Category Archives: Active Learning

Active Learning in the Large Classroom…really?

I think the gold-standard these days for large lecture hall active learning are clickers. I’ve never taught a clicker class. I think clickers are what live studio audiences use to vote for America’s Funniest Home Videos. It’s also the word that old people use for remote controls. My family called the remote control, ‘the box’.
In a TLS Tip from last year, I investigated some mind mapping tools and began using them in the classroom for search strategy brainstorming in group and class discussions. Because of its ease of use and the fact that it does not require an account, I chose Padlet for my in-session activities. This tool is one recommended in this article by a nursing librarian struggling with meaningful active learning in large classrooms. In addition to clicker-based questions, she used Padlet to display to the whole class groups’ answers to librarian-created questions based upon a module the students completed before class. She was then able to use the students’ answers to identify gaps in knowledge and skill and clarify those points face-to-face.
I appreciated the author’s candid assessment of how this engagement went – not perfectly! Students needed more instruction than expected on how to use the tool, it was difficult to manage for a large class with so many groups, and in her lecture hall, only one screen could be shown at a time, thereby requiring her to switch from the Padlet to the Powerpoint awkwardly (would go smoother in our 80 person Lab 1A/B). The goals she had for the class required that she employ a flipped-classroom approach with supporting materials delivered via a module ahead of time. This required a bit of faculty buy-in.
In much of the literature, it seems, the flipped classroom approach to large lecture hall classes is often suggested as it allows faculty and librarian instructors to incorporate active learning into class time. Students watch or complete modules ahead of time and then come to class prepared to participate in discussion (usually classroom response systems (CRS)). In the absence of clickers, one could use polling software. Google Forms, for example, allows students to respond to questions and see the class’s responses in real time.
One shortcoming for clicker and polling questions is that typically, one must use multiple choice questions (mcq). Mcqs often result in unengaged students guessing randomly, resulting in the instructor taking valuable class time to clarify points. Mcqs, furthermore, can cue students to the correct answer. Information literacy is problem solving, it’s using logic – skills difficult to reinforce in mcqs. I do think that clickers and polling can be used to make students feel more comfortable in the classroom. Anonymous responses to polls often relax students when they see others responding similarly. One study I found in this book reported that in a comparison of classes that used clickers vs. those that did not, students using clickers outperformed those who did not in post-assessment (Holdereid, 117)
The authors of this article used CRS to gauge students understanding of concepts such as primary sources or characteristics of popular vs. scholarly sources. I can see these types of questions being good jumping off points for lecture or presentation and have used polling technologies in the classroom for this purpose – assessing what students already know so that I can tailor the discussion.
I guess what I learned from this investigation is that, in some small ways, you might be able to treat the large classroom like the small: pursue flipped classroom approaches, assess existing student knowledge with CRS or polling software, and, if the conditions are right, try collaborative learning on Padlet or a Google Doc.
What approaches do you take in large classrooms? Do you use clickers? Do you feel like the questions are getting at what you want to know? Are you able to engage students or do you feel like it’s more show and tell? Do you feel like you get more or less buy in from faculty in large classroom scenarios?

Deleo, Patricia A., Susan Eichenholtz, and Adrienne Andi Sosin. “Bridging the Information Literacy Gap with Clickers.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 35.5 (2009): 438-44.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2009.06.004

Holdereid, Anthony C. “Instructional Design for the Active: Employing Interactive Technologies and Active Learning Exercises to Enhance Information Literacy.” Information and Data Literacy: The Role of the Library. Apple Academic, 2016. 111-25.

Rodriguez, Julia E. “A massively flipped class.” Reference Services Review 44.1 (2016): 4-20. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/RSR-07-2015-0033

 

 

TLS TIP: Taking a Teaching Leap

It seems that every second of the last month has been spent working through technical and logistical issues in the Learning Labs and as a result, I confess I often forgot why they seemed like a good idea in the first place.   This week Shiela and I worked with a UGS class where the professor gave us full license to “take the Learning Lab for a spin,” as he said. And we did. And then I remembered why we built them to begin with.

Constructivism and active learning – we talk about these things quite a bit.  We try to employ a combination of learning by discovery and guided learning into our classes, and to recognize what knowledge our students already bring into the classroom and build upon that.   We try not to lecture or talk for too long at any stretch.  We try to assess along the way with Q&A and do quick assessments at the end with a 3-2-1 or muddiest point.   I’ve always felt that I was doing a pretty decent job of teaching students what I wanted them to learn in our old classrooms.

