involvement and collaborations.  So I decided to blog about it and hope it will be useful to people interested in the information literacy work we are doing in the core curriculum here at UT.

About the Signature Courses:

UGS offers over 200 Signature Courses each year.  Knowing a little about the Signature Courses is essential to understanding our involvement:

  • Signature Courses are required of every student in their first year at UT.
  • These academically rigorous courses are designed to help students transform from excellent high school students to excellent college students.  Each course has 7 required elements – one of which is information literacy – selected to ensure that students learn how to write, discuss, present and find, evaluate and use information.
  • Distinguished faculty from every discipline across campus teach in this program.  If they are interested, they propose a course which may or may not be accepted by UGS.
  • Courses labelled UGS 302 and TC 302 are small format and capped at 18; courses labelled UGS 303 are large format and can be anywhere from 25 to 300.  The large format classes have discussion sections that meet weekly and are run by specially trained TAs.


When we learned that the undergraduate curriculum was being reformed, we began our quest to integrate information literacy into that curriculum.  We spoke with members of the Faculty Senate working on curricular reform as well as influential faculty on campus who supported our goals.  When the inaugural Dean of Undergraduate Studies was appointed, we also approached him and were successful.  We established program-level learning outcomes based on the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards.

Our Program

Our goal is to integrate our program-level learning outcomes into each Signature Course in a way that support the goals of the particular course, and to assess our work to ensure students are learning.  To achieve our goals, we reach out individually to every faculty member teaching a UGS course.  We offer assignment design and course consultations to help faculty incorporate information literacy into their courses; instruction sessions tied to research assignments; tailored research guides; assignments and exercises; tutorials; and training of TAs to teach information literacy skills during discussion sections.   In addition, we work with the UGS’ Sanger Learning Center to support the TAs directly, visiting their learning community cohort meetings to talk about how to teach information literacy skills to freshmen.

We also maintain and develop an Information Literacy Toolkit.  Faculty may browse it to find learning objects they can use as is or adapt to their course on their own or with our help.  It also includes examples of how other faculty have incorporated information literacy into their Signature Courses.

We offer an annual information literacy award to students enrolled in Signature Courses.  While most students are nominated by their faculty, students are also allowed to self-nominate.

Our assessment plan outlines our approach in the Signature Courses, which includes pre and post-testing large numbers of students and assessing individual student work.

Other UGS Programs

In addition to working with the Signature Courses, we are involved with UGS in other ways.

One of our larger programs is with the First-year Interest Group program, or FIGs.  We train all of the FIG mentors (upper division students who lead the interest groups) to lead a game-based program to teach their students what plagiarism is and strategies for avoiding it.  You can read more about our plagiarism prevention approaches here.

We work closely with the Sanger Center in UGS on UGS TA support, but also partner with them to offer workshops in the Libraries on a variety of topics ranging from career exploration to public speaking.  We partner with the Writing Flag Coordinator to teach workshops about teaching writing since it so often overlaps with teaching research.  We support the Honors Colloquium each summer, promote Freshman Reading Round Up and work with the Office of Undergraduate Research.  We are always looking for ways to expand our partnerships.




Discussion: Alignment of Research and Instruction

We met to discuss April’s post about the article, “Reinventing the Library’s Message through the Alignment of Research and Instruction,” a project by librarians at the Vanderbilt University graduate school of business.  The project described in this article included the librarians choosing 3 broad objectives they thought all of their students should understand and that they could all commit to teaching, using similar language.  Our conversation revolved around two of those three objectives: information has value and research is a process.

Information has value:  The group discussed when and how we talk about the value of information, including the price tag associated with it, and that this resonates with students outside of business schools as well.  Krystal gave the example of how she uses this concept in UGS classes.  Before discussing databases, they discuss how and why you can’t get everything for free on the Internet, which sets the stage for understanding that different information lives in different places and helps students decide where to search.  Others talk about the actual cost of certain databases in their classes to show the value of this information.

Research is a process:     The group spent the majority of time talking about this objective.  We know that students don’t think like librarians, but we also think it is important to teach them that research is a process, that the more you practice the better you’ll become and that we, as librarians, are able to reflexively do some of these things and think in certain ways because of practice.  We should teach students to think differently about the research process so they can improve.

One of the ways people teach the process is to start by asking students “who cares?”  This helps them decide who would collect or create the data/information so they know where to begin looking for it.  There were numerous examples of how people incorporate this into a class, such as Laura’s Art History example.  She asks students to consider who would care about a piece of artwork besides art historians.  It helps them move beyond their discipline and understand that “art doesn’t live in a vacuum.”  Kristen frames it as a “reflective research process” where students are asked to consider who is talking about the topic and map it to databases and research guides before starting their searches.

