All posts by sbrandt

RIOT: December 12, 2016 – Teaching in the Learning Labs

The learning labs have been in use for three full semesters.  Since many of us have had a chance to teach in these spaces and with our new technology, we thought this would be a good time to discuss teaching in these spaces.

As a starting place for this discussion, our TLS GRA, Molly Roy found this article: http://commons.emich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1265&context=loexquarterly, which discusses the TPACK Framework and information literacy instruction.  We were interested in this article because it advocates for technology as a tool to support content learning and sound pedagogy.

As you prepare for this RIOT, here are a few questions to think about:

  1. Has the technology in the learning labs changed how you teach?  Has this been positive or negative for your teaching overall?
  2. What was your reaction to the TPACK framework discussed in the article and the suggested activity for planning classes with post-it notes?  Is this how you think about your classes?  Would it help to do so in the future?
  3. Are there particular learning outcomes that you feel you’ve been able to teach more effectively because of the technology in a learning lab?
  4. Sharing of tips and tricks you’ve learned after 18 months in the learning labs.

We can’t wait to chat about teaching in the labs and planning to effectively incorporate technology into library instruction!  See you 12/12 at 11 A.M. in Learning Lab 3.

RIOT Recap – Creating Effective Guides

Cindy led her final RIOT yesterday (bon voyage, Cindy!) on the topic of creating effective guides.  Here’s her initial blog post.  In light of our upcoming transition to LibGuides, this was a timely and necessary conversation for librarians at UTL.

Cindy started off the conversation by sharing some best practices of web design, many stemming from Using Guides to Enhance Library Services.  Cindy found chapter 6, about integrating teaching and learning into guides, especially helpful.  Using this chapter as a jumping-off point, Cindy began a conversation about the relationship between a design and learning.  Paying attention to things like the visual hierarchy of the guide, for example, can help the reader find what he or she is looking for.  Thinking about rest and focal areas, and using the hot spots (in an “F” pattern on the page) to emphasize important content can also be very effective.  Text is also an important consideration.  Using LibGuides advocates for cutting the amount of text you want to use on a guide in half, twice.  Cindy concurs.  Instead of text-heavy sections, use bullets, integrate bold and italic text, and add images to illustrate steps.  Also think about the appropriate tool for the task you’d like a guide to teach.  Guide on the side is really good for step-by-step or “clicky” tasks, while a video might be better for something conceptual.  At this point in the conversation, accessibility came up as another consideration, particularly when using color or media.  In short, this book (and Cindy), advocates for writing on the web that is concise, objective, and scannable, and to think about these as an instructional tool that requires not only good web design, but good instructional design too.  This is something to keep in mind as we transition to LibGuides.

When LibGuides came up, Cindy suggested that we work from a template (which we will) and that we think of guides as an extension of the library spaces.  We strive to provide consistent excellent service across library branches, and our guides should be no different.  They should provide consistently excellent and usable paths to our resources.  Since there will be no gatekeeper to posting guides, it is up to the guide creators to employ best practices and to seek out assistance if they need it.

As we talked a bit more about libguides, we came up with a few ways to make them into effective instructional objects.  Approaches included:

  1. embedding other kinds of tutorials, depending on learning outcomes, as mentioned above (Guide on the Side, Videos, etc).,
  2. using the tabs to help student progress through the steps of the assignment, with acknowledgement that they may have to repeat steps in iterative processes like topic selection, and
  3. using guides to funnel students to consultations and emails.

More training and information about the implementation of LibGuides will be forthcoming, but this was a great beginning to the conversation about making these guides as effective as possible.  In the meantime, please visit the Learning Technologies SharePoint site to see what other options you have for supporting teaching online.  

Thanks for such a great RIOT, Cindy!   

RIOT Recap – Feminist Pedagogy

Carolyn led a lively discussion at today’s RIOT based on her reading of Maria Accardi’s Feminist Pedagogy for Library Instruction and the Library Juice Academy course she attended, led by the author.  We were lucky to have perspectives from multiple disciplines in the room to discuss applying these principles to our teaching.  

 

From Accardi (as interpreted by Carolyn), feminist pedagogy is a pedagogy of social justice, which uses education as a vehicle for social change, ending oppression of women and people of color.  This pedagogy is applicable to any discipline, according to Accardi.  As a teacher, Accardi acknowledges and embraces the fact that she isn’t neutral and that she has “an agenda.”  

 

Carolyn opened the discussion by taking us through some of the things she learned from the book and the class.  First is that feminist pedagogy can be incorporated into teaching even when the teacher isn’t an expert.  Incorporating pieces of this ideology can be impactful and instructors should feel empowered to do that.  Second, this pedagogy, like critical pedagogy and constructivism is concerned with de-centering the classroom to privilege the students’ needs and perspectives and to create a participatory and egalitarian learning community.  Third, a feminist educator not only gives voice to, but privileges marginalized voices and ideas, even going so far as to interrupt the interrupter or silencing male students (this was the one we discussed most and had the most issues with – read on).  They also have a consciousness of social justice issues.  Finally, feminist educators care about their students.  