But in the class this week in a Learning Lab, I learned so much about how our students are (or are not) learning what we are trying to teach them.  We were able to address the learning gaps right there in the class. It was messy, sometimes uncomfortable but also really fun and energizing – just like learning is supposed to be!

If anyone wants to see our whole class outline, I’m happy to share it but I want to focus on one part.   Students needed to know how to find scholarly articles, which means they needed to be able to use our databases, including some tricky Classics ones.  One of the exercises we did that took up the bulk of class time was to give each group a database, have them figure it out and teach it to the rest of the class.  We handed out this exercise (below) and had each group collaborate around a different flat panel.  Then as each group was teaching their database to the rest of the class, we sent that group’s flat panel around to all of them.

We saw them struggling with all of the databases, not just the  Classics databases.  Even JSTOR which seems like an easy one, was difficult.  As they taught the rest of the class, Shiela, the professor and I were able to ask them clarifying questions and clear up misconceptions.  They presented what they were confident they knew but they were often a little (or a lot) off the mark and we were able to address that right there.  It made me wonder what misconceptions every other student I’ve taught still carries around with them.

The down side – we covered a lot less ground.  The up side – they seemed to learn it better.  I’ll be getting copies of their assignments for further assessment but I left that session feeling inspired!

Before sharing my thoughts with the professor, I asked him what he thought, and here is what he had to say.

“I thought it was fantastically successful, although of course the real proof will be in their preliminary bibliographies for the research paper… I really liked the group component, and I thought that having them explain the databases to each other was a great strategy. And having seen those screens work in practice, I’m completely convinced.

… my general impression was that this format was far more effective than our previous versions — not that those weren’t great too, but there’s something about working through a particular problem and sharing the results that makes the databases and the process more concrete to everyone.”

So there you have it.  If anyone else has already tried something new in the Learning Labs, please let me know or share in the comments.

DATABASES ACTIVITY

Use your assigned database to find a source that you would use for this assignment.  Be prepared to teach this database to your fellow-students by demonstrating a search and telling them the answers to the following questions.

  1. What database are you using? What is it good for/what would you find in it?
  1. Show a search. If possible, show or explain how you’d find the full text of the article.
  1. What tips or suggestions do you have for using this database?

 

TLS TIP: Stray observations/tips on using our new Learning Labs

I will start by saying that so far, I LOVE teaching in the new Learning Labs. I was a bit apprehensive coming into the semester without much time to practice using the new technology (I have, at times, been accused of over-preparing) but my first few sessions pretty much got me past that fear. I’m working on transitioning a lot of my old session outlines into more interactive, student-centered formats, but admittedly, I have a way to go.  Since we’re all busy at this time of the year, I’ll make this post short and sweet and share a few stray observations and suggestions I have in regards to our Learning Labs

1) Use the group structure to your advantage

As admitted above, I haven’t yet infused active learning into my teaching as thoroughly as I’d like to. Despite this, I’ve still noticed that the students seem much more relaxed sitting down at group tables with their own devices (as an aside, I’ve started asking faculty members to have their students bring them, and placing a laptop cart in the room for anyone who forgot) than they did in rows with immoveable laptops. When I ask them to work in a group, they seem primed to do so. I’ve also observed that having them do group work activities, like coming up with evaluation criteria by looking at a website, that make use of on the closest flat screen tends to help with engagement. Whereas previously, students would often default to looking at their own computer and have to be prodded to talk in a small group, the shared space and technology seems to invite discussion. Directing students complete tasks as a small group, then report back to the big group, is a fairly easy entree into using the student-controlled screen capability. I recommend trying it out!

2) Minimize distraction

Grace and I co-taught a class in Learning Lab 2, and set the room up so that the instructor laptop connected to the overhead projector, and individual student groups connected to the flatscreens. This was great during group work, but I found myself getting distracted by students following along on the screens while Grace showed them databases. Easy fix! From now on, I will make sure that anytime groupwork is not being done, I will either freeze student panels, or send the instructor laptop to all panels.