The group also talked about how there is some resistance from students because just using Google and simple searches has worked for them.  They look at librarians as unnecessarily complicating things.  This led to a discussion of how students don’t really understand what a college or university is and what faculty and librarians do. Instead they see college as a place to get a degree so they can graduate and get a job.  Faculty and librarians, however, are trying to teach critical thinking skills which are what will help students succeed in work and in life.  We discussed ways we can explain what college is and what a research university is so they can understand why they are asked to go beyond what worked in high school and how their work fits in with the mission of a university.  This ties in with understanding and evaluating scholarly sources, and we had our usual discussion about how difficult it is to teach them source evaluation.

We ended with a discussion about alternative ways to show our value and our learning objectives to our students.  We agreed that some of the information literacy threshold concepts apply here, such as authority is contextual, information has value and research as inquiry (research as a process).  One idea was to make posters/infographics showing our objectives and the value of what we have.  This is something we may explore further in the spring.


TLS Tips: Teaching With Technology Resources

A little less than a year ago, I stepped into the role of Learning Technologies Librarian, and with a lot ground to cover, I’m still working out the best way of sharing information and resources about teaching with technology. The TLS Tips posts seem to be a perfect opportunity, but there’s also the issue of how to choose just one idea, topic, or tool when we are surrounded by technology.  What tools, practices, and pedagogy is most effective when integrating technology into instruction? Thankfully I don’t have to reinvent the wheel since there are countless organizations, committees, and sites already doing great work to collect this information.
Organizations like Educause’s ELI publish helpful series that note emerging technology trends, like 7 Things You Should Know About.  These summaries of tools also provide scenarios and classroom context. The latest is on VR (Virtual Reality) Headsets, such as the Oculus Rift.
The ACRL- Instructional Technologies Committee’s publishes Tips and Trends each quarter that evaluates multiple tools, with an excellent bibliography for follow-up. The last few were about Online Presentation tools and Flipped Classroom resources.
Increasingly in Twitter feeds, conference presentations, and blog posts, I see crossover between learning technologies and digital humanities tools. The fantastic ACRL DH+Lib blog curates resources, opportunities, and registry  of other college and universities offering digital humanities and digital scholarship services which can be used for finding pedagogical contexts for digital humanities projects.
Lastly, this past July a group of UT librarians attended the Teaching with Technology workshop that I developed after a month long online/blended Immersion program of the same name. Even if you couldn’t attend, I’ve published online resource summarizing some of the resources and tools that we discussed, which lists some helpful desktop and browser-based tools, as well as tips, and further reading.  In the coming year, I’m looking forward to working on a host of learning technologies projects. Please take a look and let me know if there’s something here that you’d like to discuss that I haven’t considered.

RIOT: Alignment of Research and Instruction

Reinventing the Library’s Message Through the Alignment of Research and Instruction

Huber, R. (2013). Reinventing the library’s message through the alignment of research and instruction. Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, 18(3), 233-250.

Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management Walker Management Library serves primarily the graduate business school community. This article is about how they set new goals to increase the library’s impact on the school and specifically on the students by changing their information literacy approach to be consistent in teaching in the classroom, via email, and in person consultations. Using more consistent language and using the same methods in and out of the classroom, they found that students gained a better understanding of the concepts and skills they needed for research.

To better align their message to promote the library’s mission. They came up with what they call three goals, but I think of these are more learning objectives. I’ve summarized them below and their actual goals are in quotes:

  • Information has a value
    “Information is Big Business: over $495B was spent in 2011 according to the Business Information Industry Association on the purchase of reports, studies, articles, and so on”
  • Research is a process
    “Using critical thinking skills, there is a patterned way to begin your research even when you don’t know where or how to start”
  • Copyright is a law
    “Information that is not “common knowledge” belongs to the creator. This is called Intellectual Property and is governed by copyright, Fair Use, and plagiarism laws”

The librarians teaching in the classroom changed teaching styles/methods moved from lecture and PowerPoint to a more interactive approach. The majority of us in RIOT have been fortunate enough to attend Immersion and are already doing this. In the article they site a 2004 study from the Journal of Psychology that shows students retain more information when it is presented in a less formal way and using informal language. This got me thinking about my in-person consultations and how we sit in a small group and discuss their research strategy and go from there. In the classroom I start with a group exercise and then spend the last half of class working with the small groups and suggesting resources but we don’t have as much time to discuss process.

The process piece of this really resonates with me. It goes to teaching concepts over tools. Getting students to think about what info they need and where to find it. Walker Library found that their students often don’t ask the right questions or ask questions that can’t be answered. Their librarians help the students reframe their “business problem” to match with resources available. For example, if they want city information but the census collects the data at the national level, helping them understand that this national information is useful to their research. We are teaching them how to consider the data available and use it to their advantage. The process that Walker uses is the same one I was taught in Business Research class, first question to ask is “Who Cares?” – Who would care enough to collect this data? That often points the user in the direction of an organization, agency, or association. This could be taken broader to ask would this be covered in national news, local news, or academic papers.