 

Though many of the teaching librarians in the UT Libraries do try to de-centralize their classrooms, some worried about faculty and student reactions to this type of lesson – a common critique of feminist and critical pedagogy.  Students and faculty sometimes do want a “sage on a stage” to tell them what to do.  Carolyn suggests talking to the faculty member in this situation about the theory behind this pedagogy and sharing why teaching this way is a better choice for a library instruction session (and will lead to better learning in general).  Accardi’s book also includes scenarios which allow instructors to see how some aspects of feminist pedagogy might fit into courses.  

 

Though the group seemed to embrace a de-centralized classroom, we did not as thoroughly embrace Accardi’s ideas of how to encourage and privilege marginalized voices.  As one member of the group put it, “how can you make an egalitarian learning environment when you ask half of the class [the men] to be quiet?”  None of us were very comfortable with this idea, though there was a variety of opinion based on discipline, but we did like the idea of shaking up the groups in the classroom and encouraging more students to talk in other ways.  Grouping by Starburst color, by numbering off, or by parts of an article were suggested.  some in the group talked about getting more nuanced and thoughtful answers when the groups were created this way because students stay on task more when not with their best friends in the class.  To increase the comfort of the students, someone also suggested having students pick a recorder and reporter at the beginning of an exercise, that way no one will be surprised to be asked to speak.  Even with these methods, students may not want to speak.  In the spirit of creating a caring environment, it was suggested that those students be allowed to pass.  See pages 50-52 of the book for a chart of connections between feminist pedagogy and what we do in the libraries.     

Finally, we talked about having an agenda as an instructor and librarian, which Accardi undoubtedly does.  Carolyn suggested these resources: Chris Bourg’s blogpost on agendas and librarianship, Agendas: Everyone Has One and the Black Queer Studies Collection project that Kristen Hogan put together to address gaps/silences in the collection development and cataloging practices here at UT Libraries.  In the classroom, though, what does this look like?  We had several suggestions, including using sample searches that have a social justice component and making sure to include multiple perspectives on issues even when no value judgement is made explicit.  Because of the large political spectrum in our classes, we did talk about the idea that proceeding gently when using sources that are challenging to students might be best.  They do need to be confronted with challenging information, but it might not be effective for librarians to press their own opinion.  This, of course, varies by discipline, but is worth considering for teaching or collections development.  

 

Overall, it seems that feminist pedagogy shares a lot of DNA with constructivist and critical pedagogy and parts of this philosophy spoke to us as librarians and teachers.  Thanks, Carolyn!

 

RIOT – Teaching Open Access in Instruction Sessions?

For the 12/15 RIOT:

I was really interested in this C&RL article (http://crln.acrl.org/content/76/10/530.full.pdf+html) about the efforts leading up to an Open Access policy at the University of Washington (thanks to Michele for sending it to me).  Of course, other schools have policies like this one, but not every school has had a push towards Open Access spearheaded by students.

Reading this article got me thinking about ways to raise awareness of the Open movement on campus, and particularly Open Access and OER topics.  I brought the topic to our Library Student Advisory Council meeting, but also wondered if these topics have a place in our library instruction classrooms.  The way I have occasionally fit OA into one-shots is by mentioning the expense and access restrictions that are characteristic of much scholarly literature, or by using materials like this video from PHD Comics.  Often, though, I don’t have time to fit this in.  I’ve never brought the concept of OERs into a one-shot.

So, RIOTers, do you talk about Open Access or OERs in your one-shots?  Is it our job as instruction librarians to talk about this?  If you do bring it up, how?  What background or context do you provide?  Have you had faculty request that you cover this topic?  How should we approach this topic differently for students at different levels?  Will it take student involvement to create an OA policy at UT?

RIOT Recap – GOOD COMPANY: HOW PEER TUTORS IN THE LIBRARY CAN REACH STUDENTS IN UNIQUE WAYS

The RIOT discussion on November 17, 2015 began with Elise’s excellent post about the ways academic libraries have tried to leverage their student workers as consultants for other undergraduate students.  This discussion broadened to include many topics related to student workers in the UT libraries.

We began the discussion by talking about the fears that surface when we consider letting undergraduate students provide research help as a part of our array of services.  Several concerns came up: the need for intensive training, the idea that this is librarian “turf,” and the question of what need we’d be meeting for our users.  We came up with a few possible solutions for the training piece of this discussion – first, as with the students who work in the media lab at PCL, training could be project-based.  For example, students could be given a research problem or question (maybe mined from actual queries on the desk) and be tasked with finding resources that meet the research need.  In this way, students would encounter problems and work through them organically, instead of sitting through long training sessions.  The second idea was to seek students with some kind of interest in library work or mentorship – this would lead to students who care about their job and would be more likely to work hard to get up-to-speed.  These students could be recommended by some of the centers on campus (the Multicultural Engagement Center – MEC is one possibility).  Finally, as a cohort of more experienced students is built, some of the training could be accomplished through student workers mentoring each other.