3) Mix it up and capture results

I’ve also made use of the whiteboards throughout the room, having students answer questions or brainstorm on them. I like that this gets them moving around a little, but I lamented to Sarah that I couldn’t capture their work for assessment this way. She great idea of using my iPad to snap photos of the whiteboards for assessment. Why didn’t I think of that? Remember that you don’t have to incorporate all of the technology into every activity. I prefer to mix it up a little.
I know that y’all have ideas and observations of your own by now, and we’d love to hear how you’re adjusting to the Learning Labs, too! As always, let us know if you have questions or ideas.

TLS Tips: Lowering the Stakes to Teaching with Technology

When I began teaching, incorporating active learning into my class plan was a big step. It meant that I may have to field unexpected questions, realize I didn’t have all the answers, and have to think on my feet.  [Sidenote: I think this is the perfect librarian job description].  It meant that I needed to let go of control and share the teaching responsibility with students to truly be more of a guide on the side.
So, if you’re just getting started with the idea of integrating active learning into your teaching, adding in technology may sound a bit overzealous. Anything and everything can go wrong with technology, right? Well, I’d like to share a few examples and techniques that may lower the stakes to using technology meaningfully as part of your pedagogical practice in different kinds of teaching environments and situations. I hope these examples will help illustrate how some of these tools could facilitate not only more active learning but also meaningful dialogue and teaching. And also, there’s a lot that can go right with technology, too!
Using GoogleDocs for Group Work and Collaborative Discussion
Previous TLS tips have name checked GoogleDocs or GoogleForms for integrating active learning. I’m going to go a little bit further in-depth to explain how I set this up and why I take my particular approach.
Most, if not all, of the learning outcomes I identify for UGS classes aim to discuss source evaluation. As Krystal mentioned in her previous TLS tip, I prefer to have the students do this exploration and discovery on their own in groups and then come together to share their experience. During the larger group discussion, I try reiterate the most important takeaways of source evaluation.
Here’s a few examples of GoogleDocs that I’ve used in the past to get students working in groups:
  • Exhibit 1 : Prof. Min Liu’s class
    About the class: 65 min total in a computer lab classroom in SZB. The students worked in groups for 15 min and then the report out took about 30 minutes, which was longer than I originally allotted for but the discussion was really fruitful.Document design: This is an openly editable GoogleDoc so students do not need to login to edit which means that there are FERPA fewer issues. I selected a topic based on the students assignments and then found a variety of sources that would enable us to cover multiple aspects of evaluation. I added the “final answer” of Read It, Skip It, or Cite It to help reinforce the idea that research is an iterative process and that background information can come in many different containers (not just Wiki/Encyclopedia articles). I link these documents to the class’s course guide (in this instance, this one) so they can find everything all in one place.How I use it:  As the students are working, I have each of the Docs opened in different browser tabs and toggle back and forth between them. I actually project their documents up on the screen so they know I’m paying attention; i think they also like to look and see how far other groups have gotten and that provides some motivation.  As I’m looking through, I note (mentally, digitally, or analog) which groups have covered a particular point I want to highlight as well as something that I want to discuss further with them. I make sure to start out with one thing they’ve done well since often students can be shy to share and talk about their work in front of the class.

    Changes: Over time I added “Whys” to some of these questions because I wanted the students to delve deeper into their answer. Additionally, this really helped our class discussion because I could see their thought process.

  • Exhibit 2, Form + Responses : Prof. Charumbira’s class
    About the class: 75 minutes total and this took up the entire class. The is the second of two classes I taught for Prof. Charumbira and this took up the entire class session.Document design:  Since we had already had one session about source evaluation, the second session was focused on getting the students to be able to understand the types of resources available to them.  Through assigning each group a different resource to find using tips from the course research guide, the students filled out the form with one student assigned as the recorder so there weren’t multiple entries for each group, a bit of difference from using the GoogleDoc for class activities.How I use it:  I circulate as students fill out the form; those that have identified their       source as a book are free to go into the stacks to retrieve the book (I make sure ahead of time it’s in PCL.) As in the exercise above, I pull up the Google Spreadsheet and check-in noting some of the points I’d like the group to discuss. In this activity in particular, I also ask the students to provide their feedback on the research process so we can also talk about that. This gives me an opportunity to see what I’ve missed covering and where I need to make changes for next year.