Teaching the process really means we have to realize that students don’t think like us (yet). The article points out that students are happy with Google and it does a great job for them. Students see us making searching, something they do successfully every day, more complicated. “Librarians who consider themselves to be experienced searchers understand that, over time, finding information on a previously unknown topic gets easier. Their brain builds the equivalent of a circuit board full of patterns to help them know where and how to look for information.” (240). We have do a better job explaining how we approach the problem, why we use the tools we do, sharing our information strategy so students can learn the process.

Questions for us to consider:

  1. How are you currently teaching concepts/process over tools?
  2. Do you explain why you use one tool over another, is that part of the process?
  3. How can we bring the information consult success to the classroom?
  4. Could we develop a set of similar goals that would be broad enough for all of us?
  5. Could we streamline language for consistency?

TLS Tips: Reflection as Assessment

At the end of the semester, I recommend scheduling time to reflect and perform a self-assessment of your teaching throughout the fall. If you incorporated any in-class assessments into your practice this fall, now is the perfect time to sit down with all the data you collected and look for patterns. Even if you didn’t get a chance to do any formal assessment, think about your high points in the classroom and the challenges you encountered. Ask yourself some questions.

Can you trace any identified patterns to something specific you did or didn’t do as part of your practice this semester? How do you think your particular successes and failures affected student learning? Most importantly, try to think of a concrete change you can implement next semester to try and address the challenges you faced this fall.

Don’t dwell on what went poorly, but use what you learn through your self-assessment to set goals for the next semester. You may want to take a moment to write down your reflections and goals to make them feel more concrete. Revisit them at the end of the semester, and see if you made any progress.

An example from my fall:

At the beginning of the semester, I tried to incorporate a simple “End of Class Questions” form into my instruction sessions by including a link in the Course Guide and setting aside time at the end of class for students to answer the questions. While I didn’t do a good job of prioritizing this exercise as I became busier, the few results I did get line up with my own reflections. While overall satisfied, students in one class suggested having the class search for something specific to make the session more interesting. I agree! In that particular class, students hadn’t yet been given their assignment when they met with me. Reflecting on my semester as a whole, I realized that several of my challenges (students who didn’t know their assignments or why they were at the library, poorly timed instruction sessions, etc.) could be traced back to a lack of strong, clear communication with the faculty members or TAs I was planning with.

In the future, I will build more time into my planning process to ensure that instruction sessions are scheduled at the point of need. Neglecting to do so likely results in lesser student learning through a failure to tie research concepts to immediate student interests (such as getting a good grade on an upcoming assignment). Next semester I will also try to focus on fewer learning outcomes so that I have time for quick assessments during sessions.

What did you learn through self-assessment?

RIOT: Global Literacy

Stevens, Christy R., and Patricia J. Campbell. “Collaborating to connect global citizenship, information literacy, and lifelong learning in the global studies classroom.” Reference Services Review 34, no. 4 (November 2006): 536-556.Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed December 1, 2014).

The International Relations Global Studies Program (IRG) at UT began in 2009. It is an interdisciplinary major that draws students primarly from Government, Economics, Sociology, Area Studies and Languages. Since the 2nd semester of the program I have been working with the 3 lead instructors in IRG primarily through their Junior year Capstone program. I’ve provided library information sessions related to their Capstone thesis. I’ve found the students in these classes to be very motivated and knowledgable about their topics.

In searching the professional literature about topics related to global studies, I came across the concept of Global Literacy. In our RIOT discussions, we’ve talked about media literacy, visual literacy and of course, Information Literacy. I wondered if these ideas differed much from this concept of Global Literacy and I found this article that describes some ideas and concepts for librarian-faculty partnerships to develop skills for global citizenship.

This article looks critically at the concepts of lifelong learning, information literacy and global citizenships (terms that are used extensively throughout academia) and shows how they are interdependent by using theories of social capital. Essentially taking the desired competencies of Information Literacy and applying them to a larger global context.

This article describes, in great detail, a series of assignments designed to build these globally aware, communitarian competencies. Principally the assignments dealt with the examination of specific resource conflict from a varity of perspectives from interested parties and the way individuals and institutions influence or are affected by the conflict.

Some topics I’d like to discuss.

To the instructors who have worked on classes that dealt with international topics, have you approached these classes differently? Have you thought about this idea of global literacy?

When teaching students about evaluating information to determine authority, bias etc. do we need to think differently when discussing international topics?