We also recognized that the domain of the specialized library consultation is for library staff.  Student workers are not mini-me librarians.  Instead, these students will provide guidance and help other undergraduates problem solve in their research (in the model of the student mentors at the UWC).  They may also be able to connect with students who would not have otherwise interacted with library staff.  Part of the idea behind this kind of peer mentoring is to facilitate student to student learning, which can be more powerful than staff to student learning.

When we discussed what need we’re addressing, many topics came to the surface, the most interesting of which was the idea that we’d be reaching a new crop of students.  Some students who would not feel comfortable asking a librarian for help may be able to consult with peers, plus as these student workers become recognizable across campus, they may be able to spread the fact that research help is available in the libraries.

Overall, we liked the idea of student mentors providing research help – it seems to have many potential benefits for undergraduates.  Plus these student mentors could also work at the checkout desk – with more responsibilities and training, maybe they would have additional investment in their jobs.  We also have two possible populations of students to draw from at UT – students already involved in the MEC and students who have served as mentors in UGS Signature Courses (these students already do some research help).  Finally, an idea that came out of this RIOT that we can act on in the coming semester is to have UWC consultants meet with librarians about their own projects so that they can: see the services we offer, assist students with basic research problems, and communicate about our services to students who visit the writing center.    

RIOT Recap – 9/22/2015

Roxanne’s RIOT post for 9/22/15, found here, centered on a few articles that advocate “modeling stupidity” for students, meaning that instructors make transparent difficult processes like research, as well as their own gaps in knowledge (along with how to fill them).

One of the best strategies that came out of this discussion is canning the canned search – as Roxanne put it, “we show a perfect search, then students feel badly when their searches aren’t perfect.”  The group generally agreed that this was an excellent strategy that gives students a better view of the research process, and the challenges researchers can sometimes encounter.  Though we liked this strategy, there were some issues with “modeling stupidity” (or curiosity, as some would rather term it) in a single instruction session:

Time constraints

The RIOT group didn’t come up with a good solution for this one.  It is true that showing a real, unpracticed search takes longer than one guaranteed to return results, but in a session with focused learning goals, it can work.  Michele suggested letting the students guide you – ask what would you do next, how can we get more/less results, what would you change here?  This way the time, though still significant, is active for the students and more realistic to what they’ll face when they actually search themselves.

Janelle also advocated for this approach with graduate students.  If you ask for a topic they’re interested in, the time spent in the session will be that much more useful for students, illustrates the iterative nature of search, and keeps students engaged as issues are encountered and worked through together.

The best strategy we identified for reducing the time crunch we feel in sessions, especially when trying a strategy like this one, is to ask the faculty member to help you “flip” your lesson.  If he or she can assign a topic exploration or keyword searching activity before the session, you may be able to create more of a “lab” in the classroom.  This would give you time to show real searches and to allow students to practice.

If you just don’t have the time or (potential) tolerance for chaos it takes for this strategy, Robyn suggested an excellent workaround – be explicit about the fact that you’re using a canned search and that’s why you know which results you’re going to see.  This can remind students that their searches might not be as lovely as yours right away – you already did the messy part in your office!  Pretend you’re on Food Network pulling the perfect cake you made earlier out of the oven!

Potential Cost to Authority or Expertise

Most professionals don’t like to feel or look like they don’t know what they’re doing.  “Modeling stupidity,” even if it is pedagogically useful, has the potential to make us appear less competent than we are.  Many of the RIOTers mentioned that they didn’t mind appearing approachable to students, who can be intimidated by expertise, but that they did want faculty to view them as experts.  This is a difficult line to walk.  

A few RIOTers mentioned that faculty with whom they have a relationship often legitimize their expertise by priming students before class (about why they’re coming to the library) and by introducing librarians as experts.  When working with faculty with whom there is no existing relationship though, a few of the participants again expressed using transparency around teaching methods to solve a problem.  Give the faculty member a “cheat sheet” of things to expect in the session, or talk to them about the ways that you’ll experiment in their class and why.  Revealing the method to your madness can have the dual benefit of making you more approachable to students and preserving your status as an expert with faculty members.  

Also, being able to work through a problem can actually reinforce your expertise with students and faculty – it just depends on the kind of expertise or authority you want to project.   