    Changes: I wanted to focus the students on a the questions and creating a GoogleForm over a GoogleDoc enabled me to do this. GoogleForms limit the participation, but I think it also sort of forces students to talk. In the future, I would also definitely think about asking students to fill out the form ahead of time, and then discuss their answers in groups or as a larger discussion if there wasn’t available technology in the classroom.

I hope this gives a little bit more insight into some of the ways that just one form of technology can be integrated into the classroom and can help facilitate discussion. Students are very familiar with the Google Suite of tools so hopefully using this tool won’t be as scary as some others.  If you are interested in creating something similar or have an idea about translating a paper activity into something digital, I’d love to hear about and/or help!

TLS Tips: Strategies for Classes with Lots of Active Learning

I recently worked with our TLS GRA, Grace, to prepare for and teach a set of instruction sessions that consist entirely of teaching students about evaluating information. I always look forward to this class because it gives me the unique opportunity to spend an entire class period focusing on a single learning outcome. Any time I get a chance to plan a class with a narrow focus, I immediately think about active learning. Me lecturing about evaluation for an entire class period sounds like a painful experience for all involved, and in my experience, students learn this skill better by talking with one another and working through examples.

The basic class plan included students working in groups to read a short assigned article (different kind of articles on the same topic), then answer a set of questions in Google Forms designed to lead them through info evaluation. After that activity, we had each table report out on what kind of information they had, its strengths and weaknesses, and whether they would recommend it for a friend considering trying a specific diet (the topic of the articles). We then had a class discussion on different information formats and their possible uses. Although I’ve been teaching with active learning for years, I still get nervous before leading a class that relies almost entirely on student engagement. I’d like to share a few strategies and challenges I typically think about when planning active learning sessions.

1) Set expectations for participation early and often. I told students from the start that there would be lots of group work and class discussions. This probably wasn’t surprising, as the setup of the tables in PCL 1.124 naturally lends itself to group work. Before beginning the activity, I had students designate one group “recorder” and one “reporter.” This gets them talking and makes it difficult for each student to work through the example independently. While they worked, I walked around and reminded quiet groups to work together, clarified that they only needed to submit the form once per group, etc.

2) Come with flexible plans. In classes like this, I usually plan more activities than I think there will be time for. While it may seem like overkill, this has saved me more than once when classes work through an activity more quickly than I expect. My backup plan was to have them work together to find a “better” article than the one they were assigned if time allowed. As it turned out, the first activity took so long that I had to cut some of the debrief time. I was ready for this possibility, and Grace and I chatted after the first class to come up with strategies for time management in the following classes.

3) Outline the most important points you want to debrief. This is something I continue to find challenging. You never know if students are going to report out all the salient points you want to cover, or if you’re going to need to guide them there. If I’m not careful, I find myself going off topic during discussions and debrief sessions. Sometimes writing things on the board can help with this, but I find that providing students with a structured way of reporting back helps too. If I provide myself with an outline of the essential points I want to hit, I am more likely to facilitate a focused discussion.

4) Assess! And share that info with faculty. I love using Google Forms for these kinds of activities, because I can watch groups’ answers roll in in real time on my iPad, and I can easily share their work with faculty afterwards. Faculty often overestimate students’ evaluation skills, so I like being able to show them exactly where their students are at. This information also helps me plan future sessions and refine my approaches and activity materials.

What are your strategies for leading active learning sessions?

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: 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.
http://rusa.metapress.com/content/j601686q282071ln/fulltext.pdf
[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).
http://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1101&context=gaintlit
[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.

RIOT: On Instruction, Technology and Not Being Evil

This RIOT post will examine the integration of and critical engagement with technology in library instruction:

Magnuson, Marta L. “Web 2.0 and Information Literacy Instruction: Aligning Technology with ACRL Standards.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 39, no. 3 (May 2013): 244-251.

Once when I was on chat reference duty, I received a chat from a graduate student who was in a full-blown panic. For the past six years, she had been saving citations in an EBSCO account, and while intending to delete only one page of those citations, she accidentally clicked “select all” and deleted them all. What could I do to get them back? Well, not much. But I called EBSCO customer service and spoke to a nice fellow who said he would file a service request with IT to try to recover the student’s saved citations from one of their backed up cron jobs. He warned me that it might take several days and that it wasn’t always 100% successful. While I was chatting with the student, who was slowly coming to grips with the fact that she might not get her articles back that evening (or indeed ever), I suggested that she start using Zotero to organize her research. Zotero has the advantage of storing data locally on the user’s computer, as well as in the cloud, and when the user tries to delete something, it reiterates the request and asks for confirmation. I told her she could take a library course to learn to use the software, if she wished.  But as is usual with chat interactions, I have no idea what the patron ultimately did. I forwarded an e-mail from the EBSCO guy communicating that the service request was still in process, but I don’t know if EBSCO ever succeeded in recovering this student’s information.

This story left me wondering about how we use and teach technology in library instruction sessions. I don’t actually have much experience teaching it, and I was curious to see how the literature in our field treats the subject. My question has two parts: [1] how are librarians integrating technology into their instruction, and [2] with such a diverse marketplace of tools, do we also teach a critical awareness of technology?

Magnuson’s article relates more to the first of my questions. She asks: “How do attributes of Web 2.0 foster the information literacy skills outlined in the Association of College & Research Libraries’ Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education?” She notes that Web 2.0 technologies mesh well with aspects of constructivist educational theory, particularly those that emphasize active learning and collaboration. Her article is a qualitative case study of an online graduate information literacy instruction course taught at UW-Milwaukee’s School of Information Studies. If anyone is curious, she expands upon this topic in her dissertation.

Magnuson’s interest is in demonstrating the helpfulness of Web 2.0 technologies in supporting the ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. Since the focus of her study is on the integration of concepts, and less on structure, she bypasses the need to evaluate the technologies themselves by preselecting the tools: Glogster, PBworks, Diigo and Prezi. Each tool gets matched with learning objective(s) and a class assignment. Magnuson’s methodology section describes a data collection process that involved “observations, field notes, pre- and post-surveys… course assignments and e-mails.” I found myself wanting some of this detail in her paper. For instance, select quotes describing the learning curve involved in these teaching technologies, their effectiveness for a given assignment, their shortcomings, etc., would have helped the reader to understand how class time was spent, and what, if any, critical engagement was taking place with the technologies themselves.

Magnuson instead structured her findings in relation to the ACRL standards and identified five themes that supported the enhanced learning possibilities of Web 2.0 technologies:

  1. Sharing and collaboration
  2. Information organization
  3. Creativity and enjoyment
  4. Catalyst for discussion
  5. Learning about educational technology

The reader’s eyes might cross at the mapping of standards, indicators, outcomes, and Web 2.0 technologies. That aside, I particularly enjoyed her discussion relating to numbers 2 and 3 from the list above. As an example of information organization, students were asked to create electronic posters using Glogster. The space constraints, as well as the multimedia possibilities of the tool (Glogster integrates text, images and video) forced students to think carefully, and differently, about the information they included, and how they chose to display it. Under the theme of creativity and enjoyment, Magnuson talks about how students enjoyed the visual nature of Glogster and Prezi, and that despite the learning curve involved with Prezi specifically, students found them to be fun and creatively stimulating tools. I think this might get at part of the reason we integrate teaching technologies in the first place. We want to make learning fun and stimulating so that students retain more of what they learn, and are inspired to continue learning outside of the classroom.

As for number 5 on her list – learning about educational technology – this relates to my initial question about the evaluation of technologies, and here Magnuson’s description is a little thin. She says that the students learned about the specific Web 2.0 features of the selected tools, and how to use them in support of instruction. But what of other tools that do similar things? Why do we choose one tool over another? I wonder if the evaluation of technologies might support ACRL standards 3 and 6, namely:

  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally

Is it important for students to know the differences between a corporate tool and a tool created by a consortium of non-profit institutions? What values are at stake when we choose one over the other? Is it important for us to teach the hallmarks of Web 2.0 design, which is to say technologies that take as often as they give back? We all have time constraints in our information literacy sessions, in which we need to address content, concepts, and technology. The evaluation of competing technologies might be a shade too far for us, especially in the standard one-time instruction session. But I’m very curious to hear your impressions.

Discussion: Want to Improve your Teaching? Be Organized.

AJ kicked off the meeting by discussing the article, “Teaching Clearly Can Be a Deceptively Simple Way to Improve Learning,” by Dan Berrett published in the November 22, 2013 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education.  The article discussed how teaching clearly is basic to improving student learning.  This conclusion was drawn from an analysis of 3 studies that looked at how organization and clarity of professors is connected to deeper student learning.