Here are some other strategies for “modeling stupidity” that came up during the course of our talk:

  • Show your database search history (or one of the student groups’ history – this is possible in the Learning Labs) to students after you’ve tried a few search strings – this can really illustrate how iterative research often is.  
  • Talk to faculty about reiterating what you’ve covered in the session, and about reinforcing that students won’t be experts after just one go at research.
  • If you have to say “I don’t know” to a question – model how you find out the answer!  After all, it helps for students to know that we’re all lifelong learners here.

Have you ever tried to model productive stupidity/creativity in one of your classes?  Let us know in the comments!

TLS TIP: Background Knowledge for the Win!

Captain Obvious says: “Students don’t come to us as blank slates.”  Though we know this as teachers, we don’t always plan ways to activate and connect students’ prior knowledge to whatever is being taught.  I’m often guilty of this because I have so much to get through in a session.  After learning more about the utility of activating students’ background knowledge, though, it is something I’ll be making more time for in the future.  

If you are also interested in this topic, I recommend picking up a copy of How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (print/ebook), which illuminates what happens in students’ brains during class.  Each chapter is an expanded literature review, summarizing and explaining the research on various aspects of learning, and offering concrete ideas for putting this research into action.  For this TLS tip, Chapter 1: “How Does Students’ Prior Knowledge Affect Their Learning?” will be my focus.  This chapter highlights the importance of connecting content to students’ existing knowledge, and argues that this is an effective way to increase their retention and attention.  Though activating background knowledge can come with issues (such as incorrect or insufficient knowledge), the authors of this book make a strong case that this can and should be a part of good pedagogical practice and that these issues can be ameliorated through good planning.  

The authors deal with this topic deeply, but I was particularly interested in the idea of what they called “elaborative interrogation,” or “asking students questions specifically designed to trigger recall” (16-17) studied by Woloshyn, Paivio, and Pressley (available here).  This strategy, asking students not only to remember something, but to engage with the information, increased retention, and could easily be applied to information literacy instruction.  By bringing in a variety of research, Ambrose et al. were able to convincingly argue that teachers need to engage with students’ prior knowledge so that we can help them recall information more effectively, and understand what level they’re at when we meet them.     

Activating background knowledge is an important consideration when we think of our students’ learning, but how do we go about doing this in our new learning labs?  I think there are two times ripe for turning students’ minds to what they might already know about a subject – before you meet with them and during your session, and I have a few strategies for each situation.  These strategies were informed by How Learning Works.  

Before class:

It isn’t always possible, but if you’re lucky enough to have students do some kind of prep for the session, this can be a great time to encourage students to activate background knowledge!  Think about asking students to:

  • Write a paragraph (or list) on what they already know about a given subject.  If they submit it beforehand, you’ll have an idea of the concepts you still need to target during your session.    
  • Brainstorm what they know, and where they see gaps in their knowledge.  This can have the added benefit of drawing the student’s attention to the idea that he or she has something to learn, and again can allow you to target your session more effectively.     

During class:

  • If you’ve had students do anything beforehand, this is a good time to lead a discussion about it, remember the concept of “elaborative interrogation” discussed above – think about what questions would draw out knowledge and connect it to class concepts.
  • Have students brainstorm what they know about a topic – use the whiteboards or individual flat panels in our new space.  You can ask students to respond to a set of specific questions or to a more general prompt like “tell me what you know about…”  
    • I have had good results doing carousels, in which students move around the room in groups, answering questions on individual whiteboards.  As students circulate around the room and answer each question, they add to the answers the previous groups have given.  If you don’t want that much movement, groups can work together on each question at one whiteboard.  For evaluation of sources, the questions could be something like: 1. What clues indicate to you that a website is a trustworthy source of information?  2. What clues indicate to you that a website is not a trustworthy source of information?  3. What do you think your professors mean when they ask you to use quality sources of information?  4. What does the term “scholarly Source” mean to you?
    • This exercise could be done on any concept.
    • After students have finished circulating, you, the instructor have an opportunity to fill in gaps, correct misconceptions, etc, but often the students can, as a group, come up with many of the points themselves.                
  • Have students draw a concept map, beginning with what they know on a topic, and adding more items as they learn, either from research or from discussion.  This can be done in a group, on whiteboards (again, for a topic like evaluation) or on paper either in groups or alone.  Connecting new knowledge to what students already know should help them retain anything new they’re gaining.  This strategy is a great way to get the conversation going and to activate background knowledge in a consultation as well.

What strategies do you use to access what students already know?Please feel free to share in the comments!

Resources for further reading:

Ambrose, Susan A., et. al. How Learning Works : Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. Hoboken: Wiley, 2010.

Woloshyn, Vera E., Allan Paivio, and Michael Pressley. “Use Of   Elaborative Interrogation To Help Students Acquire Information Consistent With Prior Knowledge And Information Inconsistent With Prior Knowledge.” Journal Of Educational Psychology 86.1 (1994): 79-89.