The group then talked about different strategies we use in our attempts to explain things clearly and be organized in our teaching.  The strategies included:

  • When you explain a concept, have the students reflect it back or explain it to you.  This not only serves as a check for student understanding, but improves the chances of students who initially didn’t understand now “getting it” since it has been explained in more than one way.
  • At the beginning of class, tell the students your plan and goals for the class.  Write the goals on the whiteboard or project them on the screen if possible.  Check back in along the way so they see how they are accomplishing those goals.
  • At the beginning of class, ask students to tell you what they need to know in order to do their assignment.  Structure the class around their stated needs.
  • Give yourself time markers when you plan the class so you know how long different sections and activities should take and you don’t end up rushing through parts.  Be sure to build in some flexibility, too, and be prepared to sacrifice some content if students end up needing more time on a concept than you intially planned.
  • Give students time markers.  For example, tell them how long they have for an active learning activity and then give them a 1 minute warning before the end of that activity so they can wrap-up.
  • Use a variety of examples and illustrations to explain a point, recognizing that students have different backgrounds and different approaches to learning.
  • One example of how to explain the difference between formats is to show them a journal article, magazine article, newspaper article, and blog post and ask them to tell you which is which, how they know and possibly when different types of information might be useful to their research.
  • Watch other people teach so you don’t get stale in your own teaching.  This is a way to find new ideas to organize your classes and explain difficult concepts.

We also discussed time constraints, which is a problem everyone faces with one-shots. It is hard to build in repetition (so that you explain the same concept in more than one way), formative assessment (to check on student understanding as you go) and even summative assessment (to check on understanding at the end of the class so you can follow-up later and change things next time) into one-shots because of this time constraint.  However, it isn’t impossible and we discussed some useful approaches such as asking students to post resources they find during active learning into a GoogleDoc you can review right away, or taking a few minutes at the end of class to have them write 3 things they learned or the muddiest point.  Krystal mentioned that LIS has a book called “Classroom Assessment Techniques” on our shelf that anyone is welcome to borrow and she is also available to consult with anyone who wants to build assessment into their class.

One outcome of this RIOT is that we decided to start each one with a 15 minute discussion of things we are doing in the classroom in order to learn from each other and get new ideas.  These will be captured in the blog posts and categorized as active learning, assessment and/or “in the classroom” so we can easily find them again.  In addition, people want to observe LIS teaching so we will make that happen in the spring.

 

RIOT: Want to improve your teaching? Be organized.

Today’s article:
Teaching Clearly Can Be a Deceptively Simple Way to Improve Learning
By Dan Berrett

I read this article a few weeks ago, and was drawn to the focus on the importance of basic teaching skills. The author cites three different studies presented at the Association for the Study of Higher Education, each of which focuses on students’ perceptions of how organized and clear their professors are in class. Each of these studies used data from the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education which looks at results of critical thinking tests, approaches to learning, student motivation, and student perceptions of their professors’ teaching, which is the focus of this article.

The first study looks at the relationship between student perceptions of organized teaching and gains in critical thinking skills between the beginning and end of student’s first years at college. It found that there was not a significant correlation overall between the two, for minority students who entered far behind white students in critical thinking skills, those with high perceptions of faculty teaching in an organized increased their critical thinking skills five times as much as non-minority students.

The second study found that when students perceived good teaching quality, their reflective learning skills greatly improved over four years.

The final study looked at ‘meaningful interactions with faculty members outside class, along with clear and organized teaching,’ correlated closely with positive effects on student motivation during their first year in college.

The message behind these studies is that one of the best ways to improve student learning, regardless of whether you are flipping the classroom, teaching in traditional ways or somewhere in-between, is to focus on your own organizational skills, make sure that you explain concepts and skills in a clear way, and prepare well for class.

The only real methods mentioned in the article for doing this was to either have someone else observe your class and provide feedback or to tape your own class and watch it. These are two of the most difficult (and rewarding) ways to improve your own teaching, but there are many other useful methods that can be helpful.

For discussion today, I would like to talk about different methods we can use, including the two mentioned above, that might help with organization and clarity in teaching. How could we go about doing this in an organized way in the coming semester?